Sunday, October 17, 2010
From this life to the next
Last Thursday we said goodbye to our baby in a simple Buddhist ceremony called a puja. Well, a goodbye of sorts, and a goodbye for now.
An old family friend is a monk who lives in Sydney and after we agreed on a time, he adjusted it for daylight saving and commenced the ceremony at the same time as we did, some 1000 kilometres to the north.
I picked some flowers from the bushes in our street: four bright red hibiscus and four bright yellow daisies from one end of the street, a clip of pinky-purple bougainvillea as well as the tiniest flower I have ever seen.
Frankly, I think it is a weed, as it grew from a decidedly boring and scraggly-looking plant at the front gate. But the flower it produced was a light powder blue, almost purple, with petals shaped like a delicate star protecting a miniscule set of stamens. How could something so tiny capture my gaze, make me stop in my tracks and lean in for a closer look? Hmm, how indeed. That flower represented our baby, so I picked one, and placed it in a little basket, nestled amongst the more strongly-coloured flowers. It fell almost out of sight a few times, just because of its size and seeming insignificance, before I placed it with extra care right in the middle. It was a little buried, but only because it needed a wall of the bigger flowers for protection. It was always visible, however.
We also got a bowl of clean water, a candle and some incense. Steve the monk (he does have an authentic title befitting his years of study and devotion to Buddhism, but I have always known him as Steve) asked us to write a small note to the baby, which we would burn during the ceremony. We would then put the flowers in the bowl of water, each of us blowing our breath across the liquid, before pouring it over the ashes of the burning note...all the while thinking of the good we have done in our lives and passing that loving kindness onto our son, to send him on his next journey.
I debated whether or not to, firstly, photograph this; but also whether or not to upload it here. I mean, the whole point was to burn it away to nothing. So, at the risk of breaking some sacred Buddhist rule (and surely that statement is contradictory), here it is. And I kind of figure, the more eyes that read it, the more people can stop for an instant and share a sentiment with us...and strengthen to send-off for our little boy.
T and I read some prayers calling on Lord Buddha to "grant our dear child peace, happiness and compassion". To bless him and guide him on his next journey.
A few lines from that first prayer strangle my heart with sorrow. "Our child is passing from this world to the next, he is taking a great leap. The light of this world has faded for him...he has gone into a vast silence. He is borne away by the great ocean of birth and death."
I think I am just paralysed with grief thinking about this tiny baby floating somewhere in the universe completely alone. Frightened, maybe, anxious. I want to protect him, we want to do that as a family. We were getting ready to do that and I was already doing that as he grew inside me for more than four months. It is incredibly painful not to be allowed to continue to do that.
The second prayer we read was titled The Heart of Perfect Understanding - surely the hardest thing to attain at a time like this. But surely something too important to give up on finding.
Then there was one last prayer we read together asking the Buddha to guide our thoughts, to help us to be strong at times of weakness, that we would not waste this life on useless pursuits and that all living beings find peace and happiness.
We sat in the backyard on cushions for about 40 minutes as the ritual played out. It was a sunny day, but swirling winds regularly blew out the little teal blue candle we had and made the sandalwood incense burn down much quicker than it perhaps normally would.
We laughed as T stumbled on some of the more lengthy and confusing words in the prayers and let out sighs of relief as we stretched our crossed legs out straight. We lit and re-lit the candle and more incense and we battled the bloody wind to get the note on fire...
But then we held each other in silence a lot. We felt the breeze dry our tears and talked softly about what might be next for our little boy. It just wasn't his time yet, we said. He could already have returned in another form and be making another family on the other side of the world blissfully happy. Yes, it is achingly sad that we couldn't be that family, but how wonderful that someone else could know him and enjoy him better than we ever did.
I cried a lot, and I was exhausted afterwards. But a strange feeling was also there - I was quite uplifted at the thought of his soul continuing a survival. I had not touched on the fringes of a thought like that during this whole experience. To me, this was final. It was awful and it was final. All over.
But it is not at all. My life will go on - it already is...everyone's life goes on. And even our little boy's life - in some form or another - will also go on. How amazing.
There is enormous peace in that. (But it still makes me cry!)
These are the blessing threads that Steve made for us and sent up to us in the mail. We tied them on each other's wrists and every time they catch our eye, we are urged to send thoughts of loving kindness to our baby.
And there is even greater peace in that, because it encourages a positive when there could potentially only ever be a negative. It forces light in, with too much power to be ignored.
Thanks Steve...lots of love to you for being the coolest monk we know!
Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet
Let it not be a death, but completeness
Let love melt into memory, and pain into songs
Let the flight though the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night
Stand still, o beautiful end, for a moment, and say your last words in silence
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way
- Rabindranath Tagore