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Day 23: Stillness

Bodhi was not still today. He was not acting like it was his day to graduate. He was active, going about his usual routine of eating and drinking and curious exploring. His actions would indicate that he considered today to be an ordinary day, not that it was time for him to move on. His behavior provided some moments of pause for us, but we ultimately decided to go on. We were lucky that I was there when he fell yesterday. What would happen next time if one of us wasn’t?

I did a shamanic journey to find out if he had anything to say, needed anything, or if Spirit had any helpful perspective or advice.

The journey started with me seeing Bodhi’s face large and right up close to mine. He glared at me some, a tad annoyed (as a teacher might be of a student slow to learn) that we were acting as if today was something different than usual. His name is not accidental - short for Bodhisattva - he’s clearly been a Buddhist spiritual teacher for each of us his entire life. In this journey, his teaching was clear - death is not that big a deal. He said, “I come and go everyday,” and reminded me of one of (the also recently deceased) Thich Nhat Hanh’s book titles, “No Death, No Fear.”

He also said, “I’m not going anywhere,” with that teacher tone that indicated, “Haven’t I taught you anything?” I don’t fully get that message, because I did see him also moving up a staircase to a beautiful land of light and green and temples and schools. The message held an air of the fact that he can (and will) come and go as he pleases, and we are free to call to him if we want him around.

He showed me that if I wanted to (he made it clear it was not necessary for him) set up the space for him, where I could lay the a statue of the Buddha, some crystals, and a candle. I asked (to him as well as to my helping spirits) if he wanted me to perform any shamanic ritual ahead of time. The response was it was fine, but also not necessary. Anything of that nature I could do for my own comfort and peace.

His basic message: “This isn’t a big deal.”

I set up the Buddha, crystals, and candle as I had seen in the journey, smudged the space with some sage, and drummed while I sang a Winnebago healing / honoring song.

Taking a walk with Aahana before the at-home vet arrived, I noted just how still everything seemed. Yes, it’s winter, but there was a deeper layer of stillness about the landscape. The air lacked any movement. A single bird offered its call only briefly. The sky was cloudless. No cars on the road, no planes overhead, no kids playing. Aahana walked very slowly as she carefully searched each square inch of the earth for a scent. We took our time.

In the end, Bodhi’s transition was incredibly smooth, as if he just glided off into the ether. I was present when our dog Sadie passed two-plus years ago, and I could clearly feel the moment her spirit left her body. Bodhi just faded off, seamlessly transitioning to a different state of consciousness as he has for years. He was a regular practitioner of meditation and (what we assume to be) astral travel. As time went on, he was less and less in his body, so to feel his spirit leave today felt like a everyday thing.

I held him, reassuring him (him? probably myself) as he gazed out our back sliding door window. I cried as I quietly sang the Winnebago song to him, which felt just as much for me as it did for him.

His passing was as peaceful an experience as I could have imagined.

A little while later I took a walk in the woods. The stillness of the day persisted in the air. Even the stream behind our house was frozen solid. The only noise filling the air was the crunching of the hard snow under my boots. One or more dogs (perhaps coyotes) off in the distance made their voices heard throughout the ridge. It is coyote breeding season. Perhaps they were whooping it up as part of creating the new. Or perhaps they were announcing Bodhi’s exit.

I’m sure he would say, probably both.


I Am Not in Here

By Thich Nhat Hanh

I have a disciple in Vietnam who wants to build a stupa for my ashes when I die. He and others want to put a plaque with the words, “Here lies my beloved teacher.” I told them not to waste the temple land.

“Do not put me in a small pot and put me in there” I said. “I don’t want to continue like that. It would be better to scatter the ashes outside to help the trees to grow.”

I suggested that, if they still insist on building a stupa, they have the plaque say, “I am not in here.” But in case people don’t get it, they could add a second plaque, “I am not out there either.” If still people don’t understand, then you can write on the third and last plaque, “I may be found in your way of breathing and walking.”

This body of mine will disintegrate, but my actions will continue me. In my daily life I always practice to see my continuation all around me. We don’t need to wait until the total dissolution of this body to continue—we continue in every moment.

If you think that I am only this body, then you have not truly seen me. When you look at my friends, you see my continuation. When you see someone walking with compassion, you know he is my continuation.

I don’t see why we have to say “I will die,” because I can already see myself in you, in other people, and in future generations.

Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for a cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death.

I will continue, always.

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh “At Home in the World: Stories & Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life” (2015)

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