It seems to me that our minds and thoughts are composed of every person and experience we have collected during our lifetime, all woven together in a kind of mosaic, that makes us feel “This is who I am”. Our family and friends, and every stranger we meet, become our projected world. People we rarely saw, or perhaps only met in passing, are not usually central in the mosaic, and exist mostly in the shadows, while members of our family, our teachers and friendships form larger parts of this structure, adding color, depth and variety to our world of thought. Fragments of these people and events are like energetic molecules or flashes zipping through the brain at various points in time. Even movie characters, actors and other celebrities we have admired but never known, collect in some area of the mosaic we call “me” or “my life”. So do traumatic stories and scary dictators and other dark figures. No experience is left out. We seem to be what we have met along the way in our life. Our thoughts and beliefs are made of this.
So it is that when people die and pass out of our immediate range of interaction it is felt as a loss, even when we hardly knew them, or only knew them through hearsay, in movies or television, or read about them in the news. We can easily grieve for people we have never met. Some people leave holes in the collective psyche because of who they were or how they died, like the children in Newtown, or the people of the World Trade Center. But especially when someone close to us dies there is a sudden hole in our mosaic, a blank space where it feels as if they should exist, and it hurts to remember they are not available, at least not in the form we were attached to. We grieve not only for the loss of them but for a loss in us, the tearing away of something they were holding for us.
I have noticed these losses more clearly as I get older, because many people I have known have passed on, and some I was very close to have fallen away, taking with them chunks of my projected connectedness. So far this year three women I knew and loved have died, all from some form of cancer. It leaves more emptiness inside, like little holes that will not be plugged. Memories of their light and aliveness float in me but cannot get grounded. My connection to them feels like it is floating into space, like a wayward balloon I can never see again. All of us are interlinked in some mysterious way, and as more family and friends fade into spaciousness and Oneness, less is left in form. We have to adjust to a new mosaic, accepting the missing pieces. If we are to be free, the emptiness has to become expansion and openness, rather than sorrow and rage.
My mother had 11 siblings, and my father 3. Together with spouses and children there was a large sense of extended family as I was growing up. Over the years they have dropped, one by one, and even a few of the cousins have passed, one only a few weeks ago. All of the elders are gone, leaving me and a couple of cousins as the oldest remaining. How this happens so quickly one cannot imagine. It seems just yesterday I was only starting out as a young woman. Now I am an elder. Occasionally I have a vision of all of these people, most of whom were very kind to me, standing together, radiating love (if there is existence without form how can it be anything other than love?)
Every year now it seems I lose a few friends. Most recently it was a fairly new friend, Jennifer, who taught me a wondrous way to face death. Shortly after her diagnosis of stage 4 cancer she simply accepted it was her time to leave. She stayed at home surrounded by her art (she learned to paint after her retirement and loved to paint flowers and portraits), and she spent hours simply being with the tall trees and extensive views of space and sky beyond her living room windows. She surrendered so fully that instead of pain her body would slip into bliss and her consciousness into Oneness and she would laugh and say “I don’t know why this is so funny but it is — I feel so free.” (She was not on any medication until the last week or two). So we would sit in stillness and she would drift in spaciousness, and knew herself to be the consciousness at one with that. She was grateful that I would allow her to be her “Self” but I am the one who should be grateful, to have shared this intimate and joyful journey.
I have sat with other people I loved as they slipped away, and I have felt as I age the holes existing in my mosaic, as if their companionship was part of who I am. But Jennifer was a special gift who demonstrated the Oneness beyond any loss. We are all connected as consciousness, without boundary. When we feel this consciousness while living, before and beyond mind and form, our body feels melted into love, and peace, and even sometimes joy. It is as if our very cells are made of spacious love, capable of expanding into all the cosmos.
We may lose one another as forms, but we can’t lose what they taught us or the love and wisdom we may have gathered. Beyond the intangible gifts of sharing a life we can never lose the loving consciousness that we essentially are. If we are fortunate to fall into surrender, we find we are eternally together. This is the magic of the non-dual teaching to be willing to surrender to what is. As my teacher, Adyashanti, has sometimes said, “Enlightenment is having no argument with reality.”