Monday, January 31, 2011

what is grief?

Experts identify waves or stages of mourning that manifest as different thoughts and feelings, but their models fail to acknowledge that these waves arise within a greater ocean that is not an emotion but a prolonged state of shock. Although loss precipitates all kinds of emotional reactions, grief itself is not one. Rather, it is the background of them all, the agonizing sense that something vital has gone missing or been stolen, as the etymology of bereavement (from be + reafian "rob, plunder") suggests.

John Bowlby studied loss and attachment very closely. In an institutional setting where toddlers were separated from their mothers for extended periods, he and his colleague James Robertson observed how a lively, healthy child gradually moves from a state of agitation to ornery rebellion to, finally, a state of complete despondency when he loses all hope of his mother's return. The team collated their findings into a poignant documentary called A two-year-old goes to hospital that was the basis of Bowlby’s groundbreaking theory of attachment.

Attachment theorists since Bowlby tend to support his theory that separation anxiety and despondency hark back to separation from a primary caregiver. But this is not the whole story. Despondency comes from the Latin for promise; it shares the same root as the Greek word for vertebra: spondere. Grief is a reaction to the absence of response or connection, which is the backbone or soul of my very existence. Without you, I cease to exist. Without you, I despond. I despond, not because Mother has left, but because absence is latent in your very presence and comes to the fore when you are gone.

Grief is intimacy with the vacuum that separates us from each other. When we grieve, we do not grieve what we are missing but that we are missing. Grief, in other words, is missingness itself, the utter emptiness, stark, hollow, vast and cold, that dawns with the same violence as the silent howl of a newborn before it takes its first breath.

All loss rekindles this primordial bewilderment which is our human legacy. It moves in with full force at the merest suggestion of separation. Whether the separation occurs in the context of a marital breakdown or the death of a loved one, the gap opens and the echo of that first cry resounds.

Friday, January 21, 2011

slay the buddha

Whatever you encounter,
either within or without,
slay it at once:
on meeting a buddha
slay the buddha

I meet the Buddha everywhere
in the solemnity of sangha ritual
in my own sitting reverent
in my feigned humility before my teacher
in my desiring heart’s desire
craving, thirsting Buddha everywhere
God, Father, Robber on the road
You drop me to my knees
fearful and trembling
Now that I’ve raised You up
I’ll spit on you
“Buddha is a shit stick”
“Kill the Buddha”

Say NO to Buddha

That's what the masters say