I woke this morning (Boxing Day) to the news that George Michael had died. As a teenager in the 80s I was a fan and even went to see Wham live. I’ve never been able listen to ‘Careless Whisper’ or the wonderful ‘Don’t Let the sun go down on me’ duet with Elton John without being moved, while the memory of the irreverent ‘Outside’ video never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Then I went to do my practice, picked out a Lojong card, from Pema Chodron’s Compassion box, to be met by the teaching ‘Always maintain only a joyful mind’! How would this be possible today? This teaching is about making difficulties into the path, making challenges our Mindfulness curriculum for the day, remaining curious and open to whatever is happening.
Death causes us to suffer, the process of dying causes pain, but the pain of loss and being left behind can cause enormous suffering. I have observed within my own family how an untimely death can lead to endless suffering, making life unbearable.
However, I have also observed how some of those bereaved are able to celebrate the life of the departed and find inspiration from that life to lead their own lives in more meaningful ways.
As a Buddhist, I have often reflected on death, my own, my family’s and even my daughter’s death. We will all die and we don’t know when or how. Often people think reflecting on death is maudlin, but my experience is the opposite: it has made me feel more grateful for those who share my life with me now and inspires me to live my life to the full. Also, when people do die, it is not such a shock, as I have some experiential understanding, from these reflections, that we will all die.
I have also found great comfort in the Buddhist practice of dedicating the benefits from our practice, and sending good wishes for a fortuitous rebirth to those who have died, during the 7 weeks after their death, before letting them go – so they are free to move on to their next life. I will be doing this for George (as well as for Carrie Fisher & her mother Debbie Reynolds who I have only just learned of their passing)) during the 49 days after Christmas Day.
I am struck by a definition of equanimity – ‘A warm engagement with the world without being troubled by it’. I am sad about George Michael’s death, but getting really upset about it won’t help me or those around me. Much better to celebrate his life and allow his creative talent to inspire me to live more meaningfully in the world. I don’t think he would want anyone to be miserable.
So what to do?
I am listening to his music today, shedding the odd tear, boogying around the kitchen and dedicating my practice. This gives some workability in the face of tragedy, some potential for Joy.
My blog this week was going to be about nourishing and depleting activities, which is something I do at New Year in place of New Year’s resolutions. So, let’s do this anyway and dedicate the benefit to George and all those others we have lost in the past weeks.
For this practice, we reflect on a typical week – what are some of the activities we do regularly that make us feel depleted: tired, low mood, unmotivated. Think in terms of things that, when we look back from our death bed, we will have regretted wasting so much time and effort on. Write a list.
Then we reflect on some of the activities, that we often don’t make time for, that nourish us: make us feel relaxed, joyful, awake to the world. Think in terms of activities that lead to long term benefit and the flourishing of our potential in the world. Again, write a list.
Then we can reflect on how beneficial and meaningful the depleting activities are for us and for those around us. Then we can ask ourselves why we continue to do these activities. If they are meaningful, can we change the way we relate to them, do them mindfully, do them first thing so they are not hanging over us, do them with the meaning in mind? If they aren’t meaningful, do we have to do them at all, can we stop or do less?
Then we can remember how we are in a much better position to bring happiness to those around us, if we are happy and nourished ourselves. Then spend some time scheduling more of the nourishing activities into our weekly schedules.
I am planning to leave my emails for when I am in the office, rather than have them constantly pinging on my phone when I am travelling and away for work. I find a constant preoccupation with my work, while also being away to teach, quite depleting – and if something is urgent the team at MAHQ will get a message to me.
I am also planning more Mindfulness in daily life. Usually, I am quite disciplined about this, with a daily mindfulness bell singing randomly on my phone each day and with a series of daily alarms reminding me of my intentions. Recently, doing a lot of travel this has fallen away and I notice a difference.
If you would like to focus more on Mindfulness in daily life in the New Year as a nourishing activity, try Fay and Jane’s online course. For more details, please click here.
Anyway, I hope you have a go at the nourishing and depleting exercise. My wish is that you can let go of at least some of the depleting activities and do more that nourishes you – so that you can live a happier new year!
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