Here in Paris we completed our Retreat in the Heart of Life on Sunday, Nov. 1, the Day of the Dead. Although it was unintentional, it turned out to be a perfect occasion to join life and death right where we were, sitting together on a stunningly warm and sunny autumn day.
On my way to the sitting day, I passed the town hall in Montreuil. There, on the battered marble steps leading to the entrance, hundreds of red, pink and white rose petals were strewn. In that instant, in the brilliant morning light, the deadness of the fallen petals was vibrantly alive. Gone were the newlyweds who most certainly had been joyously showered with the floral blessings of their family and friends. Gone was their wedding day, forever and ever. Gone were the fine clothes, the smiles, the photographers, the happy kisses and hugs. All that remained now were the dead petals and the bittersweet poignance that they instilled in me as I, too, moved on.
Later, in the afternoon, the other retreat participants and I took a silent walk together instead of sitting, making our way through mostly empty streets to the Père Lachaise cemetery. It was the Day of the Dead, after all… The cemetery was teeming with people, mostly families bearing flowers to leave on the graves of their deceased loved ones. We walked among the living and the dead for awhile, and then, as the sun made its downward arc, we stopped near the crematorium to sit for a meditation session on benches – surrounded by flowers.
‘Flowers fall amid our longing,’ Dogen writes in his Genjokoan. And so they do, and so they blossom, too. Always right here, always right now, always in the heart of our life and death.
Thank you Amy, and other participants in the retreat. The serendipity of wrapping up the time together in Père Lachaise, was strikingly meaningful and valuable for me. The cozy nature of the group allowed a deeper absorption of the inner processes in ever present spaciousness. Among you all, the bone/muscle aches & pains melted into the earth almost effortlessly!
Coming back to the daily routines since, i have had a recurring theme moving in me: that of Cathrine Roshi’s teaching mentioned by Sensei Amy.
« To meet others where they are » has been opening in my system petal by petal, like a lotus, to show me different facets of what it really means: Respect for others and oneself through allowing the natural needed space, dropping the habitual judgmental thoughts, renouncing the learned passage through the maze of evaluation & categorization, drawing the iron curtains wide open, keeping a receptive mind, and an open heart even when i don’t readily feel the warmth of love, trusting, trusting, and trusting the other, as well as my being and life…Hell, the whole Dharma! Or just about.
Thank you Amy for sharing that. The Day of the Dead… yesterday I called a dear friend who told me his sadness about the death of a 54 year old friend of his past who leaves a 10 year old boy without mum. My parents left earlier than planned because a cousin of my father died and the funeral is today. Today is also my oldest sons seventh birthday, flower petals and candels around his plate this morning… I feel so grateful for these kids, what a joy to see them grow up. What an excellent teaching of impermanence and letting go ! And thank you for your everpresent teaching !
After officially ending the Heart of Life, retreat, I felt a bit orphan, but kept my day-to-day practice. Reading your words I stopped feeling orphan, but in good company, more complete. Gasshô.
Sensei, what a pleasure. What a blessing. Reading these words I can feel each breath in and breath out. In Montreuil. In the cemetery. What a vivid description! Your words inhale and exhale such intimacy. It’s like each moment is right here. And we are lucky to be at the heart of your description. Always right here, always right now, always in the heart of your experience. Thanks.