Birth, Death and a lesson… welcome Sylvie Clare

Another death, unexpected, unwanted, but irrevocable, the great Wheel of Life. I am in constant mode of remembering, confusion, fear and oceans of doubt. We all approach the great karmic moment in our lives with a million swirling emotions.

I have known Olive Savage for many many years, she is the mother of a dear friend and the loved matriarch of a family who adored her. Tom Savage had died many years back and in the years after Toms death, Olive lived alone and took care of herself in an active and rich life.

I was chatting about her to my friend just a week or so before, she was saying how much Olive was living a full and interesting life and even at the age of 90+ was in her own home and taking care of herself. Such a hero. And then she up and died.

The counterpoint was the birth of a grandchild. We welcomed Sylvie Clare into the world and our family.


I watched television yesterday, a show about a young man of 36 who for all his life had suffered badly with a rare disease that prevented him from excreting waste. His life had been a succession of operations, long stays in hospital and relentless pain. He had made the decision to end his life. It was painful viewing but in the end, although not a happy conclusion, no miracles, he had what he needed, permission to end his life in Switzerland, should he choose. And yet he chose not to take that step, not yet.

Could hardly have been more poignant!

I became a Buddhist so many years back, its sort of clouded. I spent a few intense years in study, meditation, practice and I suppose I still do, just in my own way. What tripped me up and sent me back to the life I had created was a lot to do with organisational bureaucracy. I could not stand being in the local brass band when I was kid. But leaving the safe cocoon of institutional Buddhism never impacted on me. The essential truths are deeply implanted.

The first course I ever took with my Buddhist teachers was on Death and Dying and very profound it was too. It took my long held (yet quavering) beliefs and wrenched them from my being. All that heaven and hell stuff, spread before me demanding that I justify it by subjecting it to rigorous logic and debate. In the end I was forced to scatter it to the winds and take another look. Buddhist logic is all about never accepting anything until you can prove it by debate. Death and Dying is something of a challenge.

In the end I came away from the course with some sort of structure and a firm understanding that what I was came straight from cause and effect. It changed my life and continues to do so.

And yet, the emotive, even overwhelming sense of life and death is a challenge. As you grow older, life takes on more intense meaning and you struggle to make sense of it. Letting go, holding on, all bunched up. You look at what you have and realise more strongly than ever that stuff, money, possessions is not what or who you are, they are simply a means to an end. There is a tendency to shrink your mind, to become more and more self focussed and then, one day you realise that this is not the way, not the path. The path is beyond you, beyond your family, beyond your friends, it is embracing and finally accepting that you and the entire universe are simply one, indivisible, pure. And at death, when your mind embraces death, you, with love and compassion in your heart, enter the cosmos.

That’s the theory at least. I had a friend in Canberra, a fellow Buddhist, Kevin got cancer, he was a fighter, but more he was a long term Buddhist who even spoke Tibetan. He was a strong, quiet man. Kevin was an inspiration. When things started to look like they were not going to end well, I went up to Canberra to be with him and his wife for  few hours. We chatted and hung out for a while and as I gave him a hug and a kiss goodbye, I think we both realised the likely results.

I rang Marion over the next few months as Kevin battled on and on. He called on all his teachings and studies to keep his mind controlled and he calmly and with amazing strength and dignity, showed us all how to die as a Buddhist. Marion’s strength and mine too came from Kevin.

A whole life has passed since I first met Olive Savage, forty plus years of packing in all manner of living, raising a family, business, moving, building houses, pursuing a religious dream. I travelled in that time, first to India, then Italy and much of the rest of Asia. The map of my life in hindsight looks selfish, indulgent as I pursued life and living. I looked back today at the life map and suddenly I could see many connections, many sameness. People who like me, had chosen to pursue dreams. I dragged my wife and children along with my dreams and occasionally I am pleased to hear that they are not unhappy that I did. Many ways, it bonded us, made us strong, Honest with each other, deeply caring and committed, bound with love. Looking back, its not hard to believe that I would do it all again. No change.

Some would say I relentlessly followed my own path, didn’t care enough for my family. And yet I look at the world today and I see a lot of people who have chosen to stay in, not to venture out into the world, to develop and grow their attitudes by vicarious means, not to experience, to stay safe. Who can blame them in todays violent world, a world that threatens and destroys. A world where children are seen as sex objects and women get gang raped. A world where religion controls and perpetrates wars. Where even brother is set against brother because of belief, money or power. Where love is no longer seen as the universal panacea, where greed and avarice are valued above life and living. Why should simple people in third world countries trust anyone, specially when the very government that is supposed to protect them, takes their land and livelihood in order to give a wealthy developer more money.

I look back and I suspect that the people of my generation could well have been the last of a era. A time where some mutual respect remained. I saw that even in a hippy filled India where locals, tourists and seekers could and did get along. Where people explored new and different religions, ways of living, health and medical care, growing and living without harming or destroying the earth. We sang songs together, danced and ate together, we learned from each other. There was no way of instant communication, no way of sitting at a screen and watching bombs targeted at buildings we were assured had no humans present and we watched as the bomb hit and the building explode. Events occurred around this ailing planet of ours and we saw them moments later. We built ourselves huge houses, we all have a car. We began depleting the resources of the world. We started to destroy the the very planet that sustained us. We listened as politicians assured us that we were wrong, that climate change was not with us, that it was quite alright to genetically modify fruit, vegetables and seed crops, that animals we ate were raised in feed lots, cement bunkers and never felt the warmth of the sun. Never knew the power of green grass.

We came to accept that by some means, we could have it all, could continue to treat the earth badly and not be concerned for the future, that we would live in houses that the cost of the bathrooms alone could have fed the starving and dying children of some inconsequential country. That the same inconsequential country was controlled by western powers either for their own financial or strategic gains. That we were not guardians of planet Earth, merely along for the ride and anything else we could grasp, enjoy, pillage along the way. That generations following us would surely accept that we meant no harm to planet earth.

I think the great law of cause and effect will one day bite back. The Buddhists called it the Wheel of Sharp Weapons and they are. There is no quarter given and none accepted. The cause will engender the result and that is that. The earth may one day just shrug, and civilisation as we know it, will end.

And I keep asking, have I done alright, am I a decent custodian, have I left a good place for my grandchildren, is Sylvie Clare going to be able to live on and in a safe and sane place. Maybe not, but then her parents, one of whom is the result of my own machinations and the other similarly raised, are the sort of people who will at least try and correct some of the wrongs that we have wrought and allow their child the grace to live in a harmonious and loving way.

Vale Olive Savage, welcome Sylvie Clare. 

~ by peterwatson on September 17, 2013.

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