By Sushma Amatya July 2004 Life is a composite of the new and the old, of birth and death, of the changeable and the eternal, discovers a woman as she mourns the death of her beloved sister Despite knowing the impermanence of life, deep down in our subconscious lurks the fear of losing our loved ones or of having to leave behind our loved ones. Yet, death is a fact that we all face sooner or later. There isn’t a house on this earth that hasn’t mourned somebody’s passing away. Old leaves turn grey, crumple, dry, fall and mingle with dust. In their place are born green tender shoots that hold promises of another cycle of life. We watch nature, accept its inevitabilities, and life cycles. Yet, it becomes a different story when we are faced with the death of those whom we love. It is doubly difficult to come to terms with it when it is sudden and unexpected. I had just got over more than two decades of silent mourning for my mother who died young in my absence; and I again lost my younger sister suddenly, due to unnatural causes. I was devastated. I went through the whole gamut of emotions and the various phases of grief, regret, anger, denial, and temporarily plunged into the dark abyss of depression. When I reached what I thought to be rock bottom, I experienced what my sister who was suffering from depression must have gone through. The moments of despair, of being unable to see beyond your own agony, helplessness, of being unable to get out of it, and in sudden moments of clarity, the choice you have before you, either to go deeper down and lose yourself or to pick yourself up and begin climbing back to find yourself again. I was lucky to see the bigger picture with its many choices, and blessed with faith in God. It gave me the will to snap out of depression and the determination to never allow myself to reach that state ever again. After looking at my life from a higher ground, I decided to opt for happiness, something that my sister must never have experienced; and not for money or status or what others expect of me. I decided not to continue with the job that I wanted to quit long ago. Friends were surprised, criticism flowed but I was undeterred. I went for another vipassana course and began meditating sincerely. Ever since, I’ve been watching myself carefully, constantly, and stop myself from reacting when the low moods and memories threaten to dampen my spirits. There are good days and there are bad, but now I watch them as they are. Of course, there are times when I fail and I suffer for several hours or even a few days, but I always work towards getting back that equilibrium of mind and get back to thinking, feeling and being positive again. By giving some time and care to my sister’s children, I began to find my happiness again. The days I spend with them are special. I try and help them the way I can. I encouraged them to attend the vipassana course for kids. They’ve gone twice and I’m happy to see the older of the two practising anapana (watching one’s breath) regularly. She has just turned 16, and seems to have found her source of strength and faith within herself. The children are continuing with their studies and have a lot of hope and maturity in them. The living signify the continuation of life, and the endless possibilities that God has bestowed on each of us. Having travelled this far, I can look back and let those who’ve gone ahead of me, go in peace. It’s wasting precious time to ask questions that nobody has an answer to. We can just learn from the lives of those who died and not repeat their mistakes. It is important to let go and get on with your living; while retaining the fond memories of those who are no longer alive. Recalling their smiling faces and including them in your prayers everyday brings to you a special peace and constantly reminds you of the impermanent nature of life; and thus the importance of valuing the present. I now appreciate the age-old ritual of mourning for the dead along with relatives. It’s a cathartic process that I used to negate earlier, for I believed that one mourns in private. It is so important to be with the living, share the tears, the memories and more tears and finally let go of the dead along with other helping hands. To heal alone takes ages. It certainly did in my case. I don’t know what lies after death since I don’t remember having gone through it before. I deeply believe that consciousness or soul lives on and with it our attachments, aversion, craving and clinging—the samskaras that we accumulate in our lifetimes and carry on into the future. It is so important to learn to live with others as well as to live with your essentially lonely being at the same time. It’s an ongoing process that comes with much searching, observation, struggle and experience and by learning through one’s mistakes. Life is meant to be shared, to be enjoyed, keeping oneself on the path of truth, of not harming, hurting others. Now, I stop to watch the shrivelled leaves, the decaying roots with as much respect and awe as I do the fresh budding flowers and dancing birds atop lush green tress. Both are equal parts of life. The eternal cycle goes on in nature, but we human beings with amazing evolving powers can continue to rise above it in our spirits, our souls and reach for greater heights—the spaceless, timeless, blissful state that so many evolved ones speak of. Sushma Amatya is a writer and photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
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