Since August of last year my inner focus has been on the emptiness of the self, or no self, while my outer focus was on my mother, who I lost this year.
She had been in a care facility for over 5 years. During that time her body and mind had slowly declined, yet she always had a smile for the staff or me during my many visits. In the end, though, all I could do was sit with her, not really knowing if she even recognized who I was. Yet even then she was teaching me.
The last lesson she taught was that even when all that we think of as the ‘self’ is but gone, there still remains something essential that watches. This watching does not care about quantity or quality. It just watches. Valuing all equally, even what others might call the crumbs of life.
As mom sat watching I looked around at the other residents and could see that they, too, were watching. It occurred to me that the only difference between their watching and that of an enlightened person was that the latter was awake to the watching. The enlightened person knows that he or she is the watching. Not the body, the mind nor any other content that dims with age.
When that call came late at night to give me the news that mother had passed, I did not feel that she was gone. I knew that she was still with me, here, watching through my eyes as much as she had ever watched through her own. How then could I feel loss?
This is not to say that I did not feel grief. In the next two days waves of sorrow welled up within me. As I watched each surge rise up I could see my ego trying to weave it into a story of me as the grieving man. I could see my ego trying to make that story ‘real’ by saying it was I. But I did not buy into it and so my grief was short-lived.
Weeks later the ego sought to reassert its dominance and presented me with another story about how I was ‘supposed’ to feel about her passing. Upon reading it, however, I could see that the story wasn’t actually about my mother. Ego was just trying to use her death as a way to reinforce its own identity. You might say that the ego was trying to get my attention in the same way a scriptwriter wants to get funding from a producer to stage a play. Seeing this, I declined funding and without my needed permission the egos story never got to the stage.
Looking at it now, I see that when my mother passed she left me a gift. I could have chosen to ignore this gift by following my egos stories. I could have wrapped myself up in a new identity of being grief stricken or an ‘orphan.’ Instead I carefully unwrapped the gift and then laughed as I discovered that the box inside was empty!
Of course it couldn’t be otherwise, could it? When you lose a story and don’t replace it with another your attachments fall away, along with the identity that you assumed while living that story. At that point everything that wasn’t the story opens up and you find yourself in a vast potential of infinite possibility. At the same time the one who gave you the story, in my case my mother, is given the same gift. She, too, can go on to discover her true identity for now she is free!