Guest Post: Letting Go of Mom

Michael McAlister Blog 5 Comments

Gina Rocca has participated as an Infinite Smile member for the last three years. You can follow her on Twitter at @nicaldo.

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My mother died on February 10. With her passing, the Universe swept through with its attentive force, rearranging life. There was a big storm, the kind kicked up by the chaos of immensely painful feelings. But because of the teaching, and the practice, I wasn’t knocked around. I stood through the whole thing, underneath the commotion, as love, watching it all.

The one who is love, and who knows that Mom is also that same love, hasn’t lost anyone. When love is seeing through me, I see Mom everywhere, as that. The teaching has helped this seeing become clear. Clarity grows slowly through sitting still, like a carefully tended garden, and then all at once through grace, like a lightning bolt that strikes indiscriminately. But before clarity, there was fear.

One of my earliest memories involves what was once a crippling fear. I am the youngest of 8 children, and my mother was 40 years older than I. As a child of 4 or 5, losing everyone in my family one by one became my mind’s go-to nightmare. I cried inconsolably as Mom tucked me in for bed one night, “You are all going to die and I’ll be left alone!” Her response was probably to hug me and tell me not to worry. Of course, I didn’t listen. Since she couldn’t tell me definitively what would happen, my mind decided it was safer for its survival to nurture the fear.

This fear of the loss of everyone I loved turned into a fear of my own death, which turned into a desperate avoidance of ever being alone. I clung to people, and tried to maintain control of mood, schedule, body and thoughts. Later, I developed insomnia and depression. Meditation was suggested many years ago, but quickly discarded as an option because it meant closing my eyes to the outward stimulus which kept my mind well fed. This illusion of a life in constant danger was completely exhausting.

It took a few of life’s generous catastrophes to once and for all allow me to close my eyes, travel inward and see for myself that we are never alone. The final turn inward was caused by a conscious giving up, letting go, and trusting in sangha, dharma and teacher. If not for letting go of the person, first, the death of my mother would have unhinged me. Instead, I am grateful to have been able to observe everything from the deep peace of knowing there is never any one to unhinge in the first place. These are other things I relearned through the “catastrophe” of Mom’s death:

To find the Self, you must first let go of yourself. Holding onto the small self, while trying to open to the Big Self, is like a bird trying to fly with one wing. Flight is crippled.

The desire for continuity, for ourselves and all those we love, conjures fear of what is not continuous, what is not stable, reliable. In other words, death. This denial of what is forever and always already there is what keeps us from soaring. See for yourself that each time you breathe in, you give birth to Infinity. Each thought arises out of Infinity, and dies back into Infinity. The mind desperately grabs onto thoughts as a way of maintaining its existence. But Infinity is before any thought. Thought does not ground you in the moment, or keep you from death. If I am before the first thought, then so is my mother, and so are you.

The mom-thought has been found to be the same as the I-thought. She, as a separate and distinct person, is merely conceptual. Not only does she not exist, she never did. This may seem radical and strange. It may even seem to be a dishonoring of my mom. It’s just the opposite. As I know and understand my mother, and so love her, in the expanse, there is a knowing and understanding of you, and me, and by extension, the Self. It is an exchanging of the limited reality (the I-thought and mom-thought are part of this) to the pure and natural unlimited reality, or Self.

As Mom lay dying in the hospital bed, my attention was on her beautiful, strong hands. I couldn’t imagine not being able to hold them. When my focus narrows, it’s her hands I see and intense pain shows up. I miss her. When the focus draws back and widens, breathing the vastness, there is no I seeing. Seeing is the vastness breathing itself. Life is continuous in this completeness. Nothing ever born, nothing to die. When the focus peels itself back, past the point of any I seeing, Joy and Love are there, both as experiences and what always is. Mom is that, the same as you and I, never beginning, never ending. There I am, swaying back and forth between narrowed focus and the mysterious expanse, where words melt, forfeiting shape and meaning. This is what Michael McAlister refers to as “surfing life’s waves.”

Only in complete surrender to the mystery is there no fear of death. The mind’s interference is what causes fear of the unknown. Its interpretations are a way of yelling, “I’m here! I’m here!” Krishnamurti says, “The known is in fear of the unknown.” The mind lives in fear of losing its name, its distinction, its edges. The mind lives in fear of unknowing itself. Only when the mind stops can the Universe see itself through you, as a clear vessel. The mind can never wrap itself around the unknown, because the mind arises within the unknown. The unknown is the seer of all that is and all that ever will be. To surrender to the unknown is to let go of the small self, or the identified person, and fall in tune with whatever life brings your way. Doing otherwise creates disjointed sounds, rather than harmonious music.

How best to join this One Song?

Making the dharma, teacher and sangha the most important “things” allows you to see the inevitable distractions, but remain unmoved by them. Distractions are offshoots of a chattering mind, trying to sustain its position as the main player in life. As you sit still, the ego moves into the background, and the Infinite into the foreground.

Another way to switch the attention and focus from small self to Self is to get completely intimate with what hurts. To shut out pain is to deny the very Self. As you dance with pain, notice how it unravels and changes form, like smoke, or a cloud. Hurt is limited. You are not.

When there is fear, or discomfort in the presence of what is happening, then that is an opportunity for the awakening to enter. Fear and discomfort then become the invitation, or as Michael calls it, the red carpet. The invitation must be answered by awareness. Then the Infinite can enter. The death of Mom was another opportunity to meet the intense pain of loss with the Infinite as seer. When there is no separation from pain, it is just intensity. The intensity eventually retreats and what is revealed is the clear expanse. It is experienced as joy and love. Pure Love is where there is no one and no thing. Yet nothing is missing. Mom is that. And so are you.

In meeting death, let your heart break open again and again, until it becomes the one Heart, which is forever and always open and can never die.

Comments 5

  1. Sarah

    How did you speak with your mom on her deathbed? What can I say to help bring my mom(great aunt) peace? She acts like she isn’t scared, like there is a wall up.

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