Choosing Joy and Fearlessness

When I was 35 I gave birth to my first child. Her father was only 26 years old. We were both active in martial arts practices and the healing practices of shiatsu and qi gong. Her father, Marcus, was devoted to the Taoist concept and practice of conditioning your body to become immortal. He was strong, healthy, and was confident he was here on this earth walk for a long time. Marcus explained to me he was too aware to become a victim, believing that accidents only happen when one allows oneself to become a victim. He was creating his reality and his life purpose was to help anyone in need-plant, animal or person. I was happily finding security in believing in this approach to life. My brothers had each died suddenly years before and Marcus’ certainty was secretly comforting to me.

I had my doubts about his conviction and at times wondered how much of his enthusiasm was due to his youthful innocence and how much was uncommon wisdom. He was, after all, a martial artist and the usual rules do not apply to them. If you have ever known a true one, you would know that they have an abundant amount of energy, a keen awareness of their environment and body, and can heal quite quickly.

Marcus explained to me that accidents only happen when one allows ones self to become a victim. His final premonition was that he was going to be in an accident the night that he was driving back from Connecticut to Baltimore, so he decided to leave later as to avoid the accident which he perceived.

While on the road he saw an accident and pulled over to help out. Then a reckless-driver came heading towards him. He tried to dodge the car but his nimble body was not quick enough and he was struck.

Unusual as the story is, it was even more unbelievable to receive a call that he had been seriously injured and was in a hospital waiting for surgery. In shock I stood still. In that instant my worst fear had come before me, a fear that I had not even acknowledged was there.

I felt compelled to sit down and meditate and begin prayers. I also felt torn by a crisis and needing to take action. My reaction to meditate was far more useful than any other. It allowed me to open up to grace, find my center, and my deep connection to Marcus, which gave me much strength in the turmoil that was about to begin. Despite my efforts I was unable to get to the hospital in time. Marcus did not survive the operation and died before I could reach him.

When Marcus died I felt a sense of powerlessness. It manifests in questions like, “What could we have done to prevent it; or “If he stayed home this would not have happened”.

I felt unable to do much of anything, as I did. However, if you are fortunate like I was with this helpless expression pervading my daily life there were times in the following days that I spontaneously opened up to a greater power. In the days that followed I swayed between grief and a new beauty I had found called “grace”. I did not know how I was going to feel from moment to moment. In the state of grace I felt complete forgiveness and that Marcus and I were complete and fine. I was in acceptance of the world is as it is.

After all the funeral and memorial services were complete, my ability to enter into a state of grace diminished. Emotionally I wanted to shut down and just leave as I had when my brothers had died.

But now my daughter needed me–my care and my availability. I could not abandon her. I was face to face with the joy and challenge of being a new mother and the agony of losing my daughter’s father and my lover, the first person in my life who showed me how to love unconditionally. I had to find a way to process all these new feelings.

During the first year I was grief stricken. This meant that sometimes I was fine and other times I had no idea when I was going to start feeling paralyzed or spontaneously begin to cry. I lost my appetite for food and life. I felt desperate and alone. I had a recurring dream that I was out with my baby and put her down for a minute and then I could not find her anywhere. Friends who were well meaning and helpful did not know what to say and could not fulfill my loss. Or people would innocently ask if I was planning to have a second child. Simple, everyday questions such as this were sometimes unbearable.

I joined a support group but even there I was not with other young widows and my needs and feelings were foreign to the group. I had recently joined the Kadampa Buddhist community and began going to programs and talking with the teachers with hopes of finding resolution and peace again. In this tradition the lineage is mostly orally transmitted, although the spiritual director has written many books as guidelines for practice; the blessings come through the teachings and meditation.

In these oral teachings and rituals I found the beauty I had experienced in the state of grace plus guidance on how to deal with death. So, I turned to the teachings to gain insight into how could I go on living joyfully and conquer the pain of loss and desperation.

Busy during the day with baby and work, I found my sleepless evenings an opportune time to do my personal work (I don’t recommend this long term). I began listening to teachings on tape and contemplating the nature and meaning of death. This helped me to realize I had a belief that I would not die.

Most days I did not live with the acceptance that this may be my last day or even my last moment. Believing that my husband would be immortal only aggravated my ability to accept his death. I learned that I was very fearful of death for myself and others. I believe these insights were achieved through the blessings of the lineage as I open up to faith in meditation.

I began to see how the choices I made were based on fear. Having lost my happy life I did not want to set myself up for that loss again. But what would it be like to live and happily accept life as it is? I discovered in meditation that happiness is not living in fear of death but living fearlessly. Only through my daily spiritual practice could I begin to learn to live without fear.

Living with the acceptance of death dramatically changes the daily choices I make. If I die today, I do not want to have regrets because I did not take time to appreciate everyone and recognize their value? This deepens my spiritual practice and stokes my desire to show my appreciation of others.

In my Buddhist tradition we make extensive ritual offerings to help bring joy into our lives and combat less virtuous states of mind. It occurred to me to start making offerings to my husband by preparing dinners for him with my daughter.

We would go to the grocery store and pick out daddy’s favorite foods. This also gave her an opportunity to pick out a special dessert from the pastry counter (that he would like, of course). When we got home we would pull out a nice table cloth and set the table with his framed photograph near his plate.

My daughter and I would talk with him and offer food to him. We enjoyed this so much that it became a regular practice that my daughter would request. “Can we make dinner for daddy tonight?”

Five years later I met the man who is now my husband. He is always very respectful of my love for my previous husband. This has brought us closer and I feel comfortable sharing my feelings about our past with him.

The time came and we invited him to join in our offering dinner. Brent very clearly felt the presence of Marcus. I can’t describe how moving this was for us to share a meal together. Brent felt very clearly Marcus’ presence. It was as if Marcus was welcoming Brent to become a part of our family.

It’s been over ten years now and we all still enjoy sharing our special meal on anniversaries and remembering to be grateful that we have had this short time together on earth.

Rosemary Scavullo Flickinger began practicing shiatsu therapy after a four year apprenticeship in Kyoto Japan. While in Kyoto, Rosemary also studied the ancient theater art of Noh, Noh mask carving, and Buddhism. She has been a certified shiatsu therapist since 1990.

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