Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Grief and Loss

March 1, 2016

…our life is not really ours, and never was. It isn’t even right to call it a gift. It’s loan, of a trillion things, not one of which we consider ourselves to be…


What if grief is not something we work through and get over, but part of living? And loss is part of living. Impermanence is not temporary or intemittent. It’s with us all the time. Therefore to grieve is to be alive. We have been taught something else, that grief is an aberration caused by life letting us down. That there is no price to living. But there is. The price is loss. We can deny it, pretend the levy is not being taken, stay focused on the bright side, accentuate the positive. And we’d be fools not to do the above. But we still can’t avoid the price. The debt is with us every moment. The debt is what allows us to be here.

Who knows who we really are, or what all this world is, this incomparable experience we call life. But one thing we do know: all of us die. All of us are compounded of elements that are not who we think we are, yet if any one of those pieces is removed, we die.

So our life is not really ours, and never was. It isn’t even right to call it a gift. It’s loan, of a trillion things, not one of which we consider ourselves to be.

Yet without any of them, we’re not here.

We have our children, we call them ours, and just as we are finally helping to get them standing on their feet, they walk away. They aren’t ours of course, they never were. They are the world’s, of which they are made.

Perhaps a natural human being, or anyway a mature human, would always be open to grief, always aware that it can never be too far away. It is the ground we walk on. The basis of our life is loss.

Shakyamuni Buddha accepted that. In what some scholars believe was his first and earliest teachings and all traditions accept as his second, he declared that existence was “marked” by impermanence, in other words loss. What he offered, what he had found for himself, was the beautiful heart-breaking relief inherent in accepting that.


* * *

Often on sesshin a point comes where we give up caring – about discomfort, thoughts, distress. Whatever comes comes. Bring it on. In Sophocles’ famous image, we just sit like a rock, with the waves breaking over us, come what may.

* * *

A recent post on “informal practice” not being the same as sitting drew some comment. Some people said they feel they enter states of “meditative awareness” while engaged in other activities, and don’t these count as meditation? Without any devaluing of those activities, or of that kind of awareness, the answer is still no.

Sitting meditation, zazen, is in part about exposing ourselves simply to who we are – the good and the bad and everything in between. In that sense it’s authentic – not sugar-coated. It’s not about feeling good about our state of consciousness. It’s more about losing our self-consciousness.

Message from Henry taken from our February 29, 2016 newsletter

Image: Lost Tree by Hartwig HKD,  CC BY-ND 2.0, from

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