by Tracey Rich
When news of an illness comes to a member of a community, everyone holds their breath, like when one listens for an intruder in their home. There is a communal held breath. Collective attention is drawn to a central focus. Wakefulness dawns in its fullest sense and we wait in a heightened state. The clarity of the bell that calls us to meditation begins to reverberate. Alert to every nuance and fluctuation, an individual and collective vigil begins. And we learn to wait, watchful, still, as ever- present as possible.
The mind would like to spiral, filling itself with thoughts both hopeful and desperate, accepting and rejecting, measuring time in contrast to timelessness. The mind would like to run in and out, hopscotching, jumping over cracks, doing something constructive, anything but settle into the suspension of the great waiting of living in the unknown. And yet, we learned to wait.
Everyday for a month, our community, which spread around the globe and consisted of friends, and friends of friends, and family of friends, and strangers who would become friends, waited for news of our mutual friend's well being. We sometimes forget in the daily act of living that well being isn't just in the trajectory of living well, but also of dying well. And so we waited, alert for signs as to the direction of the wind.
A vigil is a preparation which one begins with emptiness, openness, and intention. The intention to show up and sweep the space clear for each moment to make its call. Each moment fills up, and each moment falls away like the breath and the tide, rhythmic, but full of tiny fluctuations.
When the bell tolled and the wind made its shift, the community let its collective held breath out slowly, sails catching news that we were heading for a very different shore--the most distant shore. A sigh, a cry, a wave preparing itself to be swallowed by the whole sea, we changed our collective direction, and again, we learned to wait.
In service of being present one tries to set aside their own needs, and simply see. The vigil allows one to see, if they will, that our wanting to be of service is filled with needs and desires, seen and unseen. Being a body in service is part of the vigil. Being an empty vessel is an ever changing shape filled with learning, and hopefully witnessing. It is not only the one who is preparing to pass that is in transition and transformation. If fortunate and open, it is the community and perhaps, even the collective.
Holding the space and intention to let someone you love pass gracefully, or in whatever manner that arises to birth them out of this life, is an honor. There was an extraordinary collective focus holding vigil for the passing of our friend. There was a huge community breathing with her.
We were the wind at her back helping her catch the tide and moving her out into the channel, supporting her gently until she could make her way into the crossing. Sailing, one slowing breath at a time, until there was none. And then too, we waited. And then too, we exhaled in one collective breath.
A sigh, a cry. A void, waiting to be filled by the incoming tide and the next breath and the one that comes after.
Our friend lives on in each one of us. She lives on in the community. She lives on in the collective.
Om Tryambakam Yajaamahe
Om Tryambakam to Sandra Hay