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Hi Katie, I too would have liked to attend the death and dying course. I have found that my experience of death and bereavement has been interesting in terms of social withdrawal vs contribution; and the inverse correlation of external and internal needs. At the beginning of last year, I had completely withdrawn from both the material and social world and felt a pull towards being surrounded by nature. I read something at the time that stuck with me: “because the tree looked very old, I thought it might have some ancient wisdom from when there were fewer things in the world”. Fewer things is what I wanted materially and in terms of social interaction, perhaps because so much was happening introspectively. Nature reminds me that there is an ebb and flow to life, a waxing and a waning, it reminds me that everything has a period of dormancy and enabled me to understand my desire to withdraw from my normal frame of reference.

The Parami of equanimity introduced in our first lesson had particular resonance with me. In my case, my aspiration to be of service a particular set of people is fuelled by a traumatic experience and yet until personal equanimity is reached it is harder to be of service to others. The stage I am at now – wanting to contribute and put myself “out there” in terms of supporting others has taken more bravery than I had anticipated because of that elaborate idea of self – the self who values privacy when it comes to ‘real honesty’, who doesn’t like to share weaknesses for fear of being a burden, and whose esteem might be impacted by exposing myself publicly with raw honesty. I am noticing that I still want to filter and edit – and had played with the idea of anonymity – none of which would serve my aspiration of engaging others by allowing them to identify. My perceived need for my suffering to go unnoticed by those who have not experienced the same could potentially block my aspiration to serve and help the right people. Ironically, it is this very stigma of reserved silence that I want to speak out against.

In February this year, I was again reminded of the fragility of life when I lost seven pints of blood during an unexpected emergency operation. My immediate reaction was one of gratitude that I survived. Also, the knowledge that I am only here because of someone else’s generosity in giving blood. Afterwards, I experienced so much kindness from others – including someone on our course who took the day off work to fill our fridge with delicious meals. To me, the most important thing was expressing gratitude. I was upset to the point of tears one day that I didn’t make the post to send the daily batch of letters of thanks. Why was this? Other than hormones and general exhaustion.. by thanking people, I felt like less of a burden and that I was reciprocating in some small way. This made me reflect more on the Parami of generosity – whether it can be pure or does the “feel-good factor” add to our idea of the self.