Reacting to the news of a teacher dying

Post written by Suraj Shah.

If you heard that a teacher you admire has just died, how would you react?

When I was studying for my GCSEs, I was struggling with physics. Fortunately, mum had hired a private tutor to help me align with the subject better.

Mr Wynston, an admired physics tutor

Mr Wynston would come to our home every single Tuesday evening and would help me to understand the past week’s topic. He would only charge for an hour, but would leave only after he was positive that I clearly understood the topic that we had planned to work on that week.

Every week, the wide-built Mr Wynston would arrive in his tiny Nissan Micra, and would pop a mint into his mouth as soon as he stepped in the front door. During our sessions he would always write with a pencil and would press so hard that he almost engraved the dining table with physics formulae! I thought that was just his style, but it turns out that he was probably struggling to write. I really admired Mr Wynston for the way he taught and the care he took with me. He was firm, but kind.

Getting the news

Close to the date of my exams, mum got a call from Mrs Wynston. Now Mr Wynston’s wife would never normally call us. Once mum got off the phone, she shared the news with me that Mr Wynston had been battling with cancer for a long time, although we didn’t know it, and he had passed away.

Confused reaction

As soon as mum told me this, a smile shot across my face, compounded with a deep feeling of guilt (for smiling) and confusion about how to react to the news. I felt sad and frustrated at not knowing what I felt about it, and my inappropriate expression. Even mum looked shocked at the way I was reacting to it.

This was probably one of my earliest memories of learning about someone I knew personally being alive one moment and dead the next.

I recall there have been other times when I have received sad news in my life. Not knowing how to react, I have expressed an inappropriate smile. Has that ever happened to you?

Death becomes easier to deal with

As we grow up, death seems to be easier to react to. We hear about it more. We expect it more. We know that where there is birth and life, death is certainly inevitable. Somehow that makes it easier to deal with.

(Photo courtesy of kpwerker)

Would you notice?

Poem written by Suraj Shah.

Time to wake up from this slumber,
Time to put my mundane desires to the side…

If I were to go today, would you notice me missing?
If I were to stay today, would you notice me here?
Doing much to keep me happy,
Running far away from fear.

Working hard for temporary pleasures,
Forgetting to focus on the core,
Ignoring the needs of others,
Is it only me that I adore?

Time to wake up from this slumber,
Time to put my mundane desires to the side,
Got to be brave and fight my inner enemies,
Got to no longer choose to hide.

If I were to go today, would you notice me missing?
If I were to stay today, would you notice me here?
Turn my attention now towards my true self,
Turn my attention towards what’s near.

If I were to go today, would you notice me missing?

Listen to the poem "Would you notice?"

(Photo courtesy of DieselDemon)

Paying your respects at the community prayer meeting

Post written by Suraj Shah.

Have you attended a prayer meeting recently to pay your respects when someone in the community has passed away?

When someone passes away, certain community groups have a set day or evening when members of the community can come together and attend a prayer meeting (sometimes referred to as a sadadi or prarthna sabha) to pay their respects.

During the prayer meeting, there is an opportunity to pay condolences to the close friends and relations of the deceased and then to sit in silence and listen to devotional singing.

Paying “dis-respect”¬† ūüôĀ

Sadly, not all those who attend this prayer meeting appreciate the importance of remaining silent. They will use it as an opportunity to catch up with distant family and old friends, and carry out conversations about cricket scores, business activity and boasting about their children’s graduation and getting a top city job.

I get the feeling that they feel forced having to attend the event, are bored, and are looking for anything that will be a distraction to their boredom.

All the while, the close family and friends of the deceased are grieving and confused, and deeply hurt that the other community members cannot respectfully maintain silence, even for just a couple of hours.

How would you feel if your father passed away and there was a lot of mindless chatter taking place in the hall? I’d certainly feel hurt and disrespected.

From dis-respect to introspect

Prayer meetings are in fact an excellent opportunity to introspect and enhance your compassion.

The next time you attend a community prayer meeting to pay your respects, here are seven tips to help you and those around you to remain respectful while taking some time for your own self-growth.

Tip #1: Remember the person who has passed away

When I was in my early 20s, one of my closest childhood friends died in a car accident. This was clearly a shock, but during the funeral I was remembering my friend’s caring nature and adventurous antics. I even laughed a little when the song “don’t worry, be happy” was playing in the crematorium – a fun reminder of his chilled-out nature.

If you personally knew the person who passed away, take the time to recollect the fondest memories you have of them.

  • How did they talk?
  • How did they act?
  • What was their main message in life?
  • What can you learn from their life and apply into yours?

Tip #2: Remember someone who has passed away that you were close to

When I attended my wife’s mother’s sister’s husband’s mother’s prayer meeting, I didn’t know the lady. But as this was my wife’s cousin’s grandmother (who I didn’t know) that passed away, I simply remembered my own nanima (grandmother).

I remembered how nanima used to listen to us with love. I remembered how she used to make delicious snacks for us. I remembered how she used to make us do the household chores and how she always got her way but got away with it because of how much we all adored her.

  • If you did not personally know the person that passed away, what do you remember about someone you did know?
  • If it’s your friend’s grandmother who passed away, then what fond memories do you have of your own grandmother?

Tip #3: Contemplate on the temporary nature and meaning of your own life

  • What is your own life about?
  • Do you really know how much time you have left?
  • What are you spending your time and energy on?
  • Is what you do going to bring you long term results?
  • What are you sacrificing due to your current activity?
  • What will happen to your body over the coming years and decades?
  • How will old age affect you?
  • How will disease affect you?
  • What provisions are you making for the time when you will no longer be around?

Tip #4: Recite a mantra over and over again in your head

One of my all time favourite mantras is the Navkar Mantra from the timeless Jain tradition.  It helps to calm the constant chatter that is taking place in my mind and it helps me to focus my thoughts on the qualities of those who have made huge strides in improving their spiritual state.

Navkar mantra

Om namo Arihantanam
Om namo Siddhanam
Om namo Aiyanianam
Om namo Uvajjayanam
Namo loye savve Sahunam
Eso pancho nammo karo
Savva pavo parnasano
Mangalanamcha savve siim
Padhamam havvai mangalam

In essence, with this mantra, I focus in on the qualities of:

  1. the Arihanta – those who have shone the light on how to rise above the mundane circumstances of everyday life and therefore to attain the state of abundant, infinite, eternal bliss.
  2. the Siddha – those who have done the immense work of freeing themselves from the shackles of karma, and all they now experience is a peak abundant state of bliss, knowledge, energy and consciousness.
  3. the Acharya – the heads of the spiritual organisations who, with great compassion, are helping masses of people to walk the path towards eternal peace and happiness.
  4. the Upadhyaya – the spiritual scholars who are making available the literature from the spiritual leaders of the past, for the benefit of the wider population.
  5. the Sadhus Рthe monks and nuns who are diligently putting into practice the lessons taught by all the above.

Reciting the above 9 lines over and over again has helped me in many situations where I have needed to be relaxed, centred and focus in on what matters the most.

Do you have a mantra that helps you calm your mind and focus your thoughts on what is important?

Tip #5: Immerse in the devotional music being played

Sometimes there is a lone person singing or there is a whole group performing.  Other times there is a CD or tape being played.

Whatever the source of the music, immerse in the music being played.  Listen in to the words and their deeper meaning.  Try to capture the emotion expressed by the performers.   Sing along if appropriate.  Do whatever it takes to fill your heart with bhakti bhaav (a deep devotional feeling).  I promise you Рwhen you are so immersed in the music, those around you will start to align to it too.

Tip #6: Lend a hand – help with the logistics

When the family is grieving, sometimes things get forgotten. This is the time to jump in and lend a hand.

  • Can you help with setting up or putting away the chairs?
  • Can you help the musicians get set up?
  • Can you source tissues, drinking water and glasses?
  • Can you organise a couple of people to help pour water into glasses and take it round for the close family?
  • Could you help to direct the crowd and pause the line when speeches are being given, eulogies are being read, and main prayers being recited?

Tip #7: Help those around you to remain respectful too

Granted, this one takes a little practice, but when done right, this can add a lot of value to everyone in the room.

When the person next to you starts up a conversation with you, gently glance at them, smile softly, and don’t say a word.¬† They may keep trying to talk to you, but hopefully they will catch on to your subtle message.

When people are having a full-blown conversation behind you, turn around, gently say hi and then ask “Please remind me – why are we here today?¬† Do we have to talk in this room, or can we have respect for the family and sit in silence?”

Done with the right intention, they will hopefully get the message without you causing them any embarrassment.

If all else fails, go back to Tip #5, immerse yourself in the devotional music and sing along with bhakti bhaav in your heart.

What can you add?

Which of these activities do you take part in during prayer meetings and how do they work out for you? What can you add that would provide inspiration to us all, help improve our behaviour, and further enhance our compassion towards those who are grieving?