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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 44 made their profundity all the more poignant. this teaching involved his fountain pen collection, which was extensive and worth a lot of money. he had sold several thousand dollars’ worth of pens to a man he’d contacted online. before payment was mailed, the man, some years younger than alan, suddenly died. since there was no good record of the transaction, the attorney who was handling the estate for the widow said he would not pay. alan could have hired his own attorney to recover the money, but it wasn’t worth the trouble and expense, so he ate the loss. “but i didn’t mind,” he said, “because i learned something that i should have known and thought i knew, but actually i didn’t know: when you’re dead you can’t do anything.” he told me this with great earnestness. as if it had never oc- curred to him before that when you’re dead you can’t do any- thing anymore. in a memorial retreat we held a few days after alan’s death, a retreat full of love and sorrow, i repeated this story. i said that since alan was now dead and couldn’t do anything, we would now have to do something because we were still alive. What that something was, i didn’t know. i only knew that somehow, in the face of a great loss, one does something different than one would otherwise have done. so this is what i learned (with alan’s help) about the meaning of loss: love rushes into the absence that is loss, and that love brings inspired action. if we are able to give ourselves to the loss, to move toward it—rather than recoil in an effort to escape, deny, distract, or obscure—our wounded hearts become full, and out of that fullness we will do things differently, and we will do different things. the tibetan buddhist master Chögyam trungpa talks about a soft spot, a raw spot, a wounded spot on the body or in the heart. a spot that is painful and sore. a spot that may emerge in the face of a loss. We hate such spots so we try to prevent them. and if we can’t prevent them we try to cover them up, so we won’t absentmindedly rub them or pour hot or cold water on them. a sore spot is no fun. yet it is valuable. trungpa rinpoche calls the sore spot embryonic compassion, potential compassion. our loss, our wound, is precious to us because it can wake us up to love, and to loving action. Too many people in times like these just don’t have the heart to do spiritual practice. But these are the best times for practice.