Today is the 7th anniversary of the 9/11 event, and as I read the posts of various blogs I follow, of the editor letters in the paper, and general internet chatter, I find myself thinking about death.
Especially the topic of mourning a death of a loved one. Death, and our reaction to it, is a perfect example of the Middle Way that Buddha lived and taught. You see, when you think about it, its rather selfish to mourn the death of someone. If you believe in a life after death, either Heaven, Pure Land, reincarnation, etc, then you can be comforted by the hope that maybe they are in a better place. If you are of the opinion that death is the final end, then you can be comforted that they are no longer suffering. Either way, mourning is selfish, a way to comfort ourselves, to drown ourselves in regret, sorrow, and loss.
Yet modern psychology tells us that mourning is A) perfectly natural and B) healthy, when done properly.
In order to further understand, we must realize that the word "selfish" is free of any positive or negative connotations. To be selfish, in it's truest sense, is merely to take care of one's body and mind. Now one can be too selfish, or not selfish enough, and both of those paths lead to suffering.
The purpose of mourning is simply a way to deal with death, to recognize our attachment to that person, and to learn to let go of that attachment. Sounds healthy enough, and usually it is. Sometimes though we take that sorrow and loss and wrap it around us, letting it overwhelm us, drowning in the despair like an angsty teenager without a prom date, shaking a fist at the sky and saying "Oh, woe is me!"
When we do that, we are not mourning for that person, but for what we've personally lost, and in doing so, I think, is rather disrespectful of the deceased. We are supposed to be mourning for them, reflecting and acknowledging their life, not obsessing over what we have lost and forgetting the present moments passing us by. Its rather ironic when you think about it; we lose present moments by obsessing over what we have lost. By obsessing over the loss of a life, we lose part of ours.
Another way people try to deal with death is to be strong, not letting their natural emotions affect them at all, and go back to their daily lives. They may throw themselves into their work, or keep as busy as possible so they won't have to deal with the person's death. Psychologically speaking this is unhealthy because the person is not confronting the death and their feelings connected to the loss, and because they do so, they are denying reality, thus creating dukka (dissatisfaction).
Thus we have the middle way of death and mourning, to acknowledge the death, deal with our feelings surrounding the death, honoring the dead by reflecting on their life, and not using their death as an excuse to feel sorry for ourselves, or denying the affect their death has on us altogether. Letting go of our attachment to their lives and moving on with ours.
5 hours ago