Grief is a sacred journey

“I Am Because You Are”: Community and Compassion

Vic at his book party

Vic at his book launch party, March 2008

“I watched Vic talking on YouTube earlier today,” Deborah Gregory, poet and Jungian writer at The Liberated Sheep, wrote in a blog comment a few days after the Paris attacks. “It is the first time I have met him since reading your wonderful book, Leaning into Love. I love how he spoke of you right at the end…. I felt like a witness to Love.”

Really? I drew a blank. A YouTube video of Vic I didn’t know about?

“Can you send me the link?” I wrote back.” I was sure she’d made a mistake.

Deborah responded immediately. “Here is the link to the video…. I did a quick search ‘vic mansfield dalai lama’… and near the top of the list this video was there, like a gift.”

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Goldenrod Library dedicated by Dalai Lama in 1979

I followed the link, still sure there was an error. I was wrong.

I had forgotten this video even though our friend Mark Scorelle posted it on YouTube and sent it to me in February 2015. I was surrounded by book events and deadlines at the time and must have decided to delay the grief that would come from watching it. It could wait a few days, but instead it sank into the unconscious.

51W1zaayM8L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The video was recorded on March 1, 2008, when members of our community Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies gathered to honor the publication of Vic’s last book Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge. Honoring the Dalai Lama’s request, Vic finished the book while undergoing cancer therapy.

That night over seven years ago, I was proud and worried. I ached with grief. Vic was a few days away from 67. He was alive. He joked about that being a temporary condition.

In the Youtube piece below, Vic begins speaking at 29 minutes after chanting and meditation led by the head monk at Namgyal Monastery, the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Ithaca, NY, and singing led by Jayne Demakos.

 

Watching the video last week, I flinched as Vic stood, awkward and slow, grasping a blackboard for support. He no longer sprung from the floor like an agile cat. His face was prednisone puffy and pink. His belly was swollen with inflammation despite the palliative medicines. We knew it wouldn’t be long.

Vic thanked friends for the food they’d brought before grinning, dropping into his sunshine self, and saying, “They’ll say about Wisdom’s Goldenrod: ‘they had very little spiritual attainment, but they ate well.’” Instead of weeping over Vic’s situation, we howled with laughter. Spiritual attainment is what we were after in the 1960s and 70s when we met our teacher Anthony Damiani. Creating feasts had proved to be easier.

Six weeks before Vic's death

Six weeks before Vic’s death

Vic and the Dalai Lama

with the Dalai Lama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vic shared a dream in which his friends gave him a healing cocoon made of silver threads. He choked back tears. So did I. Then he read two stories from his book. The first was about meeting the Dalai Lama in 1979, an experience shared by many in the room. Next Vic read about a traumatic encounter with a pickpocket in the Barcelona airport that opened him to compassion for a stranger. It was pure Vic to tell a story where he was both fool and hero.

He ended with the South African idea of Ubuntu: “I am because we are” or “I am because of you.” “There is no such thing as isolated or independent existence, whether we speak of particles or people.” Vic wrote in his book. “…we are expressions of our mutual connectedness to each other…” (page 91)

Our community greeting the Dalai Lama at the Ithaca airport, 1979

Our community greeting the Dalai Lama at the Ithaca airport, 1979

When Deborah sent the link right after the Paris attacks, a sense of despair and fear permeated the world. I needed the message and the healing tears. I needed to remember Umbunto and interconnectedness as our world slid into fear and aggression.

Our family, April 2008

Our family, April 2008

“I am because you are.”

***

Thank you for reading this. You are part of my community. What helped you after the catastrophe in Paris? Have you ever put aside something that feels too difficult and found it later when you truly needed?

If you’d like to read about Vic meeting with the Dalai Lama six weeks after the video, see The Dalai Lama Blesses a Dying Man at Lion’s Roar. For more articles about meetings with the Dalai Lama, follow this link. To understand the idea of Ubuntu, listen to Desmond Tutu explain it.

 

Leaning Into Love captures the heart from the extraordinary closeness of Elaine's marriage to how she and Vic transform their struggle with cancer and despair into a conscious relationship with mortality. After Vic's death, Elaine leans into her ongoing love as grief leads her through overwhelming emotional and spiritual depths on a journey beyond their time together into her new life.

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20 Comments
  1. This is deeply inspiring. Thanks so much Elaine — and Vic!

  2. Elaine, thank you so much … I started to watch this several days back after Deborah’s comment on a previous post of yours but something went a bit haywire with the day. This day is haywire but I much look forward to listening to Vic. It must have been extraordinary to come across this link. Thank you for sharing this with us. I truly look forward to giving it my full attention.

    • Susan, as you know, Vic loved teaching and studying Jung, but when the Dalai Lama asked him to write a book about Buddhism and Physics, he made a choice. His energy was too limited to continue to work in three areas. He also quit teaching physics, but continued to teach a course on Tibet. He devoted the rest of his life to the Dalai Lama’s assignment. Big lessons for head and heart.
      I hope haywire gets sorted out and all is well.

  3. Elaine, I have heard your voice on your TedX talk, but never before have heard Vic’s. You knew how sick he was then, but as an “innocent” bystander, he looked and sounded perfectly normal to me particularly when he gamely stated, “No, I don’t want a chair!” His entire presentation reveals humor, spontaneity, a love for learning – and above all, a magnanimous spirit. Some people live their whole lives without ever knowing/feeling a LOVE like this. No wonder you feel the loss so keenly – still.

    I am thankful to be part of your community, Elaine, and await other surprises!

    • That was the voice of Vic after being pummeled by chemotherapy and cancer, but he knew what he wanted to say and what mattered. He was not an angel. Just a loving man who took his illness as a teacher and never stopped looking for meaning and lessons.
      Thanks for being part of my community, Marian. I love our supportive connection–and I love your blog.

  4. “Whatever is lost will be found”

    Ah! You said you would write about this unearthing, and you have! Another beautifully written post Elaine, such a deep joyous read. Those messages between us that day were incredible. I was so pleased to have been able to help bring Vic’s video to light, and to your attention. From time to time I sense these gaps that appear in time itself, and in those gaps we all enter what’s known as, “time outside of time” and it was there that day I feel that I met Vic. So strange and ordinary all at the same time.

    I love reading your blog Elaine and being a member of your warm and welcoming global village. Your book “Leaning into Love” was an incredible read, such beautiful, lyrical writing. I have recommended it to two of my clients in the last couple of weeks. If you enjoy reading Shakespeare you may enjoy Jeanette Winterson latest book which I finished yesterday titled “The Gap of Time” a cover story for The Winter’s Tale, perfect reading for December.

    Thank you so much for linking to my poetry blog, that’s so generous of you. I really enjoyed all your pictures, most especially the last one of you and Vic with your sons. Blessings always, Deborah.

    • Thank you so much, Deborah. Yes, strange and ordinary the way an experience slips into the unconscious and then takes on new meaning as a synchronicity. Sometimes we need our friends to point out the places where we’re blind. Thank you. This experience connected me to you in a new way.

      I enjoyed Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal. I haven’t read The Gap in Time. It’s on my list–my very long list–but she’s a courageous, skilled, and unique memoirst, one I want to read. I almost put a photo of Desmond Tutu as the last image in the blog. He’s another loving force in a troubled world.

      Photography was a way to pull myself out of inner gloom and focus on beauty in the world after Vic died. It still works. That last photo was a selfie my son took of all of us before I knew what a selfie was. Blessings returned, and gratitude.

  5. Elaine, I felt truly honoured to be able to listen and watch Vic. I feel as though I’ve known him through the years I’ve known you. His heart and humour came right through the screen to me. I felt such a sadness once again for your loss. But no matter how much grief is stored within you, I know this video was a heartfelt welcome to once again listen and see your beloved Vic. Thank you so much for sharing this video with us. <3

  6. I too loved listening to this whole video, Elaine. I especially loved the story of how he read the book on compassion, then tackled a man who was beating up a cop, then evaluated his feelings afterward. Such genuine compassion and honesty. I think I watched another video in a previous post or search, but this one moved me most.

    I was also touched by your community at Goldenrod.

    I feel fortunate to have a community also through my church and friendships. On Sunday Stuart and I will be reunited with our small group that started in the 1970s and continues even after we know longer live in the area. I know we will be holding our violent world in our collective hands.

    Thank you for your activism and writing on behalf of compassion for the world and all sentient beings.

    • Vic was amazed by that experience in the Barcelona Airport. I can’t think of any other time when he tackled anyone, except in play with our kids and I’m sure in high school football. I growled when he first told me the story when he got home from that trip. “Stupid risk,” I thought. But at the moment and even in retrospect, it felt like the right thing to do.

      The Goldenrod community isn’t as tightly knit since the founder died in 1984, but it’s still community. There are many small classes there and some big weekend workshops and, if anyone needs a ride to the doctor or soup, it’s a gift to be part of this circle. People show up for each other the way they did for Vic and for me.

      I’m grateful to think of you holding “our violent world in our collective hands.” Thank you. The more trusted and trusting hands the better.

  7. Elaine, a very haywire week for me too, with way too many unread e-mails and no time to interact on the net. But I love your post and will watch Vic’s talk as soon as I have a moment. I’m off to carpool grandkids now! Then out with friends. Crazy season has begun. With much admiration and appreciation for your wise and gentle internet presence and support. You are a beacon of light. Jeanie

    • The “crazy season” only happens in my head, Jeanie, since my family lives at a distance. I’m planning and buying only a little. I repeatedly reassure Vic’s mom that “the boys will be home for Christmas.” She thinks of David and Anthony as little kids. This is family here.

      Thanks for your kind words. I love sharing an adventure with you, and we’re just beginning. For those who don’t know, Jean Raffa and I are co-leading a workshop in FL on March 11 and 12 about dreams and mortality on Friday night and ancient mythology and grief on Saturday. Stay tuned for more details and join us if you can.

  8. I saved this for evening so I could watch the video uninterrupted by work. I can only imagine what it must have been like to come upon this video. Thank you for giving us all the opportunity to see and hear your husband doing the work he loved, in the community that loved you both.

    • How nice of you, Paula. When treasures of this sort show up in my life, they usually have a message I need to take in. Ubuntu was the idea I needed after the Paris carnage and all that has followed. It’s hard to hold on to that principle, but it’s the best medicine for fear and rage.

  9. I completely get how you put away and forgot about the video. I imagine that’s how I “discovered” so many of the gifts my daughter left me, well after she’d died and I’d cleaned and cleared away all her stuff. This is so beautiful. “I am because we are” may become my next motto. Thank you, Elaine.

    • Isn’t “Ubuntu” a wonderful idea, Robin? It was the presiding idea in the South African truth and reconciliation hearings. The other day I pulled a book off my bookshelf by a Jungian writer named James Hillman because a friend asked if I had it and wanted to read something from it. I was so intrigued by Vic’s many margin notes that I hardly looked at the book.

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