Tricycle Film Club

Buddhist films and discussion for the
Tricycle Community

Griefwalker

The redemptive power of a deep love for life

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GriefwalkerEach month, Tricycle Supporting and Sustaining Members will be treated to a select feature-length film, presented in partnership with Alive Mind Cinema and BuddhaFest Film Festival, June 14-17 in Washington, DC. The benefits of membership continue to grow, so if you're not already a Supporting or Sustaining Member, upgrade now and watch our March selection, Griefwalker, written and directed by Tim Wilson. The discussion is led by the film's subject, Stephen Jenkinson.

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Griefwalker (March 2012)

A universal experience whether or not we can admit it, death is the sole counterpart to life. From the moment we take our first breath, death is our only guaranteed experience. This is something Stephen Jenkinson not only understands but something he loves. And he wants you to feel the same way. Griefwalker, a feature length documentary by Tim Wilson, sets its lens on Jenkinson in an unforgettable exploration of death phobia as a culture.

Discussion leader Stephen Jenkinson, a Harvard educated theologian, is one of Canada’s leading palliative care educators. Listen to a Tricycle Talk with Jenkinson here.

Read more about Griefwalker—and purchase the film—here.

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pwoodall's picture

I just saw the film for the 1st time, and I found it absolutely breath taking. Thank you so much for letting us all see it through the Internet!

lfleming1019's picture

My experience of grief has been "layered," the first layer being quite personal and claustrophobic, and after a time that layer has given way to a more spacious and shared one. When my mother died in 2005, because of many unresolved issues between us, I found it very difficult to be with her as she was dying. Grief came in hot, grinding waves that suffocated me and left me choking and gasping. I remember a moment when, after having been crouched down in MY pain over the awful way in which MY mother died and left all of MY issues unaddressed - and suddenly, the simple realization that everyone's mother dies came floating down over me like a cool, soft rain. I looked up from MY outrage and misery and saw that it wasn't just mine, but rather grief is something we all share. I can't express properly how profound this shift in awareness was, what a relief it was. I continued to grieve for some time, but I had a definite sense of it being a process, not at all solid or fixed, as it had been before that "aha!" moment.

Several years later, my step-mother, whom I loved deeply, also died. My experience of her death was so different from how it had been when my biological mother died. (I attribute this to several factors: a much less painful relationship with my step-mother, my having begun a daily meditation practice shortly after my mother's death, and having had the prior experience of that death as a reference point.) Here, I was able to be fully present. I wanted to be in that room with this woman who had loved me as if I were one of her own as she drifted away from this world. I had a sense of her dying, and all that went on around it, as being quite natural. My grief felt natural, too, and throughout, it had that spacious, shared feeling. It was personal, in that I felt it acutely, but not with that clutching, choking sense of special ownership that I'd had earlier with my mother's death.

So I think that relating to death and grief is something we can, and should, learn to do. I became a hospice volunteer as a result of that realization. I am seriously thinking of going back to school (in my 50s) to become a death and bereavement counselor. Seeing this film has further kindled this desire.

Thank you.

ann.sheets@gmail.com's picture

I watched and listened to Griefwalker--just once so far--and then ordered the DVD because it raises questions and wondering for me. Then I started reading the comments, the dialogue and realize that I will save those also because Griefwalker was only a beginning of one path, the dialogue is part of that path. I am grateful to Steve for his openess to participating in the dialogue through a computer.
Ann

Mirinda's picture

Amen bleeds out of the sirens.
It seeps in through the windows.
The red alarming air of it is banshee wailing daily.

Dirges of Amen loll out of smokestacks,
half-asleep. They catch on the barbed wire
and flap themselves to shreds.

Amen dissolves but never decreases.
Rock salt sticks to its belly.
It withers in the cracks of the frostbitten blacktop.

Time and Amen compound upon matter.
The scrape of a chill pervades our bones.
Fog replaces marrow.

We thaw ourselves with prayers of Amen,
warmed and poured out
in the face of nothing.

Blizzards of Amen surround us with their voices.
It is eternity, you tell me
reaching towards and touching dust.

Amen beckons above all other invisibles.
I build a downy cradle on the bridge of faith
and fluff the immaterial

Stephen Jenkinson's picture

The scene about half way through Griefwalker of the dying moments of a baby girl, and the moments afterwards, are radioactive for a culture that consecrates youth, agility,competence, mastery, some misshapen sense of 'fairness' and self directedness. The scenes are mysterious and grief soaked for a culture that knows infant mortality well, whose citizens are unable except in the most collapsed states of amnesia to wake up each day expecting to live. I was born in the first kind of culture, as were the parents and the young girl of that scene, and so all of us - and probably many of you - struggle with all kinds of things at that point in the film: Should such a thing be seen by anyone who wasn't there? What is up with filming that? What goes through a father when he presses the button on his hand held camera and watches his daughter dying? Is there any merit to knowing that scenes such as this are happening right now, in every city on this continent, despite whatever medical expertise is brought to bear? What are you supposed to do with this information? Is it information, or is it something else, something more like a call?

There was a German poet of I believe the 18thC, Holderlin, who said something close to this: I will live my life in such a way as, some day, to come to the time when nothing human is foreign to me. That is a daunting, honourable, grief soaked proposition, requiring I think enormous labour and tempering of the soul. In my years in the death trade I tried in my fashion to proceed that way. One of the things I was lucky enough to glimpse somewhere along the line was that good fortune in life rarely builds fellowfeeling or leads to deep introspection or contemplative pauses. No one ever came to me when their life was bubbling nicely and said, "Well, this seems like a good time to wonder deeply what I'm doing." The prompt, invariably, was adversity, abherration, rupture, something unwelcome, unanticipated and, it seemed to them all, unlikely. Though I, as a father of one who was once a young girl of that age, cannot see myself standing behind a camera filming her end - and thank everything Holy I never had to choose against such a moment - I see in that scene in Griefwalker a finely wrought invitation to communion, where we shrug off the suffocating shroud of "Kids aren't supposed to die" and warm ourselves with the smokey blanket of "Kids die, too", and it is from this that perhaps we can weave a different understanding of what living asks of humans who are willing to be human instead of insisting on being successful. It is from this that we might conjur a different understanding of the 'supposed to's' of life from the 'is's' of life.

The elixer of fellowship, the daub binding the wattle of our mutual days, where the warp of the unseen binds itself to the weft of the seen, seems to me to be grief. Not sadness nor suffering, though there's lots of that to share around and comisserate over. Grief when practiced is not an affliction, not a pacifying tolerance, not an intrusion from the Great Without. It seems to be a certain skillful willingness to know how the great life bringer is death, how our entire lives are underwritten by the death of other things, how the great looming question as we are gathered up towards the end of our days is what or whom our manner of dying shall feed. Grief has never been to me the collapse of one's Gods given imagination, and it has never seemed to have required anyone I know, or me, to 'accept' anything. The language of grief isn't, "I give", or "Okay, fine". It is more akin to "Amen".

For better and for worse, I'll try to jump into this conversational stream once more before the statute of limitations kicks in at the end of the month.
All blessings on your houses.

Dominic Gomez's picture

As a male, I envy you being able to bring forth life from within your own life. Consider yourself a Buddha.

Mirinda's picture

How to love this agonized existence? Is it as simple as a choice? The certainty of death was a comfort to me for most of my life, as my experience of existence had mostly been pain on top of pain. But last year, when I became pregnant, I was beset by joy and wonder at this innocent little life growing within me, and it crucified my heart. I knew I would be giving birth to a creature that would have to die, and I felt severely depressed and unable to get up from my couch. A cradle of effacement is cruel and gruesome. It encroaches on what is beloved. It destroys it. Naturally one weeps at this state of things, regardless of what comes after. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is also one of the shortest: "Jesus wept." (John 11:35) This, although Lazarus was to be resurrected shortly. Weeping to me to is as necessary as breathing. The footage of Sasha's death in Griefwalker felt, literally, like it was electrocuting my heart. In addition to weeping, I felt the need to vomit, hyperventilate, and shake. Looking at this beautiful baby girl recede into death while her parents sang her "Bah Bah Black Sheep" inspired such helpless horror to reverberate through my body that it continues to prevent me from re-watching this documentary, which I would have wanted to see again. I wish I could understand.

daddad462's picture

I have worked as a Respiratory Therapist for about the last 20 years & have been "pulling the plug" on dying people as part of my job since my very naive early 20s. I suffered anxiety attacks & nightmares wondering if I was sinning by this act that literally took away a person's last breath. Then I just learned to block it out, be cold about it, or deny what was happening by assuming a cavalier attitude about it like many of my co-workers.
I am now about a year out from my last suicidal ideations & 2 years out from a life changing personal & family crisis which triggered a kind of much needed crucifixion of my ego & deep introspection. This movie's topic is one of the areas I have finally been able to start looking at honestly as a result of that. Not just in terms of my patients... but in terms of my own mortality, that of my loved ones, and probably even our species.
It's difficult for a well trained "head in the sand-er" like me to do this but it has been rewarding despite it's horrifyingness. Sometimes I find myself smiling & crying at the same time when I open up to life's total paradox.
I appreciate the deep honesty & genuineness conveyed in this film. It inspires me to communicate as honestly as I can, while I still can.

ddmatta's picture

Great movie! I think we fear death because it one of those intense experiences that we have to go through ALL ALONE. It is "we" who are leaving, leaving forcefully ... everybody and everything...

And that is one third of the story... We are going maybe to naught or to some place we may not like... That is another third... And we may /could end up in a shape we do not like...the last third.

As long we are attached to others,things,places and our own bodies, in addition to having a mind that fabricates all the time, fear and pain will follow us like our own shadow.

To contrast life with death is a useless dichotomy. I desire one and abhor the other for no clear reasons except for being fascinated with a life that looks like a multicolored rainbow but that we fail to see as without any substance, and as it is, already inseparable from empty space. Dying to this Life is just as living to that Death. I prefer to observe and enjoy the circus,hopefully peacefully, and to give myself the permission to cry and to laugh simultaneously.

daddad462's picture

One POSSIBLY clear reason you (& I) might desire life & abhor death is that it is our species' karma- sometimes called natural evolution if you will. You & I are here as a direct result of all our ancestors surviving long enough to reproduce after eons of competition with others that wanted to do the same thing... some say this goes all the way back to single celled organisms & now our DNA carries all that survival instinct with its drive to survive & basic relating to things we perceive as OTHER in terms of: can I consume or enjoy it? can it consume or harm me? or can I mate with it?
I'm trying to find the middle way for me. Not living to die & all nihilistic or dying to live in a manic way. Just find a healthy middle ground. Good luck to us all.

Dominic Gomez's picture

You can't take it with you, even something as small as the tingle of fresh, cool morning air when you open the window first thing in the morning.

Philip Ryan's picture

Wow, is this how far gone we are? There is now a movement to classify long-term grief as a mental disorder.

shin's picture

it is a bit of a catch-22 Philip. There are states of complicated and traumatic grief which can go on for very long periods of time and be devastating to a person's life. Unfortunately in our mangaged care mindset and DSM criteria, if you ain't got a *disorder* nobody is going to give you time off and no insurance company is going pony up... Having said that, I prefer looking at grief through the lense of the Four Noble Truths, the 'Heavenly Messengers', and the sufi saying that 'Grief can be a gateway to the garden of enlightenment.' An incredibly painful gateway at times to be sure...

And thanks Stephen for the mention of the Periodic Table. A good reminder of the many death reflections available in Buddhism: 4 Primal Elements; 32 body parts; 'throwing it all back'; cemetery meditations etc.

Dominic Gomez's picture

As Charlie Brown would say: "Good grief! Doesn't anybody know about the Four Truths?"

markkemark's picture

This was an incredibly moving film...I believe my life will be different because of watching this, and I've never said that about any movie. Thank you!

Pilgrim Rich's picture

Hello
The movie is well done ,hits a subject that my society try,s so hard to ignore,my faith I grow up in ignored the road of death,and concentrated on their take on the destiny not the road to get there.so glad the film was made and more so I was able to view and absorb some of it and meditate over its contains a lot longer.
Thanks to all
Richard Bell

Stephen Jenkinson's picture

It is no secret to you folks that I make no claim to know Buddhism, nor that what I speak about in Griefwalker and elsewhere has anything to say to Buddhists that could be helpful. Buddhism I'm sure has its able advocates, adjudicators and truth keepers, and likely has no need of another such as me.

But perhaps this could be helpful: The only real use I saw myself being to terminally ill people - pleading with them to die well when they imagined and wished for no such thing - came first from realizing that their suffering arose not from their dying, but from the unhappy fact that they were dying in a time and place that was itself poor in spirit and deeply aversive where dying is concerned, a time that gave them no story where dying was sanctified, justified, wholly human, healthy. It did not seem to me that their suffering came from an illusory attachment to their bodies, their lives, their selves. It seemed to me that it came from a failed attempt or a sustained attempt to be disembodied much of their contemplative lives, from the theologically driven notion that the body is a booby trap, a time bomb, a web of lies, a Starbucks takeout coffee cup, the sooner disposed of the better.

The body, I'm told by those who know chemistry and the Periodic Table, is composed of the self same things of which the moutain behind my farm is composed. The mountain is a gift to the river (the same river you see in the film) at its feet, clearly: it sends streams of remembrance to the river constantly, especially in this season. And the river often, tangibly, longs for the old days gathered around the mountain top when it begins to mist and rise in that direction. My farm lies in between this remembrance and longing.

So I seem to be taught most days that the mountain and the river are true things, Holy things, neither an illusion, neither a hindrance to a deepening human life. So a human body, in death too, must neither be an illusion nor hindrance to a deepening human life. The fact that the human body doesn't last too long might be a good sign that one of the Holies of Life - the Lord of Decay - is present and accounted for among us. As a farmer I can assure you: no decay, no life. The suffering I saw at so many death beds came from so many lives having been lived as if such a thing were not true. It seemed to me then and now that living one's life preparing for one's death does not mean melting the attachment that binds us to life: it might mean loving the whole wacky enterprise, anyhow.

brook.laura@yahoo.com's picture

Well, I keep coming back to you. Most days much of the day I spend in denial or avoidance. Then I read something or do a still practice and it comes my body shakes my stomach revolts easy to talk of lots of ideas about death suffering but to live it daily not mine piece of cake but a beloved child. I left my zen group in jan needed space tired of empty words needed to look deeply at self. Went back Tues. Dharma teacher said with irritation well Laura now were r u going to look?
My reply shocked him "well right here right now, just as my life is." I no instinctively that this is my tree. That's what I heard in the film. The mountain is neither an illusion of my judgement or ideas nor and object independent of me. This is not about training the mind learning compassion or all the other ideas we assign to life. I have stuffed tried figured out healed the list is endless. Steve called it love it's been called quality awakened reality lots of words. But some where in between object and subject it rest waiting. I know this. All I can do is some simple activities that help me rest in it sometimes. I think like the film paddling a conoe or........
I no this is wordy but please understand even writing these words creates tears shaking and terror. I despartly want neat answers or to denie or avoid or......there just isn't any for me right now. Life has become my greatest teacher. Ruthless using the zen stick with great vigor unavoidable. Thank "God" for the mountain the sky the pesky seagulls that scream. Thank you Steve Thank discussion group I know for me I need to speak. But like the films so beautifully shows nobody really wants to even get near it. ESP when the process is long and it's a child.
With a large sigh and a deep bow I have held all I can right now I am moving into the sleep of daily activities. It's the best I can do
Laura laffing brook

Camille Martinez's picture

I am involved in a study, a directed self study: What does it mean to Love?
and profound paradox is triggered.... to viscerally, deeply comprehend Love shared with the Others in my life has triggered deep investigation of self love....
and now with this film....
deepening of the paradox... with Jenkins simple question:
"What does it mean to fall in Love with Life?"

I have notion that Love requires spaciousness.
Sufficient space to allow quirks to bubble up, express, expire...
There is no contractual obligation, no quid pro quo, no "if this, then that",
in experiencing Love for the Other, love for myself,
and now... also apparently in experiencing Life.

Grooming the attitude of curiosity:
How is my Lover experiencing today?

jjmummert's picture

Just a wonderful, wonderful awakening experience....this film.

Thank you.

jlbader's picture

I loved the film. I came a little closer to feeling familiar and peaceful about the on-going-ness of death. Having moments of even being able to love it, embrace it. I think of my dear neighbor and friend Jeff when I listened to Stephen talk about sharing your dying as if having a banquet and feeding all who want to come. Jeff shared his dying openly every step of the way for his year and half journey through pancreatic cancer. It was like "Well, sit down. Let me tell you about my dying life today. ...And have you seen this new star gazing application on my new ipod. Let's sit on the back porch and we can find the constellations above us...." Several days before his death he had his own birthday party...He was at home in hospice but managed to get into a wheel chair, tell all of us thank you and how much he loved us. He gave me this gift of how to be with life and dying. Your film brought this gift to the forefront of my being again. I was so touched by the parents of the young child who brought her home and cherished laughter and play in their lives again. Thank you for helping me open up more to all that life is and all that I love. At this moment I feel heartened and very alive.

sschroll's picture

Dear Steve and Tim,

The 10th time I watched it????

When you said you have to love it (death) , i wondered.....is he nuts.....but it has been a question in my mind for a long time......???????

Bruce H Lipton, in a Cd says the definition of life is movement........Water flows because there is a higher elevation and a lower one,.......electricity flows because there is a positive and a negative, a life without conflict would be a flat land, nothing can move.......life has has meaning because when you love the flower you are looking at, you can also see it withering....and you know that will happen to you too!...and now I know that death is a necessity for life to be possible........and now i can also greet it and love it.

Grief and the praise of life.

THANK YOU, Thank You, thank you for your deep insight and finding the way to express it, bowing in gratitude.

Stephen Jenkinson's picture

To Laura, who asked where cultures who may not fear death can be found:
This fear of death is a kind of syndrome, masquerading as a culture. Because of that it is highly contagegous, in the same way that longing for heaven is contageous. So it can leap over any culture barrier, and has done. There are places where it isn't prevelant and doesn't hold sway, but each of them is vulnerable to it - in precisely the way that this culture was. So in my school I respond to a question such as yours by asking my scholars instead to contemplate how it may have come to be that the dominant culture in North America is as it is, that it is not inevitable that we are as we are here, that there is a kind of unrecognized poverty in the midst of plenty that makes room for this terror. We earn some real sense of well being by wrestling that particular angel, I think, rather than to have pictures on the wall of how it is elsewhere. This could be a beginning of us earning the possibility of our corner of the world being otherwise.

Laura438's picture

I have just read your response,
a week now after your posting of it.
Thank you for your very beautiful and poetic reply
and for the direction for contemplation
that you have offered.

I especially appreciated these lines:
how it may have come to be
that the dominant culture in North America
is as it is

that it is not inevitable

that there is a kind of unrecognized poverty
in the midst of plenty

that makes room for this terror.

My deep gratitude again for your presence, your work, and this film.

andapeterson's picture

I just watched the film and it left me feeling glad I have a Buddhist perspective. The film focused on ouro attachments to our bodies, our loved ones, our lives. However, I am comforted by knowing I am not this solid body, even though I think I am. Identifying with my aging body (I'm 64) and it's eventual decay isn't helpful for me. Practicing seeing physicality as phenomena that changes is helpful. I know buddhist monks go to charnel grounds to face death and so I understand that it is important to face the changes that happen to the physical "self." I've seen the unanimated bodies of friends and family after death and am more convinced that the physical is only a shell at best. The animating breath ( what spirit actually means in the ancient Aramaic) is not in this particular body, and the breath is the doorway to awakening. But that is less important to me than the idea of how we are asleep now in these bodies; how unaware we are of what is real and what is not. The idea of attachment also helps me deal with death and dying and I am grateful for the dharma.

TW77's picture

Good point!! I kept thinking the same thing!

TW77's picture

Great film...one thing about this path i like is talking about this uncomfortable (for me) subject. I could not even think about it for half a second before. It was something morbid people spoke of but at the same time i knew i wasn't being realistic. And that just fueled a massive fear which spilled into my life in different ways. But there's no tools for North Americans to work with - as is pointed out in the film. Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying is really good and helps to take away some of the power this subject has. At the same time...no one has crossed over and came back to tell us what really happens. So in my opinion it's all speculation and I choose to go with what i feel is real. At the same time it's important to ponder it and think of ways to help those who are dying or who lost someone. Meditation, for me, helps bring clarity on its own rather than pounding concepts and beliefs into my head. As the "self" loosens it's grasp you start to relax a little and see that there's more to life than "me" which means dying also loses power. But for me, only meditation could help me with that. Everything else just made me frustrated because i kept trying to find peace, an answer, and to understand it intellectually. No mind can grasp that. Even rebirth, a whole other subject but...i don't know. That's in the future, which doesn't exist - so how can you be reborn?

The part i really liked was when describing how ensuring patients are pain free and still seeing the anxiety in their eyes. It was a good point.

Lastly, it reminded me that i should go back and re-read Chogyam's Spiritual Materialism. It's a clever trap that's easy to fall into.

Laura438's picture

Hi, Travis. One thing that attracted me to Buddhism, too, was the fact that Buddhists talk about death. Our cultural taboo about even talking about death does us no good. What a relief to find others open to death as a vital part of life!

Another book you might be interested in is Tulku Thondup's book, Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth. It actually does have stories in it of Tibetans who "have crossed over and come back to tell us what really happens." It is fascinating reading with more information than the typical Western near death experience.

nanaMont's picture

This is a very thoughtful, moving and true film. I'm a hospice social worker, working with people at the end of life. This film captured the variety of ways that we think about and avoid thinking about death. I really appreciate Stephen's straight talk and after watching the film, I feel a little more equipped in my hospice work. Thank you.

poetess1966's picture

I have a disease which will one day take my life, Systemic Lupus. I've never feared death. My brother died when he was 7 and I was 3, almost 4. He died from Reyes Syndrome. His brain began to swell after he was given aspirin for the flu. Ever since then, when someone I know dies, I have the same dream. I'm walking in the woods with whoever has died. We come to a clearing and standing on the other side is my brother. He meets us in the middle of the clearing and says, "This is as far as you can go. I'll show them the way. And when it's time, I'll meet you here." This is the first time I've told anyone but my husband about this dream. But it's why I don't fear death. I know that death is simply a transition. It is simply crossing the clearing. I guess I "carry" death as Stephen says. And I think being Cherokee has also played into it. Cherokees don't say good-bye at death. We say, "It's been good. Next time it will be better". As if we were talking about a party that didn't turn out so well. In my family, we lost 7 family members in 7 years. We got good at grieving but also at celebrating the person who died. But that experience, it gave all of us a different perspective. It takes away that subterfuge we use to protect ourselves from death. It took away the cloak we use to convince ourselves we won't die. As surely as you breathe your first breath, you will breathe your last. It's what we do with the time in between that matters. When that day comes for me, I will meet my brother in that clearing, and cross to the other side, and whatever awaits there.

Laura438's picture

Thank you for sharing your dream. You didn't mention--but I noticed--you assist others in the passage. Thank you for that, too.

jlbader's picture

What a beautiful dream. Such calm and gentleness around accepting and caring throughout life and death. Thank you.

poetess1966's picture

I never thought about that. That I assist others in the passage. I always thought of that walk as a last good-bye. A last moment before they enter into a new life. I'm going to have to think about it some more. Thank you for that insight. And thank you for your kind words.

Tim Wilson's picture

As the director, writer and cinematographer of Griefwalker, I'm grateful that the film is being so ably "carried" by Stephen Jenkinson and so thoughtfully considered by members of the Tricycle community.

The experience of making this film was a life-altering -- not always pleasant -- one, and among the more than 200 hours of material gathered are many things I chew on virtually every day. The only parallel I can think of is what arose out of my lengthy interview in the late 1970s with Robert Pirsig, author of the landmark "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Here's a pungent example, raised in one of Stephen's talks, that perhaps Buddhists will have particular insight into. What's behind the urge to leave a "legacy" video or audio recording for our loved ones after we've died? So that we can attend our grandson's graduation or granddaughter's wedding, even though not in the flesh?

At first blush, it appears a benign impulse: the wish to be vividly remembered. But who is doing the shaping of that memory? Designing it, controlling it? That's one shadow, but as Stephen observed, there's an even darker one beneath it. What's really driving this obsessive self-documenting? Perhaps it is the awareness that we have not done the remembering of the dead ourselves. Not, in other words, "carried" them. Which would account, when our own time comes, for the sorrow, the terror, and more.

I swear there are days -- and more of them now -- when I feel like throwing the camera away, moving my tent, and learning new prayers.

-- Tim Wilson

Sophia's picture

Hello Tim,

A question?

So what within your own deepest core HAS moved you to pick up your camera and focus it's lens upon this story, upon Death, upon the question of...how SHALL we live our lives? What is it within yourself, that has called you, driven you...chased you down, demanding that you give it a voice, a vision, a story. And what is it about that relationship you have... with what that is...that is now driving you to want to pick up your tent and seek a life of greater...or perhaps just different... measure?

When we feel driven...and be they obsessions or deep primal instincts...we ignore them at our peril. There IS no running away from them....there are no prayers that can make them disappear. Perhaps instead, we can come into different relationship with them when we bravely turn the light of our awareness back upon them...and in doing so, create an opportunity to see what is really there. We can touch...and be touched in return.

As I ponder this possibility, I can see that indeed, for me, your film has done exactly that. And you have done that not only for each and every one of us gifted with the opportunity to come to know something of who you and Steve are through this film...but you have also gifted us with even greater truths. You and Steve have given us the opportunity to take in and taste a portion of the essence of who you are, and through your stories we have come to taste an essence of what it means to say yes to it all...to hold living and dying with the same degree of vibrancy and passion....and to do so with all that we are worth...for to do less would be such a waste of the life that we are given.

Deep bows to you both for this film. For the courage to shine the light with such artistry and honesty upon the Shadow that haunts so many of us...the fear of dying and it's twin...the fear of truly living. Our souls and our psyches have been deeply wounded by this fear, and we have forgotten or been cut off from the wisdom that could help us heal these wounds.

Buddha taught that in all of the myriad of forms that the Universe is constantly at play in creating, we have been gifted with taking birth as humans, for as humans we have the unique capacity to reason and ponder and question the nature of our lives. Through the beauty and wisdom presented in this film, I have been moved to ponder the most important question for me of all, and I quote Steve here:

"What does it take to fall in love with being alive? Not cope with, not approve of, not accept, not make peace with, not resolve being alive. Fall in love with being alive: that's the project - one project, at least - of being human"

Thank you Steven and Tim for the gift of your stories, for the gift of this film, for the gift of these questions. May all beings awaken to the truth of "what is"... suffering...the cause of suffering...the end of suffering....and the means to the end of suffering....the Dhamma. As sensate creatures, pain is an inevitable and useful part of life. But as thinking creatures, wise understanding awakens us to the truth that suffering is an option rather than an inevitability. Thank you Steven and Tim for offering up this wisdom through the gift of your lives...through the gift of this film.

Deep Deep Bows to You Both,

Sophia

jackelope65's picture

As a physician who actively lived and practiced very similar work with the dying, I am so appreciative for this movie. As a Tibetan Buddhist who each day faces death with acceptance, I am grateful for this movie, and I must say that I learned so much from all the people as well as the artistry revealed. Finally, I found my fear of death: I worry that my family will fall apart; i worry that i did not deserve the love of my family and will soon be forgotten after death. I must prepare more for the banquet so that each moment and each great in life is met with not only gratitude but with generosity to all but especially to my family to enjoy their subsequent life as a family. Again, thank you for this powerful meditation upon death.

jackelope65's picture

As a physician who actively lived and practiced very similar work with the dying, I am so appreciative for this movie. As a Tibetan Buddhist who each day faces death with acceptance, I am grateful for this movie, and I must say that I learned so much from all the people, as well as what the movie's artistry revealed. Also, I found my fear of death: I worry that my family will fall apart; i worry that i did not deserve the love of my family and will soon be forgotten after death. I must prepare more for the " BANQUET " so that each moment in this life is met not only with gratitude, but with generosity to all but especially to my family so that they may treasure their subsequent lives as a family. Again, thank you for this powerful meditation upon death, as well as the knowledge that grieving is a skill to be learned. I start today.

Stephen Jenkinson's picture

Hello All
I was asked to participate in this on-line discussion. I've never done so before, on any subject, and I'm not adept with the computer. I am likely in the minority - perhaps a minority of one - in not being sure to which person or to what topic I might respond.

First I would say to you folks that a documentary film can't be much more - if it is very good - than a stop-time, faithful version of what somebody said once. The things the subject of a film says end up as leaves carried on a river's current of tumbling, urgent and quiet moments that turns into the film people see. Some of them make the cut.

It isn't useful to miss that caveat. Hopefully the subject spoke well, but the likelihood is that any given thing would be said more leisurely, more emphatically or departed from entirely the next time the topic came up. Being the subject of such a film means that you make your peace, eventually, with that particular version of what you were thinking that day, responding to that particular question asked in that way, following and being followed by all kinds of things that the viewer ended up not seeing or hearing because those things didn't make it into the film. Things are said and ideas are worked over in a living context, and the film is a different context. And much more often than not that is a fine thing. What you've seen in Griefwalker is something that combines wonder, urgency, perplexity, sorrow, yearning, relief and a few other worthies into a small herd of stories and ponderings worth hearing, worth considering - hopefully before its your turn to live them out.

Having said that, I am more and more grateful that Griefwalker is in the world, because many people find it useful. The messages I have received over the last three years, particularly those at the 200 or so screenings that I've attended, persuade me of that. So Tim Wilson and the National Film Board of Canada have earned their keep and then some by throwing themselves behind a theme that - let's be frank - has so few takers at first blush. Talking about death is the ultimate cold call, right up there with selling life insurance on the phone. A true conversation killer in most social contexts.

But to me Griefwalker is not a film about death. Dying and death are the prism, the occasion, for what the film meditates upon. To my mind Griefwalker gathers itself around a central question, and then begins to wonder about it: What does it take to fall in love with being alive? Not cope with, not approve of, not accept, not make peace with, not resolve being alive. Fall in love with being alive: that's the project - one project, at least - of being human. Of course you have to work up a good sweat doing justice to what 'love' might mean or could mean or should mean, and to what 'being alive' might mean. An old teacher ambushed me one day by suddenly pointing a gnarly finger my way and demanding: "Who dies?" When a few seconds passed without me saying anything he answered this way: "Whoever lives."

I am happy about the film largely because Griefwalker is faithful to what I have been doing for many years: trying to create a language that does justice to the caravan of wild lunacies, crazy sorrows, utterly malignant versions of 'compassion', brassy entitlements and all the rest that I saw parading themselves around during my years in the death trade. The dominant culture of North America remains, incontrovertibly so, I believe, death phobic, and that death phobia rises up in many unlikely places. But this most of you probably can agree with easily. The harder thing to see, to remember, to do something about is the rampant, persistent grief illiteracy that pervades just about every discussion I've heard where dying, death, sorrow, terror and loss appear. My small contribution is to make a literacy where none is pleaded for, none imagined, none suspected.

I appreciate very much the generosity and the praise most of you have served up for what you saw and what it seems to have helped you to consider. I'll end here by responding to one particular, minor theme in what I've read: What you heard me talk about in Griefwalker, and the way you heard me talk about it, comes from where I come from. I've stumbled across a considerable self hatred from people of the dominant culture of North America over the years, and it often shows itself in an inability or an unwillingness in some to imagine that anything of merit, spiritual valence or enduring, compelling, admirable depth and use could possibly come from where they come from. For many, the good stuff has to come from Somewhere Else.

I don't buy that. It can come from where you come from. It must. That is the work of having been born in our time and place.

All blessings on your houses.
Steve Jenkinson

susanoleary's picture

My brother lived and died in a small village in the Alaskan Bush. I had the honor of preparing him for burial with the help of several village women. We washed him and dressed him, combed his hair. It was a profound and meaningful experience for me that I have carried with me since that day. Steve says so few of us have even seen a dead body that it makes our own death but a rumor. I find that to be so true. When my father passed, I insisted, before they came to take his body away, that I have time alone with him, to hold his hands, put him in a clean shirt, speak to his spirit. I urge everyone reading this to embrace those moments as part of the beauty of life and not hide yourself from them.

I am deeply grateful for this beautiful film. It portrays what I have not been able to say clearly.

Thank You.

sschroll's picture

Steve and Tim,
Thank you from deep in my heart. I watched it 4 or 5 times, i will watch it many times more.
Images, music, poetry, beauty, the deep connection to earth, our beautiful earth we keep beating up and destroying.
I was 8 or 9 when a boy in our block was killed......he climbed a moving truck, fell, i don't know exactly how it happened, but i went by myself to the funeral and saw him in the coffin, with white soft cloth around his neck.......I never told my mom. He was about my age.
My mother died at 48 of lupus. She was so afraid, resentful and angry? i started therapy out of fear of dying like her.
Now I'm 72 and hardly a day goes by without thinking in my death, some time calm, many times fearful......i have this mixture of love for life, and fear of life.....because of the cruelty i see.
i have a friend who has MS, now loosing the use of his hands and so grateful to be still alive.
In Tibetan Buddhism they talk of This Precious Life.........i'm holding on to those words and to the idea, thank you, that death is the cradle of my love for life..........just let go and stop trying to understand.
My friend has been hospitalized for two weeks, close to death.....was not aloud to eat the whole last week, and then yesterday liquids were allowed, i put in his mouth a cherry frozen fruit bar for him to bites.....and as it dissolved in his mouth he said, impermanence is so beautiful, i can savor this cold flavor and let it go. And it is precious because it will go.

It made me very sad to see that wonderful beaver killed in a trap.

My thoughts on death now are always very weaved into my son's life, his wife, my grandson.........i wish and hope i can make of it and offering of love to them, a banquet.

Thank you once more !!

derek_a's picture

Profound, touching, revealing and even more fitting... Very relevant to every one of us. Thank you :-)

mpuenteduany's picture

I loved this very powerful film, and the beautiful and sensitive way that it was written, edited and photographed. It was particularly moving that Stephen is so close to the earth, and to the natural environment. I had never really thought about my own death until recently, and have found that the recognition that I will die gives me the power to be grateful for every day of my human life. I am now preparing to write my will, and will ask that I be cremated, my ashes scattered outdoors, in a place of natural beauty. I have to smile when I think of someone doing that for me. Thank you, Steve and Tim, for sharing this gem. Maria Puente-Duany

Zoozyq's picture

Thank you for this film. The cell turnover in our bodies themselves (...the number often quoted is that our bodies are completely renewed about every seven years) are signposts of the fact that death resides in life and life in death. Yet most of us choose not to be aware of this. One of the most illuminating aspects of this film, however, are my own reactions as I watched it. The filmmaker points to this as a valuable source of knowledge by allowing us to observe the reaction of denial at several points and with various people in the film. If we are aware and in the moment while we watch it, we can turn the camera on ourselves and observe what has been uncovered in our reactions. Awareness is an ongoing process, and this film certainly contributes fodder for my meditations. Namaste _/\_

beatrice's picture

Thank you, Steve. I will watch again to take more of your wisdom into my soul.
Perhaps since my twin sister died when we were three, I have had a preoccupation with death all of my life because of that hole. And I can use that connection to deepen my acknowledgement that it will happen to me and to work at living more fully and happily
Namaste'.

elsophie's picture

I found the film mesmerizing and at most points fascinating, but I think I'm in agreement with vegard as to its pretentiousness. As a mother of a child with severe disabilities, one who has multiple seizures many times a day and has done so for seventeen years, I've gained a certain knowledge, I think, of paradox. My daughter is cognitively disabled yet deeply wise. I've learned that many of us who care for very ill children day in and day out for many years are able to hold quite opposite views of life and death simultaneously -- of chaos and eternity -- of despair and joy.

I wondered, too, while watching this movie and listening to Steve speak what he thinks about those whose lives end in great violence -- in war, for instance, or even by murder. I also wonder what he thinks about those who are elderly and are caring for their adult children with severe disability -- their fear of death is the result of the very real possibility that their children will live beyond them and not so much "miss them" but that they will not be taken care of, perhaps abused, at the very least, not understood.

Thank you, though, for a provocative film. I will think about it for a long time. I especially loved the scenery --

Laura438's picture

I am moved by the wisdom you express as a result of your life experience. Thank you for your practice.

I am curious about your question to Steve about lives ending in violence. My brother was murdered and yet nothing about his death or my experience of it was raised by this film. Can you explain more?

elsophie's picture

Hi, Laura. I don't know if your question was directed at me or at the author of the film.

Laura438's picture

To you, elsophie. How did the film raise the thought for you of people dying in situations of violence?

dahirjama's picture

vegard
I have absolutely no idea what nonexistence feels like. I have no idea. None whatsoever!! All I know and all I would ever know is what existence feels like - to be here now. And it is 5am now in London, England. At this moment it is all I know and I am pretty sure it is all I'd ever know. The moment in an eternity and eternity in the moment - this makes perfect sense to me, if you know what I mean. Native or otherwise, tribalism I think has nothing to do with this fundamental subject we are discussing here. That is just what I think. And my friend I really do immensely appreciate your input in this discussion. Thank you ever so much

Dominic Gomez's picture

Nonexistence may be a misnomer. When you are asleep, you still exist. When you shut your computer down, electricity still exists. After clinical death, physical existence is on hiatus until proper conditions allow for rebirth.