This week was an incredibly hard one in DC. We lost a wonderful yoga teacher, badass feminist and all-around warrior of a woman, Tricia McCauley. Her death was tragic in a way in which we can probably never make sense. It’s shocked us all, and left us with gaping questions for which there probably aren’t answers.
These unanswered questions leave holes in our psyche that feel endless. When we’re thrown into it, the grief becomes a bottomless pit. There’s no end to the sadness, fear and anger.
A year ago, I made a commitment that I wasn’t going to use spirituality as a way to bypass these incredibly hard human questions. I was done affirming the idea of peace instead of recognizing the incredible human pain that is built into life.
I didn’t want to escape any more. I wanted to feel and be alive.
And yet, when I was asked to speak about yogic philosophy at Tricia’s memorial, I needed to dig back into these tools. Tricia believed in using spirituality to move through hard times and underneath it all, so did I.
Then, I remembered a conversation I had with my wise friend Mikyo a month ago. He visited me in DC while I was going through some very mundane drama that was still causing me pain.
He reminded me that I was suffering because I was seeking refuge in the wrong places. Buddhism had already laid out exactly where to turn when we are in these bottomless pits of grief. The Buddha suggested the three jewels as places to find solace.
The first jewel is the Dharma. It means the teachings, scriptures and practices of a great philosophy. The Dharma is the toolkit that gives us the actual skills to move through hard times. This means going to yoga class or reading a book by a wise author. It’s remembering the wisdom that authentically comforts us and then building that into our lives through our practices.
The second jewel is the Buddha. The Buddha is the egoless quality within all of us that is uncompromisingly awake. It’s our own enlightened nature that can hold joy and pain with equanimity. It’s our warrior quality that moves us through the tragedies of life and gives us the resilience to keep going. It’s a vow we make to never give up on accessing our own compassion through understanding the universal heart of suffering.
The third jewel is the Sangha. This means a community that supports and honors Dharma, and is committed to helping us access our Buddhist nature. When we are with our Sangha, we feel stronger than we do on our own. Our community helps us to grieve and gives us the strength to keep going when we want to give up.
They are called the jewels because they are unbreakable. They can handle our unending pain.
Tricia happened to live in these three jewels as much as anyone I’ve ever met.
She lived the Dharma, creating an unconventional life around her healing and creative practices. Daily, she accessed her Buddha, being uncompromising in her commitment to her own spiritual development. She had an incredible presence -- articulate, passionate and spirited.
And the Sangha -- she lived in Sangha. At the memorial last night, there were so many heartbroken, beautiful people mourning her and comforting each other. The presence was thick with pain and love. Tricia was a wild advocate of community. She gave her life to the communities that gave her inspiration.
Something horrible happened. We lost someone who helped give our lives meaning. We’re falling into this bottomless, senseless pit of grief. It doesn’t make sense. Our hearts are broken. They won’t heal in the same shape.
All we have to hold onto are these three jewels -- the truth, our ability to understand that truth, and our capacity to support each other in understanding that truth.
These jewels are strong enough. They can hold us. They remind us that we are strong enough. We can continue to take refuge in them, and remind others to do the same. It’s in this way that we find more compassion than we thought possible.