A life dedicated to service...

Week 19: Leaving no traces

What did you make of last week’s ‘writing your own abituary’ exercise? How does your first sentence go? Mine has to do with the practice of not leaving traces.

When this body ceases to function, so my thinking goes, there won’t be anyone left to talk about himself. A few remembrances in someone else’s mind . . . bits of furniture, a final tax return, and anonymous body parts in a freezer at UBC medical school. However, no “me.”

Approaching a forest monastery in Thailand, I once saw a handpainted sign that read, “Cut yourself some slack. 100 years from now, all new people.” Yikes!

I once asked a monk-friend how one might prepare for when death comes knocking, he suggested I live every day with eyes wide open, paying attention to each breath as much as possible. Try to leave no traces wherever you go and whatever you say. In due time the transition from living to non-living will flow seemlessly and  naturally, with little or no suffering.

Our monastic teacher wrote a book on ways to leave fewer traces. Here’s one for you to try:

“Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you’ve used that space. The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people. If you’ve been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you’ve been there, except perhaps the odor of food or fragrance of soap.”

(Jan Chozen Bays. “How to train a wild elephant and other adventures in mindfulness.” Shambhala, 2011).

About the Author
Peter lives in Victoria, BC, where he volunteers in health-care. teaches mindfulness meditation, and offers end-of-life care.
  1. Mary Reply

    Have a great trip, Peter. Thank you for your posts. They inform and guide me in ways I would not have
    thought about at all.

  2. Anne Reply

    Being a parent, particularly a mother, changes everything about leaving no trace.
    I have no doubt that a piece of my soul will live on in each of my kids.

  3. Karla Thomson Reply

    Hi Peter,
    I too have donated my body to the university of B C in the hope that whatever happens will help someone down the road .
    I also have made many, many quilts that I have given away to family, friends and complete strangers.. Besides keeping them warm they are my way of living on after I’m dead. At least as long as the quilt lasts
    Thanks Peter, love what you share. Karla

  4. Fran Reply

    We may wish we could leave few traces behind, especially heavy footprints on the good earth. But you’d be amazed what a family historian can find even centuries after a person has passed. As well as official birth and death records and gravestones, tantalizing clues abound – library books my ancestor borrowed from a Bristol library in late 1700s, records of border crossings and passenger ship lists from 1930s, beautiful hand-sewn quilts like Karla’s. More elusive but also lasting are our interactions with those around us, that radiate outward from person to person like energy among atoms. Many beings have attended your meditations, Daishin, and been affected in ways that may have changed their interactions with others, and so outward.
    And now I’ll attempt a cleanup before visitors arrive for the weekend.
    Blessings and safe travels, Peter.

  5. Daishin Reply

    Over the last 2 weeks I’ve been visiting with family and friends in Scotland, Hildesheim, and Berlin, living out of a tiny red carry-on, sleeping in beds of varying sizes and degrees of comfort … playing, laughing, hugging, story-telling, listening, eating ice-cream, walking in parks and along sea- shores … tasting children’s tears of “I miss you already” … savouring alone-time on buses, trains, and aeroplanes … coping with a sinus cold that won’t go away …

    … all reminding me of the fleeting nature of Everything. I may never again see the perfect greens surrounding Linlithgow Castle, touch the ancient bronze doors of my birth-town’s Dom, or sit numbed amidst the concrete coffins of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial — but my heart-mind will know that the experience is shared (traces) in ways i can only guess at.

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