Gratitude for Cecile Kwiat

Dear Cecile,

I few weeks ago I learned that you are no longer with us – in body anyway. It had been 15 or 20 years since we had spoken last, I think.  On Salt Spring Island, if I remember correctly. It seemed like the perfect place for you – soft delicate clouds amid the pine trees and near the gentle sea.

Thank you for being one of my spiritual guides – your no-nonsense, down-to-earth, the-dharma-is-everywhere teachings will stay with me. Like the time I chided you for being a smoker – how could a Dharma teacher smoke cigarettes after all? You said it made you more ordinary – less other-worldly, perhaps.  Like the way you reached out to children by playing video games with them.

My favourite moment with you was in Ottawa at the beginning of my journey.  I asked you – “what’s the point of practicing mindfulness”: what good does it do, I wondered.  You instructed me to close my eyes and then proceeded to whack me on the head with your moccasin slipper. “Pay Attention or There Will Be Harm” was the title of that short Dharma lesson.

Perhaps your kindest and most compassionate teaching was the time I was really struggling at a retreat with you – I was striving and striving and not getting anywhere and my body was in pain and it all felt quite pointless and hopeless.  Your instruction to me was: “take your car, drive down the road to the nearby lake and go for a swim”.  I remember that swim vividly – particularly the soothing love of the water on my body and the disolution of the boundaries of “me”.

Whenever I read the Aghata Vinaya Sutra (Anguttara Nikaya 5.162) that image and experience comes to mind.  The Sutra ends with this passage:

“My friends, suppose that not far from the village there is a very beautiful lake. The water in the lake is clear and sweet, the bed of the lake is even, the banks of the lake are lush with green grass, and all around the lake, beautiful fresh trees give shade. Someone who is thirsty, suffering from heat, whose body is covered in sweat, comes to the lake, takes off his clothes, leaves them on the shore, jumps down into the water, and finds great comfort and enjoyment in drinking and bathing in the pure water. His heat, thirst, and suffering disappear immediately. In the same way, my friends, when you see someone whose bodily actions are kind, whose words are kind, and whose mind is also kind, give your attention to all his kindness of body, speech, and mind, and do not allow anger or jealousy to overwhelm you. If you do not know how to live happily with someone who is as fresh as that, you cannot be called someone who has wisdom.”

Thank you for being this lake of kindness and compassion, Cecile. I am grateful that I had the wisdom to have you as a companion on the path.

Thank you.

Love – Andre