Ajahn Brahm

The reason that I ended up at the Buddhist Mental Health Conference is because of a Buddhist monk who is a bit of an Internet celebrity and someone who I ended up listening to in February. I had a few chances to speak with him one on one and I told him the Coles notes version of my life. We got talking about mental health he asked me if I felt like a broken person. I said sometimes, and his reply was simply that the forest is made up of all kinds of trees, none of them perfect, none of them straight but that is the beauty of the forest is in the cracked trunks, broken branches and the imperfections.  

We then talked about the Fire, the post traumatic stress disorder I developed and how I felt unworthy of receiving a Medal of Commendation from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. He asked me if I felt that I did my best, I said no, I thought I should have done more, that I had failed my community, that as I forester I spent too much time in Edmonton and not enough on the front lines with my colleagues and when I was in McMurray during the evacuation the fear was paralyzing. I also talked about how my inability to communicate my feelings afterwards resulted in me being dishonest about the extent of my participation in the fire suppression effort. I wanted to be more of a hero and I wasn’t. He simply stated this:

"You are trying to fill an expectation that is not your own, it is not anyone’s expectation, your community is giving you a medal because you deserve it, you will accept it, you are growing, learning, trying and most of all you are now mindful of your departure from the path and have come back. The problem with being dishonest is you expect dishonesty from everyone around you, you cannot accept good because you are always expecting bad. You did good, you did what you could now, the past is behind us but it bears fruit in this moment, one of those fruits is this medal, enjoy it in the moment you receive it, then move past it. Enjoy your life! Yes you have lost many items, but you lost them to mental illness, friends, your reputation, relationships, but you are not your illness. Get to know people as yourself; some people only know your mental illness as that is all you showed them. Try not to look at the two bad bricks, look at the entire wall."

He was referring to this story from one of his books:

“When Ajahn Brahm was building his monastery they had to do the work themselves, he patiently learned to lay bricks, and set up the mortar and he built a wall. Upon completion he stood back and saw two crooked bricks, he immediately when to the abbot and asked to take the wall down and rebuild it, the abbot said no. For three month those two bricks taunted him, he was ashamed of the wall until one day he was giving a tour and someone said “what a lovely wall”. Ajahn said “ can’t you see the two crooked bricks? The error? The wall should be torn down!” the visitor replied “but can’t you see the 998 perfect bricks?” Ajahn then took a step back and looked at the entire wall, and realized what he hadn’t been seeing. When you focus on your bad, you cannot see your good.”

Ajahn then asked me, what this story means to me. I replied that to me, it means I need to look at the bigger picture and look at the good in my life, try not to focus on lost relationships but look at the relationships that are still here. He also encouraged me to look at the loss as a loss to an illness and losing loved ones to illness is a normal part of life. Difficult because of the stigma of mental health, but it is a truth, and learning to deal with loss to sickness is a positive skill to have. 

So now, I sit here on a plane flying back to this life where, to some people, I am a traitor, a liar, an abuser of emotions and yet I also have people who love me, care for me, and think I’m fun to be around, I’m building those 998  bricks. So now I prepare myself for a re-entry into my life much different than the one I participating in 12 months ago.

In Kindness, 

Sithara

Ajahn Brahm's website: https://bswa.org/teachers/ajahn-brahm/ 

Below is the book he recommended to me: 

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