The Middle Way

Zen Spot #22 — Mindfulness, meditation and crooked, violent tombstones February 2, 2018 00:05

Crooked violent tombstones in parallel

I’m used to driving past a cemetery — Mount Moriah Cemetery — in Southwest Philadelphia, near my extended family’s home, that hasn’t been cared for in decades. Half-dug holes populate the three-hundred-plus acres as if awaiting a body whose family was discovered indigent. Thorns strangle everything. Gangs and dealers regularly drop bodies at the edge of the mushy ten-foot cliff that falls off into Cobbs Creek. Neighbors ignore the bodies from the safe side of trolley tracks that run along an impaling rusted iron fence line that seems to go for a mile.

Graffiti and blood are paint. Tombstones have been smashed with cars and skulls. Grave sites erupt as if the dead are pushing up from underneath, like a filthy caricature of massive grassy blackheads. The gaping Romanesque brownstone gate at its entrance swallows visitors with a fetid mouth that is chipped like the whores’ teeth that crawl along Kingsessing Avenue.

Nobody but soldiers care about the dead and buried. It’s a dangerous place but, for a while, many years ago, it was literally my neighborhood. Now, it just occupies a corner of my mind. 

Never close your eyes

Meditation was impossible during my last visit, in April. It had been twenty years since I last stood within its confines. A brilliant afternoon sun shone on the rubble and mud. The decay was worse than I remembered.

I visited because, for some reason, the neighborhood was expanding in my mind’s eye. Perhaps I missed my paternal grandfather, or my father, or was somehow trying to reconnect with my mother, who is alive and well but is notably and palpably effected by having drank the water sprung forth from the nearby earth. Everybody who has ever lived in Southwest Philadelphia has been effected. You can see it on their faces and hear it in the vernacular. 

Nobody I love is buried in Mount Moriah.

The ruins

The image above shows what remains of the main cemetery office. Clearly broken, the room welcomed the grieving as recently as 1995. Twenty-one years isn’t long enough for nature to naturally consume such a strong structure. It takes people looking for wood to burn to warm their homes— dismantling the very soul of a structure — because they can’t afford oil. Anything else worth stealing was stolen to sell for drugs, food, another month’s rent or a gun to take to school.

I never sat among the crap and thorns while standing in the chaos. Instead, I recorded the experience for replay in my mind’s eye whenever I need a reminder that, when I struggle to demonstrate compassion for my brothers and sisters, my life erodes. That, while the Buddhist Path is a very personal practice, it is also, in fact, practiced in an ugly world where meditation should sometimes be sacrificed for time helping those who struggle to help themselves.

My visited prompted me to volunteer for an organization that helps people in my old neighborhood. Four hours each month — hours reserved for meditation — I spend time not meditating.

Give it a try.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?