The Middle Way
Zen Spot #22 -- Mindfulness, meditation and crooked, violent tombstones February 2, 2018 00:05
Crooked violent tombstones in parallel
Mount Moriah cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia, near my extended family’s home, 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 awhile, 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. It had been twenty years since I last stood inside. 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's long-dead family.
Nobody I love is buried in Mount Moriah.
The image above shows what remains of the cemetery's main administrative office. 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 heating oil. Anything else worth stealing was pilfered to sell for drugs, food, another month’s rent or a gun to take to school.
I never sat among the crap, thorns and 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 practiced in an ugly world where meditation should sometimes be sacrificed for time helping those who struggle to help themselves.
My visit prompted me to volunteer for an organization that helps people in my old neighborhood. Four hours each month — hours usually reserved for meditation — I now spend time reaching out. I wasn't surprised to find out the investment is just as rewarding.
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