Jun 16

Death, Transition, and Transference – by Lopön Robin Gayle, PhD, MDiv, MFT

“How can we release the anxiety of uncertainty and courageously explore in between the known and unknown?” ~ Lopön Robin Gayle PhD, MFT

Lopön Robin Gayle PhD, MFT offers this blog post “Death, Transition, and Transference” – a call to all of us to open into the “in between” moments in life and death.

Lopön Robin is offering the “Minding the Gap: Inner Exploration of the Six Bardos” Virtual Retreat on the weekend of July 15-16. This will be an opportunity to recognize and use these “in between” moments to relax into uncertainty and to discover the inherent power of luminous emptiness that is always present. To learn more and to register, click here »

One night over dinner with a dharma friend, the subject of death, transition, and transference came up. We had just completed a Phowa retreat and she was very clear and precise about how she wanted her death to be navigated in order to achieve a favorable rebirth. After listening and honoring her instructions, I blithely said, “But I don’t want any of that, I’m just going to cross over into the mother clear light.” She laughed at me. Humbled, I began a deep dive into the bardo practices, and soon I was laughing at myself as well.

The bardos are the transitional phases of being we journey through in the cyclical continuity of samsaric consciousness. They are not somewhere else, or states to be encountered only at death. Padmasambhava identified six transitions that cover all the experiences from rebirth to death to the intermediate phase between death and rebirth again. Each transition provides unique opportunities for liberation based on recognizing the essential clear light nature of the appearances arising during that phase. We are fortunate to be in the Bardo of This Life (birth, living) today due to some previous good karma, or supreme protection of merit, but this will not last. And so, the question becomes: am I taking full advantage of the leisure and opportunity that this precious lifetime affords?

If my idealized aspiration is to recognize the mother clear light at death, how am I doing at recognizing it right here, right now, in this moment? Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche once snapped his fingers and said, “This is how instantly you can wake up, right now.” Is my foundational dharma practice today in the Bardo of This Life strong enough to awaken ‘like that’ now or after death? Is my meditation practice bolstering faith and confidence in a genuine path that leads to qualified teachers, guru yoga, and the exquisite skillful means of Vajrayana? Am I cultivating enough sturdiness of attention (Shamitha) and deep realization of emptiness (Vipasanna) to ground me in the bardos? Do I recognize my dreams as dreams, both while asleep and while awake?

Samsara is created by our own state of mind, like a dream, and we can awaken from this dream and experience the very same world and events from an enlightened perspective, one full of potential and bodhicitta. The foundational practices are the structure and support for practicing during the many transitional gaps in this lifetime so that we will relax and release the struggle in the Bardo of Dying. These are what will help us meet the peaceful and wrathful deities in the Bardo of Dharmata and embrace them like old friends or, in any case, like old familiar mind states we recognize and can dissolve during this extraordinary display. These are the supports that will help us through the Bardo of Becoming, the bardo everyone is most concerned with due to the potentially terrifying images and sounds that activate our karma and propel us into another round of samsara.

It is during the moment-to-moment samsara of this lifetime that we can practice minding our gaps and rehearsing for death. If we are unable to transform our mental and emotional obscurations in this life while we have the help of a physical body, what are the chances we will wake up at the moment of death and cross over into the clear light like a child leaping onto her mother’s lap? As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said in a 1974 Open Secret panel on life, death, and dying: “In the bardo state you don’t want to face the intensity and brilliance of the dazzling colors coming to you, which is a very strong experience, and instead want to retreat into a weak, feeble, somewhat pleasant dark corner. And, facing life is too bright and dazzling as well…you don’t want to accept death but you are cornering yourself into a potential death rather than facing it, living with it, and actually working on it.’

How do we stay open to the rich potential of our gaps instead of scurrying off into freeze, fight, or flight corners of the ego? How can we release the anxiety of uncertainty and courageously explore in between the known and unknown? How can we practice resting in space and integrating with the ground luminosity that is inextricably available to us, even when we are thrown into situations of intensity, conflict, or loss?

Utilizing contemplative methods passed down through millennia as well as modern psychological interventions, this retreat will help us take full advantage of this precious human rebirth for growth on the path. We will practice transforming the gross and subtle cognitive and emotional states that arise during transitional gaps so that we may experience the ever-present ground luminosity, the basis of our full awakening, right now and at the time of death.

About the Retreat

Minding the Gap: Inner Exploration of the Six Bardos

With Lopön Robin Gayle, PhD, MDiv, MFT • July 15 – 16

Due to impermanence, small and large gaps take place constantly in life, recognized and non-recognized. The past is gone, the future has not yet arrived, and in this gap is both uncertainty and possibility. This weekend retreat will facilitate relaxing into uncertainty through teachings and meditations on the Six Bardo States. We will reference the termas attributed to the 8th c. Master Padmasambhava: Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Natural Liberation, and make great use of the insights by Francesca Freemantle in Luminous EmptinessRead more »

About the Teacher

Lopön Robin Gayle

Lopön Robin Gayle, PhD, MDiv, MFT has undergraduate and graduate degrees/publications in theology, psychology, and east-west studies. She is a Tara Mandala Feeding Your Demons® psychotherapist in private practice in Marin County, CA, and currently serves as Professor and Chair of Counseling Psychology at Dominican University of California, and Research Scientist for the Center for Contemplative Research in Crestone, Colorado. Her interest in Buddhism began in 1986 with teachings and an empowerment by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, followed by Kalachakra & Dzogchen teachings by H. H. Dalai Lama … Read more »

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