Tag Archives: Dome of Heaven

A test of my beliefs

I have not been able to post these last  few weeks because of events related to the final days in the life of a relative.  The experience tested beliefs and philosophy as I lived through those days with family, experiencing the ebbing of a life and witnessing the rites associated with death. This was not an immediate relative, nor a blood relation, but a relation through marriage. Nevertheless, this family and this individual are dear to me. They are all under my dome of heaven. The experiences of the last two weeks led me to look closely at what happens when the equilibrium of life is disrupted by the very human condition of the death.

This individual is not the first close to me to pass away over the years, just the first that I have witnessed the passing of. Parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins are all among the deceased of my close relatives. I may have seen them shortly prior to their demise or attended their funeral rites, but I have never been witness to the final days in the process of dying.  My relative (by marriage only), who I shall refer to as B, suffered a recurrence of a cancer that had been fought and supressed for thirteen years. A year ago, it reared its pernicious head in metastatic form affecting the brain and eventually many other tissues. When we were appraised of the fact that B was terminal and entering a hospice, it was time to go and be with our family members and with B.

We arrived at the hospice several days after all nutrition and fluids had been stopped. B was not on life support, but was on a regime of pain suppression (morphine) and antihistaminic to prevent fluid build up. The only other attention he received was to be turned regularly to prevent bed sores and to sponge bath him. When we entered the hospice suite, most of B’s immediate family was present, but at the time he was resting and uncommunicative. B had come through a crisis a few days earlier but rebounded slightly. The scene was somber and at the same time not. It was at best an unexpected incongruence.  To illustrate my sense of being off balance in the situation I shall describe the setting as best I can.

The suite was located in a pleasant, relatively modern low rise building. The hallways and rooms were very clean and comfortably set up for patient and family alike. The music playing in the corridors constantly was distressingly upbeat with occasional lyrics that seemed in conflict with the reality that lay behind the doors providing privacy for the families availing themselves of the hospice facility. B’s suite was spacious, perhaps 800 square feet or so. There was B’s hospital bed along the far side, a large flat screen TV and sitting/lounging area for the family, a washroom and lighting that was subdued at times. In one corner of the room near the TV was an ample supply of snacks for all. The TV was on constantly at a low volume with various sporting events in progress one after the other, including the final few games of the MLB World Series.

In some ways, the setting was very like the setting in B’s on home when everyone was there. B was an avid sports fan and actively promoted the participations of his sons in competitive sport, particularly soccer. There was always a lot of chatter and laughter when you were with B and so it was in his hospice suite, albeit at a more subdued level than normal. Of course, B appeared to be oblivious to all that was going on around him, or was he? Not only was B in a substantially weakened state, he was receiving morphine injections at regular intervals so it was difficult to assess his level of awareness most of the time. When I took B’s hand it was warm to the touch and familiar, but on that first evening, I am certain that he was not responsive to my grasp, but not certain that he was unaware of it. I spoke a few words but there was no sign of response at the time. I do not mind saying that it was difficult to utter words as I was greatly affected by the scenario in which I found myself that evening.

How did all this fit into my ideas about life, self, and a personal dome of heaven? How did I feel about the idea of a hospice as a last way station before death? Could I get comfortable with the idea of death? More reflections in the next post.

Until them . . . L

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Emptiness and the Dome of Heaven

Each dome of heaven arises from emptiness and embodies emptiness in it beginnings. In a very early post I discussed the work of Anselm Kiefer and specifically referred to his work titled “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”. If you are not familiar with this particular painting by Kiefer then just Google the title and you can appreciate it for yourself. In the painting, the dome of heaven is depicted as a transparent hemisphere, so you will have to visualize your own dome of heaven (DOH) with you standing just beneath its highest point. Now consider that everyone around you sits at the center point of his or her own DOH. This may be difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice.

Before a child is born, that is while they are in utero, it resides beneath the expectant mother’s DOH. Recollections of pregnancy and birthing, no matter how uncomfortable and painful aspects of the whole experience was, will remain beneath her DOH. Her child will remain there as well, no matter how old they are. There is your first hint re: the raison d’etre of one’s DOH. It exists to contain everything that is important to you and everything you have created in life. Thus at birth, a newborn’s DOH is essentially empty and therefore in the Taoist sense, useful in its emptiness. The first contents under the infant’s DOH are warmth, security, food, suckling,  being kept comfortable and a sense of mother. Although these things take on different forms as we age, the want of them remain beneath our DOH. An infant’s DOH is initially very small.

Even though the infant’s DOH is small, as it does not have much to contain, it is very important. It is foundational. Maslow (hierarchy of need) considers these first elements that an infant includes beneath a newly formed DOH as basic needs. If those needs go unsatisfied then there is little hope for social development. Indeed, if some of those basic needs are not satisfied, the infant’s existence is in jeopardy. As an infant matures, it gathers more and more beneath its DOH. The sound of voices belonging to those close to the infant are added first, followed by facial expressions when eyes begin to focus. Other sensation, sounds, odors and sights gather under the evolving dome, as long the sensations are pleasant. Unpleasant sensations and experiences try to intrude on the infant’s DOH but never achieve permanent resident status. And so, the infant’s DOH increases in the diversity of contents as their experience with the world around them grows.

The Taoist’s concepts of emptiness of action, thought and mind all apply to the newborn, save and accept the movements of the fetus in utero. These are movements in the context of the emptiness of thought and mind, better thought of as the emptiness of intention. Most movements of a newborn fall into the same category for a while. Some movements, like the startle reflex can never be intentional by their very nature. Even though an infant moves about, for the first while, those movements can be considered examples of emptiness of action because they are empty of intent. Emptiness of thought and mind are also characteristic of the infant. The emptiness of mind is not an absolute because the brain is continually recording information re: the sensations that are experienced. The emptiness of thought diminishes very slowly. Even though these sorts of mental functions are in play, the storage of information is essentially sensory in nature. Associations between events and sensations build slowly. Most relational aspects of sensation develop slowly, except for a sense of comfort and warmth which is rapidly associated with its mother. The initial emptiness of action, thought and mind at birth moves toward increasing fullness as the infant experiences the world, and so with that experience the infant’s DOH grows.

The idea of each of us having our own DOH is an incredibly useful concept. The most interesting aspect of this idea is the role we play in constructing our personal DOH. I intent to explore that idea in my next post. Until then . . .


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The Small Blue Dot

A recent photograph taken by a satellite based camera showed us what Earth looks like from the vicinity of Saturn. The post from gizmodo.com shows this image. I remember the sense of awe that accompanied the famous photograph taken of Earth from the moon. I remember the impact on our understanding of how much life depended on such a thin layer of atmosphere. How we, and all other life forms, were interdependent. The image of a small blue dot (the Earth) hanging just below Saturn’s rings should become another of those iconic images, which reminds us of how miraculous life on earth really is.

Despite these powerful images, we don’t seem get the message. That small blue dot hanging in the black vastness of space harbours an organism so violent that some groups are forever bent on annihilating another. It harbours an organism that is so dependent on toxic substances for its survival (pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum products) that it willfully poisons the very air it must breath and water it must drink. It generated a species so arrogant and self-centred that it would endanger every other species on earth just so it can have what it wants, do what it wants, and destroy what it wants without regard to the natural balance of life on earth

That species, dubbed by C. Linneus in 1758  as Homo  sapiens  is not very wise at all. We, as a species, seem more intent on death and destruction of the environment than we are on life and preservation of the environment. Politics, profit, and protectionism reign supreme in a world gone mad, Governments exist for themselves, not for the people they are supposed to represent and protect. The developed world is content to have the third world manufacture all they need at wages that are so low that it is an embarrassment and even a sin, The third world is content to work for slave wages since that is their only means of survival.

What to do? What to do? What to do? We need a real United Nations, not the emasculated shame that cannot seem to stop the murderous regimes in the world from murdering. The wealthy nations of the world depend on the labour of individuals that should be in school getting an education. What a crime.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are many people trying to do the right thing. I know that there are individuals who put forth enormous efforts to improve the lives of others. However, that small blue dot hanging so elegantly in the blackness of space is very precious, and I fear that all the good intentions in the world will not save it in the end. I ever there was a time for a world wide revolt against the insanity that is killing us, it is now. I hold the sanctity of that small blue dot under my dome of heaven.

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The straight stuff on the Dome of Heaven

My last post focused on the idea of building autobiographical memory by rehearsing your story, and exercising declarative memory. Your personal dome of heaven, is a structure built to house the ‘you’ in you’.  Your DOH (the acronym I like to use for sake of simplicity) is  a structure built to house all that you wish it to contain. The only limitations on what can be under your DOH are the limitations imposed by reality. There is no room for the imaginary or the illusory within a Dome of Heaven.

Kiefer’s painting entitled “Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven”, depicts a miniscule figure standing in the middle of a barren field. The figure is cloaked in a military style coat and displays a “Hail Hitler” like salute. Some may take acceptation to Kiefer’s depiction, but if you think about it, that is the Dome of Heaven followers of Hitler created for themselves; a DOH that is barren, supporting no growth, dully coloured, with the minuscule figure at its centre cut off from the world around him. Your DOH will be very different.

All DOH’s are bounded spaces but not limited in area. The are expandable according to the wishes of its builder. As you reconstruct your autobiographical memory, you can begin to construct your DOH by deciding what elements to include within its bounds. As you make your decisions on inclusions, you exercise your judgement and decision-making functions (executive functions)  of the brain at the same time you exercise your declarative memory functions.  What you include under your dome is up to you entirely, but my recommendation is to include everything that made you feel good in even the smallest way. Include experiences, decisions, people, places, and things that increased your sense of well-being and gave you a sense of satisfaction and joy when you think about them. Your DOH needs to be a feel good place, for when times get tough, it may be all you have that gives you any joy and any stability.

The skeptic may well ask the following questions.  “What about the negative stuff? What gives us permission to exclude the negative? What should I exclude? The answer is simple; your memories are your memories, good and bad alike. Negative memories never go away, and just hang out in our mind whether we like it or not. You can, and will, carry negative experiences and negative feelings around in your mind, but you need not include them within the bounds of your DOH. Your Dome of Heaven is a personal place, and a sacred place. It is a place into which you can retreat from the world when you need respite from its stressors and complexities. If you build it carefully, and look around inside frequently, you should see every thing, every person, and every experience that enhanced your sense of self. If you learned something through a negative life experience, don’t include the negative experience, but do include the positive consequences that resulted from whatever you learned through that experience.

As you imagine yourself within your DOH, your avatar standing under the apex of the dome you construct, will still be just a minuscule figure for on a universal scale, that is all we really are.  Your DOH is important to you, but it is a very insignificant place within the greater universe. Since, as Kiefer depicts, everyone has their own dome of heaven, your DOH is just one among the multitudes. That reality takes nothing away from the fantastic place your DOH is for you.

What might the Dalai Lama add to this discussion? Please comment…..

As always, your faithful blogger,

L. Alan Weiss – Author – Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com

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How did this journey begin?

This site documents a journey that has implications for each and every one of us, because if you lose your memories you lose your SELF, and if you lose your SELF, then all is lost. Viewing a painting by Anselm Kiefer titled “Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven” initiated the thoughts that will play out on these pages. I hope others will join in the conversation and reflect on exactly what they see as their own Dome of Heaven.

Our experiences and the memories they generate become an integral part of our Dome of Heaven. Thus, our DOH (Dome of Heaven) encapsulates the SELF that we are at any point in our lives. Our DOH should expand as we age, and hopefully become filled with all that has shaped who we are. I believe it is important to develop a clearly defined image of our DOH, so nothing can diminish it, therefore nothing can diminish our SELF.

As always, your faithful blogger,

L. Alan Weiss – Author – Through a lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com

Here’s something to think about. Do you have a concept of the Dome of Heaven of which I write? Kiefer’s painting and an associated description can be found at www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1945.14.4. Have a look and see what you think? What do you think Carl Jung would have to say about this work? Please comment…..

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