I had a pretty uneventful early childhood. I grew up on a farm with loving parents. I quarreled a lot with my two brothers, and, when I was six, I had a little sister that I cherished a lot (and still do).
However, when I turned nine or ten, I started feeling strange. Huge waves of sadness would come rushing over me, and I would start crying in the middle of whatever I was doing. I could not explain why. Next came this idea that life was too difficult and not so interesting anyway. I imagined death as a very peaceful place. So I decided to die. At first, since I was a young child, I tried to kill myself in very childish ways: held my breath as long as I could, put my head underwater in a bucket, and whatnot. Then as I grew up, I became more sophisticated. I tried to hang myself with a curtain string. Then finally I got the idea of swallowing pills. That sent me to the hospital and my mom found out about my ill-being. She understood that only a drastic change would help me stay alive and she offered me a plane ticket to Africa. I had not thought of this possibility myself and I accepted gratefully. I started a life of travel that was to continue on and off for ten years. After that lapse of time, I became tired of traveling and found no interest in life again. I was seriously thinking of committing suicide once more, when I met the spiritual path. I was 24 then and quickly understood that killing myself was not the solution. Still, all my practice was tinged with this attraction to death.
Then one day I met a Chinese master. When he saw me he said, "Are you a ghost or a human being?"
"A human being."
"Who is trying to kill herself all the time then?"
I passed out on the spot. So intense was my fascination with death, he had been able to see it just by looking at me.
I have been practicing ever since, and five years ago I encountered Thay. During my first summer at Plum Village, I was interested in something Thay often repeats: "Nothing is created, nothing is destroyed." What about death then? Isn't it a place where everything stops and disappears? So I put my question to Thay in the bell as we do at Plum Village, and Thay gave a talk one morning addressing my question. I felt liberated, free from a life-long illusion. Life and death happen in every moment. Death does not mean an end, but rather a transformation—elements breaking up and being reassembled in different shapes and beings, eternally old, eternally new. Continuation, like ocean, mist, clouds, rain, and rivers. Cessation exists but is not synonymous with death. Cessation can be in each breath. It is about stopping mental formations. It can be done here and now. When the church bell or the telephone rings, I stop, and in a way I die. No need to carry on the endless burden. Putting it down, I rest totally for a few seconds.
Realizing this truth and being able to practice cessation has transformed my life. The ghost in me has been defeated. I am becoming more of a human being every day thanks to this wonderful and compassionate Dharma master we call Thay.
Some people say Thay is great, but does not allow a real master-disciple relationship. I don't think it is true. If you allow him to see through you, if you drop your mask and try to inter-be, he becomes your personal teacher. He is part of me now, I hardly need to see him physically anymore. Our streams have met and he has colored my waters with more transparent greens and blues.