El·e·na [el-uh-nuh, uh-ley-nuh; It. e-le-nah] /ˈɛlənə, əˈleɪnə; It. ɛˈlɛnɑ/ –noun a female given name, form of Helen // A proud student of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche // Personal assistant with a BSc (Hons) Psych from Uni of Warwick // These are snapshots of my life, in words and pictures

Loa loa (graphic image!)

February 17, 2018 0

It has always fascinated me how there are just so many ways a person can die and in fact, it is easier for a person to die than to stay alive. The thought first came in high school when, at Rinpoche’s urging, I watched Faces of Death. The thought then continued into university when our developmental and abnormal psychology modules showed me just how vulnerable the human body really is.

The human body can do incredible things, accomplish amazing feats. It is strong, it is powerful, it is agile, it is dynamic. At the same time, this strength, power, agility and dynamism are totally dependent on the most microscopically delicate balances – a little gene missing here, a little gene out of place there, an extra little gene hanging about somewhere else, and a person’s physical appearance and mental development are completely altered.

And then I saw this loa loa post on Facebook, and it just added to what was already on my mind.

To me, the truly fascinating thing is that this delicate balance is governed by something as equally subtle – karma. This is the karma we have accumulated from countless previous lives, that generates the conditions we have to contend with today, that leads us to cross paths with certain people, that influences the relationships we have with others, that shapes our perception and informs our projections, that makes things work and makes things go wrong. The karma that we continue to create through our reactions in our present life, which will shape the conditions of our future ones.

Karma that makes our eyes receptive to loa loa, that causes the deer fly to bite us, that brings the worm to our eye because, wouldn’t you know it, the worm has karma too!


Originally penned October 14, 2016

The photo below is what inspired me to write this post. It appeared on my Facebook feed, thanks to I F***ing Love Science, which every day throws up a bunch of wonderful updates about the strange, weird, bizarre world we live in.


In a couple of days, I will be one year closer to the big 3-0 (yes, that milestone is a big deal for me but more on that later). As someone who has suffered more than her fair share of health scares in the last few years, I have some awareness of my own mortality. I know first-hand how easy it is for something to simply stop working and for you to just blackout. No chance to say ‘bye’, no opportunity to sort out your unfinished business and to tie up loose ends in this life.

To have a constant reminder that you can die at any time is an ongoing wake-up call to do more, to achieve more before I pop off to bardo and take my next rebirth. Like the majority of people however, my mind often slips and I revert to the illusion that I am a healthy young adult, with all the time in the world to do whatever I want.

So not true.

There are many reminders out there that the human body is not impenetrable, no matter how much we fool ourselves into thinking we are invincible. How many of us live without appreciating the consequences of our actions? How many of us abuse our bodies, plying ourselves with alcohol and experimenting with drugs, thinking it’ll be okay, that we are in control, that there’ll always be next weekend?

The trouble is that we forget that we are NOT always in control; we forget that at any moment, a bus could come hurtling down the street and crash into us. That we might just have a genetic mutation we don’t know about, that could lead us to react horribly to something we consumed safely for years. That, excluding our body simply just giving up on us, there are still an infinite number of ways we can leave this existence.

Like loa loa. Damn that loa loa. (Did you know about loa loa? Did you ever think that something like loa loa could exist?)

So what happens then, understanding that we are not invincible? I recently blogged about having choices and thus having gained this understanding that our bodies are not permanent and invincible, we have a choice – should we become resigned and utterly fatalistic? Or should we swing to the other extreme, and become the epitome of a hedonistic lifestyle? Should we become laid-back, chill and grow apathetic because who cares, we’re going to die anyway?

Lord Buddha taught that there is a Middle Way between hedonism, enjoyment, indulgence and pleasure, and extreme asceticism. We can apply that teaching here without getting too Buddhist.

For some of us, not knowing we are invincible propels them to become more hedonistic. For others, knowing that we are not invincible propels us to pursue spirituality, to commit ourselves to practices of improving our minds, because who knows when it might all just end? In some cases, we might even extend this pursuit of betterment towards improving other people’s lives.

One of the most salient examples that Rinpoche has ever given me was Mothers Against Drunk Driving. When one mother, through the painful loss of her own child, realised how swiftly life could end, it compelled her to establish an organisation to campaign for a world where no one would ever have to go through the same pain she did. So for some people, knowing that life can end at any time compels them to do more for others.

But alongside the knowledge that we are not invincible, humans also have to contend with knowing that we don’t know when our time will end. Back when I was in university, there was a student who went to sleep one night and never woke up. In the prime of their lives, when they were at their healthiest, when it appeared as though the world was their oyster and they had every opportunity at their feet, their heart just…stopped. One night, it stopped and never started again.

When is that night for you? Are you ready for that moment?

Knowing that life can end at any time, I guess the real question now is what choices do you make with the time you have left? Think it doesn’t apply to you because you’re young? Think again. History clearly shows that when it comes to the time of death, age is irrelevant.

And hey, loa loa clearly show that when it comes to needing a catalyst to make big changes in our lives, size is irrelevant too! :)

Reflections and Teachings

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