Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Celebrating A Life Well Shared

Paul Davenport 1949-2016

I was brought up short about two weeks ago when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that one of my friends who had been a counselor and advisor to me while in massage school was asking for prayers for her husband, the co-owner and director of my massage school. I immediately lifted his name and spirit and hers in prayer, but I wasn't exactly sure what was going on.

As time passed that day and into the next, the news began to filter out through third parties: Paul Davenport had had a heart attack and his wife, Josie, had found him and was able to use CPR to revive his heart. But he was in the ICU at a Gainesville Hospital. And the prognosis did not look good.

It is so strange sometimes that people who have touched my life in some important and profound way re-enter my conscious thinking when there is something going on with them. I had had such an occasion of Paul as I was working with a client. They were having an issue in the area of their armpit, or the anatomically-correct term, at the axillary. I recalled Paul's quirky way of helping us learn body parts with his stories that would always end in a really bad pun. In this case, it was the Volvo mechanic who is pointing out to Paul the problem with Paul's car as its up on the lift. The mechanic's name was Larry, as signified by the name badge on his left side above his heart. As Larry pointed to the axle of the Volvo, Paul couldn't help but notice the large sweat stain at his left armpit. And it made him think: "Axle+Larry=Axillary." We would then have to repeat that...and forever have this image seared into our memories.

I kept up my prayers for both Paul and Josie and the entire Florida School of Massage community. I asked to add Paul's name to the Prayers of the People at St. Thomas. And I would periodically check to see if Josie had put out any more information.

Tuesday afternoon of last week, I learned that Paul was being taken off life support. His chance of survival was such that the best thing was to let him go and have his spirit move on from this realm to the next. I wept. There are just some individuals whose hearts were so large that its impossible to imagine that their heart will give out. Apparently, though, Paul's had been giving him problems for the past seven years. He had bypass surgery in 2009 which forced him to slow down. But even in the slowing down, he kept up with playing music and being the man so many of us had come to know as the warm, compassionate presence of love and kindness.

He finally breathed his last on Thursday morning.

I've noted before here on this blog that the labyrinth cut into the grass in the back of the Florida School of Massage property has been an important "thin place" for me to go when I need quiet contemplative time with the Holy. My spouse and I took our separate trips along the winding path this past Saturday following Paul's Memorial service at the school. As per usual, I stood at the opening and took a moment with each of the statues that greet visitors to the labyrinth. One instructed me to look for wisdom. The other gave me the word "joy." And so my walk began. Wisdom and and wisdom..

The more those words traveled back forth in my mind with each step, the more I realized that Paul's influence and the school's philosophy had really planted a seed for my overall spiritual growth. He did, after all, inform all of us that we were being ordained into the royal priesthood of the PHLANGES! (this must be done with a step forward, arms raised, and fingers to the sky). The fact that he put in a labyrinth on the grounds was a nod to an ancient prayer practice and an encouragement for those attending FSM to see that touching the body makes us the carpenters and caretakers of the house for a person's soul. The regular mantra at the beginning of each month when we'd receive our calendar of instruction--"Changes will be made"--was not only a reminder that, sometimes, we'd have to go with the flow on any given day but it was the inherent promise that the deeper we went into our practice and the more we worked on the body, the more likely it was that changes were going to happen.

I reflected again on the many silly stories and puns and Paul's inviting and playful smile. I thought about the way that I have approached my own study and reading of the Bible, and how so often a bad pun has come to mind or I've delighted in a play on words in Scripture that helps to open a new and different understanding. It's as if my learning of Scripture bears the mark of Paul's constant presentation that we can all change with a little more love. How Jesus of him! My walk on this hot midday afternoon came to an end with my two statues and the culmination of where "wisdom" and "joy" had led:

"Wisdom and Joy
Joy and Wisdom
The Holy Spirit blows in love
And it travels to the heart,
And once it has settled into the heart
The heart will pump out love into the veins
which exude love through every part of the body.
The learning is in the experience.
You get it now?"

At Paul's memorial service, we heard the prayer that he penned and that he and Josie would say as part of their regular meditation. Paul, who had a Methodist background, never ascribed to any particular religious path although he was highly influenced by the Dalai Lama and Buddhism. He took a Buddhist prayer and put his own interpretation on it.

With the wish to help all beings to be free from suffering 
I will always go for refuge
To the purity of all phenomena
It's direct perception 
And it's manifestation

Enthused by wisdom and compassion 
Today in the presence of enlightened awareness
I generate the awakened mind
For the benefit of all beings

For as long as space endures
And sentient beings remain
May I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world


From my precious teachers 
And the pristine nature of existence 
I take the open path

With myself clear
As a vessel for wisdom and compassion 
I present my offering 

Following teachings of kindness and right livelihood 
I remain committed to purity of thought speech and activity

Enjoying the fruits of study and practice 
I benefit others 
With the giving of shelter sustenance guidance and love


May the supreme jewel Bodhicitta
Arise where it has not arisen
And may that which has arisen
Never diminish but increase more and more 

Due to all these merits may all the father and mother sentient beings have all happiness 
And may the lower realms be empty forever
Wherever there are bodhisattvas, may their prayers be accomplished immediately 
May I cause all this by myself alone

May people be happy and their years be blessed
May crops grow well and may religion prosper
I pray that all happiness arises for everyone
And that whatever they desire shall come to pass