hungry ghosts

May I find the Loving Compassion that will soften the shield embracing my heart so that I may love absent of greed, anger, and ignorance.

contemplative photography 11


I find myself standing on a dry dirt road with two deep parallel ruts cutting winding dark ribbons into the road until they unite and disappear in the horizon.  The sun greets me with the same dry warmth that soothingly penetrates my skin as I wrap around me a towel just pulled from a tumbling clothes dryer. The air messages that it is a time of transition and I see the slight touch of autumn’s mustard yellows and crimson reds upon the tips of trees lining a distant hill.  Before me stands a child of about twelve years of age.  Her head is bent down with absorbed attention upon the small puffs of dust clouds her bare feet stirs up before her.

She looks up at me with expectant eyes that suddenly overfill with tears. “I don’t remember who or what I’m looking for,” she says, as miniature rivulets begin to flow down her cheek.

Then I notice a three-year-old boy with wispy blonde hair and mesmerizing oxen-eyes as he emerges from his hiding place behind the girl. As he takes hold of her right index finger, he reaches up with his left hand and touches a teardrop that is forming along the girl’s chin, asking “Find mummy?”

Nikon D750 f/7.1 1/500 50

Suddenly, as if a whirlwind came down from the heavens in response to the boy’s voice, I come to myself standing in the center of a frozen lake. I am shivering and see nothing more than a dark and shadowy forest surrounding me.  I hear in the distance the sound of children’s voices repeating a refrain with a haunting tone, “Broken hearts, frozen hearts, shattered hearts.” And then I see them: four–no, five.  Five hungry, child-like, ghosts with needle mouths, long twisted thin necks, and bloated stomachs.

They come out of the forest and stand along the lake’s shoreline, repeating their refrain, “Broken hearts, frozen hearts, shattered hearts.” Their words travel across the surface of the frozen lake and encircle me with the sounds of unfilled longings and infinite emptiness.

Then I awaken to my own craving for those who have been lost to me, those who have died.  Within the darkness of this forest memories of past days rise and intermingle to become a swirling chaos within the image of emptiness where there once was a home, a family.  Confusion, anger, and loneliness flash within as these memories incite feelings and memories that pummel upon me, one frozen memory after another.


I hear questions from a child.  Confused, they come as fragments: “His heart was broken? Why did I have to go? They moved?” The sound of adolescent angst intertwined with arrogance swirls around me, as the questions become assertions: “I won’t be here if he comes back! I’ll do as I please.” The mist in the air surrounds me with the chilling voice of others, accusing: “If you had faith, she could hear. You were her companion. It is you that must leave. It does not matter, it is over. I cannot help you.”  Then, “There was an accident.”  I feel myself falling upon the ice as I have fallen before with broken promises, beliefs, and dreams shattered all around me. I feel the layers of iced grief, anger, sadness, confusion shielding my heart. Again, the refrain, “Broken hearts, frozen hearts, shattered hearts.”


The night cloud’s fingertips drift away from the moon. In the silvery light I see visions of a small child, alone in the gray-toned shadows, planting seeds in the moist soil of despair.    Her sob-filled voice fills the night’s emptiness, “You are too stupid to understand. I don’t need you.  I’m special.  I’ll hide my tears.  I won’t tell you anything. I won’t need you.  I’ll show you that I don’t need you.”

A veil lifts and my observing mind sees a raging powerless ego annihilating self-in-relationship, suppressing feelings; and all the while, unknowingly creating her shadowy forest of worthlessness, hopelessness, alienation, and pseudo-independence.

Anger tells me that I am nothing;
love tells me I am everything.
Between the two, my life flows.

I feel a golden-toned voice, vibrating the soft and gentle touch of loving-kindness.  “These hungry ghosts are visions that arise from years of tears closeted within your soul. Is it now time to cut this intertwining craving and clinging to your yesterdays?”  She encourages a thought that to be freed from this frozen place and time begins with a true comprehension of the refrain, “Broken hearts, frozen hearts, shattered hearts.”

This voice says, “Call forth these five hungry ghosts, one by one, by their true given names and see each true ‘I’-in-self hidden behind veils of greed, anger, and ignorance.  Ask what it is that will cease their yearning and release them from this frozen forest so that they may finally rest in peace. As you hear their request touch your heart, open yourself to share with each that which will release you from this bondage.  Melt this chain with loving-kindness and forge the golden key that gives admission to a room of healing serenity.”

contemplative photography 7

In a clearing I find myself slowly warmed by the autumn sun as I return to the two children I met earlier on a dry, dusty road. Behind me is the forest I have just emerged from; before me is a field of yellowed wheat.   Just beyond the field is a house weathered gray by the seasons and weakened by the stresses of time.  In the golden rays of the morning light, the young girl is kicking up clouds, searching through the barren soil for seeds of her past, and desiring to be freed from yesterday’s delusions.  She walks over to the side of the road and bends over; as she stands, I see three keys, dangling from her left hand. One key is silver, another is gold, and the third is made of diamonds. I feel the pain of fear awaken as the warmth of this early autumn day touches the frozen shield that embraces her heart.

The air is filled with sounds of a new refrain, “May I be happy.  May I be free from pain.   May I feel emotionally connected with others. May I be at peace.

 “May these children be happy.  May they be freed from pain.  May they feel emotionally connected with others.  May they be at peace.

“May those hungry ghosts be happy.  May they be freed from pain.  May they feel emotionally connected with others.  May they be at peace.”

Excerpts from B Koeford, A Meditative Journey with Saldage

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