invisible cemetery


by Michelle Jouyo Sensei

My husband and I love to hike. It is one of our favorite activities, and we enjoy finding new places to explore. Several years ago, we decided to go hiking at a trail called Rock Springs Run inside  Park.

As we were hiking, we came out of a pine hammock into a flat and saw in the distance what looked like a cemetery. As we got closer, we saw there were about 12 very old-looking graves that were surrounded by a wrought-iron fence that had long-since rusted to bits.


I was curious to know how this cemetery had ended up out in the middle of the woods, so I asked a ranger about it when we got back. It turns out the forest land was once privately owned, and before the owner granted what was now part of the forest, he had sold off some parcels of land. One of the parcels had a small cemetery on it, and the buyer did not want dead people on his land. So the owner hired someone to come in and remove the tombstones. That was all they removed; the bodies were still buried on the land. The property now had an “invisible” cemetery. They moved the headstones to the spot we had seen them, and the park service maintains the “cemetery” now, but there are no bodies buried there. To make matters worse, nobody seems to know which parcel the bodies were actually buried on, so there are a dozen bodies in some unsuspecting person’s backyard!

Much like this invisible cemetery, there are people who walk around with calm, peaceful facades that belie the defilements in their mind. We like to put our best face forward when presenting ourselves to others, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we should be cultivating a mind that reflects that best self, rather than one we have to hide from other people. But it is often much easier to just put forth the appearance of tranquility rather than having to dig deeper to actually achieve it.

So we clear away the tombstones, but we leave the bodies moldering below.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened had the man with the invisible cemetery decided to install a pool in that spot. There certainly would have been some trouble for someone! Likewise, we can maintain our own peaceful façade for a short period of time. But what happens if something comes along and stirs up the muck that lies beneath that? Our mask begins to crack, and everything that has been lying dormant rises to the surface. Isn’t it better to instead work on our minds? To dig up the bodies and then let them go?

This is why we practice. This is why we sit and train our minds. We all have an invisible cemetery lying within us. It is up to us to do the work to clear it away.

Michelle Jouyo Sensei is a Lay Minister with the Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha.  For more information please visit


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