A note to my family, students, clients, community, tribe.
I have been receiving emails and texts from many of you asking where Heather and I have been the last couple weeks.
On November 17th at around 5pm, my loving father, Terry Thomas Mills, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, a few weeks before his 75th birthday at his home in Helena, Montana.
Those of you who know me well already know that Terry was not only my father, he was also one of my greatest spiritual teachers and my best friend.
The influence of my parents, Terry, Lorna and Joy, has shaped and informed my teaching, my practice, and my life both intentionally and subconsciously in such profound ways, and I am eternally grateful to them.
My dear wife (who lost her own father tragically many years ago), and my close friends have been offering incredible, amazing support while we have been in Montana.
As you can imagine the loss of my father’s physical form has forever transformed me and has up to now, left me quite speechless. As I described to a long time student and friend this morning, “I’ve been through some sort of undefinable, indescribable transformation. At this point, I am simply moving forward moment by moment watching the world pass through these strange new eyes.”
My father like all human beings was complex. He had many facets that made up his personality. Rather than sharing all of them, since this platform was created for the teachings of yoga and wellness, I will leave you with 5 drops of wisdom my father left to me both in his life and in his passing.
1. To be compassionate but not to pity
Compassion is a far greater and wiser thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, the ego, and often stems from a sense of arrogance, condescension, and separateness. Compassion comes from heart wisdom.
When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain it becomes compassion.
2. Practice, discipline, and leading by example
My father used to tell me pain was his friend. Amidst chronic pain, he stated that pain kept him in line, on track, and disciplined to do his practice and to care for his body temple. It was in my 30s, and now 40s, dealing with my own chronic pain, that I can see the gift and grace that can be found within the suffering of pain.
My father “the mountain yogi” walked the same path up the mountain behind his house for the last 25 years (a practice he started with his Buddhist teacher in his 20s). Being a lover of animals, he fed the next door horses the apples from his tree along the way. He was often followed up the mountain by a pack of neighborhood dogs and even his loyal cat.
No matter if it was sunny or sub zero weather, no matter if he was well or sick, or in a good mood or a bad one, he got up and walked his path up the mountain.
A neighbor who had lost her 18-year-old daughter in a tragic auto accident wrote my family and said, “There were days I didn’t think I could leave the house. I couldn’t face the world. Then, I would see Terry walking up that mountain path in the morning and think ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ He gave me strength.”
3. Service, humor, and generosity without expectation
My father showed love through acts of service. He was always doing little things behind the scenes like a hidden house elf. You’d come to visit him and somehow he would have taken your car to get it serviced or fixed something that was broken. (And, these were only the things we noticed. I am sure there was so much more we didn’t.)
My father found humor to be both uplifting and medicinal and would, even in somber and serious occasions (including during his own cremation), find a way to make us laugh.
After his passing, there were so many stories of people from all around the world who shared similar experiences of his acts of service, generosity, and humor.
One of the things my dad used to quote is that most people’s damaging illusion is “we think we have time.”
In his passing, I found this quote marked in one of his worn, weathered books: “The machine driven time clock of modern man has not made him a master but a slave of time. The more man tries to ‘save time’ the less of it he/she possesses.”
My father always said to keep death like a healthy friend on your shoulder, not in a morbid way or to encourage hedonism, but to remind us that our personal story of “I will do ‘X’ when…” is born out of ignorance. The only moment we can do anything about is now, and now… and now. The only time to finish that creative project is now, the only time to have that important conversation you haven’t had is now, the only time to find connection to your personal relationship to “god” is now.
Last week, I was cleaning out my father’s dental tech business of 46 years. While going through numerous drawers, I was regretfully, and perhaps indulgently, wishing I would have called him the day he passed like I initially was planning to but got too busy to do. At that instant, in one of his drawers, I found one of his old Reiki business cards and written on the back, ironically in “permanent marker”, were these words:
“Without grasping at anything transcend all concepts… Death can come at any moment.”
Days later I randomly opened one of his personal books to this quote by one of my father’s greatest teachers, Paramahansa Yogananda:
“The sorrow of separation causes most men to cry for awhile; then they forget. But the wise feel impelled to seek their vanished dear ones in the heart of the Eternal. What spiritual devotees lose in finite life, they find again in the infinite.”
We are all unique individual sparks of divine creation, and my father was definitely no exception to that uniqueness.
I don’t expect to come across another person quite like him in this lifetime. As one of his friends said, “He was so good at unapologetically being Terry.” His physical presence on this earth will be immeasurably missed.
On Friday, November 23rd, my immediate family and a small group of my father’s close friends went to the Helena crematorium and watched as they turned my father’s body to ashes. We had the unique privilege of being able to decorate his delivery vessel the three days before the cremation.
To the vessel, we added photos, tapestries, many quotes, favorite chants, drawings, and even some dad jokes (also ironically in permanent marker) to the final rendering. We also put his passport inside stamped and ready for his journey.
Most importantly perhaps, at the foot of his vessel were written these simple words:
“You have left all of us better for knowing you. Thank you.”
Thank you for caring for us Dad. We are eternally grateful.