"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

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The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Monday, February 3, 2020

The End Game

"It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, will we then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.
  -- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"Healing is bringing mercy and Awareness 
into that which we have held in judgment and fear."
-- Stephen Levine,  
Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying



This past few weeks, a number of friends and Mindfulness Circlemates have lost loved ones.  Others have faced diagnoses of life-threatening illness. 

Sometimes, life is like that.  

In fact, when you take the long view, life is always like that.  

As the legendary Zen Master, Suzuki Roshi, once said, " Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink."  The moment we are born, we're headed on a trajectory that ends in death.  What happens at the end point may be a Grand Mystery.  Yet, one thing is pretty obvious: Life itself is a terminal condition.   

In mainstream society today, it seems that most folks assiduously avoid bringing that aspect of our shared human condition into the their awareness.  Until their boat (or that of a loved one) is about to sink -- or sinks -- most of us don't seem to want to rock that boat.  We don't want to face the sinking feeling that may emerge. 

Yet, until we actually face death's inevitability, it may not be possible to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind.  We'll always be somewhat haunted, skating over the thin ice of our own subconscious fear of one of the truths of our existence. IMHO, this is no way to live.

Buddhism makes no bones about this.  

If you are going to perceive the truth of our existence, death has to be acknowledged.  In the Theravadan tradition, Asian teachers still cite the Satipatthana Sutta of the Pali Canon, and sometimes send monks off to meditate on corpses at the charnel grounds to practice.  That may be a bit hard core for Western practitioners who, unlike their Asian counterparts, live in a society that shields us from the reality of death as much as possible. 

The Mahayana traditions also call for a focus on death.  A recognition of the inescapability of death is one of the Four Reminders in the preliminary contemplations seen as necessary to begin the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism.  The inevitability of death is also one of the Five Remembrances chanted regularly in Zen services.  

So what is the deal here?  Why is an awareness of our inevitable demise so important?
READ MORE
Time to Get Serious

I've found that if we are fully willing to accept and embrace the absolute finitude of our individual life, the Exquisite Preciousness of Life comes into clear focus.  This connection with the truth of the matter can free us to experience the heart's natural wisdom.  In the spaciousness of this larger perspective, things get clearer.  As Carlos Casteneda's Yaqui Shaman, Don Juan, observed, "an immense amount of pettiness is dropped." Moment to moment, we are less likely to create mountains out of molehills.  This certainly brings a greater ease to our lives.

As Practice deepens, this clarity may also include getting in touch with the sense of purpose and meaning that rings silently in each person's Heart of Hearts.   When we deeply understand that our life is finite (at least as human beings with bodies and individual egos), we may get a clearer view of what we are here to do. 

How cool is that?

The Real Deal

Day of the Dead Celebration in Mexico City
If we take the time to actually feel our hearts, if we make the commitment to explore our own moment-to-moment experience with courage, curiosity, 
gentleness -- and patience, we will have the opportunity to see directly that our lives, as fragile and finite as they may be, are our direct connection to the incredible majesty and infinite miracle of Life itself.  

Face to face with its ineffable but undeniable Presence, we may realize that although who we think we are will certainly die, who we are is inseparable from the One Love that shines on throughout space and time.

It just takes Practice.

5 comments:

carol said...

Hey brother Lance, I have to humbly dis agree with some of the expressed logic of this blog.
Some have recently 'lost' someone or....from the time we are born, the trajectory is toward 'death' or that life is a 'terminal' condition?
imho the answer to these statements seems a bit mis leading and lonely.
First we can never die, we are eternal. We are blessed with the intelligence of realizing that, because we are the highest form of creation. Other forms rely on instinct as they come and go on this journey. Headed for death? There is no death. The Egyptian language doesn't even have a word for death. Life is not terminal, it's continuous. The human experience is terminal, the form is terminal.
The energy that makes up each and everyone of us must find the reality and harmony to connect with the universe or ...God spirit to soul., and mother earth, the energy field that offers up food, shelter, air, water, and peace, ....if we can realize who and what we really are,imho we are souls of greatness and individuality yet all in need and part of the same whole, the spirit of oneness. Losing someone is not in an equation, how can it be, they just left. We can feel their energy field around us any time we choose, if we are in balance with energy. Faith in reality is a 24 hour happening, and as you say....it just takes practice. Practice to remember that very simple thing. We are all energy fields, here to feel, and increase the depth of our wisdom of love, which is of course the energy of creation. Perfection, to which we all take part. No one is lost, Christ told you no one can snatch you from His hand. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Perfection of creation goes on here as in the universe and we are all a continuum of that. When some one leaves, sorrw is for our selfish self that they aren't here any longer for 'us' we have to continue on without them. But...we have to all face the alone time. We are born alone, we leave alone. Yet....we are never alone. As we meditate on the nothingness , reaching past this human trip, we realize we are altogether as part of the oneness. I've lost, as we say, 4 people in less than 1 year, yet I'm thankful they all past through my life as teachers and students. To be able to appreciate, looking through their view of their life here, and know they are finished what they wanted to experience. We can't judge whether it was good or bad,right or wrong, we are not here to judge, just to experience, each experiencing differently in how we learn about love, perfection, and creation,and... that those who have left are a strong part of the continuum of all that is. So we cry for ourselves when someone leaves, otherwise, if faith, trust, and wisdom is our guide, we know the one that left has, without a doubt, returned to where they came from, filled with joy, charged energy, not robbed from life here, but more experienced from time lived here. Living in gratitude to have had whoever it was in our life that has left, is the joy that we need to cling to, to lift us up. That's what helps us to be better students and teachers for others. Realization of what is truly real. It just takes practice.
namaste

Lance Smith said...

Hey Carol,
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. In actuality, I don't find any disagreement with what you've written. What you've stated:
"The human experience is terminal, the form is terminal," is what I mean when I use the word "Death."

In fully appreciating the loss of the human form, that of loved ones and that of our own, a Gateway is opened up to the preciousness of life and the infinite Energy field of the One Love that we are part of. Without that deep acceptance of the loss of human form, I think that a subconscious fear of death will create a barrier to that experience.

I believe that this is what you are also saying here:

"..we have to all face the alone time. We are born alone, we leave alone. Yet....we are never alone. As we meditate on the nothingness , reaching past this human trip, we realize we are altogether as part of the oneness."

I don't know if you ever saw the documentary film "Griefwalker."(It's on Amazon Prime for free if you have it.) It features the work of Stephen Jenkinson, a Harvard-trained DD who worked for years in the hospice field. In the film, and in his book "Die Wise," he points out the tragic reality that some folks, often fundamentalist Christians, confuse fearfully clinging to the dogmatic belief of an afterlife with the true faith that allows us to fully embrace the end of human life and freely, and gratefully, let go into the Nothingness that is inseparable from the Oneness.

He believes, as do I, that this society is extremely "death phobic." That fear prevents us from experiencing the full majesty of the One Love that is our birthright.

I guess that is why the piece, unflinchingly, uses the word Death . Yet, I really don't know where we actually disagree. Did I miss something?

Thanks again, Carol. I am grateful that we are still comparing notes on this Journey.
One Love,
Lance



Carol said...

Did I miss something?
no feeling of joy for the one who left, or joy for the one left behind to appreciate what they experienced by having a loved one in their life.
explanation seems to be on how to 'accept' the loss, accept death, instead of celebration of the time. Otherwise we are saying the same. Here today, gone tomorrow. It's a given that must be part of the consciousness.

Lance Smith said...

Well, I guess that I was turning my gaze toward the reality of our own death in this piece rather than the loss of loved ones. I certainly feel joy in the sheer exquisiteness and preciousness of life itself.

Beyond the moments of honest grief, I also feel great joy and celebrate the blessing of having shared precious Life with the departed loved ones.

"It's a given that must be part of the consciousness."

IMHO, for many folks, it's not "a given." Their fear and avoidance of Death may prevent them from living fully and embracing the One Love that transcends the duality of birth and death. I think that this is my major reason for writing this piece.

Does that make sense?
One Love,
Lance

Cynthia Ennis said...

I absolutely LOVE your 2nd last sentence! Beautiful! ♥️