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coming out of hiding

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Death is the “great teacher” most of us would rather not be a student of. We know that, like birth, illness, and old age, death is a certain and natural part of being human. In the moment of birth we enter the process of dying. Each day, parts of us die and are reborn. We expect a long life of relative ease and happiness. If we get sick, we “fight” the illness; if someone dies young, we speak of the unfairness of timing. All around us people die, but not me (so the little voice hopes and prays). . 

Talking like this is a sure way to alienate people: just bring the topic up at a party or over coffee and you’ll soon be sitting alone. My reason for raising it today (triggered by yesterday’s post) is not about a morbid fascination or the wish to spoil your day. On the contrary, my wish is to open my own awareness to the “facts of life” which, like any well-told story, comprises a beginning, a muddle, and an end. Returning to the topic is my way to disturb my own complacency and to contemplate, again and again, my own relationship to the inevitable. As Judith Lief writes:

In contemplating death, it is important that we start with our own, very personal relationship to death. … The point of this practice is not to come up with a correct understanding of death but to have the courage to look at how we deal with it personally. … By examining the nature of death thoroughly and from many angles, we can uncover our own hopes and fears about it and come to a deeper understanding … as it arises in our daily life.

If you’d like to join this exploration, observe your reaction to what you’ve just read. What feelings arise? What images and memories appear? What do you notice in your body: any tension, pain, numbness, or? Make a few notes right now and put them in a safe place. In the days to come I plan to look at some meditative approach that can help bring the unspoken into awareness and recharge our reverence for living.

source: Lief, J.L. (2001). Making friends with death. Boston: Shambhala, p. 67. image: Ron Mueck’s sculptures explore the human life cycle, encompassing birth, adolescence, procreation, middle age, old age, and death.


4 responses »

  1. as well as the contemplative subjects you write about, i am fascinated by the images you choose to go along with them…

  2. i too am surprised what i find, d. often it’s only after i post the image that i see the fit.


    I have to say that your post today is amazing in the timing of its delivery into my life! I just turned 40 and on my birthday, I was taken out to dinner by my family, including my mom and step dad. When we came home, I opened the door, and inside my house were a bunch of smiling faces, more food, champagne, and decorations all over the place. I was immediately presented with a party hat, and the rest of the evening was festive and lovely. Before going to bed, I decided to check my email, and there in my inbox was a message from a friend who is only about a year older than me, who informed me that he was in the hospital as he had just had a heart attack.

    I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself…it’s starting already, the downward spiral. I’m already feeling funny, weird (I don’t even know what the exact word to describe the feeling would be) about my age, and then this happens. The next morning, for the first time, I thought of everyone I know, and thought of the undeniable fact that we are all going to die. I thought of myself too. I was crying so hard that I actually became sick! I decided to dedicate this month, or longer, to really explore my feelings through meditation, reading, and contemplation.

  4. I have been living the fullness of this alienation of which you speak during this last year. But in a much more agonizing environment than over coffee. My son died this past year – he was very young. My brother died as well – he was in his forties and lived a tragic life that ended with a brutal suicide. Why is this? That when you need to just be with people and to have then remember that you even exist – they disappear? It’s not even that I need to talk about them or death itself – it is as if I am untouchable.


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