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.