Then she added, “But I can tell you’re not dead.”
Why was I surprised? I knew already that certain poor choices had sent me into a downward spiral. A spell of chilly weather froze me to the bones. To add insult to injury, I scampered about the garden in the chilly mist for three full hours without bundling up. Sandled but bare feet gliding through wet grass. Placing my bum on a cold, damp rock wall for far too long.
Still, her exclamation sent a mild but penetrating shock wave reaching deep into my cells.
“I’m not dead? What does she mean? Am I that close to being dead?”
Silly me. I didn’t ask her exactly what she meant. I just let a grinding level of worry set in to torment me for the next few hours at least. Till impermanence swept away the worry with yet another illusory train of thought.
You see, as much as I reflect on the truth of impermanence, it’s not an easy one to get. A knee-jerk resistance to death seems to be built into our body and brain.
My aspiration is to meet death with confidence. But at the moment, it still has the power to get me tied up in knots.
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche reminds us,
“The nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral,
Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness,
Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge.
How pitiful they who cling strongly to concrete reality:
Turn your attention within, my heart friends.
True, I fall into these ruts of trepidation from time-to-time. But, thanks to meditation and reflection, there are more and more moments when the sun shines through. Times when I’m able to see this seemingly dreadful death monster for just exactly what it is – merely the usher that introduces you to the next chapter of life. It’s also said to be an extraordinary opportunity to realize the very essence of mind.
So isn’t it crazy to spend all our time focused on the goals of this single, brief life? It’s just a fraction of eternity! What about preparing for what lies beyond?
I trust that repeated reflection – spiked with a hearty dash of joyful diligence – will gradually erode away this stronghold of resistance to the reality of impermanence and death. And as it subsides, wisdom will naturally dawn in its place.
Reflection: Are We Fooling Ourselves?
We all know that life is impermanent. But do we really know? The quotation I’ve chosen for this week asks if we might be fooling ourselves!
“Have you actually understood and realized, the truth of impermanence? Have you so integrated it with your every thought, breath, and movement that your life has been transformed? Ask yourself these two questions: Do I remember at every moment that I am dying, and everyone and everything else is, and so treat all beings at all times with compassion? Has my understanding of death and impermanence become so keen and so urgent that I am devoting every second to the pursuit of enlightenment? If you can answer ‘yes’ to both of these, then you have really understood impermanence. ”
– from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Don’t let the word enlightenment sound too exotic or put you off. Enlightenment lies at the heart of all spiritual traditions. You can find it within.
Have you fully embraced impermanence? Do you feel ready for death?
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