In one month from today,
I’ll turn forty.
Does that mean something?
I think it might.
I think it might mean
bidding a fond farewell to a decade of time
book-ended by zeros
and ushering in a new one,
as though it were a crisp,
unwrinkled, never worn gown
to slip into and dance on
endlessly into the night.
Everything that meant anything important
I’ve learned so far,
I’ve learned from unlearning something else.
Like how love means letting go
not holding on,
and a life filled with meaning
has little to do with money.
Or how kindness is a superpower
not a weakness,
and angling towards joy
doesn’t mean to ignore the darkness,
it means to not ignore the light.
I have inherited a body of knowledge
not my own –
a body of paper skin and earthen bones, too.
scarred, broken, perfect.
Did I mention perfect?
There is nothing on this splendid,
spinning, blue-green marble planet,
strung like a pearl on its cosmic necklace,
that wasn’t supposed to happen,
simply for the fact that it did.
If my years so far could be distilled
into one sentiment worth mentioning,
it would be this:
To live a well-contented life,
it’s crucial to stop fighting.
To stop fighting:
To stop fighting with the truth of how every single thing –
and every single one of us, our self included –
is of the nature to change.
In the time I spend weekly with elderly patients, I continue to learn and deepen my understanding of how life is short.
In the time I spend weekly with young children, I continue to learn and deepen my understanding of how time is precious.
And it’s these two sentiments cultivated on-goingly, that have sculpted my view of the world and my place in it.
It’s these realities that propel me to do what I do – and to keep doing it, with love and vigor.
When I saw this card at a local artist’s shop downtown I was drawn to it right away. I wandered into the shop having some time to spare before attending a community conversation on death and dying a couple of weeks ago, a monthly event hosted by one of our three hospice groups in town. Each month there’s a different topic along the theme of death and dying. Two weeks ago the subject matter involved end-of-life decisions and how and why they differ greatly between doctors and the rest of us.
I’ve been a hospice volunteer for almost 12 years and in that time I’ve learned a great deal about living and gratitude and acceptance through my visits with those at the end of life. In our society it is common to shun aging and death. It’s common to think of death as a morbid topic. But death is part of life, not separate, and not optional. When I look at the photo on the card, pictured above, I see the circle of life. To me the dead pig head is not gross or repulsive, it simply is what it is. On the back of the card it reads: “Shot from our bedroom closet in Seeley Lake. The good Momma Raven shared this feast with her babies that were waiting in the nest just a few trees away.” As one life ends, another begins. This is the way of life.
Week 10, last week – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery. To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week (for the past 10 weeks): http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013
The Five Remembrances
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.
1) If I knew that my beloved one was going to die today, what would be the most important thing for me to say or do right now?
Honestly, I don’t know. I would want to spend time with them, embrace them and let them know that it’s OK. It’s OK to die, it’s OK to leave me behind and that death is a part of life. I would want to meet them with a calm energy so that they can pass away without fear. And who knows if I could actually provide that or not, it’s hard to say. I would also want to help them tie up any loose ends that they felt necessary to take care of before they died.
2) What is preventing me from doing/ saying it right now?
The only thing that prevents me from doing anything really is myself. It’s important to me to express my love to my friends and family regularly and to provide my love and support to them on a daily basis and to the best of my ability I do those things. There is no time like today to let someone know how much you value them.
3) What are some of the ways that I “hide” in the sense of shutting things out?
The ways that I hide would be with netflix, the computer, and sugar. When I use them to hide what I’m hiding from is myself or a certain experience or emotion that I’m uncomfortable with. I devote a lot of practice to these areas and the more I become aware of this pattern the more I am able to transform those habit energies. It is a process. The first step in transformation is to see what needs transforming.