Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The final nature of things

Stop for a moment. Take a look around you.

The only thing that we know for sure is that we are in these bodies, having these experiences. Amazingly, even though it is quite clear that there is a logical end to this process, our conscious parts somehow insist that the condition we are in now will persist for ever.

Do we really see the impermanence of life? I don't think so. Very little, if any, time is spent in younger years pondering the fact that our existence is finite. Yet this very fact is probably the only thing that might call us to examine our lives more closely.

I ponder this question frequently in the context of my organic sensation of myself. This organic sensation provides a connection to mortality than I did not used to have when I was younger. It raises a great many questions about just exactly what we are and what we are doing here.

There is a butcher shop right around the corner from our office in downtown Shanghai. Incongruously- certainly for a modern city- there is this tiny shopfront right on the street with chopped up carcasses of slaughtered pigs and beef hung in its narrow corridor. Bloody piles of spinal columns and ribs are casually slung across Styrofoam packing cases.

It is not the presentation of things that we are accustomed to in the West. It is raw death staring the businessmen and the beautiful people in their designer clothing in the face as they pass by.

I saw this.

It got me to thinking.

Those spinal columns are a representation of a process that began billions of years ago when the very first animals developed nervous systems. They represent evolution; they also represent what every single mammal, and almost all other higher animals (aside, for example, from octopi and squid) are made up from on this planet. A nervous system made of meat and flesh and bone. Something which is all too easy to forget as we meet each other face-to-face dressed up in clothing. They are a reminder of how frail life is, and how final the end is. The sun rises on our life, the day of this life goes by, and then the sun sets. This day will not come again.

It is sobering to see this. When one evaluates life from this perspective, one begins to think, just what is it that one wishes to do in life? Are we doing what we want to? Are we squandering this precious substance, which we only have just so much of, on foolishness of one kind or another?

More than likely, most of us are. I have certainly done my fair share of it.

If I really begin to sense what I am-- flesh and bones -- and where I am-- between birth and death --, then perhaps I can begin to value this life more directly and more specifically. To seek a value within each inward breath that confers more than just the automatic food of air. To seek a value in personal exchanges that is more than just a cardboard cutout reaction to my concept of other people.

In the end, this question of mortality becomes a question of seeking value. A greater understanding of death could shape our lives if we had a bit more respect for it.

I continue to ask myself questions about mortality; questions about the nature of my existence here; questions about time. Questions about finality. All of these questions are asked in the context of those infinite rivers of love and bliss that flow downward into us from a level above us which we cannot even pretend to understand.

I don't expect answers. I seek them, but they only come on their own terms.

When they do come, they arrive without words.

When they leave, I cannot remember them, except for the faint footprints of joy that seem, paradoxically, to precede my passage through the moments of life.

The faint scent of a plum blossom lingering in a winter without trees.

love to you all

Lee

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