Thursday, July 18, 2013

Death and the inner life

Death is always with us, but it never seems to be here.

Life is life; from the point of view of this inner vibration, this organic quality of Being, on the one hand, death seems impossible. Yet on the other hand, the organic sense of Being itself contains death, because death can't be separated from life — it is within life itself, and is a presence within the very existence of life. Not just a theoretical presence, a presence to be thought about or philosophized — it is a concrete and tangible presence, part of the vibration that life contains.

Just as the Dharma cannot be separated from itself, and just as truth is a whole thing that cannot be sliced into pieces, no matter how we tend to regard it from our fractional point of view, death and life are one thing. They contain each other.

Last week, my wife and I heard the shocking news that a friend of ours — a woman in the Gurdjieff work who we had deep respect for, and who worked with us for many years — had died very suddenly of a virulent melanoma. And today, another man who we knew died quite abruptly in Mongolia.

It seems strange to me to admit that after the death of my sister, I have discovered that death doesn't seem to shock me as much as it ought to. It isn't as though it doesn't touch me emotionally; there is a deep and anguished emotional connection to it, but there is also an admission of its truth. How can we escape the question of death? How can we deny it? How can we look away from it? It's here in every moment. I become responsible for death in both a small and a larger sense every time I crush an insect that is biting me, or pick a flower. The awareness of it stays with me enough that I hesitate to pick mushrooms, because I am depriving them in some way of part of their existence. So although I do have to participate in this question, it does remain in front of me as a question. Nowhere is it stronger than when friends or relatives die.

 Death forms a more and more intimate relationship with the inner world as one grows older. It penetrates; it becomes a reality, as we witness it around us, and the emotional digestion of that experience proceeds. It seems that a right relationship would have to be inclusive, not based on denial; and indeed, somehow, many of us begin to make our peace with it, despite the anguish it can inspire.

I don't know how to include this in my life, but there was a moment today when I saw that my sister's death was actually helpful to me. I have learned and grown from this truth, in many different ways that wouldn't have been possible if she had stayed alive. This doesn't mean I don't wish she was still with me, because I surely do; yet many important things have been seen as a result of her death that I couldn't have seen any other way. I understand my relationship — and lack of relationship — with her more deeply, much more deeply, than I think I could have explored had she remained alive. I'm just guessing, mind you, but the fact is that from where I sit now, death slowly becomes not an enemy, but a teacher.

There are many parts of life that teach me, but most of them seem to be inconsequential enough for me to believe that there is a fallback position, some way for me to ignore them. Death does not have that problem. It can teach regardless of my opinion, and it teaches objectively — almost lovingly, as though it were in there and had been created in and of itself to prevent me from being able to look away. So it becomes my assistant in a discovery of inner life.

May your soul be filled with light.

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