I wrote this post Oct. 20 in Xiamen, China, and set it up for publication this morning — my posts usually publish several weeks after I write them. Little did I know how on topic this post would be: it was never meant to be a commentary on any current event.
Nonetheless, we are in the midst of absorbing the awful deaths in Paris. God bless those souls who died; and God bless those they left behind.
Xiamen, Oct. 20
Last night, I was having dinner with a Chinese vendor and a number of younger people from my office, both Chinese and American. Ages ranged from the late 20s to the mid-40s. Somehow, the subject of dying came up, and there was general agreement that dying would be a terrible thing that no one wanted to do it.
I tried to explain that it is impossible to understand death when one is young. One has to take in a sufficient number of impressions in order to digest the idea of death itself properly; and in general, because human beings don't take in impressions very deeply, they often don't reach into the soul where they need to form the necessary relationship. Folks can sometimes live their whole life determined not to die, living in some impossible and imaginary world where they will become immortal by exercising, doing yoga, eating the right foods, taking the right medications, seeing the right doctors, and so on. Americans are probably more obsessed with this idea of eternal youth than any other culture I have seen; but every culture has it. This is one of the inevitable consequences of the increased emphasis on materiality in popular culture.
In any event, I told the group that one has to form a new and right relationship with one's death. "Right now, "I told them, "you have a bad relationship your idea of your death; and unless you form a good one, when the time comes, you will have a bad death."
This statement stopped everyone at the table for a moment. A few of them understood that there was something here they needed to take in properly.
People have bad deaths because they don't spend any time digesting what is necessary to understand how important death is. Mr. Gurdjieff understood this very well indeed, and advised his pupils to engage in their inner work so as not to "die like a dog."
Death is part of what gives us life. You can't understand this unless you form an organic connection to your sensation; and even after that takes place, it takes some time to understand the relationship between death, which actually supports life as it takes place, and the actions of living. I can't really explain this very well in words. It is one of those parts of inner work that must be tasted and digested on one's own, quite subtle, really.
Well, that is one of three thoughts for this morning, I think that I will leave that here, even though much more could be said in the general sense about the subject.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.