Some thoughts about death.

 

Azrael__Angel_of_Death_by_gaux_gauxAzrael, Angel of death in Jewish mysticism.

“Death is something we shouldn’t fear because, while we are, death isn’t, and when death is, we aren’t.”
― Antonio Machado

Oh, but yes, Antonio, we do fear death. We live our lives in fear of death, that great unknown. And each day is a death, the death of one moment to the next moment, this moment is dead, now, and this next, and now, and this, too…

Think about it:  our culture does everything in its power to avoid death.

Celebrities are forever young.  “50 is the new 40.”  We say someone has “passed away,” instead of saying:  “he has died.”  Our voices lower to a murmur when death is mentioned, as if it is something shameful.  Doctors rail us with promises that we need never age.  If only we eat right, if only we exercise enough, if only we learn how to handle our emotions enough, as long as we are happy enough… we will not – die?

But the wrinkles come, and with the wrinkles, wisdom.

As far as I know, there is no fear of death in faith.  And as far as I know, that there is no fear of death has nothing to do with what happens after we die.  As far as I can understand, there is no fear of death in faith because faith brings us into this present moment, this one moment given to live, to breath, to serve, to give thanks.  This is all there is.

And yet we are simply human, are we not?  We are simply human, given to fear and anxiety and anger and rage.  We are simply human, and so we do fear death.  The fear of death seems to be a part of life.

Still, some cultures seem more able to allow death to have a seat at the table.  In Mexico, The Day of the Dead brings all ages to graveyards, to eat and to dance and to walk and to be together, among the dead, for remembering, for honoring, as part of life.

No one wants a young person to die, and so we all grieve with the grieving mother.  It is true, a child should not die before the parent, this does seem unnatural to us, and it is a wound that no human being should be made to suffer.  And yet it is a wound that many suffer.  Death claims the young.

We have no freedom from death, as much as we want to run from it, to avoid it, to challenge it, to shake our fists at death.  We have no freedom from death.  Death is always with us, in this perfect, fleeting, precious moment.  Death is always with us.

Death is like the partner who walks with us, wherever we go.  “There she is, always following me around,” we might say.  And if we turn to look, to nod, to speak to her, she may have something for us, some wisdom, some honesty, some truth to add to our life. Can we embrace her?  Can we learn about her, walk with her a bit, learn from her, learn what it is that a final ending to what we know can mean for us now, those of us who walk among the living?

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle, Dylan, but take a look, get to know that good night.

I think that part of wisdom is to begin to acknowledge death, that one who walks with us, wherever we go.  I see my friends growing older, some refusing to acknowledge that yes, “50 is not the new 40,”  that, “50 is 50,” and that is good.  And I see some of my friends growing older, knowing that as their health changes and as families grow older and move away, there is yet a beauty, a richness, an honor in accepting that “50 is 50,” and it is good.

You are going to die.  Now – how will you live?  – meb, 4/2015/Good Friday

 

Don’t believe everything you think.

dont-believe-everything-you-think

That’s it. Great rule to live by. That’s all it is, complete wisdom in one sentence:

Don’t believe everything you think.

Maybe you’re like me. I have a busy, busy mind. My mind is interesting – yes, very interesting. Your mind is interesting, too. I guarantee that! I’m smart. I’ve known that since I was young. I’m sure you’re smart, too. Those things are true.

We honor the mind, our thinking mind, in our culture. If we think something, we believe it is true.  As human beings – as these wonderful works of wisdom – we limit ourselves by living within the cultural constraints of our minds. It is counter-cultural to open yourself to the wisdom that lives within you, within you and outside of the limitations of your thinking, even your best thinking.

Thinking can only take us so far – and there is so much farther to go!  Your body is a place of wisdom.  Begin to know your body’s wisdom by feeling your feelings.   When something happens to you, take a moment to experience that event in your body.  What are you feeling?  Breathe!  Breathe for a moment, and feel the breath in your body.  Now, what are you feeling?

As you practice this, you can begin to name your feelings.

A long time ago, someone asked about me:  “I wonder if she knows the difference between her thoughts and her feelings?”  I am grateful that I took notice of that comment.  Do I know the difference?  I do now.  From that moment on, I began to observe – to feel – my feelings.  That in itself is a journey.  When we begin to include our feelings in our answers, in our decisions, in our observations, we encounter another dimension of ourselves.  When we include our feelings, our perceptions deepen, our love deepens, our experience deepens.

Your body has a wisdom that your thinking mind cannot perceive.  In a way, your thinking mind is on one plane of existence.  The wisdom that is beyond your thinking mind has deep roots, roots in the earth.  The wisdom beyond your thinking mind perceives on many levels, levels that your thinking mind simply cannot conjure up!

If you are sad, feel sad.  That is practice.  If you are lonely, feel lonely.  That too, is practice.  If you are happy, feel happy.  That is practice.  From moment to moment, the practice of reaching beyond our thinking mind takes us into new territory.

A good parent teaches feelings to their child by mirroring those feelings.  When the baby cries, mom will say:  “oh, you are sad.”  Or she will say:  “you are angry that your plate fell on the floor.”  Dad will say to a toddler:  “you are frustrated because you can’t reach the ball.”  Sometimes, we have to mirror our own feelings to ourselves.  We have to begin again to learn about ourselves, and about our own perceptions of the world.

Maybe you’ll need help as you begin to discern your feelings.  Maybe a therapist can help, a professional who can ask you, again and again:  “So… how do you feel about that?”  Maybe a spiritual guide can teach you to listen to your body’s wisdom as much as your mind’s wisdom.  Maybe a 12 step meeting will be the place you begin to learn.

Each one of these places can be the doorway to growth, to growth in consciousness.

Such simple practice, to not believe everything you think!  And at the same time, such a deep, profound, ever-expanding practice.

For today:  don’t believe everything you think!  Give it a try!

A Friend Returns – and Memories

life-and-friends

About 40 years ago, “Mike” was my supervisor at my first professional job. We were both in our 20’s, and although Mike was just a couple of years older than me, he always seemed so much older. Maybe it was his role; maybe it was my being so young, even too young for my age.  Mike was smart, and he was funny.  He was 40 years ago, and he is now.

I was involved in the evolving feminist movement of the time, and I brought my growing consciousness to my job.  I read every month’s issue of “Ms. Magazine” from cover to cover.  Now, young women do not realize what women of the last generation confronted; sometimes, when I remember or tell the stories of those times, it seems as if it cannot be true, as if those were ancient times instead of the 1970’s.  When I think about the treatment of women the world over, the wage inequalities in this country, the limited rights of women as human beings in other countries, I realize these are still ancient times.  We have a long way to go.  And that’s an understatement.

Because of my feminist consciousness, Mike said to me one day:  “You have to meet my wife.”  She worked in the same job as I did, in another office.  Many months later I was sent to that office to work for several days, and I met “Jane” for the first time.  I remember sitting across from her at her desk for a moment, the conversation beginning.  The conversation we began that day would continue until her death, in her early 50’s, over 10 years ago now.  I miss her every day.  Mike was right.  I did need to meet his wife.

Over the years, our lives evolved and changed, as lives do.  Mike and Jane moved away, to another state.  They had two children, two beautiful daughters.  I remained single until my 30’s.  Every few months, Jane would visit me for a weekend. She’d drive  to my apartment late Friday afternoon, arriving in the evening.  We’d sit in my living room, talk for hours, Jane smoking one cigarette after another.  At some point, we decided we were hungry, so we’d dress up, put on evening-out makeup, tell each other how wonderful we looked! – and go out to dinner, talking all the time.

What did we talk about?  What didn’t we talk about?  What do we talk about with those particular people who meet us on so many levels?  Still, when I think about Jane now, I realize our conversations were mainly about our thoughts, our thinking, our opinions, our politics, our ideas, our hopes.  We didn’t talk about feelings, or motives, or foibles.  We didn’t go to those darker, those deeper places in ourselves.  Now, I wish we had.  Now, I’m not sure Jane could go there at all, although she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.

Our lives unfolded in different ways.  We took different paths.  I moved across the country, went to seminary, married my beloved at 34, and stayed.  Jane and Mike divorced, although I remained friends with both through the years.  When Jane met her second husband, I liked him, too, and I was proud to be asked to officiate at their wedding.  Ten years later, Jane died of complications from surgery, after she developed lung cancer.  I saw Mike next at her memorial service.  He came up to me after to say:  “Jane would have liked it.”  I had my own grief, and I was grateful for his thoughtful comment, but we didn’t connect that day.

***

By that time, Mike had developed Parkinson’s disease, and it was hard to see him.  In my mind, we will always be young.  That’s something young people don’t know about – how “old folks” are never old, in their minds.  We seem to stay stuck at some age, some age we have always, will always be.  Some time, I’ll write about my “stuck” age.

Through the years, I heard about Mike from time to time. I heard about his new marriage through Jane.  I haven’t met his second wife, although they’ve been married for many years.  I expect that if I did know her, I’d like her, too.  I’m  connected with Mike and Jane’s daughters on social media, and I can see their mother in them, often.  I see her eyes, her expression, her look in the pictures of her grandchildren.  I look for her in them, in her daughters.  I can hear her in the musings her daughter posts.

***

Sometimes, social media can actually help people connect.  Not just through “selfies” or meaningless comments; in real ways.  But the real connection is still real because we are human beings, with feelings, and memories, and relationships, and lives. This past weekend, I saw a picture of Mike on social media, posted by one of his daughters.  I “liked” the photo.  Later that day, when I checked in again, I had a private message.  It was from Mike, and it had been typed by his daughter, who is his caregiver every other weekend.

We “old folks” know how to connect.  We know that connecting isn’t simply having hundreds of friends.  We know that connecting is something else, and we know when it’s there, and when it’s not.  And in that message, Mike connected.  He told me some things about his life now, with Parkinson’s.  He told me that there had been many changes in his life.  He told me a few things about what life is like for him, now. That message has stayed with me.  That message has reminded me of so many happenings, so many events, so many images that are a part of the fabric of my life, and have been for a long time.  That message brought me gratitude, a gift.   That message opened a door in my heart, one of many doors, an important, feeling-filled door.  Images arise, moments with Mike and with Jane, other moments with other friends, other connections, other times.

Sometimes, it’s just good to remember, and to be grateful.