I was struck by a thought this morning and it’s been twirling around in my brain all afternoon.
All things that live, innately, have an intrinsic relationship with death. Has something died that was never born? Vice versa?
No. They are inseparable. End of story. But this non dichotomous relationship has amazing potential.
Steve Jobs famously said “Death is very likely the single best invention in my life.” He used it as a sort of motivation to give him the drive to do some amazing (and awful) things. I play this game too. Worried about dying and regretting that I had not fully lived.
I look in the mirror and I’m not satisfied. I’m going to go out on a limb and say we all criticize ourselves. Our looks, our abilities, our lifestyle. The things we own. The things we don’t own. And we’re relentless, saying things to ourselves we would NEVER tell another human being: “you’re not smart enough, not pretty enough, too fat, too weak, too lazy, too old”. On and on. How do we live with ourselves?
“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe” – Mark Twain
So the deal that I have unknowingly made, and the thought that has been clinking around, is this: I fear death, but I hate (criticize) the thing I live and walk around in. What?! Isn’t that a little crazy? If I truly feared death… feared not doing the things I wanted to do… shouldn’t I be jumping for joy in this meat suit? That I’ve been given this friggin’ awesome opportunity?
Furthermore… it works! I am healthy. I can do things. I can write. I function. And the thing is, everyone reading this is functional too! So why am I so down on myself when the stakes are so high? 75 to 80% of all healthcare dollars are spent in the last 6-8 months of life. What this tells me is that only when we get right to the end, when our bodies are their weakest, do we try to hold on. Argue about our healthcare system all you want, but I believe the point is made: our focus is off.
We die a little every day. Everyone we see will one day die. Haunting, but not morbid. I don’t look at a beautifully cut rose and lament about the fact that it will wilt. No! I am amazed at its beauty. It’s smell. The way it makes me feel. If I could do this with myself everyday, well…
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
I’ve always sucked at meditating. But as I meditated this morning, a pretty cool idea materialized in the chilly, blue morning. I have been told 100 times to “watch my thoughts”, “observe your thoughts”, never really understanding what this meant to “Me”. And this is very subtle. Because even if I intellectually understand a topic, until I integrate it into the deeper me, it has no real meaning. No value.
So as I watched today, becoming a deeper observer, I noticed how attracted I was to my thoughts. The dreams, the things I needed to do, my worries, the books I’ve read, the books I’ll read, sex, coffee. All very exciting things to attach to. This is where I sat back and said, “huh. Look at that. I could spend my whole day there.” Or even worse, an entire lifetime.
The mind is a magician. We stay distracted and asleep. We are protected. “Smug in the wooly cotton brains of infancy“. I liken my Ego to a Sentinel, whose purpose is not only to give me confidence and motivation, but is there to guard against ridicule, shame, and guilt. But the Ego plays small and can’t tell the difference between a tiger chasing me or presenting my thoughts in front of a group of strangers. We are not our thoughts.
“Knowledge is not knowing” – ACWT
“Today is a good day to die” is a quote by Crazy Horse (though it is debated if he said it first). It has a literal meaning as it relates to actual combat and the glory of dying by defending your tribe. Perhaps for some, It can have a deeper meaning as it relates to spirit. Dying for a cause. My cause. Being a spiritual warrior. I understand that can sound a little corny (cause my Ego says so), but I can’t think of a better metaphor for what I need to do. Can I die to the old “me” to become the person I want to be? The person who is in harmony with his body and mind?
Whether we like to believe it or not, we’re under attack. Attack for our attention. Not for our dollars, for our attention. The most valuable commodity we have: time. Money is secondary. Sitting in my quiet bedroom this morning, entertaining myself with my own thoughts and emotions, how could I expect myself to go out in the world with 1 million other distractions and still maintain the true “me”? You know, a fully self actualized person. Stuart Smalley style. It seems, rather, that I am a reflection of something outside of me. In a scene from Mad Men (The Gypsy and the Hobo), as the Drapers are out trick or treating on Halloween, a neighbor opens the door after Sally knocks and says:
“We’ve got a gypsy and a hobo.” Glancing up at Don, he asks, “And who are you supposed to be?”
We have all heard that a problem can not be solved with the same mind that created it. Most of us get that. Intellectually. Then we go to therapists and religion to have them tell us what to think. We outsource it. Or we ignore it and turn to other vices. But it doesn’t go away. As I’ve said before, it’s patient. And it’s eternal.
“The pathway is within. Don’t go without.” – ACWT
This path started for me as a young kid. I remember playing in the woods at our house in South Carolina, alone among the pine trees, watching them sway back-and-forth bouncing against each other, using each others presence to keep them from breaking. Pine trees are tall and heavy. Without the surrounding trees they’re prone to snapping.
Marching around in my camo shirt and pants, considering myself some sort of warrior, I was the master of the woods. Armed and ready, I usually carried a BB gun. This day, I had a small bow and arrow with me, given to me by my Dad. Curious as to what would happen, I shot an arrow as high as I could up into the trees. The arrow got stuck, and since I only had a few, this made me a little sad. But instead of getting upset or walking away, I looked up at the pine trees with a challenge. I looked up and said: “show me. Show me you’re there.” The wind blew, and the pine trees majestically began to dance among themselves, the wind whistling through their green needles that contrasted against a bright blue Southern sky. Gently, a gust of warm wind brought the arrow down right next to me, near my feet, the arrow’s head buried neatly in the dirt.
I’ve always been a pretty happy person, but too often as a child, and even as an adult, I have had a love affair with the darkness. It’s easier. More seductive. Just go back and listen to the teachings Yoda gave Luke while he was on Dagobah.
“Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.” – Yoda
We are locked by the dogma and limited by implanted ideas that don’t serve us. And when I say “us” and “we”, I mean “me”. It just easier to say “us” and “we” sometimes. If I limited this only to an external someone, I would have missed the point. Selfishly, sometimes the writing is just for me. A way to think through it.
Self love. And I don’t mean masturbation. Even mental masturbation. It doesn’t mean saying to yourself “You’ve had a bad day, so you can drink a fifth of Scotch”. Or have cake or ice cream. It just means to give your body the credit it is due. Give you mind the same kindness you’d give to a child. Take care of it. Honor it.
And every day, may I die and be born again. I hope the same for you.