Wednesday, 8 March 2017

"Morbid" thought for the day?

I don't think it is morbid to write about human mortality, and how our understanding of it affects the nature of our living.

Anyway, here is my Thought for the Day: There has been a lot written about near-death experiences. I don't mean narrow squeaks - you've probably had one of those on one of our roads. I mean people who flat-lined and were brought back to tell us about their mental and emotional states. People who lay dying and to some degree conscious until intervention saved them. 

(drum-roll, please)

Life itself is a near-death experience.

There you are. That's it.

Not because, or not only because, it is in physical terms more fragile and vulnerable than we sometimes like to pretend- in our part of the world, at least.

Because  we are substances that are energised into processes that live and then dissipate into other energies and processes. Former process = conception and birth, latter we call death.

That doesn't mean to say death isn't a huge mystery. But acknowledging that mystery, that power; living with death-awareness in your life; understanding and feeling the indissoluble nature of that relationship - I find that helps. It illuminates and enhances living, and helps us move towards the end of life. At least, that's what I'm finding.

Health warning - it's almost fashionable these days to write about death, funerals, grieving...I don't see that as the same as living in full awareness of the nature of life and death. It can be helpful, or it could be a subsitute for the Real Thing.

There are people who seem to live on outside of any sort of death awareness, and then keel over. Which they would need to do if their perceptions about living and dying were not to be rudely adjusted. By a lengthy terminal illness, for example.

I think for most of us, developing a relationship with the reality of our deaths is valuable and necessary as we grow older, if we are to live fully and well into old age.

There are, of course, limits. During a very busy period of my work as a funeral celebrant, I was reading bits of "The Tempest" again, following the live screening of the RSC's superb production. 

I reached Prospero's lines about going home to Milan and retiring, and he says "when every third thought shall be my grave," I caught myself thinking "only every third? Lucky old sod." 

H'mmm. Time for a rest and a little less work.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Buddhist terminology, Buddhist jargon

There are two Buddhist concepts that seem immensely valuable to me, but are often expressed in phrases that may not be much help to outsiders. But: health warning. This is only my probably feeble and inaccurate understanding of them. I'm no Buddhist scholar; that's why I need a translation, as it were, before I can make full use of these insights.

Dependent origination.  I take that to mean that nothing exists as an entirely separate entity. We throw our distinctions across the workings of the universe so that we can come to some sort of understanding of it in our own terms. 

 The example often used is of a plant. When is a daffodil a separate entity? As a bulb? As a shoot below ground level? As those promising green stalks? Only when it flowers? And after you've cut the brown leaves back, do you still have a daff, or only a daff bulb? 

A daffodil can be seen as a process in time, a continuous event which we observe and enjoy at different stages. There is nothing static, if you use the right time-scale. It gave me a jolt when I realised that there is nothing eternal about mountains, nothing, in geological time-scales, particularly long-lived about them. In the Nant Ffrancon valley, high up below a ridge, there are the marks of wave action in solid rock. Two thousand feet above current sea level. 

It's all another way of saying that everything is change. Everything depends on what came before and will come next. The "I" that is writing this is formed at this point in time, and then lapses into another self-perception. Everything originates in something else.

Emptiness. A dear friend of mine once said she preferred using Lectio Divina, using short excerpts from a significant text, as a basis for meditation, rather than "emptiness." I see her point, it's a common-sense one.

It seems to me that emptiness, in meditative terms, is a challenge; it tells us that nothing has a solidity, a discrete existence.

I think science may support us here; apparently, if you took all the "space" out of my atoms, and just left the substance (OK look I know it's energy, not stuff like wood is stuff - give me a break here) you'd have a little pile of dust on the floor that weighed as much as I do. 

I'm only those interactions between nuclei and electrons and...all the other particles. Then I'm only the interactions between the elements those atoms make up, then the elements mixed into compounds, then... etc. 

So I am not one thing, I have no discrete single existence called "me." It just seems as though I do. But care is needed here. I'm not saying I am an illusion, and so is all the rest of the observable universe. I'm saying that I have no ultimate fixed identity. Me, this keyboard, my pen - we are empty of any unique fixed existence. We are only processes, only change,  en route.

I think "emptiness" is a misleading term for this understanding - but needless to say, I can't think of a better one!

Can be a bit scary, living, even for a little while, in an understanding that nothing has a fixed form and identity, but it's also liberating.

That's why the book I'm stumbling through that is about this stuff is called "Seeing That Frees," by Rob Burbea. It's wordy, it's not easy, but it's - well, there's a clue in the title. I'll grapple on.


irresponsible wisdom and right action

Sometimes I think I could simply link to David Rynick's blog and leave it to him....

This morning,
rather than diagnosing
and recommending,
in pragmatic prose,
a way through
the current crisis,
I sip tea and
practice being

The dark masters
gather and grumble
at my indolence,
but I courageously resist
their muttered insults and

I have grown old
and weary in
steadfast pursuit of
their fickle approval;
as if freedom could
happen at some other

Every action balances
dungeon and delight:
the endless quest for
self-earned grace or
some rougher and
sweeter enterprise
depending only
on the air that
has already been

This morning again
I practice resistance to
the ancient gods of Self
accomplishment and vow
to disappear into this
one life without

"To disappear into this one life without justification" - maybe that's where we need to go to find the best thing to do in any given circumstance, rather than striving to act by using the ego's promptings and desires. That's the paradox - "there is a field beyond ideas of right and wrong; I'll meet you there," says Rumi.

Maybe we need to let right action* emerge from within, to let it grow in that field beyond right and wrong. There, it can grow free from the needy ego, which seeks to reinforce its sagging foundations by endlessly justifying itself.... for more help from a wise one.