I May Die Today…

I may die today

“I was merely present, perhaps for the first time in my adult life. The moment was unextraordinary. But I had the moment, I had it completely. It inhabited me. I realized that if I died soon I would have known this, a connection with my life, its errors and cockeyed successes. I would not die unfulfilled because I’d been here, right here and nowhere else.”

Michael Cunningham – A Home at the End of the World

I may die today.
A sobering thought, but a necessary one.

One of the things that Freud said was that so many of our problems and our inability to live, stem from the belief that we will never die because we think we have forever. We have fallen into the trap of leaving things until tomorrow, seeing it as a given – an entitlement – but the stark reality is that tomorrow is a gift that some of us will have the good fortune of receiving, while others of us will not.

Buddhism encourages me to meditate frequently on “I may die today.”  To put myself in this acknowledgement, to look at it inside and out, back to front, until it has been integrated into my mindfulness. Otherwise I am at risk of allowing life to pass me by, while allowing the scope of my life to grow narrow as I grow old.

I have the good fortune of being in the same community as a woman that has taken this to heart. Steph turned 70 last week. Her children asked her how she wanted to celebrate this milestone and she told them that she would like to go skydiving. I was blown away when I heard about her plans. I then found out that her 73 year old husband, in spite of having a phobia of heights, would be doing it with her. He interrupted our conversation and explained that he has shared every big moment in her life for the past 46 years and that he was unwilling to allow anything to stand in his way of being a part of this one. I felt a lump work its way out of my heart and lodge itself in my throat.

I saw her at our weekly meditation class this past Tuesday night and couldn’t wait to get the scoop. “It was amazing!” she gushed. This is one of the things that I like and admire about her. She gushes about life. When I look at Steph I see a precocious five year old girl, who is mesmerised and excited by life, by being alive. My enquiry eventually led to her sharing about some of the other things that she has done, which includes going to Antarctica and swimming with dolphins.

Then I asked her what she had planned for her next milestone. “I may die today, so I haven’t looked that far,” she replied, “but if I am fortunate enough to see it, I can tell you that it is going to be much cooler than this.”  This woman inspires me!

I am realising more and more that death is a continuous beautiful process of life. Death is a good friend, an awfully good friend, because it tells us we don’t have forever and that to live is now; it helps us to see how precious every minute is.

Death teaches us – if we are willing to hear it – that nothing is permanent. It teaches us the joy of the moment and that we don’t have forever. It teaches us to let go because there’s nothing for us to hang on to. And it tells us to give up on expectations and let tomorrow tell its own story, because nobody knows if they’ll get home tonight. To me that’s a tremendous challenge. Death says, “Live now!”

May we develop a deeper awareness of the impermanence of life and may it lead to a heightened appreciation for being in this world right here, right now, at this very moment. May we use every precious moment to develop a felt connection with ourselves, with each other and with this planet. And may we spread ourselves across the fabric of this life, feeling our way right to the very hemmed edges of it.

May we risk.
May we love.
But more than this, may we LIVE!!!

“What are you going to do with this one wild precious life?”

~ Mary Oliver

Love Matters

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Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it

~ Rumi

I have not been in a significant relationship with anyone for just over three years, much as there has been the occasional false alarm along the way. My friends constantly ask me if I’ve met someone new and this is oftentimes followed by the reassurance that someone is bound to come along. And as time has progressed, their good intentions have been met with my response of having decided that I am going to die a spinster with ten cats. I can be facetious. I am also bisexual.

The latter is a story in itself but what I will say is that it can be experienced in a myriad of ways, but for me being bi means nothing more than falling in love with the person and not the gender. It comes down to who the person is, what that person stands for and the way in which we connect regardless of that person’s genitals. There’s the joke that a bisexual has double the chance of finding a date on a Saturday night, but the opposite is true. But this isn’t what I’d like to share about today. What I would like to talk about is what the concepts of love and relationship have come to mean to me, and why. Especially with yesterday being Valentine’s Day.

Albert Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, once demonstrated the challenges that we as human beings face when it comes to matters of the heart, by using an analogy of hedgehogs on a cold winters night. He made a comparison between hedgehogs seeking to share each others’ warmth while running the risk of getting spiked, with our own need to be close to others while at the same time opening ourselves up to the possibility of getting hurt. The result is that we tend to draw near because life is cold and hard and lonely, but then we are hurt and so we retreat, only to move toward each other once again but for this to yet again be followed by moving away. The result is a cycle that psychologists refer to as ‘approach-avoidance conflict,’ which oftentimes leads to love representing loss and pain and rejection. Until, finally, one vows to never set oneself up again. Ever. Again. Never. Ever. Again.

And this, good people, is where I have been and what I have done for the latter years of my life. Day after day, month after month and year after year the walls around my heart grew higher and more unbreachable. With the relationship false alarms being nothing more than me attracting the least available people into my life as a means of protecting myself and my heart…because if the relationship is doomed before it has even begun, then I don’t really have to put myself out there, right?

But, last year, all of it changed for me. I met someone. Ironically, a couple of days prior to our meeting, I saw a friend who asked the usual question of whether there was someone new and she was met with the usual response: Me…spinster…dying with ten cats. And then I met someone. We spent time together. And after doing that a couple of times, I realised that I had come to really, really, really like him. And then I felt physically ill, for no reason other than me realising that the walls to my heart were in the process of being breached and I was terrified! The fight or flight instincts kicked in. And it was at this point that the process of the expansion of my human heart began.

You see, two very important things surfaced during that time of conflict. The first was the acknowledgement that all that I really wanted to get out of the equation was to offer him my gentleness, kindness and care. The nature of the way of relating, be it as friends or as lovers were mere details. I just wanted to give him my care. A lot! This, was when the concept of love took on flesh – my own – and I concluded that love seeks out the best for the other, for the sake of the other. Cue: a huge lightbulb moment for me because an image of who and what I was as a child stood in the forefront of my mind.

I think that I must have driven my mother ditzy as a child. Whenever we’d go for walks around the neighbourhood, I’d have the tendency to pick flowers from the gardens on the sidewalk and hand them out to strangers as we’d pass them by. Regardless of how my mom would try to persuade me not to steal the neighbours’ flowers, I couldn’t help doing anything but that.

As I allowed myself to feel my way around that image, I was hit by the stark reality that as my heart had experienced the knocks that life inevitably brought its way and the walls grew higher, so too had I let go of who I inherently am as a human being, along with the way that I am called to engage with life and others. This silent acknowledgement to myself stung like a bitch!

This was the trajectory that led to me embracing Buddhism to the degree that I have. Buddhism teaches about bodhicitta – the spontaneous wish to gain enlightenment through spreading compassion and diminishing suffering for all sentient beings in this world. One of the ways to bring about bodhicitta is through what is known as Tonglen Practise. Tonglen is the basis upon which I live my life and I feel that I have changed for the better because of it.

You start by focusing on yourself and make yourself present to how you are experiencing yourself internally. With your in-breath you consciously take all of your hardship and suffering upon yourself. And with your out-breath you offer yourself compassion and mercy and healing and light. You then do the same for your loved one/s, your family,  friends, acquaintances, enemies, people that you hate and finally, with all living things on this planet. This process is done with the intention of maybe, possibly, perhaps allowing others to experience a sense of peace and healing even if temporary, while raising the vibration of this planet.

You always start with yourself. Always. Buddhism teaches that the root of self esteem is mercy, compassion and kindness of self. Tonglen has reinforced this fact for me. It has enabled me to return to the child who picked flowers and handed them out to strangers. As a single man, it has shown me that there is a world full of people to whom I am able to extend my love and compassion, while encouraging me to put myself in the front of the queue. But it has also guided me down into the very core of who I am and allowed me to identify that within this realm lies a soul-ache. A soul-ache to offer another a place of absolute togetherness and undeniable belonging. And this is good. Very good. It affirms that my heart is open to the possibility of letting somebody in one day. When the time is right.

But for now, I do not need somebody to take care of me, to give me what I need or to validate my presence in this world. My capacity to love allows me to live in the light of who I am and it enables me to respond to what the Universe calls me to be, as a human being. And this for me is enough.

And for the record, no, I haven’t met someone and I may not any time soon. But I am in a loving and committed relationship with myself and with this planet.

Love matters.

 

 

Allhallowtide: a Triduum of Remembering

“Strange, the things you remember.
The people, the places, the moments in time burned into your heart forever, while others fade in the mist.
I’ve always known I’ve lived a life different from other men.
When I was a lad, I saw no path before me.
I simply took a step and then another, ever forward, ever onward, rushing toward someplace, I knew not where.
And one day I turned around and looked back and saw that each step I’d taken was a choice.
To go left, to go right, to go forward, or even not go at all.
Every day, every man has a choice between right and wrong, between love and hate, sometimes between life and death.
And the sum of those choices becomes your life.”

~ Jamie – Outlander, The Reckoning

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Allhallowtide is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, which lasts from October 31 to November 2 annually.  It is a time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints and all faithful departed Christians.

All Hallows’ Eve, better known today as Hallowe’en, is the eve of All Hallows (All Saints’ Day), and the first day of the Allhallowtide.  On All Hallows’ Eve, Christians traditionally believed that the veil between the material world and the afterlife thinned.  In order to prevent recognition by a soul, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities.

The second day of Allhallowtide is known as All Saints’ Day.  Occurring on November 1, it is a holy day to honour all the saints and martyrs, both known and unknown.  All Hallows seeks to especially honour the blessed who have not been canonised and who have no special feast day.  On All Saints’ Day, many Christians visit graveyards and cemeteries in order to place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones.

The final day of Allhallowtide is known as All Souls’ Day, and is also called the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.  All Souls’ Day focuses on honouring all faithful Christians who are unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.  Like All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day, family members often attend mass and visit the graves of their deceased loved ones, placing flowers and lighted candles there.

In England, a popular tradition associated with All Souls’ Day arose, called ‘souling,’ in which bands of children or of poor men, went round to the houses of the well-to-do on Souling Day, as they called it, begging for money, apples, ale, or portions of cake.  Today, this practice is known as ‘trick or treating,’ which as you know, now takes place on the evening of Hallowe’en.

It is ironic that I have chosen to share my thoughts and feelings about these holy days with you, especially because I have gently released any attachments that I may have had to Christianity and opted to rather embrace the teachings and practices of Buddhism…especially when considering that I am back from an extended hiatus.

Allhallowtide is the only celebration in the Christian liturgical calendar that I am able (and willing) to be mindful of because of its invitation to commemorate and honour the people that have gone before me; who I continue to hold dear and whose presence in my life have made an impact.

May we give ourselves time to pause and thank these people for the way that their presence in our lives have helped shape who we are and where we find ourselves to be today.  But, may we also reflect upon the steps that we have taken on our journey and be reminded that wherever we may find ourselves to be – right here, right now, in this moment, regardless of how blissful or terrifying it may be – we are exactly where we need to be today, in order for us to get to where we are called to be tomorrow.  And may we always remember that we are never truly alone.

Wishing you a blessed and life-giving Allhallowtide.

The Dancers and The Nerve (Part 2)

“Don’t say, “Yes!”
Just take my hand and dance with me”

~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Dance ~

Leap

I will now turn my focus to “the dancers who had all the nerve”, and what it really means:

“Oh, when you were young,
did you question all the answers?
Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve?
Look around you now,
you must go for what you wanted
look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved.

So much time to make up everywhere you turn
time we have wasted on the way;
So much water moving underneath the bridge
let the water come and carry us away.

So much love to make up everywhere you turn
love we have wasted on the way;
So much water moving underneath the bridge
let the water come and carry us away
let the water come and carry us away.”

Wasted on the Way – Crosby, Stills & Nash
(words & music by Graham Nash)

The only way to know what is there is to find out.  We have seen in our lives dancers who have done amazing things (and I’m not talking about those who throw down a few drinks and act a fool on the club dance floor, although that takes nerve too!!).  To some degree, there is an innate ability that allows a person to learn how to excel and perform those amazing feats, but we are not born with the muscle memory that allows someone to throw themselves in the air and land successfully…all to the timing of music.
That is the nerve part.

Think about someone who takes a running leap and allows themselves to be caught by their partner.  Think about the first time that happens.  There is very little likelihood of success that first time.  What allows the person to take that first leap so they can learn to do it successfully?  I think the answer, the nerve part, is through letting go of the outcome in advance so they can focus on the action and not the result.  By focusing on the action, the “now”, they are able through repetition to train their muscles to respond in the right way to successfully complete the leap.
That is the athletic part.

But sometimes, the most beautiful part of a dance is not from the wildly explosive part, but from a single well-timed step.
That is the artistry part.

It comes from learning to trust their partner, and to learn to read their subtle cues so the timing can be just right.  No one is psychic.  No one can read the mind of another to know when to leap. And no one can see the future to know how each leap will turn out.
That is the true meaning of nerve.

The Bridge and the Water of Life

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience;
we are spiritual beings having a human experience

~  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin  ~

I am back from a long (and unplanned) hiatus.  I won’t bore you with an explanation for my absence; let me just say that it is good to be back!

I have decided to share about one of my experiences that took place during my absence.  It was a reality check.  It proved to be an indicator of where I am at in my life, a reminder of where I have been as well as where I would like to be.  In a lot of ways, this experience has influenced my decision to base my next postings on the biggest and most significant process (and journey) that I have been on for the past five and a half years.

The scary thing is that each time I think that I have reached a watershed moment in my life and that I had reached the summit of this journey, something happens that makes me realise that this journey is far from being complete.  It has been a time of excavation and self-analysis, and in a lot of respects, my time away has revolved around me giving myself a break from all of the analysing and excavating, while allowing myself to be carried away by life.

The experience that I have alluded to was a cancer scare.  I discovered a lump in my right thigh, it was removed and sent for biopsy, and it led to me waiting about a fortnight for feedback.  There was a delay which sparked alarm inside of me and it led to my stomach doing contortions.  It was also a time that reminded me of a lot of my truths which prompted me to embark upon yet another process inside of myself.

For as long as I can remember (I would guess around the age of eight), there has always been an inner voice that has expressed the desire to die by the time that I reach the age fifty.  The best explanation that I can offer is that, wonderful as life is, it has felt as if the external realities and forces of life have held me back.  Held my spirit back.  I think that it can be best expressed with a quotation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book , The Phenomenon of Man:  “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  And for some weird reason, even as a child, the spirit in me has accepted that it will be necessary to spend an adequate amount of time in this human experience, yet at the same time it has desired entering the Great Sleep and going back home.

With me responding to such situations in the way that I do, my initial question was, “What if I have cancer?”  The prospect of death was of little consequence to me, but the circumstances leading up to it were.  I couldn’t foresee myself having a drawn out battle with cancer and I decided that I wouldn’t go for chemotherapy if I were to be diagnosed with this disease.  I would much rather allow nature to take its course.  I decided (as if I had any say in the matter!!!) that if I did have cancer, I would want to be given 30 days to live.  It would be ample time to attend to unfinished business and to enjoy one final trip through this magnificent theme park called life.  Need I say that this was accompanied with a list of things that I would do if I had 30 days to live?

However, the tumor was benign which means that I still have thirteen years left on this earth.  I have spent time with my ‘To Do List’ because I have felt that it is an indicator of areas in my life (and in myself) that needs my attention, change and/or investment of time, effort and emotion.  It has made me realise that in the midst of the past five and a half years, I have not allowed myself to live as fully as I should, because of the amount of time that I have spent analysing, re-analysing and over-analysing, to the point of being caught in a perpetual cycle of brain gymnastics.

As a dear friend shared with me on Friday, “life is lived through those brief yet stunning experiences.”  This scare has been a call for me to start living from my heart once again, which has prompted me to reflect upon and preface my next string of musings with my reflections on “Wasted on the Way.”

Much as these reflections were written about three years ago and I have opted to share them with some of my friends, my heart tells me that this is a good starting point for me to embark upon my journey of living more fully and from the heart.

Look around me,
I can see my life before me
running rings around the way it used to be;
I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
but I wish that I had started long before I did.

Chorus
And there’s so much time to make up

everywhere you turn,
time we have wasted on the way;
So much water moving
underneath the bridge,
let the water come and carry us away.

Wasted on the Way – Crosby, Stills & Nash
(words & music by Graham Nash)

One of the most poignant aspects of “Wasted on the Way” is the understated realization that we have had it within us all along to leave the safe viewing point of the bridge under which life flows, and to enter the Water of Living.

What does this mean?  It means that we shouldn’t fear.  We should embrace the opportunity to jump in and be carried away by life.  The chains that we thought were holding us on that bridge have not really been holding us.  We have been desperately grasping onto them from fear of being hurt again.

When you were young, did you question all the answers?

 We look for reinforcement in life’s events to rationalize the pain we feel from the past.

 Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve?

Ironically, the bridge is not a safe place; it is a prison of our own making.  All of the links in that chain that we have been grasping and cursing for holding us back are forged from the echoes of long-past events.  The only power remaining in that chain is through what we give it.  The water is not frightening; the water will not hurt us.  The water is cleansing, and is what will carry us forward.

As an aside:  Water is a great metaphor in this song.  The Taoists use water extensively in their imagery. If one clings to the riverbank during a storm, you are battered and bruised by the passing flotsam, yet if one lets go and travels with the flow little injury takes place.   Water always flows around obstacles, so it is better to “go with the flow.”

The Rhythm of Life

“And when the sound of all the declarations of our sincerest
intentions has died away on the wind,
dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale
of the breath that is breathing us all into being,
not filling the emptiness from the outside or from within”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Dance  ~

Jewish people from around the globe have been celebrating my most favourite Jewish holiday, which began on Sunday evening and comes to an end tonight.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New year.  It is not only known as the ‘head of the year’ but it is also a day of remembrance; a holiday that commemorates the creation of the universe, by God – “we are to remember who we are by remembering that the Lord is our King, and to crown the Creator as such”.

It marks the beginning of the ‘10 Days of Awe’ and it calls believers to an awakening to judgment, because it is a period of prayer, self-examination and repentance which culminates on the fast day of Yom Kippur.

According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, the destiny of the righteous are written in the Book of Life and the destiny of the wicked are written in the Book of Death.  However, most people will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days – until Yom Kippur – to repent before sealing their fate, because then everyone’s names will be sealed in either of the books.  And thus, the blessing or greeting over this time is, “L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu” – “may your name be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life”.

For me, the richness and beauty of this period, isn’t because of conventional ‘fire and brimstone’ thought, but rather, because it encourages Jewish folk to participate in the process of forgiveness.  It is a time where we forgive others, whilst also seeking out forgiveness of self and forgiveness from others too.  It allows people to come into contact with the gifts of mercy, compassion and ultimately forgiveness, along with the reminder that it is a process.  Forgiveness is an ongoing process.

It is a holiday that teaches us that forgiveness is a choice, and that it is a choice that we need to make for our own sakes, lest we be forever frozen in a particular event or wrong.  And that, through forgiveness and allowing ourselves to move on, we give ourselves the opportunity to live and celebrate life to the full without being held back by the shackles of resentment and vindictiveness.

In this blog’s ‘About’ page, I talk about how I believe that life is a dance.  I also believe that this dance comes with a prescribed sheet of music –  there is a specific beat to life that follows us wherever we go.  Consider when you breathe, your lungs fill with oxygen but there comes a point where you need to exhale.  The same can be said about your heart.  It fills with blood before pumping it throughout your body.

It is also demonstrated by nature.  I love taking long walks on the beach for this very reason, because for me, the shore is the epitome of what I like to refer to as ‘impoverished spirituality’.  The shore lies open and in wait of gifts that the ocean will lay at its feet.  It demands nothing, accepts everything, but it also has the ability to let go when the time or the need arises.

For me, the rhythm of life is the same as the rhythm of forgiveness (and perhaps there is a message that lies in this?) – it is one of acceptance and letting go.

“I accept everything that you bring to me.  I accept that you have wronged me.  I accept that I am in this horrible situation.  And now that I have accepted it, I let it go.  I am not going to get worked up over it.  I am not going to allow myself to be a victim.  I am not going to hold onto something so tightly that it will be crushed inside of my hands.  I am not going to allow myself to be a doormat.  What I will do is to accept that this has taken place.  I will appreciate this experience and attempt to learn from it, but I will then let it go, find a way to move forward and allow myself to evolve and transcend my current state of be-ing.”

As Rosh Hashanah draws to a close, and I embark upon my own inner journey towards trying to identify experiences and people that are still in need of my forgiveness, my wish for all of us is,   “L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu.”   Indeed, may our names be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.  May our ability to forgive, allow us to dance freely to the dance of life so that who we are and the lives that we are living, may be made complete in this now…and the next…and the next!

Happy New Here (and now)!

“Every person from your past lives as a shadow in your mind.
Good or bad, they’ve helped you write the story of your life
and shaped the person you are today”

~ Unknown ~

What Do You Say?

“Remember what you are and let this knowing
take you home to the Beloved with every breath.
Hold tenderly who you are and let a deeper knowing
colour the shape of your humanness”

~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Call  ~

I hurt my colleague’s feelings on Friday.  It wasn’t intentional, although I must admit that I am not beating myself up over it.  It has however led to another moment of introspection.

I am loathe to talk about (I am going to call her) Sue at length, because she reads my blog from time to time, and I know that talking about her on here will most probably throw more salt on the wound.  But at the same time, there was something of value that I was reminded of,  and I would like to share it with you.

Our company attended an awards luncheon and Sue was seated beside me at the table.  I can’t remember what brought it on, but our conversation eventually led to this:

Sue:  “David, do you think that I am beautiful?”

Me:  “What do you say?  Do you think that you are beautiful?”

Hurt flashed across her eyes like lightning flashes across the sky – swift but intense, while illuminating everything in its path.  She paused and responded timidly, “I am beautiful, David.”  I could swear that I detected a hint of shame in her voice.

I then made the conscious decision to allow her to sit with what had taken place, so I ensured that our discussion died sudden death by changing the subject.

Now, before you decide to throw a Ming vase at me or call me, ‘Dracula’s Aunty,’ let me explain why I handled things in the way that I did.

You see, in the midst of what took place, lies a woman suffering from low self esteem, and she truly is suffering because of the way that she allows herself to be a doormat to everyone.  She has led a very sheltered life and found herself being flung out into the real world overnight, which I believe is part of why she relies so heavily on the affirmation on others.  I can relate with all of this because I see a lot of myself and where I used to be, in her.

I refuse to demean her by petting her on the head.  Over and above this, my choice not to affirm her beauty on Friday came from a place of, “don’t give me your power!”  She has been with our company for a month and a half, so why should my opinion be of any consequence to her?  It is ultimately her right (and responsibility) to define herself and determine that she is a beautiful human being.  And I certainly have no need to take that right away from her.

What saddens me about that experience is not so much that I had hurt her, but that there was no conviction in her voice when she said that she is a beautiful person.

It raises the questions:

Why are we willing to place more value on the opinion of others than on our own, most especially when it comes to things concerning ourselves?  Why are we so afraid (and possibly ashamed) of admitting that we believe that we are beautiful people?  Could it be that we don’t know who we are, so we allow others to define who we are for us?

“Never let someone’s opinion become your reality.
Never sacrifice who you are, or who you aspire to be,
because someone else has a problem with it.
Love who you are inside and out, and keep pushing forward.
No one else has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power.
You are the only one who can create your dreams and happiness”

~  Marc Chernoff  ~