The only thing that we know for sure is that we are in these bodies, having these experiences. Amazingly, even though it is quite clear that there is a logical end to this process, our conscious parts somehow insist that the condition we are in now will persist for ever.
Do we really see the impermanence of life? I don't think so. Very little, if any, time is spent in younger years pondering the fact that our existence is finite. Yet this very fact is probably the only thing that might call us to examine our lives more closely.
I ponder this question frequently in the context of my organic sensation of myself. This organic sensation provides a connection to mortality than I did not used to have when I was younger. It raises a great many questions about just exactly what we are and what we are doing here.
There is a butcher shop right around the corner from our office in downtown Shanghai. Incongruously- certainly for a modern city- there is this tiny shopfront right on the street with chopped up carcasses of slaughtered pigs and beef hung in its narrow corridor. Bloody piles of spinal columns and ribs are casually slung across Styrofoam packing cases.
It is not the presentation of things that we are accustomed to in the West. It is raw death staring the businessmen and the beautiful people in their designer clothing in the face as they pass by.
I saw this.
It got me to thinking.
Those spinal columns are a representation of a process that began billions of years ago when the very first animals developed nervous systems. They represent evolution; they also represent what every single mammal, and almost all other higher animals (aside, for example, from octopi and squid) are made up from on this planet. A nervous system made of meat and flesh and bone. Something which is all too easy to forget as we meet each other face-to-face dressed up in clothing. They are a reminder of how frail life is, and how final the end is. The sun rises on our life, the day of this life goes by, and then the sun sets. This day will not come again.
It is sobering to see this. When one evaluates life from this perspective, one begins to think, just what is it that one wishes to do in life? Are we doing what we want to? Are we squandering this precious substance, which we only have just so much of, on foolishness of one kind or another?
More than likely, most of us are. I have certainly done my fair share of it.
If I really begin to sense what I am-- flesh and bones -- and where I am-- between birth and death --, then perhaps I can begin to value this life more directly and more specifically. To seek a value within each inward breath that confers more than just the automatic food of air. To seek a value in personal exchanges that is more than just a cardboard cutout reaction to my concept of other people.
In the end, this question of mortality becomes a question of seeking value. A greater understanding of death could shape our lives if we had a bit more respect for it.
I continue to ask myself questions about mortality; questions about the nature of my existence here; questions about time. Questions about finality. All of these questions are asked in the context of those infinite rivers of love and bliss that flow downward into us from a level above us which we cannot even pretend to understand.
I don't expect answers. I seek them, but they only come on their own terms.
When they do come, they arrive without words.
When they leave, I cannot remember them, except for the faint footprints of joy that seem, paradoxically, to precede my passage through the moments of life.
The faint scent of a plum blossom lingering in a winter without trees.
love to you all
Monday, March 12, 2007
On the surface, today appears to have been a day when not much of note took place. From the point of view of my own experience, I got up, meditated, took care of some business matters, and then went out into the market to meet with vendors. There were several long car drives, some office meetings, everything rather mundane.
There were a few special moments when I was aware enough of myself to realize that I was sitting there with these other human beings, in a relationship with them, and really not paying enough attention to them to honor their presence or their own effort. The fact that they, like me, were completely asleep and in equal measure not honoring my presence and effort was immaterial. The point was that I was not there. That was enough to call something more from me.
There is always something of note taking place. For example, today many trillions of lives ended on this planet: ranging all the way from lives the size of bacteria to the lives of elephants and whales. An uncountable number of human beings died today. For all of them, this was a very big day indeed. The events were enormous and calamitous.
On the other levels and in other scales, we can be sure, stars exploded and whole systems of planets were destroyed. Across the universe, the amount of things that are going on is infinite. The fact that I, in my tiny experience of today, didn't find a whole lot of interest to be taking place is almost meaningless.
If I expand myself to include more than this tiny point of consciousness I inhabit, I immediately see that everything that takes place is of note. It is my relationship to what is taking place that is not notable, because there isn't one.
Once again I turn to the question of an inner relationship to try and see where the lack originates. Immediately, more value is discovered.
Why is it so?
When grand and exciting things are not taking place, perhaps just then is exactly the time to turn to the fine details and see how grand and exciting these small things might be. I don't really know, after all; I haven't taken the time to investigate the relationship between two lines of red glaze on a Ching dynasty bowl, for example, or the exact feeling of my hand on the mouse attached to this computer.
It's interesting. When I turn my attention to these finer details, trying to discover a corresponding sensation in the body, along with an intelligence that receives these impressions, something inside the body responds emotionally. A glimmering of joy emerges from between the cracks in my unconsciousness.
What is it that is joyful in the presence of this thing we call life?
If I knew more about that, I would probably know everything.
All I can surmise for now is that it relates to connections between the inner parts, and something Jesus Christ once said:
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)