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Posts Tagged ‘death’

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This morning when I found out that David Bowie had passed away, I hoped for a peaceful transition for him.

I then laughed to myself, as the song I thought of most was “As the World Falls Down” from Labyrinth.  My sister had the soundtrack back when it was new, and the music was so dreamlike and soothing, I used it to help me go to sleep.  It was the first song I learned the lyrics to, as I started to sing it to myself over and over in my head when I had a hard time dropping off.

I still do, actually.

Throughout the day, I’ve caught myself thinking about the lyrics again with a fresh mind. I’ve sung it to myself to soothe myself to sleep for so long, I no longer hear it as the seductive love song it was written as, but as a call of comfort from my inner self.

For all the times I have faced upheaval and chaos and pain, I’ve found peaceful refuge in words such as:

As the pain sweeps through,
Makes no sense for you.
Every thrill is gone.
Wasn’t too much fun at all,
But I’ll be there for you-ou-ou
As the world falls down.

I owe so much of my moments of finding-calm to those lyrics. May the man who wrote and sang those words now know peace, as well.

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The Lives line is long
to be a duckling, and yet
Not so much, a duck

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I’m feeling very understated today. That’s unusual for me, particularly because I’ve been very silly at various points of conversation throughout the day.

Since I just don’t know what to do while being understated, I am going to share a koan about understatement:

The Announcement

Hara Tanzan was a Soto Buddhist monk who served as a temple head and a professor of Philosophy in Tokyo. He was a pioneer in a modernization of Zen, and was the first in Japan to try to blend natural sciences into Zen Buddhism. So by the time his turn on this planet was finished, he’d amassed a number of friends and family he felt he should send a final word to.

On the last day of his life, he wrote up sixty post cards and asked an assistant to mail them for him. They read:

I am departing from this world.
This is my last announcement.
Tanzan. July 27, 1892

 

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I’m sitting here processing the news that a loved one has lost a loved one whom I didn’t know well, but treasure for his place in my loved one’s life. I’m too far away to be able to offer my direct support, so I’m putting extra focus in my heart to give the indirect support I can.

It’s putting my mind on how we each process sorrow. I’m turning to my own spiritual gumbo of “Christian Zen Taoist” and so on and so forth… and realizing how tough it can be sometimes to communicate exactly how I experience the world and the people who share it with me, particularly in times like this.

I know I’ve written before that when I consider the Buddhist ideal of “non-attachment”, I view it similar to how Alan Watts spoke of “not getting hung up about things”. It’s not that we don’t develop deep and meaningful connections; rather, we practice holding in our hearts and minds the interconnectedness of all things when those individual connections are severed.

It can be a pretty painful practice while we recover from a severed connection, though.

In a well-lived life, there will be people, places and things we will love. We will treasure when they are near, and miss them when they are gone. We will feel bright joy and tranquil comfort, and if we practice we can even feel those warmths deeply while we are within them. We can also feel hot anger and cold sorrow, and it’s important to practice feeling those consciously as well. We need to not fear painful emotions, nor get caught up in the idea of them. We need to develop the strength and courage to walk through the fire and ice of our own soul, without imagining that they are anything greater than any other step on our journey to becoming skillful, powerful human hearts.

Tougher, yes. But not greater.

I think that’s part of the practice, too. Letting it be tough. Letting it feel senseless. Letting the emotions wash right over us and even carry us away for a little while, if that’s the path we’re on. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Take care things don’t get too carried away, sure, but there is nothing to fear in letting ourselves feel anger, or sorrow, or fear. We have these emotions because we’re trying to tell ourselves something, or work through something. So by sitting with ourselves and letting these lessons flow through us, we can get where we’re headed and set the baggage aside once we’ve gotten all we need out of it.

I think I’ve talked myself out on this for the moment, so I’ll just share a bit from Alan Watts’ words from his Lecture on Zen:

Jon-Jo said ‘the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.’ And another poem says of wild geese flying over a lake, ‘The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, and the water has no mind to retain their image.’ In other words this is to be–to put it very strictly into our modern idiom–this is to live without hang-ups, the word ‘hang- up’ being an almost exact translation of the Japanese _bono_ and the Sanskrit _klesa_, ordinarily translated ‘worldly attachment,’ though that sounds a little bit–you know what I mean–it sounds pious, and in Zen, things that sound pious are said to stink of Zen, but to have no hang-ups, that is to say, to be able to drift like a cloud and flow like water, seeing that all life is a magnificent illusion, a plane of energy, and that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Fundamentally. You will be afraid on the surface. You will be afraid of putting your hand in the fire. You will be afraid of getting sick, etc. But you will not be afraid of fear. Fear will pass over your mind like a black cloud will be reflected in the mirror. But of course, the mirror isn’t quite the right illustration; space would be better. Like a black cloud flows through space without leaving any track. Like the stars don’t leave trails behind them.

– Alan Watts, in “Lecture on Zen”

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Today, I spent most of the day with my son. So I’m going to share a koan for today’s Happy Zen Year celebration.

Shoun & His Mother

Shoun became a teacher of Soto Zen. When he was still a student his father passed away, leaving him to care for his old mother.

Whenever Shoun went to a meditation hall he always took his mother with him. Since she accompanied him, when he visited monasteries he could not live with the monks. So he would built a little house and care for her there. He would copy sutras, Buddhist verses, and in this manner receive a few coins for food.

When Shoun bought fish for his mother, the people would scoff at him, for a monk is not supposed to eat fish. But Shoun did not mind. His mother, however, was hurt to see others laugh at her son. Finally she told Shoun: “I think I will become a nun. I can be vegetarian too.” She did, and they studied together.

Shoun was fond of music and was a master of the harp, which his mother also played. On full-moon nights they used to play together. One night a young lady passed by their house and heard music. Deeply touched, she invited Shoun to visit her the next evening and play. He accepted the invitation. A few days later he met the young lady on the street and thanked her for her hospitality. Others laughed at him. He had visited the house of a woman of the streets.

One day Shoun left for a distant temple to deliver a lecture. A few months afterwards he returned home to find his mother dead. Friends had not known where to reach him, so the funeral was in progress.

Shoun walked up and hit the coffin with his staff. “Mother, your son has returned,” he said.

“I am glad to see you have returned, son,” he answered for his mother.

“Yes, I am glad too,” Shoun responded. Then he announced to the people about him: “The funeral ceremony is over. You may bury the body.”

When Shoun was old he knew his end was approaching. He asked his disciples to gather around him in the morning, telling them he was going to pass on at noon. Burning incense before the picture of his mother and his old teacher, he wrote a poem:

    For fifty-six years I lived as best I could,
    Making my way in this world.
    Now the rain has ended, the clouds are clearing,
    The blue sky has a full moon.

His disciples gathered around him, reciting sutra, and Shoun passed on during the invocation.

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I’m listening to my baby babble happily to his mobile as he’s taking his time getting to sleep, and it’s a beautiful sound.  He’s one reason I’ve devoted myself to getting my focus together to create things that feel important to me, since I want him to own his voice and use it wisely and well.  I figure the only way I could hope for that through him is to first try to make it real through myself.  Example is the strongest teacher, especially when it contradicts the words.

I was just responding to the patient and poetic J. A. Jordan about creativity, and it set my mind on the topic.  I keep meaning to get back to themes and values in When Atlas Shirked, but I want to close out the week by talking about why I think it’s important to continually participate in conscious creation.  And I don’t just mean what people normally think of as creation, as in inventing things or writing or creating other types of art.  I also mean the creation and re-creation of ideas, and values, and emotions, and understanding — continually creating who we are.

Here’s what thoughts rambled off the tips of my fingers:

I always need to be creating something.  To me, that’s what life is, a continual act of creation – either we work to create consciously, or are created by the haphazard influences of our subconscious internalization of our environment.

Someone once said something to the effect that “To be alive is to experience constant change, a continual farewell to who and what we have known. So we can either participate in constant creation and truly live, or cling to the past in stagnation. Only the dead do not change”

I then went to go look up where I had last read something like that, and found it was an old philosophical text I was working on at one point, modeled after the Hagakure.  I only got three chapters in, and it’s in a pretty dry style since I was modeling off a pretty dry translation, so I’ll have to think about whether it’d be worth y’all’s time posting it here.  Especially since that would seem to me like an inherent dare to finish it.

Regardless, I know I’m not the only person to have thought this way, so I think you’ll have some understanding of how I feel.  Stagnation brings a heavy, frustrating feeling of stuckness, and has the same general effects on our health and psyche as being physically caged.  (In my own observation)  And the longer we feel stuck, the more we feel being lost to or drained away by a bad situation, the harder it is to pull ourselves out of the mud and move on.

What’s worse, we can feel so invested in our stuckness, it seems like a bad investment to let go and move on.  I think that ties in to our fear of death, which to me seems like a fear of losing what we know to face what we can’t be sure of.  But to me, that’s what life is all about.  We are continually losing the present into the past, to face the future for all its hopes and fears.  In order to make use of the present, we have to let go of all that and free our hands up to create every single moment as best we can.

I thought I shared this thought here already, but I couldn’t find it, so here goes:

Be careful that you don’t become like the gambler who bets what he can’t afford to lose on a hand that just can’t win.   He’s lost so much already, he can’t bear to cut his losses and walk away.

I hope that conveys what I’m trying to convey, because I’m finding this difficult to pin down.  I think I’m going to accept that as the nature of my thoughts right now.  Rather than try to force them into a particular shape, I believe it’s best to let them go to be as they are.

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I’m going to retell a Zen story that I came across again on today’s calendar page. To me, it conveys how much easier it is to bear a situation if you don’t feel totally stuck and recognize that there is a way out (however unpleasant). It also gets me thinking about letting go, and how it’s so much easier to work with life if you keep your mind and hands open.

Here’s how it goes…

A husband and wife felt lost in an endless swamp of financial and social troubles. They could see no possible options to solve their debts nor their shame, and had decided that the only way out was a double suicide. They were just working out the best and fastest way to exit together, when there was a knock on their door.

An old friend had stopped by for a surprise visit from many miles away in the country. The couple welcomed their friend, and all three of them talked through the night about old times, about everyone back home with their triumphs and troubles, and all the things old friends catch up on. Right before leaving the next morning, the friend said how wonderful it was to see them and promised to visit again as soon as possible.

As the door closed, the wife turned to her husband and said, “You know, last night gave me a lot of time to think. It occurred to me that we can survive this, so long as we live with our minds utterly ready to die at a moment’s notice, should it come to that.” The husband replied, “I was just going to say that exact same thing!”

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