What happens when we finally give in to the truth that, like everyone
else who has ever lived, we will die? After the initial shock and disbelief, we
can be happy. Why? Because we stop fighting our reality (which was only a part
of a collective hunch anyway) and start to, finally for some of us, enjoy it.
We "hear the river within the river", see the flower in the flower,
hear the rain inside the rain.
We notice so much more. Jim Harrison is a wonderful,
curmudgeon poet who spends much of his time (rumor has it) in the hills and dunes
of northwest Michigan's coast. He has wonderful ways of expressing this:
close to death
and you begin to see
what's under your nose.
learned from experience.
What else is there? You ask.
How about ninety billion
Look again: that's not a yellow oak leaf on the path,
breastplate from a turtle. "
We see that everything, everything is precious
and enjoy small moments because some part of us knows that those little things
are big things. I can close my eyes and remember the moment my Grandmother Kapp
gave me an entire blueberry pie for my birthday. I remember seeing it on the countertop
of the bakery. I remember the smiles of the grown-ups watching my face. And not
being able to quite reach the pie. I also remember the last time I saw my grandmother,
rocking in a rocking chair, quietly looking out of a window at a Boston street.
I think it was Huntington Avenue. I remember her even though I didn't know at
the time that it was our last visit. I remember her smile and how much she just
plain loved me.
Jim Harrison again: "Each time I go outside the world
is different. This has happened all my life." Only now we notice.
get to play. In August I spontaneously visited an art show at a huge mansion in
a tiny town on one of New York's finger lakes. I was driving from Maine back to
Michigan and figured, "What the heck". I don't even remember the name
of the town. What amazed me wasn't the art, although it was much better than I
expected, or the mansion, which even had a Japanese garden complete with a small
meditation hall. It was the groups of women, maybe my age, wearing these huge
(and I do not use the word "huge" lightly here) red hats. The women
were everywhere, walking the grounds in clusters of twos, threes and fours. Even
though they were mostly wearing skirts or dresses, the hats were out of Broadway
productions. Feathered, ribboned, veiled. I had to ask. It turns out that once
a woman turns fifty in this country she automatically becomes a member of "the
red hat" club, which means that she has permission from her peers, other
women over fifty, to dress, and act, as outrageously as she likes. What delighted
me about the women, as I gaped away, was how spontaneous they were, how each one
was fully in "present tense." It was wonderful. Fun, funny, entertaining
without the need for melodrama, crisis, or crankiness. I'm keeping an eye out
for a hat as I write.
Present tense is all we have. Admitting that our days
are numbered helps us to be present for them. "Now" is where time expands,
where all the senses get to play. A wonderful Tibetan teacher, Gyalse Rinpoche,
puts it this way:
"Planning for the future is like going fishing in a
Nothing ever works as you wanted,
so give up all your schemes
When we give in to the truth that, like everyone else
who has ever lived, we will die, we are motivated get to wake up, to really wake
up. And our effort works. First stage, a calmness. It is all ok, all of it. Then
samadhi. A quiet emptiness. Then mental and physical joy. Our fears drop away.
According to the Abhidharma we all have five fears: of death; of the loss of livelihood;
of unusual states of consciousness; the loss of our reputation; of speaking in
public. They go, they all go. And none of them
..calm, the joy, the fearlessness
of these are dependent on youth, beauty, or health.