When I first came across the Benedictine Rule and tradition, that was one of the key sentences which impressed and attracted me very much. It challenged me to incorporate the awareness of death into my daily living, for that is what it really amounts to. It isn’t primarily a practice of thinking of one’s last hour, or of death as a physical phenomenon; it is a seeing of every moment of life against the horizon of death, and a challenge to incorporate that awareness of dying into every moment so as to become more fully alive.
I have found that this approach is present-sometimes more explicitly, sometimes more implicitly-in all the different spiritual traditions that I have come into contact with. It is certainly very strong in Zen Buddhism; it is present in Hinduism and Sufism. It is one of those basic human gestures by which one confronts meaning in order to live religiously. As I use the term “religious,” it refers to the quest for ultimate meaning. Death has evidently to be one of the important elements in that, for it is an event that puts the whole meaning of life into question. We may be occupied with purposeful activities, with getting tasks accomplished, works completed, and then along comes the phenomenon of death-whether it is our final death or one of those many deaths through which we go day by day. And death confronts us with the fact that purpose is not enough. We live by meaning. When we come close to death and all-purpose slips out of our hands, when we can no longer manipulate and control things to achieve specific goals, can our life still be meaningful? We tend to equate purpose with meaning, and when purpose is taken away, we stand there without meaning. So there is the challenge: how, when all-purpose comes to an end, can there still be meaning?
This is precisely the point: whenever we give ourselves to whatever presents itself instead of grasping and holding it, we flow with it. We do not arrest the flow of reality, we do not try to possess, we do not try to hold back, but we let go, and everything is alive as long as we let it go. When we cut the flower it is no longer alive; when we take water out of the river it is just a bucketful of water, not the flowing river; when we take air and put it in a balloon it is no longer the wind. Everything that flows and is alive has to be taken and given at the same time-taken with a very, very light touch. Here again we are not playing off give against take, but learning to balance the two in a genuine response to living as well as to dying.
you, too, remember those deep fears as ways to craft stories and bypass remembering…
inquiry for today~ can you settle into a death remembrance, even for a moment? long enough to feel its heart beating close by?
Fears spring from shifting conditions, those fabrications that you’ve been trying to grasp and hold together. The remaining emptiness—so replete and lovely—is safe.