Chiang Mai: 06.30 hours, sitting on the cushion watching the breath and listening to the monks chanting, some distance away. Soon they will stop just below my window, it’s takbat, people offer food, and there’s a special chanting of thanks anumodana. Suddenly the sound fills the room, that particular pitch of human voice frequencies that brings with it a kind of physical sense, an awareness of the body, heat, air, fluids, and bone, the experiential aspect of simply being alive, here and now. It has a familiarity to it, a resonance in the air triggers consciousness of the chest, drum-like lung cavity, the heart organ and the lower abdomen, limbs extend out from the centre. The soft hot brain organ at the top of the body, cranial cavities behind the face, ear membranes. It’s a discovery to revisit this known experience of the living body. There’s life for a short time. Then there’s death, something every living being is deeply familiar with; a feeling that’s comforting and stable here that says, Yep, this is OK… it’s allright, it’s exactly as it should be. There is no death; there’s only the end of life.
Somebody I know died recently and I’m a bit caught up in it. The memory of that person is all there is; faded like an old sepia tint photo. Where ‘is’ he right now? Do I believe in the idea of a heaven? I don’t know. It’s not an idea; it’s real. I choose to think in terms of reality – not abstraction. The enigma… the empty space where that person used to be. Nothing there now, but that’s just how it seems to be; if it is just ‘nothing’, I’d need to have something else there to confirm it is nothing. So it’s ‘nothing’ in the sense that it’s not ‘something’, not anything? Language tends to identify things, I have to try to see past the concepts the mind creates: ‘nothing’ is more like a feeling of no-thingness. It’s accepting change, aniccan, an easing-away from the tendency to hold on, to adhere, to stick like glue. Releasing that heaviness that doesn’t have a name; welded metal, concrete, brick and iron embedded in stone, it all just fades away. ‘melted into thin air … the baseless fabric of this vision… we are such stuff as dreams are made on…’
Thinking about death is really thinking about life. It’s always an overwhelming wonderful moment; story with a happy ending, details accumulate and appear to have form and direction. But only when the end comes near does it have a context. There’s something about it that’s seen in hindsight. The route by which I arrived at this point becomes somehow … satisfactory, just right – it was the correct way to come here and everything seems to unfold from this place. A curious reversal happens and I’m on the route to getting here and at the same moment I’m looking back on how it happened and how everything happens like this. And time is ordered, in the sequence it is, simply because it would be too confusing if everything was happening at the same moment.
In the end what’s left is the conscious experience of just sitting here in this quiet room with morning coming in through the windows. The monks have gone; nothingness means ‘I’ no longer have the burden of ‘my’ thoughts about ‘me’. There’s something very normal about it; I let it all in and let it go; a great sense of release, of peace, of rest, of ease and gentleness…
This is so wonderful and vivid. I think it’s important to remember as you say: “There is no death; there’s only the end of life… Thinking about death is really thinking about life. It’s always an overwhelming wonderful moment; story with a happy ending, details accumulate and appear to have form and direction. But only when the end comes near does it have a context. There’s something about it that’s seen in hindsight.”
I like how you’ve taken time to identify the important points here. It’s good to get this kind of feedback. Thanks