I have been reading a book called Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor. It’s one of those spirituality books that you can open anywhere and read a little for some soul food. Like many of the best books I’ve ever read, I acquired it completely by accident.
I currently love this little book and carry it with me everywhere. The passage I keep reading lately is about death. I don’t know why, but it’s on my mind lately. I suppose at the ripe old age of 43 I’ve been somewhat introspective about where it’s all going…where I’ve been, mentally and physically, and what’s to come. I think about impermanence, and my fight to stave off the wrinkles, the gray hair, the inevitable un-hipness beginning to set in.
The starkness of the “D” word contrasted with the way I feel when I read the words recommended by Batchelor in this chapter is confusing. I hesitate to even write about such a topic here, for fear it will turn readers off. I find it an ironical, absolutely freeing, load-lightening, joy-inducing, improvement to my perspective when I read the words he says to comtemplate in meditation:
Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?
He says the aim of this meditation is to awaken a felt sense of what it means to live a life that will stop. When I share the quote with my husband, he agrees, and rattles off the Shawshank quote, “either get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'”. I suppose that captures part of it, but that’s not all that is evoked for me.
I don’t know if it’s just the way Batchelor poses the question, or where I am in my life or spiritual journey now, but what I get from the contemplation of the phrase is an unmistakable clarification of priorities. I immediately realize that no matter how difficult life may seem at times, what I want to be is joyful, open to every precious moment of it. All of it. I don’t want to waste a single second in self pity or smallness, guilt or regret. I want to experience every wonderful, horrible, awesome moment with all of my being. Because it’s the only thing that makes sense to me when I acknowledge the fact that it will end, and I know not how or when. I am amazed that something so utterly depressing on the surface can inspire so much joy.
It doesn’t mean I won’t get lost, or forget sometimes. But I remember more and more often over time. This is the value of spiritual practice, of our teachers in all of their forms. They can help remind us of what’s important and give us perspective when we most need it. Where do you get your instant perspective?