Bukowski again. Isn’t it true? Aren’t we so often caught up in the small stuff, because we have a background sense that this is all forever, that we will live as these physical beings for eternity?
It seems that there is something eternal about our nature. We can talk about birth or death, as if we are passive onlookers to it. We can see our own bodies changing, ageing, we can notice our personalities change and develop or be deconstructed over time. We can wonder about what it might be like to die, as if there is a part of us inside that knows it is beyond it. Even to say “nothing happens when you die, you just disappear,” implies that there is something deeper, watching the appearance and disappearance of “you”.
But our culture is very dismissive of death, of looking into it, accepting it, exploring it. Perhaps dismissive is not the right word. It avoids looking into death, and when it does talk about it or report it, it is seen as the worst thing that can happen.
That isn’t to sound insensitive to those who have lost loved ones. It can be a very painful and mournful experience to lose someone close to you. But at the same time, our engrained ideas of death are extremely negative. Birth is good, death is bad, is what our culture implies. Yet the baby comes in crying, and the one waiting for death usually bows out with grace. How much of our pain from experiencing the death of a near one is brought about by our conditioning? Would it feel just as terrible if we were raised in a world that taught a different idea, not that death is the worst thing that can happen and it is something that must be avoided, but something else such as “that is where there is no more pain”?
Perhaps the heartbreak, the grief would still be there, but it wouldn't be so all-consuming. Perhaps our underlying ideas about death harden the whole thing into a terrible suffering for those still here.
But we know so little about death. We don’t understand it at all. We have firm ideas about it, and yet we know nothing about it.
Whenever you are reminded of the reality of death, so that it is close to you, staring you in the face, all the BS no longer seems so important, everything is relative. Our minds get used to certain patterns in life, and it has a habit of making a big deal out of certain things within those patterns. We can forget that our day to day occurrences, in the scheme of things, are nothing. Like someone complaining that it is raining, when there are other countries praying for the stuff. A sharp word from a friend or colleague might seem like a big deal, until you remember that neither of you exist as forms permanently. Everything is significant or insignificant depending on your perspective. None of us will make it out of this place alive. Suddenly it is not so gloomy and heavy. Our background sense is that we will be here forever, that we are here to stay.
Ou eternal nature gets confused with fleeting forms, and we expect the transient to be permanent. And when you expect the transient to be permanent, as most of us do, especially when it comes to friends and family, when we are shown that they are not, then it can be heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, terrible to bear.
Remember impermanence. Honour it. Everything brightens, everything lightens. You won’t get stuck missing things, being unappreciative. You will notice the good, you will honour people, you will appreciate your family far more than when you had a background belief that you and them will be around forever.
Perhaps you will be. Who can really say?