In Kahlil Gibran’s classic poem “The Prophet” as he’s leaving the people of Orphalese, his parting statement is this,
“Forget not that I will return to you.
A little while, and my longing will gather dust and foam for another body.
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.”
It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance.
It’s the dream, afraid of waking,
That never, takes the chance.
It’s the one, who won’t be taken
Who cannot see to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky, and the strong,
Just remember, in the winter,
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed, that when the sun comes,
In the spring, becomes the rose.
A Matter of Death and Life
I’d like to start with one of my favorite stories.
Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.
The current of the river swept silently over them all… young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.
Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the rocks and twigs of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.
But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I can’t see it with my own eyes, I trust that the current knows where it’s going. I shall let go and let it take me where it will. If I keep clinging, I will surely die of boredom.
The other creatures laughed and said, “You fool, you let go and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!”
But the one heeded them not, and…. taking a breath…. did let go and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.
And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried “Look… a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us!”
And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if we only dare let go. Our true path is this voyage… this adventure”
But they cried the more “Savior!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone and they were left alone making legends of a Savior.
There are very few things in this life of which we can be certain. One is this; that everything that is born….will die. Everything. Giraffes and geraniums, people and planets. So at first glance we see birth, then death…. in that order. Thus the familiar phrase that we save for serious, dangerous situations. “It’s a matter of life and death!”
But the title of this little talk takes this very familiar phrase and reverses the order. And what I’d like to suggest here is that perhaps there is value, even adventure, when our dying can offer the chance to be “born again.” To literally be transformed by the process of death, as was the “ONE” in the story.
He had to DIE… to the pattern of holding on… before he could be reborn to the discovery of the life we suspect he might have imagined as at least a possibility. He actually risked his physical death and found himself BORN AGAIN to discover the wonderful adventure that life offers.
I’ve heard more than one friend over the years say, “I don’t like surprises!” Maybe that’s you. I know that sometimes it’s me. It can be comfortable living a life which is predictable. But of course life doesn’t STAY comfortable…. because it’s at least sometimes UNPREDICTABLE. It seems that life has a way of kicking down the walls we build to keep surprises out. Life simply refuses to stay the way we might want it and plan for it. And still….it seems to be our nature to build the walls again….or at least to try.
But isn’t there something compelling about the creature in the story who simply STOPPED? Who simply pushed down the walls of predictability and risked everything for a chance to experience… what?… surprises? MORE OF LIFE? Or, to use Zorba the Greek’s famous phrase when asked what he loved about life…. “I love ALL OF IT. THE FULL CATASTROPHE OF IT!” I sense in his response a life without the walls of predictability.
Most of us, most of the time, live lives along the bottom of the river, where life is largely predictable, and that’s probably for the best. Helps us live a mostly comfortable life. And yet….. and yet….
Sometimes we may get visited….get nudged… by a small voice which seems to suggest that there may be more….. that we may be missing something. And even if we have no idea what it is…. We feel the tug. We know our lives will be more comfortable if we ignore the voice, and we usually do. And yet…..
Suppose you’re a creature in the river. And suppose you want to experiment with letting go… even just a little bit at a time. Just sort of like letting go with a “safety net,” knowing you can always grab hold again? How might you do that?
I’m not sure, but here are a few thoughts that come to mind.
What might if feel like to let go of…. To Die TO… the need to express your opinion? You’re in a discussion and someone’s expressing an opinion quite different from yours. What might it feel like to just stop formulating your response and simply listen …. to be intrigued by her opinion and why she holds it? To….. DIE to the need to be heard…. To choose to just listen instead. It’s easy to condemn congress for not listening to the other side. Can you and I be different from that?
Die to the need for approval…. Or to be liked… or loved? What might it feel like to let go of that one? To take the risk of expressing a truly authentic version of yourself?
How about dying for a day to the need to eat? Fasting for a day. Perhaps you’ve done that. It’s a wonderful chance to feel the body as it responds to new stimuli, and to listen to your inner monologue as you listen to the part of you that evaluates …. That says, “Hey…. I don’t like this!” or maybe…. “Hey….this is kind of neat.”
The need to speak? What might it feel like to live a day in silence? Half a day?
The need to watch, listen to or read the NEWS! What might it feel like to take a whole day off from the news? Make you nervous?
How about dying to the need to make plans? What might it be like to simply set aside a day where you make NO PLANS! To allow life to lead you through the day? How about half a day? How about half an hour? How about half a minute? How about a single moment? If you can imagine that…. what does it feel like? What might it feel like to encounter each moment without expectations…. To be alive to all the possibilities…. To be available for surprise…. For delight… and if you find yourself in the presence of a familiar person… how about dying to what you “know” about this person? To the judgments you’ve formed which constitute what you think you know? To see instead…. with the “eyes of little children”…. this person as though for the first time. What might this person look like through these eyes?
There’s a word for what I’m describing here. It’s ACCEPTANCE. Let’s face it. Life HAPPENS. People come and go through our lives. And EVENTS come and go. Together they may be said to provide the “rhythm of our life.” So the question I’m really asking is this? What might it be like to simply ACCEPT these people….just as they are….. and the events…as they happen to and around us? To feel in tune with the “rhythms of life?” What it does imply is a simple settling in to… and with… the rhythms of life. It suggests a trust…. Not a trust that it will work out the way we want it, but a trust that we have what it takes to deal with what life brings.
So….what might it be like to “let go”… to DIE to holding on to the rocks and twigs along the bottom of the river of life? To open to the possibilities that might await?
I guess what my question is boils down to this. What do you experience when you need the people or events of your life to be DIFFERENT THAN THEY ARE? What I find is disappointment, unhappiness and stress.
And what might we experience when we DIE to the need for someone or some event to be DIFFERENT THAN THEY ARE? Is it possible to find… in those moments when we accept the people and events of our lives…. As they are… that we may experience peace…. And FREEDOM?… And perhaps to drop into the deep understanding that I am truly AT HOME in this body, this mind, and in this world.
From the mystery traditions comes this simple statement…. THOU ART THAT… you already are….that which you seek to become.
From Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!