Lost Car Keys, Emotional Ladders and Being Ram Dass’s Illegitimate Child

Learning to climb our emotional ladders.

Did you ever have one of those morning meditations that was absolutely perfect?  Maybe you get up out of bed, light a candle on your altar, close your eyes, and the love and peace just FLOW into you as you sit there.  You feel compassion for all living beings and you feel oneness with the entire cosmos.  You feel that if you aren’t totally Buddha-like, you must at least be the illegitimate child that Ram Dass never acknowledged.  You are just SO high, SO spiritual, SO totally in the flow!

The feeling may continue as you take your shower, allowing the warm water to wash all the negativity from your aura.  And then again, as you eat your oatmeal, reminding yourself that you honor all living beings by not eating the flesh of animals.  You know you’ll have a perfect day at work.

And then . . . and then . . . you can’t find your car keys.  You go through the pockets of the clothes you wore the day before.  Check your night stand.  Look under the bed.  Scour your sock drawer.  Crawl around on the floor in case you dropped them.  Within the span of a few moments you’ve been transformed from Pema Chodron into a snarling, wild eyed beast.

“Where are you, you goddamned little jingly bastards?  Where in the fuck ARE you?”

Ironically, at the very height of your fury and hysteria, you locate the keys.  On your altar.

Sigh.  Another failed leap into enlightenment.

In their book, “Ask and It Is Given,”  Esther and Jerry Hicks make the point that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to feel angry.  In fact, sometimes getting really pissed off can be a sign that our mental health is improving.

It’s kind of a breath of fresh air in the New Age/New Thought movement.  We are constantly being told that we must stay positive and that, because of the Law of Attraction, being angry will do nothing but attract angry people and unpleasant events into our lives.  We find ourselves trying to censor our emotions, consistently trying to not feel what we’re feeling –  if what we’re feeling is anger –  and then feeling guilty when we can’t do it.

The Hicks look at it from a slightly different vantage point, which is that angry emotion is better than no emotion.  The basic premise is that our emotions are what motivate us, what keep us moving in life, what draw us toward love and make us run away from hatred.  Without emotions, we’re just stuck, dead in the water.

They say we live on a sort of a ladder of emotions, with apathy and depression at the bottom rungs of the ladder and love and joy at the top. In between joy and depression there are our other emotional states like irritation, feeling overwhelmed, pessimism, hopefulness, and so on.  As we climb the ladder and become more fully emotionally engaged with joy, we become more fully alive. When we descend the ladder into depression and apathy, we’re not really living, we’re just existing.  The ladder would look a lot like this:

JOY

POSITIVE EXPECTATION

OPTIMISM

HOPEFULNESS

PESSIMISM

IRRITATION

OVERWHELM

BLAME

ANGER

REVENGE 

RAGE

DEPRESSION

APATHY

I really like that idea of an emotional ladder because it allows me to be the mess that I frequently am and be honest with myself about where I’m at.  As the Hicks said in another book, it’s easy to program a GPS to take you from Phoenix to L.A. but first you have to know that you’re in Phoenix.  If we’re on the second to the top rung of the ladder – positive expectation – then it’s relatively easy to take that next step up to joy.  On the other hand, if we’re stuck WAY down the ladder in anger and we try to jump straight  up into joy, we’re probably going to fall off of the ladder and land on our asses.  It’s important to be honest with ourselves about where we really are on our emotional journey.  It saves us from broken asses.

And that leads into another neat concept which the Hicks came up with: the, “emotional set point.”  Basically, that’s just the rung of the emotional ladder that we live on most of the time.  We humans tend to be creatures of habit and so we pretty much maintain a consistent emotional state.  If we’re happy most of the time, we’ll stay happy most of the time.  If we’re sad most of the time, we’ll stay sad most of the time.  We may occasionally climb up and down a few rungs on the emotional ladder as life brings us good or bad events, but we tend to return to what feels like our, “natural,” state of being.

And there is a certain natural, genetic component involved in that.  According to The Harvard Health Blog, about half of the reason we may be happy or sad is based on the disposition we were born with.  So that person you know who’s always chirpy and perky and bright and annoyingly happy?  Yeah, that’s probably real.  They were likely just born that way.  And the friend who always seems a little sad may have just inherited it from his parents.  It’s their natural emotional set points.

The good news behind that, though, is that we can change our emotional set points.  Just because it feels, “natural,” to be in a certain emotional state doesn’t mean that we have to stay in that emotional state.

Suppose, for instance, that I’m a perfectionist.  I would want everything to go exactly according to plan and turn out just the way I’d envisioned it. 

What would flow out of that state of being would be a great deal of impatience with my co-workers and/or family members because they weren’t living up to the high standards that I set.  I might be constantly criticizing them, sniping at them, belittling their efforts and generally acting like an insufferable prick.

The cure for that could be to do loving-kindness meditations.  Starting to actively envision what other people are going through and building in empathy for the fact that they’re struggling with life the same way that I am.  As I continued to do that, my perfectionist expectations would drop away and I’d begin to see the people around me as fully dimensional human beings who deserve caring and patience.  I’m changing my emotional set point.

Or perhaps, like so many of us, we grew up in physically or emotionally abusive families.  Our, “go to,” response to stress in life might then be emotional flatness.  We learned very early in life that it’s easier to just turn off our emotions rather than feel the pain of the abuse.  

What flows out of that is becoming emotionally absent with our partners or children whenever there’s a problem.  Even worse, we abandon ourselves emotionally and fail to experience joy and deep love because we’re so shut down.

The cure for that could be to start doing, “happiness meditations.”  Just sit down once or twice a day and meditate on something that makes us happy, even if it’s a distant childhood memory of a beloved dog.  Start learning to live in that emotion again.  Stopping several times during the day and asking ourselves, “Am I happy right now?”  And, if we’re not, pull up that memory again until happiness becomes a habit.

The point is that it’s a practice, the same way that yoga or meditation are practices.  We don’t get where we want to go all at once.  If we come home and find our life partner shtupping our best friend, it’s okay to be angry.  In fact, it’s a hell of a lot better to be angry than it is to be depressed.  Anger can empower us but depression takes our power away.

As long as we’re feeling something, we’re still okay.  We’re still moving.  We’re still growing.  And, as the Hicks said, we can reach up for that next best emotion on the ladder. We can change our emotional set point.  It’s better to feel irritation than to feel overwhelmed.  It’s better to feel pessimism than to feel irritation.  It’s better to feel hopefulness than to feel irritation.  We can steadily, consciously move our emotional set point upward toward joy as long as we’re honest about what we’re feeling and we don’t shut ourselves down.

If we don’t feel it, we don’t heal it.  If we don’t heal it, we don’t grow.  And growing toward happiness is even better than knowing where your car keys are hiding.

Old Souls, Young Souls and Reflections on the Death of Thich Nhat Hahn

Upon the death of Thich Nhat Hahn . . .

The great spiritual master, Thich Nhat Hanh, just died.  And the world took little note of his passing.  There was a brief note from the Dalai Lama. The United States State Department put out about a three paragraph memo recognizing him.  The Pope, as near I can tell, didn’t say a word.

I actually scanned through the pages of my FaceBook friends and found a total of three people who mentioned his death.  There were far more discussions of the death of a rock star named Meatloaf than there was of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Initially, I was fairly dismayed.  And saddened.  And a wee bit shocked.  I can’t tell you how many memes I’ve seen on FaceBook over the years that were quotations from Thich Nhat Hanh.  I’m sure you’ve seen them, too.  They’re usually posted with a picture of someone meditating or doing yoga or sitting blissfully under a tree.  I would guess that the number of them I’ve seen runs into the hundreds or possibly the thousands. 

 I found myself wondering – did all of those quotations actually mean anything to the people who posted them?  Did they read his books?  Did they watch his videos?  Did they in any way absorb anything that he said or believed?

I remembered a few months ago when Ram Dass passed over and there was very much the same reaction.  “Oh, yeah . . . I heard something about that.  Oh, well . . . he was pretty old, wasn’t he?”

Between the two of them, these people had a MASSIVE spiritual transmission.  They brought concepts and perspectives to the table that have helped millions – literally millions – of people across the world.  I don’t know what I expected at the news of their passing but it wasn’t, “Man, did you hear Meatloaf died?”

I know as I’m writing this that they’d both be laughing at the idea that their deaths were somehow important.  Both of them stressed throughout their decades of teachings that the whole, “my death matters,” rap is just an ego trip.  Ram Dass said that, “death is not an outrage,” it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Thich Nhat Hanh said that there is no death and no birth, just transitions of our forms.

Still, I think they were both exemplars of the fact that LIFE matters.  That the way we live our lives, that the amount of love and compassion and caring that we manifest matters very much.  In the middle of an ocean of pain and suffering and cruelty and despair, they continued to repeat that one simple, brave message:  love each other.

So . . . I  ponder over the fact that this beautiful human being, this compassionate, loving, deeply insightful man could pass away and it made such a tiny ripple on the consciousness of the world.

I think that the answer is probably that people have become accustomed to NOT having any sort of a spiritual practice, in the sense of consciously integrating spiritual values into their daily lives.  There’s a sort of a cliche’ in Texas about the good old boy Southern Baptist businessman who goes to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and screws people over the rest of the week.  When you ask him why he’d behave that way, the response is, “Well, that’s just binness (business).”

In other words, there’s a clear demarcation in his mind between spirituality – which happens on Sunday and Wednesday – and business, which happens on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  There’s a sort of a spirituality cubby hole in his existence that needs to be filled, but he manages to keep it very much in the background for most of his life.

I would guess that, for many people, posting, “spirituality memes,” on FaceBook operates in much the same way.  It’s a way of saying to others – and to ourselves – “Hey, I’m actually a deeply spiritual person.  See – I just posted a meme from Ram Dass or Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron.” And then our friends shine that right back at us and that fills that spirituality cubby hole.

Spirituality becomes a sort of a bon bon rather than a steady diet.  It’s something we post, not something we live.  It’s scratching an itch, rather than wondering why we’re itching to begin with.

I know that neither Ram Dass nor Thich Nhat Hanh would say, “Yeah, people are pretty much shallow assholes.”  I suspect they would say, “Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do.  We need to get back on to our part of it.”

I’m finding a lot of comfort in a paradigm from the 1960s, which is that there are Old Souls and Young Souls.  If you’re an Old Soul, if you’ve been around the reincarnation cycle a few thousand times, then people like Thich Nhat Hanh resonate a lot more deeply in your heart than they might for a Young Soul.  This isn’t to say that being an Old Soul is somehow superior to or better than or wiser than a Young Soul.  It’s not an elitist trip.  It’s not a superiority trip.  It’s just being in a different place on the path.

The world seems to be awash in Young Souls right now and the best thing to do seems to be to constantly and consistently repeat that message from Ram Dass and Thich Nhat Hanh: love each other. 

Ironically, they’d both agree with the assessment of the Young Souls that their deaths didn’t really matter.  But their lives did.

Love each other.

Namaste’ Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Valentine’s Day, The Lovers Tarot Card, Ram Dass, and Snakes in a Tree.

Uh, oh . . . Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  The Lovers tarot card could almost be an emblem for it. 

 The Waite tarot deck portrays it as a pretty little scene from the Garden of Eden:  a nude man and woman are posed in the foreground while an angel with flaming wings floats protectively overhead.  Their love is pristine and pure and heavenly. Don’t look at the snake climbing up the tree.

I said, DON’T LOOK.  They’re in love. No snakes, goddamnit.

Well, okay.  Probably we can get a better picture from an earlier Tarot deck.

In the Swiss deck, we see a couple who are actually touching each other.  An old hag of a witch has obviously just whomped them with a love spell and – just in case that’s not enough – an angel is about to shoot a Love Arrow right THROUGH that girls head.  

They’re thunderbolted and flabbergasted, glimmered and glamored.  They’re in Love, L-U-V!

And it’s wonderful and it’s fabulous and it’s the best thing in the world.  But . . . what IS it, exactly? What is it that makes our brains pump out floods of endorphins, walk around with silly grins on our faces, and talk about our partners to a point where our friends want to strangle us?

A reductionist would tell you that it’s just chemicals in the body.  Hormones. Random encounters in the process of looking for a mate that somehow become permanent relationships.  Ultimately it’s all driven by the need to fuck and reproduce and then we . . . sort of . . . get fond of each other after we’ve had our orgasms and THAT, by golly, is love.

Ram Dass spoke of it quite differently.  He said that sometimes another person is the key that unlocks us and we’re the key that unlocks them and we exist in love.  That the other person is the vehicle for us to get to love.  And, when the other person dies or leaves, it feels like all of the juice, all of the magic, all of the love has gone out of our lives.

Think about that:  the vehicle that gets us to love.

One of the more interesting meditation exercises we can do is to just sit with the feeling of love.  Open our heart chakras and let ourselves relax into love. It may be that when we start that kind of meditation we need something to refer to in order to start the flow of love.  Perhaps we think of a person we love deeply or a place that brings us great peace or even a dog or a cat or a horse. The thought of the beloved starts the flow of loving energy. The beloved is the vehicle that takes us to love.

As we continue to practice that meditation, though, the need for an outside reference, for a thought, memory, or person to take us to that place of love lessens.  Our heart chakras become stronger and clearer and more open and we find that we can enter into loving feelings spontaneously.

We can just exist in, just float in, a sea of love.  And it feels SO good. At that point we’ve gone from needing something outside of us to, “cause,” love to just being love.

Here’s another way to look at it:  the Buddhists teach us that clinging and desire bring suffering.  We feel miserable and we tell ourselves, “If I just had that ___________ (fill in the blank with new car, new computer, iphone, house, dress, shoes, degree, etc.) then I’d be really happy.”  

And so we torture ourselves with what we don’t have, that thing that will finally make us happy, and the more we lust after it, the more miserable it’s absence makes us feel.  Maybe we get two jobs so we can afford it. Maybe we eat rice and beans for a year so we can scrimp and save and FINALLY we can buy the thing that will make us happy.

And it does!  For a while. But it’s a total sugar rush and after a very short period of time we don’t feel so happy anymore.

And then we start thinking about the NEXT one thing that will finally make us happy and we feel miserable because we don’t have it.

That’s really the basis of capitalist society and advertising:  convincing us that there is some THING outside of us that’s going to make us happy.  And, by golly, when that happiness wears off, we’ve got some other neat stuff to sell you that will make you REALLY happy.  For a while.

Or . . . we can just short circuit all of that process and say, “I’m happy.”  We really can. Like the love meditation, we can start out just thinking about things or places or people that make us happy.  We don’t have to buy them or worry about losing them because they’re our thoughts.

The trees make me happy, the clouds make me happy, my lover makes me happy, my vibrator makes me happy, a stream, or a river, or a lake, or the ocean . . . those thoughts make me happy.  And, as we continue that process, we can eventually move straight into BEING happy, without having to possess anything external to us to MAKE us happy. 

Walmart hates that, but it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn.  Happiness exists independent of things.

And it’s the same dynamic with love.  When our lover leaves us or dies we feel crushed because it feels like we’ve lost all of the magic of love.  But love exists independent of people. We’ve lost the vehicle that brought us to love, but we haven’t lost the love.  It’s always right there waiting for our hearts to open and return to it’s embrace.

And there’s no snake climbing up a tree.  Just love, L-U-V!

The Fool – Alone but not Lonely

In the first (or the last, depending on your perspective) card of the Major Arcana we see The Fool starting off on his Spiritual Quest, a dog barking at his feet, his eyes turned toward the heavens.

And he’s very much alone.  But maybe not lonely.

What starts us on a Spiritual Quest?  It’s certainly not because things are going swimmingly.  Sometimes it just a chronic, nagging feeling that something in our lives is just not quite right.  Sometimes it’s a sudden flash of insight that’s like the first rolling stone that starts an avalanche.

Frequently it’s some life event that knocks us ass over teakettle and forces us to look at the fact that our assumptions and beliefs have been wrong all along.  That what we took for granted isn’t worth a bag of spit. The death of a loved one. The suicide of a coworker. Surviving a crash or a deadly disease.

Even then, many people will embrace what might be called “a pseudo-quest,” or perhaps, “an aborted quest.”    Shocked and shaken right down to their toes by some near catastrophe they respond by pulling the covers over their heads and crawling into the safe, warm womb of organized religions.  Like the men kneeling in front of the pope in The Hierophant card they look to others for spiritual truth rather than seeking it in their own hearts.

The person on a true Spiritual Quest is there because he or she HAS to be.  The choices of pretense, dull lassitude, and being a comfortable member of the herd no longer exist for them.  They have a burning desire to know – or at least seek – the truth and that desire can’t be ignored.

And, yes,  that can feel lonely at times.

For one thing most people aren’t really very interested in looking at the verities of Spiritual life.  The next time that you’re at a family gathering just casually mention that everyone in the room is going to die sooner or later if you don’t believe me.  You may not be invited back and, if you are, I guarantee no one will want to sit next to you at Thanksgiving Dinner. People actually seek out toys, money, meaningless sex, and anything else they can think of to AVOID talking about death and they don’t appreciate it when someone puts the subject right up in their faces.

A second factor, though, is that your Spiritual truths are YOUR Spiritual truths and not necessarily anyone else’s.  As you tread your way down the path of The Fool you will discover certain things that you know in your heart are true but the people around you, even your loved ones, may think that you’re out of your mind.  Or very much a Fool.

I remember when I first realized that visualization actually causes the things we visualize to manifest in our lives.  And I don’t mean just reading about it or acknowledging it as an abstract idea. I mean actually sitting my butt down, doing the visualizations and having them actually manifest.

I was blown away.  “This,” I thought, “is magic.  Real, honest to goddess, freaking magic!”

And that realization was followed by a whole series of other realizations.  If my thoughts and emotions can cause things to manifest in my life, then my life is . . . a manifestation of my thoughts and emotions.

Which means that I made this mess.  Not my parents, not my environment, not my culture, not random circumstances.  This thing I call my life is . . . ME. My thoughts. My emotions.

Which means that I’m responsible for it.  It’s my karma that I made. BUT . . . it also means I can change it.  And, man, that’s not just magic . . . that’s freedom!

It was a major turning in The Fool’s Path and I was tremendously excited about it.  The people I tried to share it with . . . not so much. My New Agey friends sort of yawned and said things like, “Oh, yeah, I think I read something like that a long time ago in Ram Dass.  Or was it, ‘A Course in Miracles?’ Maybe it was, ‘Codependent No More . . .”

My more conventional friends either edged slowly away or their mouths hung open for a moment before they changed the subject.

I realized eventually that it was MY Spiritual truth.  It was a result of my Tarot readings and my studies and my meditations and it fit perfectly at that exact moment in MY life.  The fact that other people didn’t understand it or know it or really, really dig it in their own hearts didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had found one of my truths.

And there’s a Spiritual truth in that realization, too.  Just because you’re alone in your beliefs doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely.  In all likelihood the people around you don’t share or understand your truths because they haven’t done the work that you have or they just don’t care.  That doesn’t diminish what you know by one little bit. Every truth that you find along the path is a jewel to be treasured and uncovers a little bit more of who you really are.

Donald Trump, The Empress, and The Emperor

A juxtaposition of male and female energy patterns as exemplified in the Emperor and Empress Tarot cards.

I have to admit that I’m always a little puzzled when I run across one of those news columns discussing, “Donald Trump’s Toxic Brand of Masculinity.”  To me, a guy who gets daily manicures, has his dyed hair styled every morning, and bakes under a sun lamp until he turns orange isn’t masculine ANYTHING, toxic or otherwise.

But maybe I’m just being defensive on behalf of all of the sane men in the world.

Today IS the International Day of the Woman, though, so perhaps it’s a good time to talk about all of this.

The Emperor and The Empress, sharing the same exalted positions and residing side by side in the Tarot deck, are often – in fact usually – held up as examples of male and female energy in the world.  But let’s a take a step back from that. Let’s just consider them as examples of energy in the world. Different ways of being.

Ram Dass has a rap in Grist for the Mill: Awakening to Oneness that says you can consider people on a number of different levels.  You can look at their skins and see black and white and brown. Or you can look at their signs of the zodiac and see Aries and Scorpios and Capricorns.  Or you can approach it like a psychologist and see obsessive compulsives and narcissists and dependent personalities.

Or you can take it right down to the bedrock and see Souls.  Fellow travelers on this very strange journey through this beautiful world who just happen to be incarnate as a Taurus or a Leo in black or brown or pink skin and seem to have developed a little problem with OCD.

Or to put that another way, we are all multiple patterns of energy existing in the Earth Plane.

And two of those patterns of energy are male and female.

There are, obviously, very valid and real differences between the two patterns.  The human body responds quite differently to testosterone and estrogen. Males tend to have more muscle mass and extra cones in their eyes.  Women tend to have more fat cells and to visualize more in patterns than lines.

We can take those differences and we can celebrate them as we do when we recognize both the God and the Goddess.  The problems start to arise when we view those differences as being absolute and we turn them into stereotypes. “Real,” men are always muscular and silently strong.  “Real,” women are always soft and fluttery and vulnerable.

I’ve known women who were so physically powerful that they could have bounced me down the driveway like a basketball.  And I’ve known men who were nervous nellies residing in very frail bodies. You can take any stereotype of masculinity or femininity and find examples of it in both men and women.

Likewise, we know that we all have both testosterone and estrogen in our bodies.  We all have both, “male,” and, “female,” hemispheres in our brains. Some men retain massive amounts of fluids when the moon is full.  Some women are natural born weight lifters.

So masculinity and femininity are much more of a continuum than a dichotomy.  It’s a lot more gray than it is black and white.

From that perspective it’s much easier to drop the idea of looking at The Emperor and The Empress as masculine and feminine energy and just look at them as ways that energy can exist on the Earth Plane.


The Empress is relaxed.  Comfortable. At ease in her world.  She reclines on a velvet throne, legs slightly spread, wearing an unfettered, flowing robe and she is crowned with stars.  She holds a sceptre – her symbol of power – but she holds it loosely, almost as if she’s forgotten she has it. A lovely waterfall flows out of a verdant forest behind her and wheat – the symbol of nourishment – grows in front of her.  And . . . is that a box of chocolate leaning up against her throne?

The Empress is very, very powerful.  She is the power of life and fertility but it’s a gentle, unassuming power.  Most of all, she BELONGS in her world and she blesses it and it blesses her.

And now look at The Emperor.


Kind of a nasty faced old man who looks like he’s suffering from a severe case of hemorrhoids.  He sits on a hard, stone throne (ouch) and tightly grasps a vaguely Egyptian looking sceptre. His garments are tight, as well, and reveal that he is fully armored beneath them.  Mountains rise behind him, barren of any vegetation, and far, far below him a river flows at the base of the cliffs.

The Emperor is also very powerful, but he’s very different from the energy of The Empress.  It’s tempting to view him as the alpha-dog but he’s so obviously, painfully alone that you know he doesn’t even have a pack to run with.  The Empress exists IN her world, as a part of her world. The Emperor has, “conquered,” his world, destroying anyone and anything that got in his way.  He’s at the top of the heap but his heap is a pile of ashes.

Sadly, there are still many people in the world (and, yes, they’re mostly men) who choose to adopt the energy patterns of The Emperor rather than The Empress.  And we all pay a price for their choice.

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The Death Card in Tarot

 

Death

This is that card that always causes Tarot readers to rush to say, “It doesn’t really mean death.  It just says death.”

Doncha feel better now?

In some of my readings it actually has meant death, but it was a statement after the fact.  For instance, Death appeared in my readings for months after my partner died but not before her death.  The cards weren’t predicting death, they were just saying, “Okay, someone you loved very much has died and you’re dealing with death.”

In most instances, though, the card indicates a radical, transformative change that is not associated with a physical death.  Rather, it indicates that the questioner is saying goodbye to one phase of his or her life which is, “dying away,” and saying hello to a new phase that will be radically different.  We’ve all had those turning points in life where we suddenly walked down a totally new path and away from what we were accustomed to and Death presages those turnings.

Still, it’s a spooky, creepy looking card and no matter how much New Age Optimism you throw at it it’s still unsettling.  And that’s another aspect of the card: the changes that the questioner is about to go through may not feel at ALL comfortable to begin with.  In fact, they may feel downright scary and unsettling at first. They will lead to positive developments, though, so just hang on and work through it.

REVERSED – A lot the same as in the upright position but the changes will probably be more gradual and feel less like the world has been turned upside down.  There is a warning that the questioner may be resisting necessary change and this could lead to a life that’s stuck in neutral.

A Few More Thoughts on  . . . you know . . . D-E-A-T-H

It’s interesting to note that in the earliest versions of the Tarot the Death card was the only card without a label.  It was almost as if they were saying, “It’s him. You know . . . HIM. Don’t mention his name or he might look at us and then we might . . . you know . . . die.”

To a large extent we seem to share that same superstition in 21st century America.  It’s cliched but still relevant to point out that we have largely sanitized death in our culture.  Most deaths take place in hospitals rather than homes and we let strangers tend to our loved ones bodies after their demise.

Let’s face it:   DEATH . . . FREAKS . . . US . . . OUT!

And isn’t that odd?

Death is the most natural thing in the world.  Everything that is born dies. As the old blues song says, “No matter how you struggle and strive/you’ll never get out of this world alive.”

As Ram Dass put it,”Death is not an outrage.”

So why is it that we hold it in such awe and fear?

Probably because it puts an end to the little magic act that our ego performs every day.  I am immortal. I will go on and on. The entire world revolves around me and my self image and my needs and wants.  Hell, even if we CAN envision ourselves as ghosts it’s usually as pretty much the same body we have now only sort of translucent and vaporous.

Only, NOT.  Your body is going to be . . . you know . . . D-E-A-D.

Buddhists point out that we all have a craving for permanence and security.  It seems to be hard wired into the human Self. We need to feel that we’ll be happy forever.  That we’ll be in love forever. That we’ll go on and on in our little homes and tragedy will never touch us.  That our loved ones will never die and neither will we.

And then Death comes along and blows all of that into a million pieces.  And that causes pain and suffering like we never knew we could endure.

The answer to that suffering seems to be to try to keep an awareness of Death every day.  It sounds depressing and dark, but it’s really not. Knowing – truly knowing – in your heart that you have a very limited period of time lets you enjoy each moment.  It lets you be aware of how amazingly precious and beautiful your life really is.

Yes, it’s the death of the ego and ego HATES that.  But it’s the birth of the Soul. No real awareness of death = no real awareness of life.  As Pema Chodron said:

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”