This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at dance.
A lifetime, like lightning flashing in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.
If you bring forth what is within you
What you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
What you do not bring forth will destroy you.
I've always loved the Tibetan Book of the Dead for its willingness to stand face-to-face, letter-to-letter with the Big D. Oh sure, there are plenty of books about loss and grief and death and trauma and even some books for the gero-group on becoming psychologically ready... and, and, and... but few books are written to help prepare people- at any age- for Death. Heck, its even one of the reasons why I'm so intrigued by Johnny Depp. Who else tattoos "Death is Certain" on his arm?
One of the things I've learned from the great wisdom traditions is that dying well requires a mindfulness and intention about living well. And this mindful intention helps to enhance our lives each and every moment in which we allow our self to confront our mortality. And how, precisely, do we engage with life in such a way?
Some suggestions from a few wisdom traditions that have helped me include:
1) From Buddhism: Accept suffering as part of the human condition and then (when ready) transform it. Forgive others. Forgive the self. Realize that everything is spiritual or numinous, even if you're a secular humanist. Be humble.
2) From Christianity: Serve others with loving compassion unselfishly. Don't talk about loving others- do it. Let them experience, firsthand, the Light within you, do not speak of it. Recognize the futility and transitoriness of the material world. Believe in grace and offer mercy. Practice humility.
3) From Judaism: While alive, fully engage in rituals both celebrating and mourning the transition to Olam Ha Ba. Remember that saving one person is like saving millions. Be humble.
From Hinduism: Be aware of your deeds and thoughts, both spoken and acted and also those unspoken and unrealized. Surrender your self to the needs of others. Self-efface.
5) From Sufism: Practice futtuwah- loving the other in an empathic way before loving self with humility and service.
There's an awful lot of anti-narcissism going on here, isn't there? So contrary to the natural state of human existence when the "self" is so porous that it often absorbs every molecule in its path, like the Dyson of humanity. Makes me want to anonymize my blog and yank the photo. Hmmm. Is a dollop of vanity okay?
Joking aside, there is clearly something here.
This mindful and intentional living is hard work. It's so much easier to live mindlessly and accidentally and recklessly and wantonly and self-indulgently and all-about-me-ly. But the latter brings an unpleasant death, I'm certain.
So, I've sat with the sagacious thoughts of the desert fathers and mothers on many nights, through many sunrises, and sunsets, and rainstorms, and warm days, and barefoot walks. Those great wisdom traditions have inspired me to live such that I strive to bring forth the beauty that is within me rather than the ugly. I want to live in the way of my true self, in such a way that I am ready for Death when Death calls me by my true name.
And so that as I'm taken down the steep mountainside of our momentary, lightning-flash existence, standing face-to-face with Death one day, I will die well because I have lived well. And I will be truly going home.