Sunday, May 19, 2013

Death

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
~
Dylan Thomas
And Death Shall Have No Dominion 
A macabre presence hovered over me during my recent European trip — from city to city: London, Paris, Hamburg — the Grim Reaper, Death. Everywhere I went, old friends brought up the subject of dying, as in, “Once I consolidate… sell off all our stuff… prepare my will… settle up… let the children make their choices… convert everything to cash, I’m ready to go.”

Chelsea High Street
London Shop on Chelsea High Street
I didn’t take these utterings as a symptom of morbidity. It seemed like an honest approach to the matter. What’s the point in complicating your final years by holding onto to a lot of material things you no longer have any use for or derive any pleasure from? Seems reasonable to wind things down, no?

So if it wasn’t morbidity, what bothered me then? I suppose it was the finality with which they spoke about the process —its utter end-game futility, the closing of the final chapter, for now and for all time. Not that I went into detail on The Tibetan Book of the Dead or elaborated on the history of the Bardos with them. They aren’t people you can talk to about reincarnation. They aren’t easily convinced that death is only a stage in the development of the energy concentration known as I.

Towers of La Defense - Paris satellite city
Paris, La Défense
They’re highly educated, which makes it all the harder because they believe in the power of the rational mind and are therefore constrained by its limits. The mind is a wonderful tool, but by definition also a barrier if it's conditioned to place limits on the extent to which man is capable of developing. And if one believes those limits are dictated by the scientific method, then those limits become a barrier beyond which the individual cannot penetrate because he/she has neither the spiritual practice nor the flexibility of spirit of an Einstein, who once exclaimed, “I didn’t come to any of my great discoveries through use of the rational mind.”

My friends maintain that there is nothing beyond the life of the brain. They are like the skeptics who believed Columbus and the other early explorers would simply sail off the edge of the Earth.

They believe that once death occurs, the brain is as useless as a broken-down motherboard. And that's true, as far as brain tissue is concerned. But there's more to the mind than brain tissue; the mind is connected to an Energy Continuum. It feeds from its inexhaustible reservoir of consciousness and contributes to that source in its own right. Yes, the physical brain dies, but the pulsating energy that animated it lives on, thereby extending the boundaries of today’s known physical science, extending even the very definition of science.

Many of my friends were exposed to fundamentalism in their youth and did not enjoy the experience. So they took refuge in the mind/brain duality, and in so doing, created a bulwark against religiosity. Nothing wrong with that except they lumped everything in together: no difference between the doctrine/dogma of organized religion and the solitary pursuit of truth through meditation/Yoga. All of it is superstition and humbug.
"Quite apart from the charm of the new and the fascination of the half-understood, there is good cause for Yoga to have many adherents. It offers the possibility of controllable experience and thus satisfies the need for facts, and, besides this, by reason of its breadth and depth, its venerable age, its doctrine and method, which include every phase of life, it promises undreamed of possibilities."
~Carl Gustav Jung 
How one equates attending church and accepting without question the canons of organized religion with a solitary practice built on questioning everything and that ultimately leads to an awakening experience is beyond me! I understand the desire to tie up loose ends, but it seems to me that once that is accomplished — the decks are cleared — the only remaining item would be to begin asking the basic questions so frequently pushed aside during lifetimes of activity and achievement.

  • What was I here for?
  • Who am I?
  • What happens next?
  • What is the purpose of life?
To start doing some original thinking on the meaning of life instead of accepting the mantra-like orthodoxy of either organized religion or the scientific method. Yes, the scientific method can be as constraining as Catholic dogma, especially if it proscribes "undreamed of possibilities."

I recognize that questioning one’s existence is hard to do once old age closes in. It takes a reorientation of Being — a circumstance I encountered in the person of an elderly Swiss lady who sat next to me during the last leg of my journey from Zurich to San Francisco.
Elderly Swiss lady from Zyrich to San Francisco
On the way Home with the Swiss
I didn’t talk to her at first because I thought she only spoke German. But when, in the course of the flight — getting up to go to the toilet, passing trays back and forth, commenting on the vegetarian meal we’d both consumed — I learned she spoke English, I got to hear her amazing story. A widow in her 80s, she visits her son in San Diego twice a year for a month, but only stays a week with him because his wife is domineering and doesn’t like her.

The rest of the time she stays at Yogananda’s nearby Encinitas Self-Realization Fellowship, an interest she developed after realizing that spending extensive time with her family would be unrewarding. I was impressed by her ability to change course, to make her life over at a ripe old age. She told me it wasn't a product of "thinking things over;" it was the result of practice — through which, metaphysical actuality became as clear to her as the staring at a tree or the touching of the grass with her bare feet.

She enumerated the program of study she’d undertaken over the six-year period she’d been going to the fellowship:
And last, but not least:
To which she added with a twinkle of the eye as we stood up to deplane, “You do know we are incarnated again in a new body, over and over?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve worked my way to many of the same conclusions, not by use of the rational mind, but by practicing the same techniques, albeit served up in a different tradition with some discoveries of my own learned along the way.”

“I’m looking forward to that new body,” she said, “tired of dragging this one around for such a long time. There is no death, something I learned just in time to prepare myself.” 

And death have shall no dominion!

And it appears this notion is taking hold. Witness this interview in The Guardian with rock star, Tricky:

Q: You've got a new song called We Don't Die. Where do we go if we don't die?

A: The weird thing with me is I've had close people die, like my Mum, but I don't get sad at death. I miss them, obviously, but move on. That's not because I'm a bad person or emotionally numb, but there must be a reason it don't affect me. I think it's because death doesn't really exist. I don't believe in it. In some ways I was lucky my Mum died when I was that young. I've seen friends lose people as adults and be so traumatized they can't eat or go off the rails and into prison. But I've never had a conversation with her. I'd love to sit down with her for one hour to see what she was like.

And death have shall no dominion!

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