Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Heartbeat Of Death

It has now been several months since I finished reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, but I found it to be a very, very interesting read, full of amazing insights from a very different perspective than my Western mind produces. I'm currently reviewing some of the pages I had tabbed for further reading, and I'd like to share one of these with you tonight.

Before I do, I'll just explain that this passage will likely make a lot more sense if you have had at least a little bit of exposure to Eastern / Buddhist thought. And just to clarify, I'm not a Buddhist, nor do I play one on this blog ;-) I did get a healthy dose of Buddhist thought when I attended a free 10-day Vipassana meditation course this past winter, and it was that (amazing!) experience that prompted me to pick up The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

I last wrote about a silver lining to grief back in March, but I want to take that concept many steps further tonight. If you are past the first year of grieving, this may give you a suitable foundation upon which to build your new life. I know for me this perspective colours everything regarding how I live my life now.

I think it was about the 11-month mark after Deb died, when the pain was at its most intense, that I decided that whatever lesson I was learning through this ordeal, I intended to learn it! I wanted to make sure that all this suffering and anguish I was going through was not in vain. Over the ensuing months, I learned that Deb's death had forced dozens of major changes on my life all at once, but the reality is that change is relentless, ever-present, and ongoing. The sooner we can come to grips with this fact, the sooner we can come to embrace it. It is this embrace of change that helps me to thrive as a healed widower, and it is my hope that you too will thrive again in your new life of your choosing.

[from page 33 of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying]


There would be no chance at all of getting to know death if it happened only once. But fortunately, life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change. Every time I hear the rush of a mountain stream, or the waves crashing on the shore, or my own heartbeat, I hear the sound of impermanence. These changes, these small deaths, are our living links with death. They are death's pulse, death's heartbeat, prompting us to let go of all the things we cling to.

So let us then work with these changes now, in life: that is the real way to prepare for death. Life may be full of pain, suffering, and difficulty, but all of these are opportunities handed to us to help us move toward an emotional acceptance of death. It is only when we believe things to be permanent that we shut off the possibility of learning from change.

If we shut off this possibility, we become closed, and we become grasping. Grasping is the source of all our problems. Since impermanence to us spells anguish, we grasp on to things desperately, even though all things change. We are terrified of letting go, terrified, in fact, of living at all, since learning to live is learning to let go. And this is the tragedy and the irony of our struggle to hold on: not only is it impossible, but it brings us the very pain we are seeking to avoid.

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