memento mori

On ageing, awakening and extinction. The title, memento mori, (see note below) prompts us to “remember that we will die” – but not to bring fear of dying to our attention in some morbid manner. Our physical end is inevitable. The prompt is for us to learn how to live while we still have time. When we understand how it is to truly live, we can find no reason to fear death. It’s all about learning to live.

A lifetime is so little time
that we die before we
get ready to live.
– John Muir

Since this blog is dedicated to my mother, Miriam, who would have been 104 years old today, I rally myself to write a post in her honour. She had a longer lifetime than most, and spent a great deal of it coming to the understanding that in order to fully live there needs to be a kind of death in every moment – a dying to the past, the future, and their construct of a solid, separate self.

What does it mean to truly live? These wise words from Joan Tollifson look life and death in the eye and are worth sharing. Being fairly advanced in years myself, I can vouch for their accuracy; the similarities between awakening and ageing are apt. Yet everything is here to remind us of what never awakens or ages, because it’s never been asleep or subject to time.

Some writers point to the likely extinction of our species as we plunder the planet that creates and sustains our life. Perhaps so. Where did we get the idea that anything could ever be permanent in a universe of ceaseless motion? Permanence is an impossibility; but that’s not all. Impermanence is an equally fanciful notion. As Joan points out, “a deep understanding of impermanence reveals that there is no impermanence, because no-thing ever forms or persists to BE impermanent.” Bodies will appear and disappear but never leave – where would they go? Death is a gracious messenger; it comes to alert us to its own illusion.


Fiona Hall: Out of my Tree

I see aging as a spiritual adventure not unlike awakening – you realize in a very visceral way that there is no future. You are beginning to dissolve. Everything is falling away. Growing old involves loss of control, loss of abilities, loss of independence, loss of self-image, loss of loved ones, loss of everything that has defined you. In the end, it is a total letting go. And at the same time, death is actually moment-to-moment. The bodymind is like a wave on the ocean – inseparable from the ocean, and in that sense, eternal, but never eternal as a single consistent form, which never existed to begin with in this ever-changing movement. The same can be said about the human species, planet earth, and the entire universe.

Whether through climate change or a nuclear war, it seems quite possible that the human race may wipe itself out. Many species are disappearing at a rapid rate in what has been called the sixth mass extinction to occur on planet earth, this one largely human-caused. Perhaps humans throughout history have felt “the end was near,” and certainly many people have lived through periods of war, famine and plague where everyone they knew was wiped out – but in some very unique way, we seem to live in a time when the vulnerability and potential death of the human species is in our face. Would this death be a tragedy or simply another change in the endlessly shifting kaleidoscope of infinite (timeless) unicity? How do we meet these threats of extinction?

When loved ones die, alongside the grief and sorrow of loss, there can also be the immense freedom and discovery of what cannot be lost. A loved one is gone forever, and yet they are right here. Everything is right here! No-thing actually begins or ends. As they say in Buddhism, a deep understanding of impermanence reveals that there is no impermanence, because no-thing ever forms or persists to BE impermanent. There is only the ever-changing, ever-present Here / Now from which nothing stands apart. Our fear of death may be very much like the fear people once had about sailing out to sea and falling off the edge of the earth – a fear based on a misconception about how things actually are.

Joan Tollifson


I began this post with a quote from John Muir. It comes from this stunning video, which is both an an ode to wilderness and an invitation to “get ready to live.” It was filmed in the Scottish Highlands.

Wilderness from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

More information about John Muir at johnmuirtrust.org


In January 1944 Miriam spent her 31st birthday in a New Zealand maternity ward recovering from the delivery of yours truly – just 48 hours earlier. We always celebrated our birthdays in tandem; my birthday poem for this year is posted on echoes from emptiness blog: on turning seventy three


Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die”, or “Remember you will die”; taken literally it means [In the future] remember to die, since “memento” is a future imperative of the 2nd person, and “mori” is a deponent infinitive. It names a genre of artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality. The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.
– Wikipedia

Fiona Hall’s sculpture Out of my Tree, is part of that tradition. Crafted – with her usual meticulousness – from sardine tins, this piece was part of her installation for the 2014 Adelaide Biennial and the 2015 Venice Biennial.

please take these offerings

They often sneak up on me at this time of the year – a gaggle of words-wanting-shared. Yes, it’s birthday time – not a blog birthday, but another tick in the annual count for she-who-scribbles while her spacecraft steers itself around the sun…

Birthdays are a good time to reflect on one’s blessings, and to offer gratitude to our friends for their kindness and thoughtfulness. I always begin my birthday with a gesture of thanks to my mother, who not only gave me the miraculous opportunity for life, but also fostered, nourished and inspired the flourishing of that life in every way possible.

Now in my eighth decade, and delighting in life regardless of its curved balls, I feel to share some of the observations that have delivered me to this joy. It’s the best I can offer; may your mind and heart be able to receive.

Image source - https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/BoneStructure/

 

Life hurts.
But what you are never feels pain.

Everything changes.
But what you are remains unchanged, eternally.

You’re flat and exhausted and depressed.
But what you are is forever poised as equanimity.

You’re broke, stressed, squeezed dry, homeless and hungry.
But what you are is unaffected and impartial.

You’re smashed by disappointment, betrayal, abandonment.
But what you are is ever calm, accepting and unbroken.

You’re afflicted by physical and mental aberrations, abnormalities, imbalances.
But what you are never suffers for one second.

 

So what you are is clearly something with which you need to become very familiar. And it’s e-a-s-y to do so. You don’t need a formal introduction. You don’t need a manual or a map or a guide book. You don’t need to change your religion or your beliefs (although changes may well occur as a result). You don’t need a 12-step plan or a meditation practice.

What you are is more obvious and closer than the tip of your nose. It’s the one experience you can never escape, 24/7.

What would you call that? Your aliveness? Your awareness? Your presence? All these words come close, but none are ultimately true or exact. Why?

Because they aren’t yours. Or mine. Or anyone’s. Drop the personal pronoun, and there you are – radiant all-knowing alive presence. The Light of Knowingness, self-luminous, always-on, never-needing fuel or flint…

And that is what you are – free, fulfilled and flourishing as all you conceive, perceive and experience. All of it.

How wondrous that this is possible – that this primordial awareness is huge enough to hold the entirety of creation, excluding nothing – yet be unaffected and unmoved by any expression of its handmaiden, consciousness.

It is truly The Beloved, the Godhead of the saints and sages and poets.

And it is what you are.

 


Image source


 

a light with no source

this unlit light blog is four years old this week!

 

this unlit light is four!

 

Back in 2009, I wrote on the who and why? page:

what is this?

so blatantly in my face
yet unable to be seen?

closer than my breath
yet unable to be reached?

shining through the mind
yet unable to be known?

And in my very first post – a naked lie – I made a confession about the only thing I can assert to be real and true in my life:

I know lots of stories about all manner of things, and I acknowledge that they are only the current version of complex commentaries.  But I only know one thing for sure, and it’s not an ‘about’.

It’s this:  Something exists here on this cushion.  Something is alive here.  Something is being breathed here.  Something senses Life here.  I refer to it as ‘I’, but I cannot claim possession of it.  It is just this.  Now.  Here.

This is what I can call real and true.  It passes my test.  It has never changed one iota in this lengthening lifetime.  It can’t be fragmented, measured, observed, described or denied.  All that I call ‘existence’ appears within it, and cannot be separated from it.  There are no words about it that are true.  So I will tell a naked lie, and call it this unlit light.

In the about page my intentions for the blog were set out – and have remained unaltered:

This blog presents a mélange of comments and confessions concerning this unlit lightbrighter than the light of a thousand suns – in which, right now, perception of this web page and deciphering of these words is going on.

The luminous mélange has included references by saints and sages, poets and mystics, teachers and everyday holders of wisdom – all expressing in their own unique voice, their understanding of, and love for this divine light | pristine awareness | mystical luminosity.

I seldom add any comments to these gems.  It seems superfluous – they shine with radiant clarity when falling from the pockets of the wideawake.  Today’s offering comes from Osho.

In haste nobody can come to know himself.  It is a very, very deep awaiting.  Infinite patience is needed.  By and by darkness disappears.  There comes a light with no source.  There is no flame in it, no lamp is burning, no sun is there.  A light, just like it is morning: the night has disappeared, and the sun has not risen….  Or in the evening – the twilight, when the sun has set and night has not yet descended.  That’s why Hindus call their prayer time sandhya.  Sandhya means twilight, light without any source.

When you move inwards you will come to the light without any source.  In that light, for the first time you start understanding yourself, who you are, because you are that light.  You are that twilight, that sandhya, that pure clarity, that perception, where the observer and the observed disappear, and only the light remains.

~ Osho

Just Like That – Copyright© OSHO International Foundation


Source – sat sangha salon – a rich resource, well worth a visit.

Image source – google images


I’m grateful to Nadia at her blog To Know Beauty for introducing me to this extract from Osho.

an innocent, dry-eyed, whole-hearted presence

[Although this little piece was written a month ago, circumstances around internet access have delayed its posting.  I’m three weeks late, but how relevant is time when it comes to love?]

Last month, on January 29, my mother Miriam would have celebrated her 100th birthday.

Looking back I find something quite remarkable:  I don’t EVER remember seeing her cry. *

I remember asking her about this; wondering if she’d intentionally decided to never again cry, as some do who have seen more than their fair share of life’s hard knocks.  She said that on the death of her little sister, Bessie, her grief was so enormous she thought it would kill her, but that by some kind of Grace she’d discovered a way of shifting the weight of her personal sorrow.  She would have hardly been in her teens at the time.

Her simple secret was to stop and look for something unexpectedly good about the apparently tragic, sad or crazy situation life was dishing up.  It was years before I understood the value of this – at first I saw it as an evasion of reality, a Pollyanna prescription, mere ‘positive thinking’.  During my years as a card-carrying member of the Thought Police I accused her of simply replacing one thought with another.  She’d never waste her energy in argument though; she seemed to quietly trust that eventually I’d come to understand the dynamics of thinking and figure it out for myself.  Compassion!

And I did.  I came to understand that thinking is always dual – polarized – and that you can’t simply turn a negative one into a positive one to any effect.  Pitting thought against thought is not an effective remedy for the relief of suffering.  Mum knew better than that.  She had found out for herself, however, that if you look for the opposite of the ‘bad’ in the news – playing a kind of game with your mind to release its death-grip on the certainty of tragedy – you eventually reach a space where the polarities cancel each other out, and given time, it becomes second-nature to abide in that spacious equanimity.  Note that the same dynamic applies to thoughts that insist on the ‘goodness’ of any news.

Mum’s natural response was seldom to comment from her own position.  She reflexively put on the moccasins of the ‘other’.  Here’s an example.  My Dad passed away just ten minutes before she arrived at the hospice.  I went to the door to tell her the news, expecting her to be sad that she had missed his last moments.  (They had, after all, been married for 73 years.)  She broke into the sweetest smile, raised her arms and said, “He’s free at last!”

Mum’s wisdom was not about right versus wrong or about passive complacency; it embraced an energized equanimity that lies on the other side of thoughts altogether.  She mightn’t have done much crying, but her heart was always poised at-the-ready to meet whatever life dished up.  Her quiet presence was often all the comfort a suffering soul needed:  her innocent, dry-eyed, whole-hearted presence.

Earth Mother

This Earth Mother image – scanned from a greeting card years ago – bears an uncanny facial resemblance to Miriam. And the symbolism couldn’t be more perfectly aligned with her virtues – from my perspective anyway!

On the 100th anniversary of her birth I’m taking a leaf out of her book and looking for the ‘good things’ about her departure.

  1. Like Dad a year earlier, she was “free at last” from her frail, weary, broken body.  Ninety six orbits of the sun were quite enough.
  2. I learned that I could carry forward the immense love and compassion she had for the world, and that I could slowly, with no little agony and humility, grow into her gracious wisdom.
  3. Thanks to her departure, this blog was born.  And that’s a very good thing because it honors and celebrates a great soul who, uneducated and without any personal need to promote her wisdom, left almost no trace in this world.

~

*  Although … when I first left home at 19, bound for Sydney (crying all the way across the Tasman Sea) she wrote that she had roamed the empty house weeping all day at the shock of my absence.  We were joined at the hip, Mum and I, and as she reminded me in the last hours of her life – “It never ends!”

~

Image: Scanned from a greeting card years ago. I vaguely remember that the artist was a New Zealand woman, living in Australia. If you know more, please advise me – I’d love to give credit.

~

I’m out of my mind

Rainforest Hermitage

 

there I was
in the grip of
grimness
in the midst
of this glorious
rainforest

self-loathing had its
garrote
around my throat
and depression urged it
to finish the job

the cackling clockwork chorus
was in full voice:
homeless, hopeless!
alone, undeserving!
penniless, shameful!
exhausted, wimp!
confused, idiot!
repeat
repeat

 

repeat

 

then suddenly, a shift,

– subtle yet seismic –

and I’m out of my mind
and absorbed into a bright beingness
that needs no healing
because it knows no
brokenness

the clamor dies down
consciousness folds itself
back into its contents

the light
that’s never needed a housekeeper
beams itself up as a
world
that falls to its mossy knees
and scribbles a poem


birthday poem 2013

birthday poem

In this uncreated emptiness

– an unfurling, unfolding
energy-locus trembling with
sensations so varied
they appear to hold
no common currency –

experience swings

from melting tenderness
and wide-eyed wonder
to the creaking pain
of bodybits worn and stressed
(there’s a tutu pirouetting
on satin points in one scene;
stomping across the stage
leaden-hoofed in another)

In this uncreated emptiness

there’s a seeing, a knowing
a luminous awareing of every tonality
and every texture
every nuance of light and shade
shimmer and flicker
conspiring to create an apparent world

there’s an immaculate stillness
unchanging, unmoving, unaffected
by the stories told by
pleasure, pain or perfection

there’s a brilliant beingness
in which every dance
listed in life’s repertoire
is danced by the one

whirling
crazy lover
inexhaustibly romancing its insatiable
self

 

emelle says:

off with the training-wheels,
away with the Zimmer-frame
I raise my glass to Life!

Beloved, let this heart beat long enough
to whirl a few more orbits of the sun
dissolving, giddy and swooning, into your arms
which are
none other
than
my own

 
– ml