Wednesday, April 16, 2008

how death happens

on the day of my mother's arrival into korea, i took a slow, leisurely walk home from school under the glorious cherry blossom trees....blown away by the immense vibrancy of spring. when i got home after my walk, i posted a blog about how i had felt called out of my daily routine into a state of feeling completely awake, alive, and present by the tremendous beauty and bursting life all around me. only the very moment existed, and i had no idea that my 15 minute walk had turned into 45. my heart felt so open and elated. i spent the next hour cleaning my house and excitedly packing to go to seoul to meet my mother and spend the weekend there.

then i received a text message that one of my colleagues here at yeungnam university had just died in a motorcycle accident. it stopped me in my tracks. it was one of those moments where all perception shifts and suddenly nothing fits together...where the reality of the moment makes no sense at all. the supposed ground beneath is gone. the first thought that came into my head was, "no." i read the text message again. i even spoke out loud, "no." i read it a third time and thought to myself, "oh my god. this is how it happens, isn't it? this is how death happens. on some idle friday afternoon while cleaning the house." with the force of emotion that hit me i immediately sat down. it was so hard to believe that frank was dead, that i would not see him again or hear his dry british humor...his wry chuckle. i felt completely unable to integrate it. dismay and shock filled me at the reality of death, almost as though it was something i'd never even considered before.

i realized how distant my consciousness is most of the time from the basic, known truth that all beings die. all life changes, trees, birds, ants, humans....all of us. since frank's death, i am noticing it all around me. this cycle of life and death. it is strikingly apparent in a land where there are distinct seasons. in winter the earth looks stark naked, everything seems dead and gone forever and in spring life returns; the earth miraculously dresses up in so much beauty it almost seems unreal in its drastic contrast.

i am beginning to approach the reality of death in meditation, when i'm sitting quietly each morning. little by little allowing myself to touch that truth. an enormity of feelings arise. i come back to the breath a lot.

the afternoon that frank died i experienced a felt sense of the spectrum of feeling that we humans hold, especially if we are approaching our days with the intention to be present to each moment without numbness or distraction. on friday, april 4th, i went from feeling blown open and awakened by the boundless beauty of nature, brimming over with elation and complete grief, the kind of sorrow that feels like a weight so heavy on the chest that it is nearly impossible to breathe. i saw that to be awake, to feel deeply, includes the entire scope of human feeling and experience...the kind of beauty and joy that make you burst into song and the kind of sorrow that brings you to your knees. none of it can be escaped. and sometimes i catch a glimpse of why i wouldn't want to. it seems that the joy and the sorrow come from the same deep well inside and are doorways to the same awakened, open-hearted, truest of places. maybe life and death are like that...just in different forms.

"those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else."

by: david whyte

in memory

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