This post is dedicated to the memories of Tony Scott, Tom Davis, Jan Sharp, Nelson Lyon, Jeb Abrams and Geoffrey Gordon. All of these beautiful souls left this mortal coil within the last six weeks.
“What’s the difference between loss and change? Attachment.” – Ram Dass
It’s a Tuesdday morning and I just returned from Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, CA. After four days of immersive practice I can’t say that I’m any more equipped to write about death than I was a week ago however, I do feel a renewed sense of clarity that comes from loss. This post isn’t really about death anyway. Plenty of people have written on that topic. It’s more about how profound and sudden change can rock you into a new understanding of some of life’s basic principles.
Specifically regarding death though…the mysteries of our physical nature are elusive, frustrating and profound. I think that because we take form in these bodies at this time we really seek to understand why that is. So when it all suddenly ceases to exist we equally try to understand why that is. Right now I feel that it is the “not knowing” how it all works is where the ultimate peace lies. I’ve grown comfortable with the notion that our physical incarnations are so fragile and so precious. Every moment is a gift and as beings taking form right now we must understand that everything is impermanent.
Over the course of the last 6 weeks I’ve experienced radical shifts in my consciousness as it relates to the time I’ve been given on this planet. It’s helped me to understand why I will miss the people who have died, why things like suicide are terribly tragic and why it’s important to fill your time with things that you love.
In Joshua Tree these past 4 days I had to take a look at my practice and what is working and what isn’t. My “practice” is primarily based in methods that seem at face value to be rather structured and formal. For instance, yoga asana has a set of physical sequences that most people do the same way or kirtan has a set of mantras that are sung the same way. However, when one personalizes these practices to let them take on their own form within your own consciousness doorways open that are yours alone. The constant repetition of the names gets so far out that different activations and realizations are available at different times depending on what is you are going through or chanting for. Personalizing ones spiritual practice really helps to make the method malleable thus making the journey constantly rewarding.
All os this loss and funky transitional life structure change all took the form of loss. After an intense four days of practice that included kirtan, discourse, friendship, a little yoga and satsang I feel like I’m come to an awareness of some life qualities that are very important.
The Big Picture
This has been said to me in a variety of ways over the years but it’s becoming very clear in a crystalized and visual way. When we encounter events like sudden and unexplainable deaths or terrible heartbreak it’s important to remember that we are not equipped to understand the bigger picture that makes up all the moving parts of the universe. We are barely equipped to understand ourselves. It’s also become clear that spiritual practice, of any kind, reveals to us glimmers of what the bigger picture is. Perhaps practice can reveal a little shard of universal truth. So when someone decides to loose their will to live we can take refuge in the acceptance that the not understanding is perfectly ok. There’s no reason to understand everything at all times. The mind will constantly go back and forth with the thoughts of “why me” or “this hurts” or “how could she” etc etc. And yes it does help to gain knowledge that can settle the heart but ultimately it’s up to us alone to walk through pain and to move on.
Our minds make up such strong stories that we perceive as our reality. This is in part true – certainly we can be responsible for shaping our living conditions. As Sharon Gannon says “want to change your life? change your thoughts.” Even so with that knowledge there is still a pervading underlying reality that makes up the universe that has nothing to do with us. I don’t believe that the universe and all it’s splendor is a dream that’s going on between our ears, I believe we are one small part of a countless collective that makes it all work together. How the rest of it works I only have slight glimpses into, universal truths that work for me.
If there’s someone in your life who you love or miss but have lost touch with do yourself the favor and reach out and say hello. I’ve always been bad at this because I get shy and reclusive. It’s a very worthwhile thing to do because there may be limited time for you to see them on the physical plane. They might literally jump off a bridge tomorrow. Honestly, I have some sadness in that I didn’t try harder to reach out to Tony in recent years. I have this thought that he would really have loved to see my ’73 Chevy Nova SS and would have been so proud that I bought it with my own money via hard work. I’m sad I didn’t get to share that moment with him.
This can also take on the form of combatting loneliness. I can’t imagine why someone who has so much would take their own life but I suspect it’s because they feel very alone in this world. For myself, I know that I’d be nothing or nowhere without my friends. Yes, there has been a degree of self actualization that has made my life whole but my direct lifeline to my friends and teachers has kept me afloat when I couldn’t find the strength. Don’t be lonely. My shyness has caused me a lot of grief and I’m doing everything I can to keep good association in my life through reaching out.
Do What You Love
We’ve all heard this from a million spiritual teachers in a million different forms. My favorite take on this is from Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
I’ve seen more people, including myself, wallow away in a rut because they “think” that they have so much to loose if they give up a traditional route or do things out of convenience or comfort. The rationale mind will tell you that you have so many excuses for not following your heart. Society fills us with fear of scarcity – that not having enough will someday become a reality when in fact all of our needs are already met. I for one don’t want to be that guy who wakes up when they are 75 wishing I had done something that I only dreamed of. That’s enough motivation to not postpone joy, ever.
I got so freaked out a couple weeks ago that a large portion of my life has gone by so very quickly. An old group of my friends gathered at my house three days before Tony Scott checked out and it started this unraveling process of being somewhat frightened that so much time has gone by. And then the Tony thing happened and it really drove home the notion that if I’m not doing what I love then what’s the point? Granted we all have to show and up and do the dirty work from time to time but if we can fill our time here with as much joyous activity to occupy ourselves then we stand a better chance of leading a life full of fulfillment.
Take risks. Everything great comes from great risk or vulnerability. Going for that big career jump that we thought was beyond us or asking that girl out that made us so nervous. We have nothing to loose. That’s my mantra for the day.
Don’t Care What Other People Think
I have work to do here. Far too often my decisions are dictated by the results of what it is people think of me or want from me. One of my main character defects is paranoia and people pleasing. It’s a lousy combination. I want everyone to be happy and then I get so freaked out if I’ve let them down or haven’t made them happy. At the end of the day we’re really all doing the best we can. Even when we make mistakes it’s important to let them go and just be right with yourself and with God.
Spiritual communities can also be perilous in this regard – because they are so tight knit the “gossip” becomes such a huge part of the fabric. Distancing yourself front this pattern takes work and lots of awareness. The moment you start doing stuff to please someone in the community and/or your ego the intention gets lost.
All of this makes it seem like I have some idea that I know what I’m talking about. Trust me, I don’t. During Krishna Das’s Saturday night set at Bhakti Fest he went on some rap about karma and interrupted himself by saying “as if any of us know what the fuck we’re talking about.” So true. These are just thoughts that came to me during a very difficult month and I thought I’d share them.
For the first time in my life I really have no idea what’s next and it’s so completely wonderful. Be good humans.