The known is false security, while the unknown is the source of mystery and bliss. Yet we cling to the known, and fear losing it. Why? Is it because we have no understanding and relationship with the ever-present actuality of death?
I don't mean death as the murderousness and war of man, but as the thing that is happening inside and outside the body every moment, the all-consuming reality to which our bodies and spirits return when we take our last breath.
Meditation as I understand it begins with passive, sensory awareness in nature, even if only one's backyard or patio. Passive awareness grows quicker than the reactions of thought, reactions that make up the observer, judger and interpreter. When the illusory separation of the observer ends, the brain as a whole begins observing thought as a single movement.
A quality of all-inclusive, non-directed attention gathers unseen, and it is attention (not the self or a concentration of the mind) that effortlessly acts on the movement of thought and emotion, quieting it. The mind spontaneously leaves the polluted stream of the known and enters the infinite stream of the unknown.
Leaving the stream of psychological thought, with all our personal memories, with all our conditioning, opinions and beliefs, the actuality of death, which is happening every moment inside and outside of the body, is directly perceived. If one doesn't run away in fear, but remains with the living actuality of death, which is inseparable from life, tremendous insights occur within one.
One sees that death is the immeasurable, infinite unknown, the ground of all energy, matter and life. One sees that death is not opposed to life, as Christians believe, but inextricably part of life, as Jesus taught.
Frederick Buechner is an American Presbyterian writer, preacher and theologian. Referring to letting go of the ways of the world, he wrote, "What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup."
That is more mistaken than words can convey. Death is not set against life, but the very ground of life. To a person that truly touches his or her inner depths, life is a bubble on the ocean of death. If we burst the bubble while fully alive, we don't die; we dip into the ocean of death, and are reborn each day.
The tremendous variance between what Jesus actually taught and what Christians believe from a cherry-picked set of gospels codified over 300 years after his death, is illustrated by this story, the radicalness of which apparently slipped through the canon censors.
As they were traveling along the road, he said to a certain man, "Follow me."
And the man said, "Let me go first and bury my father."
But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead."
Meaning, let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. That may seem severe, but when a people are inwardly dead, as in America today and apparently in Judea during Jesus' time, remaining inwardly alive becomes more important than anything else.
"If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it." Why? Because death is inextricable from life, indeed, because death is synonymous with creation itself and therefore the source of life, a human being makes a friend of death while fully alive.
Of course that utterly goes against the grain. American culture venerates the self to the point of narcissism. Even the psychological industry is designed to promote the 'wellness' of the self, not the ending of the 'me.' Further confusing things, Buddhist philosophy, with its contradictory idea of the 'Higher Self,' has been grafted onto the dead tree of a globalized American culture.
True meditation leads to a fearless communion with death, which is in fact as close as each exhalation. (Which doesn't mean watch your breath!) I don't want to die anymore than anyone else, but what I call complete meditations entail total surrender to unknown, which is death.
There's not a trace of morbidity when one fearlessly enters the house of death. Quite the contrary, there is joy and freedom beyond description.
Total awareness includes death. When one goes deeply enough in meditation, into the silence that is beyond all words, images and memories, one sees and feels that awareness permeates the universe. Where does it originate?
Awareness emanates from the ground beyond the cycles of birth and death, the ground that both preceded the cosmos and recapitulates it each moment, the unknowable ground of death. It's strange that we fear it so.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
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