The space between when one thing ends and another begins. It is the space between the inhale and the exhale. It’s the space between making the dental appointment and
finishing the appointment. It’s the labor of birth. The Sun rise and the Sun set; It’s the space between dying and death. It was Halloween, and the Day of the Dead, when I entered the first of the last of the bardos of this life. At least it’s what I was pretending to do. Sounds pretty pretentious to me. Maybe practicing is a better word, because I’m very glad I was practicing. This wasn’t the ‘pay-per-view’ performance, but it was the last dress rehearsal and I was vibrating with anticipation, or nerves. No longer living with Death over my shoulder. We’re now dancing, ad-libbing moment by moment, never knowing what music will play next, or when the music will stop.
No More Story
Á la Stephen Levine via A Year to Live, I conducted my last life review with the intention of letting my life story (s) go. I had no expectation that I would actually experience this, but I was hopeful. And I did, eventually, realize that my story was no longer saturating who i am. With the lightness of carrying no-story i began to notice, more clearly, each moment. “One moment, one chance. This moment, this chance.” (Pema Chodron) Noticing more clearly how every moment is a chance, an opportunity, to do the ‘better’ thing. I imagine ‘my story’ as a sort of comet’s tail; not attached to me but trailing in my wake. As the story is generated, as it constantly is, it joins the tail.
The Music Is Still Playing
This is, now, the beginning of my next year and I find myself, still, moving through yet savoring the experience of living each day as if it were my last. Trying to live with gratefulness for all things in my heart, and with a thank you on every breath. It might turn out to be a Big Bardo, a long space, and maybe not.
So, do I still have ‘fear’ about dying and death? You Betcha’. But as I sit with it, the ‘fear’ dissolves into a conglomeration of emotions including, but not limited to, caution, anxiety, concern, apprehension. Definition: 1) anxiety caused by real or possible danger, pain, etc.; fright. 2) awe; reverence. The difference is that #1 anticipates not-pleasant, and #2 anticipates pleasant. Each definition a polar opposite of the other; like black and white. But we know that things, experiences, choices, etc., are more commonly shades of grey. It helps me to do a little mental exercise, visualizing a balance board with all the possible manifestations of the not-pleasant and the pleasant lined up on either side of the fulcrum. It is balanced and I’m standing at the center. I, then, picture the balance board extending in front of me and behind me, and this is my path. And since it IS a balance beam, I want to stay in the middle. If I do get off balance a bit, I want to be able to re-balance quickly. And so it is when we notice fear, that we want to remain balanced. Because there’s nothing wrong with fear, as there is nothing wrong with suffering. They are every bit a part of our lives as anything. However, if we lean too far toward the not-pleasant expectations we find it increasingly difficult to re-gain balance, and balance is important.
The Middle Way
I’ve never considered myself a-middle-of-the-road kind of person. I clearly remember relating it to mediocrity and vowing to never be mediocre (here comes the story again). And we don’t usually drive down the middle of the road, so when I first met Buddhism, it’s name was “The Middle Way”. It makes me laugh. Another interesting thing is that The Middle can be as wide as the world or, as thin as a samurai sword edge. I guess it behooves us to know how wide a middle we’re on, so we may maintain an appropriate balance. One more thing. Good balance requires strength, suppleness, and flexibility which we only develop with practice. Fortunately, that’s what life gives us; lots of opportunity to Practice.
It’s taken me a week of working to savor the experience of last weekend and I finally recognize it as feeling disoriented, but not off-balance. More like standing in the middle of the fulcrum but having the balance board extend to infinity in all directions. This past year’s experiment has been quite a ride, and as my story continues to unfold and get left behind, I hope to tell some of episodes. We never know which moment is going to be our last and I sure hope I’m around to experience mine!
Who asked for this anyway?