I Owe It All To Death: Year Four of The One Year To Live Experiment

cropped-cropped-Cave2.jpgThere’s a little over 3 weeks in which to summarize this 4th year of practicing living with Death at my door.

I thought I was signing on for One year and here it is the end of the fourth.  Posts to MindfulDying have been sparse. Maybe the time in the desert had something to do with it, the drying up of words.  ‘Too bad too sad. Do you want any crackers with that whine?’ sniggles the merciless, ever present speaker named Thought. Merciless, absolutely merciless.

OK, It’s an Experiment although  in retrospect maybe I should have just called it an Experience. There you go, Wisdom in hindsight. In any experiment we’re looking for a change caused by a known stimulus. Well, since the practice is the stimulus introduced to ‘me’, then what, if any, are the changes?

So, I pondered this for a while; quite awhile and trying to figure out what kind of claims of change I can make. ‘Improve your love life by practicing your dying’.  That’s almost suitable for the Pharmaceutical Industry.  But I don’t think I ever said it was easy, did I? Maybe doing it is easy and only writing about it is hard.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dyin’ here and begging for mercy. Surely I’ve heard said that the Quality of Mercy is not strained.

Of course I’ve changed. We’re all changing all the time. But how do I measure it? Measure what? Number of insights per week or glasses of wine, Whiner? And how do I know that the changes are caused by the practice and not what’s coursing through the water I drink or the air. What, I should go around interviewing people? A survey? Maybe I don’t wanna’ know.  But there is something… I’ve come to believe, a little thing.

I now hold this truth to be self-evident that there is more that I don’t know now than I used to think I didn’t know.

That’s pretty much it.  Enticing, yes?  Profound?  Well…

I Owe It All To Death

In my pondering ways I could go on about the relationships that have come and gone, how others have changed, how all my affairs are in order, my advance hopes known,  and how I’ve learned to be “inclusive, tolerant, multi-ethnic, non-racist, yoga/tai chi loving, activist, vegan, politically correct, pan-sexual, spiritual but not religious, non-body-shamer who doesn’t offend anyone with my speech or actions and who has a great sense of humor” but I won’t. (the quote is from the great orator, Bill Clinton and it is taken out of context).

Death has been my companion for 4 years now. The relationship has evolved. Lately it feels like a courtship, flirty with the giddiness of knowing we have a private tryst awaiting.

Death has me waking and wondering, is this the day, Death?  maybe yes, maybe no, Death teases back. So I risk the yes. Yes. I Owe it to my good friend to stand ready at a moment’s notice. Death promises that every step I take, every breath exhaled, brings us closer together. Ain’t it the truth.  And after 4 years

I now, really, hold this truth to be self-evident that “we can’t always get what we want, but if we try, sometimes we get what we need”.

Yes, The Rolling Stones, what did you expect from an old hippie, Rachmaninoff?

Segue to the more ethereal thing that I Owe to Death, ethereal personified.

A Greater Appreciation for the Impermanence of all thingsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We live within Impermanence and Impermanence lives within us. Everything is changing, coming and going, cells dying others becoming, air, water – changing all the time, every moment. Feelings change, relationships, abilities, everything. I’ve known this for what seems like forever. Maybe it is forever. What do I know?

With Death at my side, however, the moments seem to slow down, be noticed and savored.  Maybe they really do slow down. Is there an experiment for that? an app? Prozac?

Death’s been teaching me that just because I’m ready to go at any moment doesn’t mean that ‘my’ world is stopping or that new responsibilities, opportunities, and decision-making  can be put on permanent hold.  No such luck. It’s keeping, keeping on until Death gives me a new perspective.  Maybe. What do I know?

Impermanence is everywhere and always. Wait a minute. How can Impermanence be for always if everything is impermanent?  See what happens with Death around? The little old woman with the bent back is stretching with her cane to dislodge a package from the top row of toilet paper when I turn the corner of the aisle. Can I help you with that? We interact, a bit of chit not much chat, I bid a good-day and take my leave. From behind a “Wait!” and I turn back. Three feet below my sight line she’s smiling up and … playfully, “Can I get you anything while I’m down here?”

Those moments came and went, Impermanence. Change has happened. We touched a skinless touch and were tickled.

Living With Death Is NO Panacea

Nope. In spite of Death, Life still goes on with us or without.

I confess that there was a time I embarrassingly struggled with NOT begging, whoever has the power, because Death claims that scheduling is outside the scope of the job description, for just a few more years, maybe 10.

In the meantime, it’s prudent to be ready 24/7. Keep on keeping on. There are no promises.

I try to see and understand the Yin Yang balance of all we know, or think we know. The world looks out of balance. How does the Yin Yang harmony sound?  I’m not Doing The Tao in Black & Whiteshearing much world harmony these days either.

I see violence, greed, ignorance, poverty of the material and poverty of spirit; loss, grief, misuses of power and search for ways I may influence.  I struggle to keep a healthy sense of cynicism and self-doubt and not succumb to total paranoia, delusion, or even grandiosity. You know what people say about that – An aluminum foil folded hat on your head is a helpful tool when practicing one’s response in case of you-know-what.

Foil hat, or not, Death by my side or not, I, probably much like everyone, wonder how I can make any difference at all.  Where can I influence? what can I do? What’s the purpose of this life? Those are the questions. So I add my pitiful pence to the pot, sign petitions, send a letter now and then, vote, extend a hand, a kind word, a smile at the very least.

It’s Been A Wild Ride

Death has been an exemplary companion, teacher, coach ever ready with the prompt ‘use this moment well, the moments are running out’.  A pretty good life long friend, for sure.

Last thing, for now, maybe…

Death says to mindfully attend to every moment because in every moment we’re choosing, this or that or another?  Every moment is a step on the road of life and some steps become bigger turning points than others, after which, everything is different than it was before.  Some turning points are abrupt, others more gradual. And it’s a rare road that’s straight and smooth.

The choice to practice the One Year To Live and journal the experience was a pretty Big Turning Point.  And I am so, so very happy to have Death as a trusted friend, teacher par excellence. And what a joker!   Just when, in my gratitudinous state mutter ‘I want to be just like you, a teacher par excellence’ you know what the B****d  (a term of endearment between friends), grinning the grin so uniquely Death’s, says?

There are two kinds of teachers, dear, the good examples and the horrible warnings.  It behooves you to know the difference.

Life and Death

I think I’ll just keep on keeping on; breathe in breathe out; do the Tao; and be ready for the last great adventure… and then the next.

P.S.    you are a huge part of this experience, thank you, thank you again. And my friend thanks you. Enjoy. And a disclaimer: this rendition in no way implies that anyone else’s experience will be anything like it.  Mindfully yours.

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