Tuesday, July 26, 2022

In An Instant

In the twinkling of an eye ...  we shall be changed.

When it comes to seeking the Divine, no other moment of life can compare to the last moment of life. In an instant, so many worldly concerns - money, position, jealousy, envy - all take a back seat to the final event of life. If you find the idea of dying is troublesome, welcome to my club. After all, we're programmed for survival. 
I am not suggesting that anyone should wish for death. If you believe in a higher power you likely also believe, as I do, that life is a gift and contains some purpose. To seek death is to turn away from the gift and the purpose. But death is going to come and, when it does, will we go kicking and screaming, filled with regrets, or will we go serenely into that mystery? Thinking about dying isn't the same as wishing for it, hmm? 

The Chinese novelist Mo Yan is quoted as writing “Where there’s life, death is inevitable. Dying’s easy; it’s living that’s hard. The harder it gets, the stronger the will to live. And the greater the fear of death, the greater the struggle to keep on living.

It seems clear that in those final moments control of our body leaves fairly quickly, so literal kicking or screaming are out. Studies and observations of electrical activity in the brain suggest that there is some time before consciousness leaves after the heart stops, but there is debate on how much time. In that time, can we chose the thoughts that come? I believe so, but if we have never considered what it will mean ahead of time, it seems impossible that we will do anything other than react to the surprise by screaming (internally, one would expect) NO!

I recall several loved ones' deaths, and in each case, they knew that death would come soon. My GrandDad told me that he believed that 'it' would be the same as those times he had been anaesthetized - a quick cessation of all thoughts. I hope that is what he got. 

Seven years ago, considering what my final thoughts might be became very important. I had to make a life choice that would affect many. I asked "Will my final gasps be filled with regret?" I needed to gauge the importance of following my bliss. Was following my heart somehow part of fulfilling my purpose in living? Heavy thoughts indeed, but life-changing.

At any rate, when we go to join the choir eternal, we are ideally situated to finally let go of that 'mist of thought' that was referred to in the previous post. I suspect it will be a little bit like that feeling of relief I get when I wake from dreams of still being a teacher and having piles of marking to do and reports to write with a deadline looming. 

"Oh, wow!  I'm not a teacher anymore ... it was all just a dream!!"

To what extent greeting death will be like waking from a dream might be determined by how attached one is to living and all that goes with it. There are many documented cases of people whose hearts stopped having "near death" experiences. Many completely change their life because of the experience. If we are seeking the Divine, we should probably "prepare to meet our maker". Use some quiet time to contemplate what it will be like when the only thing that still responds to your will is your will. Body still, as though it is detached, with no responsibilities left for you to deal with - no judgements of 'who you are' remaining under your control. Just ... what?

Dare to ask, and dwell on, the question: "When in that final instant all of my ego-centred thoughts and desires are stripped away, who is left?"

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Seeking the Divine - part 2

When Evelyn Underhill published the quote below, in 1911, she lived in a world of relatively few distractions. Even so, she understood that in all ages, the search for the Divine requires that we first of all put aside what our five senses gather. 

Today that "mist of thought", the ever more complex assault on our minds, is an even greater barrier to knowing that stillness at the core of our being. It sometimes feels like a conspiracy to keep us from being fully human. 

What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought, convention, self-interest. We throw a mist of thought between ourselves and the external world: and through this we discern, as in a glass darkly, that which we have arranged to see. We see it in the way in which our neighbours see it; sometimes through a pink veil, sometimes through a grey. Religion, indigestion, priggishness, or discontent may drape the panes. The prismatic colours of a fashionable school of art may stain them. Inevitably, too, we see the narrow world our windows show us, not "in itself," but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences; which exercise a selective control upon those few aspects of the whole which penetrate to the field of consciousness and dictate the order in which we arrange them, for the universe of the natural man is strictly egocentric. We continue to name the living creatures with all the placid assurance of Adam: and whatsoever we call them, that is the name thereof. Unless we happen to be artists — and then but rarely — we never know the "thing seen in its purity; never, from birth to death, look at it with disinterested eyes. Our vision and understanding of it are governed by all that we bring with us, and mix with it, to form an amalgam with which the mind can deal. To "purify" the senses is to release them, so far as human beings may, from the tyranny of egocentric judgments; to make of them the organs of direct perception. This means that we must crush our deep-seated passion for classification and correspondences; ignore the instinctive, selfish question, "What does it mean to me?" learn to dip ourselves in the universe at our gates, and know it, not from without by comprehension, but from within by self-mergence.

from Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People Chapter III, paragraph 8.