After a meandering walk in early Spring, the smell of daphne permeates the air as the sun begins its slow descent. We stop to study the sky and bam, the unmistakable feeling of joy surges through us. We are sprawled across the living room floor on a Sunday morning drinking our coffee watching our kids play. The light banter with our spouse quiets and we turn our attention to our children totally absorbed in setting up an elaborate "picnic" on the kitchen floor. Bam: joy washes over us. The degree of joy and harmony we experience in life is contingent upon how available we are to have that experience. While joy tends to occur spontaneously, there are conditions that need to be in place for it to arise. While harmony may often seem outside of our realm of control, there are things we can do to facilitate how our experience of who we are, how we relate to others and how we participate in life leads to an overall sense of harmony.
Much of it depends on the awareness we are applying to which aspect of self is in the lead. Are we deferring to our intellect to make all the decisions about what's in our best interest or are we referencing the wishes of our inner child, the needs of the body and the wisdom of our essential Selves? Are we conscious of how our relationships support or conflict with the life experience we're trying to foster? When we are in right relations with ourselves and the people we have chosen to learn and grow from and with then the natural by product is a sense of harmony. When there is harmony between parts in any system, synergy begins to occur. The combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects: "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Our potency as a human being deepens and strengthens when we stop counter intending what it is we want out of life and get in alignment with what we really want and what we're truly here to do.
Joy finds us when we shift out of modes of resistance. It's there for the taking at any given moment...a child's laughter, the sun peeking through a rain cloud, a flower weve never taken the time to really look at before, a smile from a stranger. However because we are so often caught in cycles of resistance, and disconnected from our essential Selves, it clouds our ability to touch into the essential joy and beauty that's all around us at all times. When I talk about resistance, what I'm referring to is the parts of ourselves that want to reject what's currently happening or are already preemptively bracing against a future outcome that we really don't want to experience. It feels like an "inner no". No, I am not getting the cold that has been going around. No, I am not going to acknowledge my anger over last night's argument. No, I am not going to consider that my child might have a learning delay. No, I am not going to yield to the fact that I will lose a loved one someday. Much of this resistance is unconscious yet it requires tremendous energy to maintain. When we can drop all those "inner no's" we free up enormous amounts of space to experience what is really happening for us. We can simply respond to life.
If we look at life as a continuum and birth is at one end and death is at the opposite end, then we are somewhere in the middle. Closer to one side or the other without the awareness of where we actually fall on that continuum, simply because we have no idea when our time will be up. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are all bracing ourselves against the inevitability of our death. It's the ultimate unknown and cloaked in mystery for most of us. In the concrete: when will it happen and how will it happen? In the abstract: is this the end or is there more? We can attribute much of our existential angst to these outstanding questions as it pertains to our own lives and the lives of those we hold dear. Many of us are unprepared to be with these questions until we are confronted with the loss of someone we love or our own mortality. While there are many cultures and coinciding practices around the world that help us preemptively start this reconciliation process, many of us in the West have not engaged in customs that build our sense of resilience, hope and courage in the face of impending loss. While we know we cannot escape it, most of have built a barricade against it rather than building a bridge toward it, knowing it will someday come to take us across its threshold.
This past year has taught me much about how the tremendous fear of loss permeates our experience of being alive. Losing a dear friend in June and having to helplessly watch my brother navigate a terminal diagnosis has revealed to me how deeply painful it is to have to say good-bye prematurely and be forced to witness someone surrender to death, long before they are ready to so. There has been pure agony in realizing that no amount of my "inner no" will deter outcomes that I find unacceptable. I have been dragged, kicking and screaming to the recognition that all the inner resistance against the unavoidable has been in vain and that the task at hand is not to fight but to yield. By submitting to the larger scope of life that does not exclude death from the range of its vast narrative, we are allowing ourselves to take part in the whole story. And the truth is, the whole story includes tragedy. Rejecting the parts of the story that we don't want to experience has never been an option for any of us of and only leads to suffering. As counter intuitive as it may feel at moments, when we build our repertoire for tragedy, we are also building our repertoire for joy. We must choose whether we want to embrace or stonewall the idea that we have an undisclosed amount of time to be here with an undisclosed amount of time with the people we love the most. Over the course of the past year, so many people in my life have said "I just can't imagine what you're going through." The fact that this is the single most common comment I receive from others is not by coincidence. Most of us have not had to build the bridge that makes way for death to enter our storyline. The reality is that most of us cannot or will not begin the process of opening ourselves up to the prospect of loss until we are faced with the unimaginable. Yet the unimaginable does not discern between those that are ready and those that are not and ultimately all of us will be confronted with the void or that which is beyond this experience of being alive.
Life and death are inextricably linked. We cannot have one without the other. While it can be deeply terrifying and heart-breaking to look death in the eye, it also puts the significance of our time here into sharp relief. By being totally awake to the fact that our days here with those we love are numbered we begin to see things differently. The ephemeral nature of the seasons as they pass us by, the beautiful food we lovingly prepare to nourish our bodies, the time we get to spend with those we love: telling stories, creating meaning and understanding the true nature of presence. There are endless ways we can say "yes" to life even in light (especially in light) of the fact that there are no guarantees on the time we have and that all of us at some point in time will build that bridge that takes us home.
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.