Call: (212) 679-2424 or (914) 472-9878

Living and Dying

We are compelled by feelings that don’t have words when we encounter the experience of birth, and when we encounter the experience of death. Both experiences, if we are open to them, give us a sense of awe, that what is happening here is truly unexplainable and beyond our comprehension. With birth, this awe gives way to joy, to a sense of a deep and unnamable rebirth, even beyond the individual life that comes into existence. On an individual, “ego” level, we are uplifted with a new life that comes to us from us. We feel proud. We find that our capacity to love expands beyond our previous imaginings. Yet on a deeper level, there is a sense of mystery, that life which did not exist, now does, and now looks back at us and cries out, coos, and (a bit later) smiles. Those of us who do not become immediately submerged by the overwhelming flurry of activity may notice a sense of transformation; of something miraculous which just happened, which happens all of the time, but which too often goes unnoticed for what it is. Life emerges from where? Where did it come from? How does it animate this new being? We don’t know, even if we do think about it. How could we? And yet we are swept up, mobilized to protect, nurture and grow this infant, this embodied existence. With death, our awe is often submerged by fear. We look away, distract ourselves, tell ourselves stories that we mostly don’t believe, but hope are true. Our individual ego cannot possibly be finite! We must keep existing as ourselves, whether it be in Heaven, or Hell, or in a re-birth into a new form. Life, having come into this world and taken an individual identity cannot fathom losing it. Where does life go? How could this be? And when a loved one dies, along with our grief, there is also a feeling of confusion. How can existence stop existing? We can explain it biologically, but it never actually makes any sense. Not really. So, we have wordless experiences of awe, of joy, of fear, of befuddlement and confusion when we encounter birth and death. If we don’t avert our “eyes”, we are picked up and thrown about, as if by a huge wave of raw experience. Yet, how do we go about living the life that exists within those bookends? Do we hold that sense of the awe of life, of awareness, of existence itself? Rarely. Instead, we become enveloped by our efforts to orient, to adjust to our life, our culture, our needs to provide shelter and sustenance for ourselves. But mostly, we become consumed by our need to keep establishing our sense of worth, or warding off our sense of valuelessness. A love interest is not just a living source of caring, but is largely a validation of one’s worth, not only from the intimate other, but from those who look on with approval or envy. A job is not simply a source of income and intellectual/professional stimulation – it too is a means to establish one’s status in relation to those around him. We develop a zero sum way of assessing our value, hoping to be “better” than those around us (fearing that we may be “worse” or “inferior”). Or to surround ourselves with those who are “better” than those outside our circle. And we apply this to all aspects of our lives, expecting and hoping that our children out-do their peers so that they can be worthy in our eyes, and we can be worthy in the eyes of our community. Or we engage in activities that are fairly meaningless, in an effort to distract ourselves from our feeling of lacking. And remarkably, no matter how much we succeed, we are still driven to prove ourselves, and to disprove our doubts. Yet this all begins with a sense of miracle – the miracle of our existence, of not being and then somehow being. And it ends with a sense of the overwhelming sadness, fear, and mystery of a life ending. Coming from nothingness and going to nothingness, yet existing as an embodiment, which seems to forget the miraculous nature of its very being. What would a life lived with this awe as central in awareness look and feel like? What would be the central guiding principles of such a life? What would be the source of a feeling of worth? If we are open to the sense of overwhelm in contemplating our own individual existence, how do we hold the rest of life and existence? How overwhelming is that? And how would we experience or live out a feeling of connectedness to the rest of this miraculous creation? And in the end, how would we feel looking back having lived a life which has been guided by those questions?