This morning I have been meditating on the 5 Remembrances - after being recommended to do so and then happily stumbling upon them in the book I was reading. These are recommendations from the Buddha to face your fears by contemplating the following -
1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the
consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I
This is what I concluded this morning.
The dead and the dying walk side by side with us through life, but do we appreciate how they nurture us? These logs on the fire give heat and light and comfort, but only because they have died first.The death of last year's plants and flowers have become a rich, and nourishing compost to help spring's new life to grow. I think I am afraid of death but what does it actually mean? When I think of my mum, who died ten years ago, or the friend who died in a car crash around the same time, they are as real to me in my thoughts and rememberings as if they had popped next door and will soon return.
Thay calls death 'a life without boundaries' and Kahlil Gibran talks about being 'unencumbered'. That word always makes me smile because of hilarious connotations. When my mum-in-law died we asked our children and their cousin to read Gibran's words about death, but at the ages of nine to fourteen they struggled with 'unencumbered' and kept practising 'cucmbered'. It's life's little jokes like this that makes me realise death is not all sadness and despair, and certainly not an ending. It is inevitable though, and I think not to face that but to be fearful of it makes it harder when the inevitable happens. We should prepare for death by living life to the full, so that when it comes there are no regrets, no what-ifs, no should-have-dones. We should prepare for death by embracing change and impermanence rather than foolishly trying to hold onto something that slips through the fingers like grains of sand.
The bookmark keeping my page in Gibran's book is a photo of our family - taken 45 years ago, before my youngest sister was born. It is a moment captured that no longer exists, Sunday afternoon tea round at the grandparents house. Mum must be in some stage of pregnancy, as she sips sherry and is choosing a chocolate from a proffered box. Dad is formally dressed in a suit and tie, and smoking. We three are playing a game at a separate table in the bay window. The tv does not feature, I wonder if they had one then? I look at this photo and it is both familiar and unrecognisable. I know this scene, more because I have looked at the photo before, than because I was there. But if I look closely the faces are unrecognisable. It's like watching an old black and white film that has no relevance my current life, but that is not entirely true because there I am, my 2 year old self, turning away from the camera! Now the family is my two sisters, my brother and I, plus those we have collected along the way, but my younger sister is not even there in the picture, where is she? We are all dressed up and I cannot recall why, simply for tea at the Grandparents? This picture, this scene, this family has helped to shape who I have become, but I do not recognise myself there.
This morning, after the contemplation of growing old, I went into the garden and felt enlivened to do things that I had previously put off, spurred into action by the thought of impending old age. But I do not think that is such a bad thing, I think with age there comes an acceptance and a quiet confidence that replaces the energy of youth, it only gets better! :)