June 29, 2010

Moving Past Fear And Death

My regular walk in the neighbourhood takes me through Harbourview cemetery. I usually stop and sit, paying my respects while enjoying the quiet. These visits have become frequent - and enjoyable - meditations on death. But like Red Smith said in a eulogy for a fellow writer, "Dying is no big deal. Living is the trick."

This morning I saw a white mini van backed up next door, then heard people moving about. Uniformed workers emerged from the doorway with a stretcher. Its cargo was completely covered. This is not the first time I have been witness to this very intimate moment. Various bodies have somehow or another come into my view and awareness over the years. And now it has happened again.

What, I thought to myself, might be the message? I had just picked up Answers from the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh from the library. This Zen master writes about 50 of the questions he is most asked. I opened the book to The Five Remembrances in the section devoted to daily mindfulness. The Buddha advised that, "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often."

The Five Remembrances
  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.
  5. I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.
Thich Nhat Hanh adds that the Remembrances "help us to identify and look deeply at the seeds of fear." Fear is what keeps us living in ways we don't find enriching. Fear is what prevents us from facing facts. Fear zaps our willingness to change and try new things, even when we know they are better for us.

Banish fear with meditations on the limitations of our current reality. Vow to live each day fully, regardless of how much money or stuff you have. Do not be afraid.

I am not yet certain who passed away next door, but I hope that they had learned the trick of living.


"If you are afraid of death, you are afraid of life, for living your life leads to death. Until you face death and see its beauty, you will be afraid to really live." - Granny D

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