Sunday, April 12, 2009

Death to Life, Life to Death--It Can Be Confusing

Death to Life, Life to Death: It Can Be Confusing
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting…
—William Wordsworth

Catching the edge of a storm at sea a few days ago, I sat a log at the end of Wonderland Trail about five yards from the farthest reach of the high tide. Waves thrashed and boomed. Rocks tumbled and cracked like loose bowling balls. At the end of the little beach, breakers pummeled granite outcroppings, splashing rockets of water skyward. Sun burned through fog for a while, casting silver light onto the island-studded horizon.

Suddenly, a brown head emerged close to shore, during a lull that was by no means calm. A seal! It dove under swells, undulating along like a dolphin, playing, paying no heed to the raging waters, on its way, sleek and fast, to the next fish, I supposed.

I longed to dive in with that seal. I love to swim in waves and know the ocean water would soothe the osteoarthritis pain in my left hip and knee. But not in the North Atlantic, not a sea for lolling about in without hypothermia setting in pretty fast. Anyway, my task at hand right now—the task I’ve set for myself—is to go inside and not seek healing from external sources. And this little seal, in his own environment, seemed to express the kind of joy you find when you’re just you and going about your business, not judging, not worrying about the next big wave.

To that end, I’m studying Stephen Levine’s A Year to Live, following the way of it intuitively, not step-by-step. This morning I read his suggestions for being with pain—emotional and physical:

Breathe into it. Open a space around it. Let it be soft. Don’t judge it. Stay with it. Pay attention to how it really feels, not your reaction to it and how you think it feels.

After reading, I make my daily foray to the sea, on the day before Easter. At Seawall I sit on a picnic bench at the edge of the pines, out of the wind, just above the flat rocks with gentle waves are washing over them. It’s several days after the seal, sky overcast, temperature 42 degrees, tide coming in. Under my yellow rain jacket, I’ve got on plenty of layers. After contemplating the sea for a while, watching gulls soar and eiders bob and dive, I close my eyes to meditate. For the last few days I’ve felt deep and peaceful while meditating.

Now a sharp pain attacks my knee.

Stay with it, I tell myself. Hold on. Let it be soft.

Then my hip starts acting up. I want to move in the worst way.

Give it space, I coach myself. Hold on. Stay soft.

After a while I notice the pain is gone. But I’m restless. Time to stop. I’ve been here long enough. It’s cold. Nothing’s happening.

Stay with it, I say. Sit into it.

The sound and feel of waves enters my body, from down up, through me, raising energy that feels too strong, electrical.

Hold on. It’s okay.

I let the washing though me be there for quite a while, falling into peace with it.

Presently I see, as I meditate, a body rolling with the tide, bobbing back and forth on the rock beach.

Is it mine?

Might be.

Is it dead?

I’m not sure.

But now my urge to get up and out of here is so strong I can hardly bear it.

Open the space. Make it soft.

Okay. I’m soft. I’m watching. If that’s me, there I am, most probably dead, bobbing about. Then I notice several bodies washing in and out, bumping into each other. Is this a scene from a war? I think so. Yes, it is. Then I rise up somehow and float over the twenty or thirty bodies, witnessing. I don’t know what war it is, but it feels like early 20th century, maybe World War I.

I watch this silent bobbing and tumbling of bodies for some time. And then I find myself assisting them, the souls of them, to rise up and into a light. One by one, they reach one arm up, and then seem to be pulled by some force to rise and disappear into a brilliance that shines through gray clouds.

When it is over, my guru, Amma, wearing her white sari, appears and sits beside me on the bench. We’re just quiet, listening to the gulls and the waves, watching the water edging into crevices and tide pools. At some point Amma fades away.

I stand, bow to the sea, and then search for a place to pee in the woods. My boots go soft on the moist leaves. All the snow has melted now, warm enough for pines to release their scent. I’ll write about this ocean experience when I get home, so I won’t forget. It’s the kind of thing that could just slip away, unaccounted for.

Make it plain that this communication [to a mother from her dead son] is given from my mind to yours as plainly as an old man at 26 Broadway talks to his secretary about other invisible riches….What I want to do is to rid this system of all its bewildering and mystic features…Everyone fears the unknown and minimizes the commonplace.

Thy Son Liveth: Message from a Soldier to his Mother (1919)
— Grace Duffie Boylan

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