Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Cycle of Death & Birth
I recently started doing devotions again. I used to do them quite regularly up until several years ago when I suppose it felt like they were either losing effectiveness or, more plausibly, I just became too busy. They're much different of course... my travels of the past six years have inevitably and irreversibly changed the way I view things/people/life/God and my refreshed devotions reflect those changes. Anyway, considering how much the content and format have changed, it's surprising how similar the revitalization/communion with nature/transcendent experience feels. Mystics across every religion- Islam (sufis), Judaism (Kabbalah), Christianity (Desert Fathers/Mothers), Hinduism (yogis), etc. - all relate similar experiences as they explore the deep realms of themselves. Having done a fair share of internal searching throughout my 20's, I'm still intrigued by these practices, but also more concerned with how they can be applied to my relationships and daily mindset.
The chapter of the book I'm reading now, The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield, is discussing a lot about mind states and the different ways in which we can handle them. Some of the thoughts I've enjoyed pondering in recent devotions:
- "Our thoughts are wonderful companions but horrible masters."
- Neurogically, our brain processes each sensation through a twofold process. First, it is labeled as positive, neutral, or negative, and then it is categorized into one of a large variety of specific emotions such as greed, wisdom, hatred, jealousy, etc. From what I understand so far, we don't have much control over the first part of the process, but we do have a say in how the sensation gets labelled. For instance, we could choose to view a typical neutral sensation in an unhealthy way (boredom, lethargy) or in a healthy way (peace, contentment).
At other times, I listen to online sermons from the pastor at my sister's church in Arizona, Shane Hipps. I've always been more of a soloist, a heart-to-hearter or a small grouper in terms of spirituality, but I find Shane's sermons open-minded, invigorating, and inspiring.
And many times, I simply journal, or just sip my morning tea/coffee while I gaze out the window and let me thoughts flow by.
So a couple days ago, my devotions dealt with the biological process of death as described in Tibetan Buddhism (a group which does a significant amount of meditation on the dying process and the purpose behind it... to the point where they even meditate in front of corpses according to what I hear.) Soon afterwards, I hear the sound of a bird banging up against a window repeatedly. Google informed me it's an Eastern tarheel, most likely a bull-headed young male taking advantage of the spring mating season to mark his territory against the evil rival he keeps spotting in the window who looks suspiciously like a long, lost twin.
At first I can't believe how stupid he is not to realize the difference between a window reflection and an enemy bird... especially considering the growing pain he must have in his head. And then I suddenly flash back to the recent devotion on mind states and think of how we all do quite similar things when we consistently choose to be angry, depressed, irritated, etc. as responses to certain stimuli in our lives. And even though we consciously know these mind states are eating away at us physically, mentally, and emotionally, we stubbornly persist on choosing them.
So I went on upstairs and began working on a translation with Joo. They've gotten more interesting lately as she's branched out in the scope of her translations. This one in particular was discussing how the general populace throughout history tends to get 5% happier with every 10 years of life, how perfectionists tend to overeat, and about a mosquito-zapping laser gun. Just then, I notice and explosion out of the corner of my eye and look out in time to see a limp squirrel do about 3 flips from a high lamppost to the ground. I grabbed Joo and ran outside to see the poor stiff who just ate into who knows how many Volts of electrical wiring...
Being the sensitive wife that she is, Joo suggested a funeral and so she dug the hole while I carried the squirrel and found some flowers for the grave. I couldn't help but think of the death process I had read earlier in the morning which talked about how the four elements- earth, fire, air, and water- all return to "themselves" upon the death of a living creature. Joo gave a touching eulogy apologizing to the squirrel for dying from electricity - something that only exists because of us humans, but means nothing but pain to wild animals. But we also discussed some of the more hopeful transitional aspects of death and pondered where the squirrel's soul was now...
In other obituaresque news, the beautiful flowers which have graced my parents' property are now starting to droop their weary heads and so Joo went around snapping off the bulbs and throwing them to the wind, hoping they carried enough life force to sprout forth next year.
On our way up to our house, we noticed that the eggs had finally hatched in the nest over the deck and so we looked at the calm morning dove babies until their mother grew a bit restless and sent us away. Also growing each day are the bacteria in JooYeon's premiere batch of kim-chi... ahhh... the beauty of death and life...