The secret to happiness? Thinking about death!

by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #111

I’ll let you in on a little information. In the midst of all of this COVID that is swirling around us I spent a week in all I can describe as an existential experience. Not an existential crisis but more similar to some sudden cracking through a barrier of the mind and ego.

I think that what brought it about was partially that with the COVID pandemic, the ever looming spectre of death has been floating around like those Dementors in Harry Potter. The other is that in my own meditation practice things have been changing in a way that is probably the most productive change in the decades of daily sitting.

It started in the morning with a seed of thought and then grew. If I remember correctly, I was standing looking out the glass door at the wind blowing the cherry blossom covered trees in the backyard while playing my violin and suddenly I had this overwhelming realization that all of this, everything would some day be gone, me included. It wasn’t thoughts of this but more of a light switch going on and suddenly a new light was shining on things and seeing everything differently. I realized down to my bones that all these people who are now gone had lived in this home, before that it was a settlers farm, before that forest and into the future that other people I don’t know will stand where I am. That everything outside of that door from the hummingbirds to the trees and myself were all going to go.

Like I said it lasted about a week. And when I say it lasted a week I mean it literally lasted a week, every moment of those days. Everything I saw this light shone on it and, yup, that person too, that dog, that bird, that flower.

At first I have to say I was a little overwhelmed by it. But I have had some pretty good teachers in my life and I took the advice that my Zen master had given my over 25 years ago to let go of every experience and not cling to it. See it, acknowledge it and let it go.

This one though was a biggie as you can imagine.

I googled Existential Crisis and everything else I could to see what anyone had to say about this. And yeah, it all came back to Buddhist teachers mostly with similar messages as the folks in the story of the trip to Bhutan.

Now, I don’t think you need to go off the deep end on some existential transcendental Zen death trip. Honestly, without some serious time spent in training I don’t know if something like what I went through would be benefitial to most people you might end up going to the doctor to be put on something. For me though, the other end of that was a much truer understanding of impermanence.

Now, the reality is that I seem to feel like the green leaves are more green. The sun on my skin when I sit on the front step to have my daily afternoon tea feels more alive. When I take a deep breath I feel the good healthy breath filling me with vitality. Life feels like more.

Does that mean I have somehow transcended or anything for that matter? No. I’m still the same bumbling fool I’ve always been. What I think though is that I caught a glimpse of something that is the truest lesson we can learn.

Too many of us run through our lives just blind.

We accumulate.

We grasp.

We delude ourselves.

What my week of … whatever you want to call it…taught me was that all things will change and always have. All things are impermanent. All things are not quite what we see them and wish them to be.

All of us are in it together.

What this means is that right here, right now – man, that is a gift that most of us don’t even fathom. Think for a second of the infinite universe. The small odds that you somehow were lucky enough to be born on this tiny little planet, that even that was somehow made possible. That everything and everyone around you is equally infinitely improbable. Yet we are here.

What does that mean?

To me it means that we need to celebrate this very moment by paying back gratitude. By cultivating compassion and loving kindness. That our time here isn’t about accumulating things that we really can never really possess but that our time here can be used to do good – for the greater good.

In the end, I think that is what this podcast is about.

Training is about turning on the lights and really seeing.

Understanding life and death and then life again. That is the greatest of lessons.

So, you are listening to this. You are alive – right now. That is what you have. What are you going to do with it? And if you have more ‘now’ what will you do with all of that you have left?

Figure it out.

It is the most important thing you can do.

Listen to this full episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast.

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