I recently spotted on Facebook, this anonymous post: “You’re a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust. What do you have to be afraid of?”
Just in time for Halloween, comes this awesomely spooky, and possibly unintentional, meditation on the concept of impermanence.
I love the imagery, but what I love even more is the meaning behind it.
Some time ago, I was reading a book on Buddhist teachings, which included detailed instructions on how and why to meditate on your own corpse. The idea was to fully accept the reality of your own death and to get comfortable with it, knowing that this body is merely a disposable vehicle for your soul, which can never die.
My step son had taken his life shortly before I read this book, and I’m sure that’s one reason it resonated so.
For several weeks, I began to do as the Buddhist monk suggested. I meditated daily on the decay of my earthly body. I also became a connoisseur of skull malas, and collected them compulsively. I draped them over the Buddha statue in my little home yoga studio, stacked them on my wrists, and tucked them in my pockets.
I found it oddly comforting to accept the fact of my own death, in the wake of my son’s.
Once someone close to you dies, a child in particular, it forces you to ask some pretty big questions. What was the passage through death like? Where are they now? Will we ever meet again? What happens when I die?
At first these questions came in agonizing spikes of pain, wracking my anguished, grieving mind. But when enough time passed (so much time), I was able to turn them over without dissolving into tears and actually figure out what I believe.
I won’t say know, because I’m not sure I know anything, but believe with a reasonable amount of confidence. And I believe what the Buddhists do, and what yogis do too.
We are all “ghosts” or spirits driving “meat coated skeletons made from stardust,” and we don’t have anything to be afraid of. Our soul takes residence, for a brief and sacred time, in our fragile human body. It does this to learn, to grow, and will—like a hermit crab—discard old shells as they become too limiting and move on to new ones, to new lives that allow further growth.
This continues on until we become wise enough not to need our corporeal lives any longer. At that point, all the skulls and all the bodies that we had fall away into meaningless matter and what remains is what was always there: our immutable self.
Halloween is a traditional time to contemplate death, as the season changes from green to brown, and then to white. I haven’t meditated on my own meat coated skeleton in many years, but I think I’m going to make it my new Halloween tradition.
There is nothing morbid about death, for there is no real death. There are merely changing forms of energy, each one to be held onto lightly while it lasts, and released lovingly when it passes. Knowing that, understanding our limitlessness, goes a long way toward keeping fear at bay.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman