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June 25, 2014

Death & Awakening: What Matters Most?

what matters most

What matters most?

It’s a good question. (My fingers just typedIt’s a god question—and that’s true too!)

How can we answer this good-god question?

Not from the multi-tasking-consumer mind. That mind accumulates more and more stuff; and piles so-called priorities on to an ever-expanding to-do list.

It fills the attics and basements of our houses and hearts with stuff.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been in upstate New York clearing out three family cottages. Four generations of accumulation filled several three-ton dumpsters, innumerable trips to the dump, lots of giveaways, and more donations to Habitat for Humanity.

Devi Truck

Devi celebrates another trip to the dump.

Where can we look for guidance?

The wisdom traditions from around the world suggest using death as your advisor.

The awareness of death puts things in perspective. Far from being a morbid preoccupation, illuminates the sacredness of this moment and naturally focuses our attention on what matters most.

We had carried Devi’s mother’s ashes with us.

Hand with Ashes
Back to the lake that she loved. The clear lucid waters that had nurtured her childhood and washed away the tears and tensions of so many days.

This was the end of an era. A death and a time to celebrate life.

We each took a handful of ashes to the end of the dock . . . and tossed them in.

Handing out Ashes

Tossing Ashes 1
Tossing Ashes 2

No matter how much we may try to ignore death, it won’t ignore us.

Death is clearly part of our life. It’s clear every Autumn as the trees shed their leaves. It’s clear when we consider the ways in which our sense of self, our beliefs, our goals have died and been reborn over the years.

In meditation we can observe the process of birth, death, and rebirth up close.

As the mind stills, we see and feel the emergence and dissolving away of thoughts. Even big and serious thoughts—when left untouched—are as impermanent as ripples on the surface of the lake.

As the mind quiets, a vivid sense of this impermanence arises . . . and it’s radiant.

Radiant? In what way?

Within the impermanence—there’s a mystery.

Because even as everything that arises passes away, there is something that remains. There is something that is there—throughout the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It’s not a thing. It’s not a thought or emotion. It cannot be observed. And yet it is there. It is ever-present.

That which is ever-present has been given many names.

Some call it God. Some call it Consciousness-itself. Some the Void. We call it the Wisdom Heart. The label is not important. What matters is that you awaken to that ever-present mystery. That you commune with and awaken to that which all the great traditions point towards. Because when you do, like all mystics and meditators, you will re-envision death’s nature and role in your life. What will you see?

You will see that death does not happen to life. But, rather death happens in life. Life transcends and includes death. Life also transcends and includes birth. Life is all-that-is.

You are part of life.

You cannot be separated from life. You—in your essential-life-nature—transcend and include birth, death and rebirth. Spiritual practice leads you to a vibrant realization of that which is ever-present throughout the birth–death–rebirth cycle.

When this occurs you relate to all the little and big deaths of your life in new ways. Whether that death is the loss of a relationship, a job, an ability or your body. You recognize the function of death and rest in the ever-presence that is your deeper nature.

Isn’t every moment as amazing and radiant as a drop of dew—and, as fleeting?

Yes, there’s a lot to do. And awareness of death—which is awareness of the sacredness of this moment—clarifies the relative importance of the items on your to-do list.

Awareness of death brings into sharp relief this moment-to-moment choice: will you devote yourself to what matters most or pour your life into busy-work and accumulating stuff?

Devi and Eric

Fidelity to your heart’s deepest dream isn’t primarily a matter of self-discipline or productivity systems. It’s a practice listening to the Wisdom Heart (within you) as it answers the question:

What matters most?

Here’s how:

Sit.
Be still.
Allow the question: What matters most? To fall into the undefended depths of your heart.

Then in stillness: wait . . . listen . . . and receive that guidance.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Author’s Own

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