For more than a year, my friend has been teaching her mother meditation exercises that have been very helpful. She began by watering the seeds of happiness in her mother, and now her mother becomes very alive every time my friend comes around. Recently she told her mother, “This body is not exactly yours. Your body is much larger. You have nine children, dozens of grandchildren, and also great-grandchildren. We are all continuations of you, and we are very happy and healthy. You are quite alive in us.”
Her mother was able to see that, and she smiled. My friend continued, “When you were young, you were able to teach many people how to cook and do many other things. You made people happy. Now we are doing the same thing; we are continuing the work you have begun. When you were young, you wrote poetry and sang, and now many of us write poems and sing beautifully. You are continuing in us. You are many beings at the same time.” This is a meditation on nonself. It helps her mother see that her body is just a small part of her true self. She understands that when her body departs, she will continue in many other forms.
- Thich Nhat Hanh
How we exist is a mystery. We appear in the world, we live awhile, we create something out of who we are and then we disappear — another mystery. How and why we exist is a well kept secret. Everybody’s guessing what we’re doing here, even the people dead certain they know the answers must have secret doubts. We don’t have proof that settles all questions. No gods have come down from Mount Olympus to give us the straight story so that inquiring minds can stop wondering what’s going on here.
Actually, how anything exists is a mystery. Physicists keep peering into the subatomic world, finding transformations, mutations and contradictions of our assumptions of a solid world. It seems we are conjured out of the energies of consciousness. Once the spirit goes out of a physical manifestation it quickly comes apart. Evidently our spirit holds everything together until for some reason it doesn’t.
If, as Keats said, the world is the vale of soul making, we are here to be more fully who we are. The world needs our natural born energies. We all naturally want to live a life of intensity and meaning. Our first task is finding how to do that. We’re given choices before we know what we want, but somehow we are attracted to certain things in life just as we are repelled by other things. Unless we have been twisted by early experiences, our instincts should point us in the right direction. Giving the world our true self is a privilege. That’s how the world grows.
The more insightful and creative we are, the more the world thrives. Missing our path, living a shallow imitative life renders the world more dangerous. A shallow, meaningless world is a world run by self interest and greed. We see that world everywhere. That’s a world that is dangerous for earthly life, including our children.
Normal life is full of assumptions of how things work. Those assumptions exclude kindness and generosity for the most part. Normal society gives us overflowing prisons and for-profit medicine. Punishment is normal. Profiting off of ill health is normal. Incredible wealth next to abject poverty is normal. Underfunded schools and failures to educate is normal. Students starving is normal. Violence and a populace armed to the teeth is normal.
We are living through a time of change. What has long been normal is suddenly impossible and even dangerous to the survival of life on the planet. It looks like another extinction is upon us, caused by humans this time.
Unless humans evolve to a much kinder “normal” we could be in for a lot of grief.