Practicing Dying


We are in Palm Springs with in-laws. If I were to keep this entry short today, I'd just say, "Thank you, Universe, for sun, for all of us being alive on the planet at the same time."

But you know me. I'm thinking about some other stuff.

I'm reading Elizabeth Lesser's book Broken Open, and she says, "Carl Jung said that he never met a patient over forty whose unhappiness did not have its roots in fear of death. I agree with Jung, but I would broaden his age range; I have never met anyone, of any age, whose unhappiness did not have its roots in the fear of endings, partings, and the dark unknown of death." Endings, partings, CHANGE in all its forms--they give us practice in letting go, in dying to the way we think things should be. Having a week with my 15 and 11-year old children is prompting all sorts of reminiscing about when they were younger and conjecture about when they get older. The eternal pop rock soundtrack they play at the resort has garnered lots of jokes. Wyatt said, "It's like we're in a commercial for the resort, and their goal is to banish all negative vibes." When I watch my kids playing together in the pool, I'd say it's working, except for the always present thought, "Someday, things will change."

One of my mantras is, "The definition of something good isn't that it lasts forever." But that's hard to believe when it comes to my children. I've never wanted something to last forever as much as I want these parenting moments to last. When Loretta chats my ear off on the way home from school, when Wyatt emotes over a math problem he's figured out, when both of them display their very astute senses of humor, when I hear piano and guitar practice while I'm doing the dishes.

If I move beyond nostalgia, what I get in touch with is sadness and grief. That things will change, that I will miss them, that something might happen to them or to me. Elizabeth Lesser talks about a meditation of "practicing dying:"

Given the nature of existence, you don’t have to wait until something big happens to practice dying. You can begin right now. You can carve out some alone-time in your day, close your eyes, and meditate on the fluid nature of your body, of time, and of life itself...Practicing dying means living as close to reality as we can in each moment.”

Living as close as we can to reality. The reality that life IS change and endings, that sometimes I feel all of that just saying goodbye to my kids in the morning. Standing in the driveway watching Loretta ride her bike down the street is practice for all the goodbyes ahead.

Being here in Palm Springs, surrounded by lots of senior citizens, brings up questions of legacy, of aliveness. It prompts a profound desire to pay attention to my life, to keep working for things I care about, to keep opening up to my soul's purpose and to the pain of the world, to leave a trail of love, connection, and tenderness. What I know for sure, though, is that those things won't come without the sadness, the full catastrophe of life. What a privilege to be in for all of it today, hopefully for tomorrow, maybe even longer.