Dying in Each Moment
November 20, 2012 § 42 Comments
“To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment.”
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
As the cancer consumed my father, he disappeared a bit at a time. First he lost the capacity to walk, then to read, to eat, to speak, and finally a coma-like existence. And then the shell that remained ended too.
This all happened many years ago. Yet in my memory, it is as fresh as yesterday.
In his final months a peace came upon my father. I do not know where it came from. He practiced no religion, held no faith in the transcendent. Most of his life he seemed at war with his very existence, deeply unhappy with himself and the life he felt trapped within.
But as he wasted away, my father changed. His resistance melted, acceptance emerged. Not just acceptance of his coming death- acceptance of the people around him and of life itself. He projected a warm and natural love. My father seemed ready to die, unafraid and open.
I cannot know the source of my father’s peace. But I now believe that somehow, some way, my father understood at the end what I know now.
We each die a little at a time, moment to moment.
I am not thinking here about the simple awareness of mortality. Something else.
The peace my father embodied comes to us only when we exist in the fullest sense. “No illusions in our mind, no resistances in our body,” as the Tao teaches. But this way of being cannot be separated from non-being. This communion with life itself is to embrace death itself. To understand finally that life and death are one.
Those final months my father gave me a great gift- a model of how life might be lived- and death embraced. A gift that took years for me to unwrap but which is mine now.