“Behold the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” Matthew, 6:26.
For years this passage, along with the one in Matthew 6:25 about the lilies of the field (which, through no special effort on their part, outshine Solomon in all his glory), has provided a cautionary warning to not spend too much energy and caring on preparing for a hypothetical future that may never arrive. This has always struck me as good advice, even if I can’t say I have really lived by it. At least as a philosophical and spiritual ideal, I have aspired not to try too hard to control the future; in the hope that I will thereby discover an unknown, mysterious world which remains hidden as long as I erect defenses to ‘protect’ myself against the deafening silence of all I don’t know.
Beyond refraining from attempting to control that which does not lie within our power to control; beyond the compelling vision of a supportive Presence that knows our best interests better than we do; I hear in this passage a critique of the mental ‘reality’ inside which I spend my days—the ardently pursued construction of a lifetime–which prevents me from even noticing the most vital and interesting dimensions of life.
I’m reading two books, both from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition: “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, and “In Love with the World” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Pema Chodron’s book, which I read years ago, provides a good introduction to basic Buddhist practices and understanding of life. The book by Yongey Mingyur explores the bardo teachings (about death, rebirth, and a period of wandering in disembodied consciousness between them). I ordered it because I wanted to have a better picture of where Jon might be, after the death of his physical body this April. To my surprise, both these books touch on common themes: that we don’t have to lose our physical body in order to ‘die’ to our self-comforting belief in a substantial world existing outside us (a belief that gives us little choice but to go along with its inflexible dictates); that there is a cost to side-stepping what makes us afraid and to denying the truth of our suffering; and that true freedom can only come from facing our doubts, recognizing our lack of control over what happens, and acknowledging that there is no ground to catch us when we fall.
I started reading the book about the bardo because the Buddhist view of what happens when we die at least provided me with an image of what might be happening for Jon after his physical death; and it helped me to try to reach out to him in the weeks that followed. Although I have no certain knowledge of Jon’s whereabouts–neither during the traditional seven weeks between lifetimes, nor now a few weeks further on–I wanted to make an effort to express my caring as I bounced around in the emptiness he left behind.
The teachings about the need to ‘die’ (to my invented model of the ‘world’) invite me to accept the truth of impermanence. The evidence is in: I can’t avoid pain when things fall apart because what matters most is impermanent. The promise of this way of looking at life is: if I can accept the truth of impermanence, and don’t try to hold on to what can’t ever last, then I can discover a richer world than the made-up one I’ve been settling for.