By: Lakshmi S. Kennedy
After turning his life around, Luke begins to contemplate death and broaden his meaning in life.
Some years had passed since the beginning of the pandemic when Luke’s life had been turned upside down.
His plans were destroyed and dreams quashed. He no longer travelled to work in the university and began his teaching online. And so it was that within a few months of the beginning of the lockdown, sitting in his small apartment in London, he felt restless like a caged bird. It was there and then that the call to nature arose intensely in his Soul.
It was a wet spring when he decided to move to Devon. There he found a small cottage close to the Dartmoor National Park. He loved to be surrounded with the sound of birds with their enchanting songs, inviting him into a peaceful lull. In this place he felt as if he belonged, becoming clearly aware of the living earth around him. Although Luke lived alone, he felt accompanied by the presence of the sky, the clouds, the rain and the solid earth beneath his feet.
Since he arrived, he had been meditating daily. He discovered the practice a few years ago, but it was only now that he could appreciate the effects in his mind. He especially liked Tonglen, the Tibetan meditation of generating compassion in every breath for all beings.
When he was able to calm the waters of his thoughts a little, he dove into the temporary dissolution of his being. He managed to feel the ocean of consciousness around him.
However, despite his dedication and the natural surroundings, Luke still battled with his mind, as it was full of thoughts. He worked consciously in his relationship with himself and above all on his high expectations, which loomed over him too often. But besides Tonglen, he had discovered an antidote in the form of sweet kindness, which he applied along with the simple acceptance of the nature of his mind and the complexity of his personality.
With the patience of a Pilgrim, he began to glimpse the inner states that the great sages spoke of in their texts. He understood the necessity of cultivating a force of goodness as an inner ally in these strangely beautiful and terrorific times.
When he was able to calm the waters of his thoughts a little, he dove into the temporary dissolution of his being. He managed to feel the ocean of consciousness around him. It became more apparent of how this inner kingdom, full of so many secrets and riches was only a wrinkle in the unfolding of the universe. These moments were sacred, as they took him into the deepest areas of his being.
Apart from his deep passion to sacralize his life, what Luke found to be really challenging was the dance with this inner fertility into his life. He felt unsatisfied with how this integration was developing. He had fallen sick with the virus and despite the fact that he had recovered, he felt tired. It was difficult to make sense of the world and its “Meta-crises”. He had been following some thinkers and scientists on climate change and they were suggesting that there would be a sixth mass extinction on the earth, with the possible impending extinction of the human race; Besides this, he was abreast of social injustice; wars and refugees, inequality and hunger in the world. The diversity of these fissures was overwhelming.
Luke noticed that it seemed not just to be his individual confusion, but that there was a profound collective existential crisis. Studies from around the world of declining mental health came streaming in, and many of his closest friends were going through difficult emotional episodes. It was clear that it was a challenging time for everyone.
The evidence of the collective crises, the natural environment and the dedication to the path of self-exploration converged in an awareness of some unconscious movements which unexpectedly reached the shores of his conscious self. It was as if, with the limited options for outer life in the society, he was forced to look more directly at himself. In fact, it seemed there was nowhere else to escape to, and this made his emotional rollercoaster even more intense. Added to his mental confusion, the melancholy appeared.
Part of the reason, he mused, was to do with the fact that death seemed to be omnipresent. It was in the air, in the news, in the form of relatives who were not able to recover from the virus. In fact, Death had become the spirit of the times. It was a potent cocktail of experiences that took him to a place of great vulnerability.
It was then when he realized that he hadn’t truly contemplated his own mortality. He understood that he was going to die, but he imagined that it would be at the end of a long lifetime. However, thanks to these new circumstances, an idea emerged within him, the idea of death as a permanent companion. This perturbing thought at the same time, revealed to him a collective negation of the truth that from our day of birth, we are all, without exception, dying.
So, with a need to make sense of these reflections and obeying his love of books, one chilly evening he began his investigation. He lit a fire in the old stone fireplace, prepared himself a large straight single malt whisky and decided to begin researching on this enigmatic subject.
“The self knows that by embracing death – the ending and recycling of things – we serve life. And by serving life, we foster love.”
He went over to his library and went to the section that he had inherited from his grandfather. He chose an ancient text from Tibet. He blew off the dust from its cover, lit a candle, turned off the lights in his home and began. He was entranced, he found out about the existence of the Bardos, (intermediary states) between the processes of life, death and rebirth. He also discovered how the Tibetan Buddhist traditions had developed practices over the centuries to navigate the different stages in life itself.
With this new information and the absence of contextual references, suddenly he felt compelled to find another book he had been given by a close friend called Wild Mind by Bill Plotkin (an American psychologist). He reached over and opened the book and turned directly to the page titled Love and Death, it read, “The self knows that by embracing death – the ending and recycling of things – we serve life. And by serving life, we foster love”.
Eagerly scrolling through the pages, he recognized that the book heralded a fresh insight in his understanding of the spiritual path. The author spoke of “finding our wholeness, not perfection”. He invited us to cultivate qualities that were linked to an inherent wisdom. This idea, he found refreshing and encouraging.
There, in this nature-based map of the Self, Plotkin synthesized aspects of eastern philosophy, with universal archetypes and knowledge of Depth Psychology that invited him to delve into his inner psyche. Besides this, Luke saw a richness that recognized the mystery traditions of the west, with an occult and mysterious love affair with the inner Muses. He drank in this vision of a love of nature, and felt awakened to become Wild and Whole again.
The next morning, Luke awoke early before sunrise and wrapped himself up in warm clothes. He and his dog, Brahma set out to wander on the moor. He watched as never before Brahma´s behavior. The dog raised his head feeling the air, wagging his tail, he sniffed bushes and stones, he seemed to always be in the present moment. Luke went from staring to imitation, he leaned down to take in the scent of the tiny, sweet flowers. The rain was soft and the sounds of the drops on the leaves were tender which all created an atmosphere of intimacy. He inhaled slowly, reveling in the scent of the wet earth, he felt alive.
Then as he saw the first rays beaming into the sky, and in their romance with the rain, they formed rainbows everywhere. Luke stopped and listened to the heartbeat of nature. He sensed a magical quality in this moment and the sensation of gratitude welled up from within. “Momento Mori” he said to himself, continuing his reflections from the night before. These words meant, “Remember you will die”. Somehow contemplating his passing, gave him a different perspective on his life. This shadow of death was there with him, walking at his side and instead of pushing it away, he welcomed this almighty god to the table in his mind.
When he returned, he found his cottage to be warm and welcoming. He put on the kettle, prepared himself a hot tea and sat down at his altar. He felt reverence for the immensity of the mystery and an inspiration to open up to its unfolding. If every moment had been gifted to him, if in its essence every second was potentially eternal, he sensed as if by embracing death he encouraged life. Yes, he could see the beauty in the simplicity of all things.
He sipped on his tea with a newborn sincerity and contentment. He lit the candle on his altar and began his practice. He clasped his hands together and repeated out loud, “Everything is exactly in its place, I am exactly where I need to be. With patience all will emerge”.
He closed his eyes.
Photos: Vishnu Bill Hulse.