Sometimes I teeter on the edge of knowing, I mean really knowing, how elusive we are – how fragile and momentary existence in form is. It happened when I leaned in close to my mother as she lay dying. Suddenly death was so simple, so perfectly in tune with everything. She went to death as to a lover. And I saw myself so close behind her, right behind her – rowing my own boat, but still tied to the umbilicus of life itself. And it would be cut soon enough. That’s all. No bells and whistles.
Or when I’m standing in Tadasana, or Mountain posture, in yoga, how everything goes quiet and noisy at once, and none of it matters. All the worry and bother and stress slips off my body and slides through the cracks in the floor. These things are all manufactured during our stay here. They will fall away when it’s time to leave.
When my father was dying, he, too, was impatient to leave, glancing at his watch every few minutes, and then with a sigh asking, why is it taking so long? I wanted to help, to do something for him. I massaged his feet. He said that it hurt too much – his skin was like paper. I brought him jellied consommé – a family favorite when we were sick – with a squeeze of lemon. He said it was too spicy and handed it back. I sang Let Go into the Arms of Love, and asked if he liked it when I sang to him. With a shrug of annoyance, he told me that he couldn’t understand the words. He kicked us out – had the three of us children walk my ailing mother around the house – so that he could leave without all the fuss around him. It didn’t work, not then. But he did get his wish – alone in his room, he slumped his final breath out, as I surreptitiously watched in the mirror beside his bed, which I could see through the window. It’s private, this dying, it seems. No one can help. After days of sitting with my mother, she left once we had all stepped out for a quick nap. As they withdraw from this life, all the things we do to comfort, to soothe, to heal become irrelevant. We are left, as the living, with ourselves, our emotions, our ideas, our own breath in our chests.
When my brother died, I was struck by the sense that we were left to wait, that he had gone back to the something where we all belonged – from where we came and would all return soon enough. I felt, you could say, left behind. Trust me, I’m not talking about heaven, or other bodies… it’s a simpler, more open sense than that. As if we return to a sort of one-being-ness. Or no-being-ness. I wrote at the time, that we had been left on the ground. By that I meant I was aware of the density of being embodied, the weight of it, the restriction of it.
Will I rage into the dying of the light? Will all these observations seem ridiculous as I struggle for breath? I doubt it. Of course, I have my little fantasy of coughing delicately into a hankie, touching the sweet faces of those around me, and closing my eyes with the final long exhale. And then hovering for a few days to witness a rollicking good party by my river where everyone exchanges colourful tales and dances all night long, my ashes mixed with gunpowder and set off in a fireworks display.
In those moments when I can see the diaphanous nature of life here, it’s just fun. It is a play, a leela, as it is called in Sanskrit. So that when I see via Facebook that many of my friends around the world have penetrated the membrane that separates life from whatever is next, I don’t feel sad. When I first heard Osho suggest that everything should be celebrated, including life once it has ended, I thought it a bit of a conceit. I would try to imagine that I could celebrate loss, but it didn’t really work. I’d distract myself with all the dancing and singing that went on when someone “left the body” in the commune or the ashram. But now, I get it. Celebration simply means to be totally here in the moment, even when it sucks. So, I might miss that person, or feel sad that I won’t get to have a cup of coffee with them again, but I’m not sad for them. They probably feel sad for us, the ones left behind, that still have to struggle through the aches and pains of having a body, and who have to keep reminding themselves just to be here.