My body lies over the ocean

The human condition requires eventually losing everything, even our body; we don’t get to take it with us when we die anymore than we get to take our favorite sweater. Birth, aging, sickness and death comprise the totality of our physical experience – we all know this – but we still suffer as we grow older and watch ourselves diminish and fall apart. We cling to our material selves ever so tightly.

Death begins at birth, an incontrovertible and absolute truth. It’s easy, in fact a preoccupation, for us to become distracted from this truth and live as if our end will never come. We might fear the death of others, loved ones or friends, but the inevitability of our own demise is forgotten or kept across a gulf of psychological time that often seems as boundless as the ocean.

The familiar bodies we once comfortably enjoyed are long gone. Within seven years, almost every cell of ours has died and been replaced. We trim our fingernails almost without notice, each clipping no longer “us” as it falls from our finger tips. We continuously shed our skin and hair, and in the average home much of the dust we wipe up and wash away was us.

Through all these uncountable little deaths what endures is the continuity of self, but even that is tenuous. We are no more our childlike selves today than our bodies are those of children. Our toddlerhood fears have expired also, alongside our innocence. The same is true for our adolescent selves, and if old enough, the middle aged. The self we were has passed and a new self been born each moment of every day; this will continue right up until the end. As Bob Dylan sang, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

Be it vision, hearing, gait, smell, touch or taste, our senses and our organs wear out. Technology has progressed to the point that it helps to mitigate this loss with drugs, surgeries, glasses, hearing aids, walkers and other devices, but these just postpone the inevitable. In time, we make one of two choices: fight like the dickens to keep death at bay, or just let nature take its course. The choice is ours. Either way, life will kill you.

In this culture most find talk of death depressing, and at the risk of sounding too much like Woody Allen, our human condition is woefully tragic. However, faced honestly, the truth of death makes living poignant and sweet, reminds us that life is rare and precious, a gift we too often take for granted. Is this not the great theme, the plot device, behind all art?

Too much in a hurry, too focused on getting what we think we want, it’s easy to miss the beauty and miracle of simply being – becoming, actually. Life does not stand still and neither do we; at every moment we are becoming something we have never been before. We can choose to participate or try to hide, help the world or mourn our own passing. In any case, the world is always dying to make room for what needs to be born.

In this way we share the continuous cycle of life and death with all beings and living things, one great body inseparably bound together over the ocean of time.

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