I pulled out an old favorite, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, and opened to the chapter entitled "Hopelessness and Death." Pretty interesting having someone advocate that giving up hope and dying in every moment are keys along the path, but there it is. I was particularly struck by the following this time around:
When we have reminders of death, we panic. It isn't just that we cut our finger, blood begins to flow, and we put on a Band Aid. We add something extra - our style. Some of us sit there stoically and bleed all over our clothes. Some of us get hysterical; we don't just get a Band aid, we call the ambulance and go to the hospital. Some of us put on designer Band Aids. But whatever it is, our style is not simple. It's not bare bones.
Hope and fear, both close friends for me lately, seem like "style" themselves. I can feel them trying to lodge in the body, tickle the mind, anything to stay alive. And whatever they are doing, it's loud. Attention seeking. Sometimes fiercely hungry, demanding to be fed.
I have no doubts about still being afraid to die. The big one, I mean. Because I'm still learning to how take the small ones in stride. You know, the everyday changes that bring an end to something before you want it to end. Sometimes, I can hang with it well, take whatever comes. Other times, I'm piling on the style, trying my best to avoiding taking in what's actually happening.
A few days ago, I watched a powerful, old movie entitled The Burmese Harp. Finished ten years after World War Two, this Japanese directed film is all about the futility and misery of wars - both "inner" and "outer" in my view. In one of the final scenes, the main character, a Japanese solider who abandons his unit to become a Buddhist monk determined to bury all the war dead in Burma, responds to calls from his buddies to return to Japan with them by playing a song on his harp. A single tear falls from his eyes while he plays, and for moment everyone is silent, just listening. And then, when he is finished, the new monk turns, and walks slowly away from his friends for the final time.
There are numerous scenes in the movie detailing how difficult the decision is for him to leave his unit and abandon hope of returning to his native country. So, this final one, which may sound a bit stoic, actually is the culmination of that equanimity Buddhist teachings always talk about. The life he had as a member of the military, as a defender of Japanese interests, and even as a well liked man trusted to do difficult missions and keep his fellows soldiers at ease, is all dead. So, too, is the man who could turn his face from actual death, and the ways in which war destroys humanity. He dropped off all "style," and became very bare bones about life.
I'm finding that the "style" in my life isn't a single pattern. I can be overly stoic, somewhat hysterical, and even a bit designer now and then. Perhaps this is true for everyone.
For today, I will just hang with the style as it is, giving up hope of catching it all. That's where I am at. May we all be liberated.