There is less than two weeks before the second semester of classes begin. When this time comes knowing that vacation is nearing the end I find myself savoring the remaining time rather than lamenting on what I didn’t do or wishing it would continue. Knowing it is finite is what makes it savor-able.
I wonder if this is the same feeling one has towards the end of life? Knowing it is finite and will end, after having transcended personal issues and done all that needs to be done in life, it’s time to savor.
I wonder if people are even aware of this feeling, whether it is the end of a vacation or the end of life? After all, emotions cannot tell the difference. It’s the brain, the intellect that adds the story to differentiate the situation. I am pretty sure even though vacations and death are drastically different it may be the same feeling.
I can’t speak from experience the end of life feeling, but I am getting closer. So from here on out it is purely speculation.
Maybe it is a gradual feeling and the older we get the more we become aware of this fact of savoring. Or maybe a mid-life crisis sends a signal to bring online the awareness to begin to savor. And denying this opportunity with lament and regret short changes the savoring experience.
The reality is that an end to life will come sooner or later. I lost a brother years ago to a one person car accident after he fell asleep at the wheel on a dirt road outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. I wonder if he had an intense savoring experience during his final breaths knowing that he was going to die as he was flying out the car window just as the car impacted the tree. I like to think he savored those last moments.
The closer to the end of life the more intense the savor? It’s a question that I don’t have the answer to. I know there is a saying “Life flashing before their eyes.” That could be it. Or maybe a highlight reel of your most savor-able moments in life.
I have been thinking that this end of life thing is no big deal. Or let me say it another way, it is as big of a deal as you choose to make it. I am reading a book (for the 6th time) “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” by Shunryu Suzuki, one of the first Japanese Buddhist monks who brought Zen Buddhism to America. I attended some intensive meditation practice and training years ago at the San Francisco Zen Center which he established in the 1960s.
The main point of his teaching and the book, keep it simple by just sitting (meditation) and letting breath come, letting breath go, letting thoughts come, letting thoughts go. Sounds simple, but it ain’t.
I bring this up because he spoke of death in the same way. The gist of his meaning, “If we practice meditation letting breath come and go, we can do the same with death by letting those final breaths come and go.” He went on to say that we tend to complicate matters by making more than it is. Life is death, death is life.
Look at nature and cicadas in Japan, as an example. They have a short life span. After emerging from their cocoons in late July they sing gloriously. Some would say annoyingly. I would say this is their way of savoring life. After about a month of savoring they simply die with nothing more added. You can see this in all of nature with not only animals and insects, but also plants. The passing of each season is nothing more than living and dying.
Imagine if we came to the end of our lives and all we had to do is just die?
During one intensive mediation training session at the San Francisco Zen Center years ago I had an interesting encounter with Suzuki Roshi as he was called. This was long after he died of cancer many years before. There is a room in the zen center where he spent the final days of his life while the rest of the members continued to practice zen mediation nearby. He could hear the chanting and bells used during the mediation periods all the while lying in bed letting breath come and go until there was no more.
At the time I was there, out of respect and as a memorial, nobody was allowed to enter the room where Suzuku Roshi died. On my way one morning to the meditation hall the door to his room was open, as it always was. As I passed by noticing the simplicity of the room, a bed, nightstand and lamp I felt a strong presence, as if a piece of Suzuki Roshi’s essence still resided in the room. It was a fleeting and powerful few moments. Afterward, I simply continued on to the meditation hall to sit, adding nothing more to the experience.
No matter who we are we all reach the end. How we approach it is up to you.