Life, death, and a walk in the woods

On a recent walk in the woods, I was absorbing the smells of moss and the air itself, and noticing the creaking of big trees as they rocked in the wind, the swishing sound of boughs, and the soft whispering of a running river.

My heart opened and mind quieted as I moved along the trail and, in that inner space, I saw my friend whose husband had just died suddenly. I felt a stab of sorrow in the center of my chest; thoughts arose of how the next weeks and months of adjustment and grief will be for her. And into that sorrowful moment came a small fluttering moth, coming so close to my hand and then moving on. In a flash of insight, the sorrow fell away and there was peace, even joy. In the moth I could see life in its many aspects: strength, fragility, persistence, birth, growth, cocooning, metamorphosis – rebirth, and on, until finally, whatever we truly are is born out of the body.

I notice that as I age I have a deeper appreciation for all the passages that life is made from. Right now, I’m enjoying another autumn, the changing colours, leaves falling, squirrels racing about gathering winter food. I’m experiencing this autumn like an outbreath, a soft exhalation after a time of being busy. Its as though life is saying, “let’s just tidy up a bit and then take a well-deserved rest.”

I didn’t always enjoy the changing of the seasons. In fact, I could get cranky from trying to mentally dig my heels in as summer came to an end. I wanted warmth and sunshine to be permanent. There was a long list of things that I wanted to remain unchanging—and then there were those things I believed would never change.

Up until my 50th birthday I thought I would just go on and on. I often threw myself into life as though I were indestructible, walking steel beams 250 feet in the air without a safety harness, skiing over sharp drop-offs with no idea what was on the other side. Death as a personal possibility was merely theoretical. Even though both of my parents were dead and grieved by the time I was 45, their death was somehow not connected to my own mortality. And the death of those I loved seemed possible, but not in any meaningful way.

Getting older has real benefits—the first one being that I am still here, getting older, rather than the alternative. Another is being conscious that I won’t always be alive in this body and appreciating what a privilege it is to be embodied. Living brings the meaning of time’s passage into a sharper focus and proximity.

We are in an age where many people are living longer lives than our parents and grandparents expected to. And I am of an age where more and more family members, friends, and colleagues are dying. There are also a handful of people in my life who are living with either increasing physical limitations or varying degrees of cognitive decline. As always, the ISNESS of life, life as it is and not life as I might wish it, demands a response. My response is to question how present I am in this unfolding process we call life.

If I am getting near the time where I will be saying goodbye to life in this body, in this gorgeous world of form, then I want to have truly said hello and to have been intimately present with the joys and sorrows, the richness and the barrenness. intend to live in the question, “How present am I to this moment?” What life is showing me is, don’t TRY to be present, but relax and find yourself already present. The oneness that encompasses the entire span of living and dying and beyond is already and always here—looking through these eyes, listening through these ears, touching with these hands and tasting with these lips, this tongue.

I will attend the funeral of my friend’s husband and it will be all of me that attends. I will attend my life for however long and through whatever comes, and I pray that it will be all of me that attends.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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