Sunday, November 1, 2015

For the Day of the Dead: A Meditation on Mortality

Woman by grave during Day of the Dead in San Andres Mixquic, Mexico City

A Meditation on Mortality

“I never thought I’d be eating in Heaven,” he said to his new-found guide. “Well, I’ll take that back. I did imagine that there might be banquets, but I didn’t think I’d still be going to the bathroom to take a crap – oh, I’m sorry, can you say ‘crap’ in Heaven?”

“You can say anything that applies to anything here. And yes, you’ll find that a lot of those concepts we learned, or assumed, in life are not really complete. Heaven and Hell are good examples: the idea that in the afterlife everything would be separated into good and evil, with everyone living with either reward or punishment. Purgatory came a little closer with the notion that aspects of Heaven and Hell could coexists in one place. William Blake may have come the closest, though, when he said that we each carry heaven and hell within us.”

“I guess I’m just surprised that the afterlife is so much like life on earth. I figured that if life did continue after death, it would be completely different – pure bliss and all that.”

“You’ll find that there are some differences,” his guide said, “mostly differences in quality and scale. Rest is more restful, joy is more joyous. On the other hand, pain can also be more painful. You will be continuing the trajectory that you began in life.

Before Life Began

“But if you find that things are similar in the afterlife,” the guide continued, “you must also realize how vastly different things were before life. You heard from your scriptures that ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ That was not really the beginning. It was in some sense, of course. That was your beginning. Those words harked back to where life began. Before there was life, however, there was heaven and earth. There was being itself. Pure being. It scattered across the vast reaches of space without limitation and without end. Except with pure being there was also chaos: turmoil and impulse with no direction. Pure being had no motivation, no guidance, no goal. It could rest listless for an eternity; it could also churn with strife for an eternity.

“Without form and limitation, pure being had no motivation, no hope, and no desire for growth. You can imagine this by looking at your own life. As a child you thought you had a very long time ahead of you. In your youth you knew that there was death and destruction, you just didn’t think it would happen to you.  A few years later you began to acknowledge your own mortality. That understanding of mortality affected what you did, how you learned, and what you deemed important. Your appreciation of friends and loved ones increased as did your appreciation of all of life; the beauty of nature, the joy of music, the wonder of existence.

“So in those distant ages,” his guide went on, “before God created the heavens and the earth, pure being was scattered throughout and would eventually become the framework for the universe. Yet with no end in sight, being had no motivation for growth or change. That is when God created the heavens and the earth. That is when limitations of life and death were set. And that is when things began to happen. In that sense, it was a true beginning.”

Mortality and the Trajectory of Life

“So you are telling me that creation was a beginning, but not the beginning?”

“That is correct. Most significantly, the advent of life and death became the most transformative event in the universe. Prior to life and death, in addition to there being no motivation or growth, there was constant conflict on a cosmic scale. The human race has distant memories of this state in myths such as Tiamet in Sumer, the Titans in Greek cosmology, and the vision of John the Revelator that there was war in Heaven.

“On the day of creation, when life and death entered the cosmos, everything changed. Conflict did not cease, chaos has never been fully contained, but form, meaning, purpose and direction took hold. In order for being to evolve, it must enter into the life-and-death process. That is why the world was made, that is how human civilization began, and that is how you and I came to be at this place at this time.”

“But what now?” he asked. “What happens from here?”

We’ll take some time to talk about how you lived and what direction that life set for you. First, talk to me about how you died.”

“Well, that part seems kind of meaningless. I died in an automobile accident. I was on my way to work, some car ahead swerved into the on-coming traffic, a diesel truck jack-knifed and there I was caught in the middle. I left home in the morning never to return. I know it’s cliché, but I thought I’d have more time. I figured I’d have that warning heart attack to tell me to slow down and that I’d die an old man.”

“And it is also cliché,” his guide responded, “to say that none of us can know how or when we’ll die. The important thing is that even though you may feel that you were snatched from life prematurely, while you were living you set your vision and trajectory. You accomplished in 50 years what pure being could not accomplish in an eternity. There are things we learn within the confines of even a short struggling life that can never be known within the context of infinity.

“Now that you have discovered that life goes on after death, you will soon realize that you have already learned the most important things. The true wonder is not in everlasting life – the wonder is in what you bring with you from that finite existence on earth.  Given the everlasting nature of life, mortality is the only thing of value that can be added to existence.”

                                                                                                                        ~ Charles Kinnaird

Skeletal decoration for Day of the Dead in Morelia, Mexico
photo by Alfonso Martorell (Wikimedia Commons)

"Detail on a piece of art"
photo by  Frank Kovalchek 
(Wikimedia Commons)


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