From: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche, 1994)
(I recognize that these thoughts may be offensive to others, but they are mine and I choose to express them)
I’ve been thinking about death a lot this last year. It’s probably a result of the grief I experienced after the death of my father from the COVID virus. As I swim in the waters of middle age, I feel a need to reconcile my feelings on death, dying, and beyond. Or as Montaigne recommended “practicing death…Adopt a way clean contrary to the common one,” he said.
I’ve spent many years trying to find comfort and serenity in the certainty of death. Is it even possible? The concepts of heaven/hell never made sense to me. What about burial/cremation? Is there such a thing as an afterlife? Sometimes I think I am cursed to have the human capacity for intelligent thought. I like to fantacize that I’m just a rabbitt, chewing leaves of grass. HaHa
Organized religion was never much help nor really provided the answers I sought. Although Buddhist teachings are a pretty good fit for me. Buddhists believe that death is a major transition between the present life and the next (GCSC Rights of Passage, BBC 2021). Furthermore, Buddhists believe that the dead person has passed into the next rebirth and hopefully will experience a happier and more fulfilled life. I find comfort in this approach. When my body has ceased to function, my essence, energy, or soul will be transformed through cremation or other means into the basic elements of life and/or existence.
This gives me something to grab onto. For me, life has been a series of challenging experiences, one after the other. Some of them were more serious than the others. I see no reason why life, death, and beyond can’t be framed in this way as well. Yes, I’m being overly simplistic, but what if death is just another experience in that cycle, repeated ad infinitum. We aren’t doomed to rot in a box. Our energy, life force, essence, or soul, if you will, are transmuted into other forms here on earth and throughout the universe.
Adjunctly, I was scrolling through TicToc videos one day when I saw a young man (sorry, I can’t find the video) say: What if we aren’t humans experiencing life, but life having a human experience? This made me stop. This is significant! The underlying thought being that all of us are part of the inseparable imensities of the Earth and Universe. There’s that, for those of us who have lack of inclusion issues. I think that this concept fits exceptionally well with Montaigne’s view of practicing death and the Buddhist view of life transitions. So if I can live a clean life and do the next right thing, I’m living as the Universe would have me live. Even as impermanent as I am.
As a result , I really do feel as though I’m part of the cycle of the Universe and in this current form, I am life experiencing humanity.
“Create space between yourself and your reactions…..”
( Daily Motivation, 9/01/21)
That’s it! This is one of the core achievements a guy like me needs to become more emotionally mature. For me, emotional maturity, is the appropriate and judicious use of my emotional resources for the best possible outcome. Oh, and a strong dose of humility helps as well.
In the 1970’s it used to be a common snarky insult to call someone a space cadet. Obviously, implying an absence of or lack of use of brain matter. With respect to emotional sobriety, it may not be such a terrible thing to be known as a space cadet. Is it possible to be so secure in your essence that you are free to be who you are and not feel a need to hide, respond urgently, or irrationally? Can you train your brain to embrace affirming energy and avoid toxicity?
In years past, I wouldn’t have understood the concept. My reactions were who I was. I had immediate physical and emotional symptomology with any situation that didn’t appear to be going my way. Pounding headaches, colds, and sweaty, icky underarms were common daily occurences. There was no space between the realities of daily life and my immediate reactions to them. I have to be careful, for I have a stubborn, low self-esteem streak and a host of irrational beliefs that can mess my day up. If my mind isn’t in the right space, I can process interactions irrationally and create situations that didn’t have to happen.
Excellent counseling has helped me to challenge the origins of my irrational thoughts. A particularly excellent counselor taught me about thought-shifting. When I talk about it, I often get blank looks, but it’s simply a process in which an unpleasant or non-affirming thought can be quickly set aside in favor of a more affirming or happier thought. This counselor also challenged and helped me to address many of my deepest and most enduring irrational thoughts. I’ve also done a lot of honest self-appraisal of my strengths and areas for improvement. I have confidence in and trust in this self-analysis so when I encounter negativity I can compare it to my truth and act accordingly. The result being, space was created between myself and and my next action.
Elizabeth I of England talked about creating her private space in: “my lord, I like to pretend there is a pane of glass between me and ….them. They can see me, but can not touch me. You should try it.” (Elizabeth: the Golden Age, 2007). This quote may not be historically accurate, but it still serves the idea of creating that safe space in your mind. We can create a kind of emotional matrix with cross fibers of faith, humility, gratitude, and self-knowledge. The matrix leads to a mental space that fostors improved self-esteem or self-image.
For many years, I walked around with a head full of self-centered and self-abusing thoughts. These terrible thoughts were ever present and I masked them with alcohol and drugs. I wouldn’t wish addiction on my worst enemy. It is a dark, hairy, vicious beast. Rehab and 12 step meetings were in the cards for me.
Years later, I still attend 12 meetings as they have given me a way of life and a basis for faith and self-awareness. As I work with others, I try to view each interaction as an opportunity to practice my emotional skills. “Difficult people,”as we all know, are very challenging to deal with from an emotional sobriety perspective. Each time, I try to figure out why this person bothers me and attempt to make mental corrections in the future. Looking at interactions this way, takes away the fear in confrontation. Am I being unfair to myself by comparing myself to this person? What trigger points are being pressed within me? The “whys” should be explored and worked on daily. I keep abreast of my list of qualities and opportunities for improvement and hold them as my truth. I can then challenge thoughts that arise.
These are merely the steps I take to maintain emotional sobriety. I believe faith, hope, gratitude, humility, and doing the next right thing can lead us to emotional sobriety. Often, doing the next right thing may involve doing nothing. The real work involves finding that space between yourself and your reactions and then making it work for you. So yes, call me a space cadet, I won’t mind.
The following poem is an expression of my reaction to a conversation I had with a newly recovering alcoholic. He presents himself; purposely, as a tough guy that other men won’t mess with. A mis a man’s man, proudly showing off his tatooed body; and in particular, an image of his much-loved Dad, emblazoned on his left side.
My initial impression of him was that of someone who had suppressed his emotions his whole life. He was emoting so much emotion that he was just like a very ripe tomato ready to explode. He must have considered me a trustworthy person because he shared many stories and feelings that were deeply personal. I had only met him an hour earlier.
I felt honored to have heard part of his story. I realized that as much as I have complained about my lot in life, my problems were mere relative blips in comparison to his earth-shaking problems. A revelation occured to me. My problems have never been so massive and dramatic as I have let on all these years. I have everything I need to live well. I’d better buckle up because I have a lot more work to do!
Are acceptance and expectation management appropriate in minimizing victimhood?
He spoke to me of his life;
Visual snipits of abuse, hunger, alcohol, crime, and prison assaulted my awareness.
He blushed with shame because of a secret and forbidden indescretion.