Most of my life I've been searching for What Life is All About.
A poem I wrote when I was thirteen is my earliest recorded pondering about the cosmos, but I'm sure my pre-teen mind also was looking for answer's to life's big questions.
Having come to an age when my first Social Security payment is due to be deposited in our checking account this month, I can report that some fifty years of philosophical, religious, mystical, scientific, and spiritual inquiring has led me to a simple three word conclusion:
This is it.
You're free to disagree. I can understand why you would.
Heck, I've disagreed with me -- the current version -- for most of my life. Believing in an afterlife, reincarnation, eternal soul, and transcendent realms of unchanging supernatural bliss provided me with a lot of satisfaction for many years.
But if you're honest with yourself, as I've tried to be with myself, you'll have to admit that your hope in a life after death is just that: hope. Reality is something different.
Human reality is that we live, and eventually we die. In the past year my sister and brother-in-law have died. I have no close blood relatives who are alive, other than my daughter and granddaughter. One day I'll join the departed, who almost certainly haven't arrived at any other destination.
They're just gone. Because...
This is it.
Those three words say a lot, but also almost nothing. My experience that leads me to speak them is exceedingly different, richer, more profound, and life-altering than what I've emphasized with italics twice now.
I don't know what it is about my evening dog walks. Maybe the universe seems more transparent when I set out with the family pet on a leash for a jaunt through the Oregon countryside because my mind is released from its usual concerns.
Tonight it happened again. On its own. Unbidden. An unspoken message that screamed silently within my consciousness.
This is it.
The mist that shrouded fir trees barely visible in the near-darkness. Serena sniffing her way from one fascinating roadside scent to another. The sound of my LL Bean shoes striking the pavement, beloved yellow shoelaces glinting in the light of a flashlight beam.
At that moment I knew, though I can't prove that what I know is true. So I guess you could call my knowing a variety of faith. However, it is a faith backed up by some pretty damn convincing evidence.
We live. And eventually we die.
What I knew on the dog walk, and still know, is that this moment, whatever it consists of, never will come again.
Standing on the road, leash in hand, I knew that so deeply I was almost afraid to embrace the realization wholeheartedly, because it seemed that if I ever fully fathomed the depths of what I can only call IT, I'd run the risk of never coming to the surface of my everyday life again.
Which could be a good thing. OK, it probably would be a good thing. I just didn't feel like a dog walk was the right time to dive deeper into IT -- the experience that arguably underlies all other experiences.
Namely, the existential in-your-gut realization of life's finitude, ephemeralness, and above all, preciousness.
Never again will I experience what I am right now. This moment will never come again. (A cliche, but cliches can be absolutely true.)
And not only will this particular moment never come again, there will come a time when no moments will. That time is the moment before we die.
When I compare the spiritual and religious dogmas I used to believe in with the realization that came to me on the dog walk (which I have frequently these days, almost always at unexpected moments), I'm struck by how much more real "This is it" is.
That brings a smile.
I have a glimpse of even more: the bliss, peace, and contentment that I used to think would only come from pursuing some sort of other-worldly experience.
Knowing that this world, here and now, is it... what could be more satisfying than that? Dissatisfaction only arises when we feel that what is happening is different from what should be happening.
I could be wrong about death being The End rather than a transition to another chapter of life, of existence. It's unlikely, but possible.
However, that this moment will never come again: virtually 100% certain. Whatever you're doing right now -- and my amazing powers tell me it is reading a blog post -- this is the last time you'll ever have this experience.
Enjoy. That. Strawberry.
Eat Strawberries , forget everything
Posted by: Yash Pal Sethi ( Ferozepur Punjab ) | December 08, 2010 at 02:51 AM
"This is it"....you got it...or it got you!
Anyways...for me it (IT) is what lives me...breathes me...thinks me and so on. It's IT and That's that...the profundity of a silent mind always blows "me" away!
Keep IT trucking!
Posted by: William_Nelson | December 08, 2010 at 03:43 AM
On the Strawberry Story: Why put in any belief in a Zen Story that is totally made up, whose content serves to propose a philosopical suggestion that is (apparently) since you are about to die and you can't back up, strawberries taste sweeter than ever before. There are numerous technical flaws with the story, such as: If the person hanging on the vine is in a "can't live" scenario, how do we know that there was a strawberry on the side of a cliff, or that he ate it, or that it tasted sweet? Who did he tell this to? The Tiger(s)? Who told the Zen Masters about the strawberry and that the man ate it? It must have been the Tiger(s) because no one else was there to tell the "story." Other story flaws: a man cannot outrun a tiger across a field. I don't think a strawberry plant could grow on the side of a cliff. Tigers are solitary animals so the probablility of other tigers in the area at the bottom of the cliff is small. Also, what are the vines attached to? It is astonishing that there are two mice there. I wonder if the theorotical trapped man would have also "tasted the mice" and found them tasty as well. If he ate the mice, and stayed on the vine long enough the tiger would have got bored and wandered away. The man would have saved himself and lived to tell the tale. Moral: If you have faith in the moral of a story, it's easy to overlook improbablity of the story.
Posted by: Jim Ramsey | December 08, 2010 at 05:58 AM
I like the poem you wrote at age 13. It shows that your talent for writing was already planted and growing. And it continues to grow. You description of your walks with your dog and the accompanying thoughts and realizations were well written too.
Posted by: Jim Ramsey | December 08, 2010 at 06:10 AM
First, i have enjoyed your blog for about a year. i interpret "This is it" in a Zen way, that is there is no past and no future, there is only now. i thought you said at one point that we are the stuff of stars and that we will always be the stuff of stars.
Posted by: Bob Bollinger | December 08, 2010 at 12:14 PM
Jim, I agree that made-up stories with morals often are impossible to take literally. What I like about the Zen strawberry story is how it grabs my attention, because the combination of events is indeed so utterly unlikely.
Plus, I really like strawberries. The notion of tasting my very last one is an interesting thought experiment. Except, one day it will be reality. There will actually be a last strawberry, just like there will be a last dog walk, and a last everything.
Yet usually we look ahead and consider that there will be plenty of additional opportunities to do this and that. This is true, usually. Eventually it won't be, though. So there's more than a little wisdom involved in appreciating each moment for what it is: potentially the last time we'll experience whatever it is we're experiencing.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | December 08, 2010 at 12:15 PM
Animals and such can certainly live without reflection, or in that ghostly, slippery thing called the *moment*. Humans? If humans actually lived in the present they'd use no memories. There are Lilliputians in the brain, with lightening speed they forge tiny bridges between the now and the then. The present is always the past---there in the ---Lilliputians with hand-baskets scoop and store our memories and all those memories deeply influence/educate the much talked about NOW. Talking/writing about the Now is irredeemably oxymoronic. If any human really was the NOW (aka "this is it"), I suspect they couldn't return from it. They'd have fallen off the end of the brain's Universe.
Posted by: jon weiss | December 08, 2010 at 05:02 PM