Everything Dies

It’s the Buddha’s basic teaching. It’s life’s universal truth. It’s what we most want to deny. Sallie Jiko Tisdale on how this hard but liberating truth can transform your life.

Death and Life” by Gustav Klimt.

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Most Buddhists put flowers on the altar. We know flowers are beautiful, but that isn’t their purpose here. Flowers begin to die as soon we cut them; we carefully lay death in the place that symbolizes our awakening. We bow and make offering to this crucial truth, built into the bones of the world.

The Buddha spoke volumes of words, an immense canon, but most of what he said comes down to this: Things change. Change cannot be avoided. Change hurts. The fundamental teaching of all Buddhism can be stated as everything dies. The Buddha taught this, it fills the sutras, it is repeated by our teachers. But most of all, we learn this from our own daily lives.

Do we believe that we will dissolve? No. Not deep down in the root of the small self, because the small self plans to live forever.

You have probably learned a traditional formula or two for this insistent teaching about the transitory nature of all things:

Anicca vata sankhara: “Impermanent, alas, are all formations!”

Sabbe saokhara anicca: “All conditioned factors of existence are transitory.”

In the Maha Satipatthana Sutta: “[One] abides observing the phenomenon of arising…abides observing the phenomenon of passing away…”

As a new practitioner, I learned the catechism this way: “All compounded things are subject to dissolution.” The language was strange when I first heard it, and as a young practitioner I found myself parsing the words: Compounded. Dissolution. Notice, I was told, how everything is put together from other things and will be taken apart. I began to notice. A table, a house, a nation—I could see this.

But if all things are compounded and will dissolve, then I am compounded and I will dissolve. And this was not something I could easily accept.

I pretend to accept my own death. Most senior practitioners do; many of them may even believe they accept it. Buddhists have their own peculiar points of pride, outside the usual stream of things we pride ourselves on, like humility and asceticism. Plenty of us are proud of our equanimity in the face of extinction, at least until we see the headlights bearing down.

So how deep does this acceptance really go? It’s not just Buddhists who kid themselves about being prepared for death. It’s people. It’s all of us who don’t want to admit that we are organisms fighting for life, that we can sagely repeat, “Annica, annica, all compounded things are subject to dissolution,” without really confronting what it means.

Do we believe that we will dissolve? No. Not deep down in the root of the small self, because the small self plans to live forever. When we say that “Everything dies,” we mean everything dies but me. And we can get kind of fancy about this point: Everything dies, including my body (but not my awareness—not me). Everything is subject to dissolution, but something passes through to a new form and doesn’t ever go away (that’s me). In a thousand ways, most of them not entirely conscious, we hold on to the hope that something of this self, somehow, will remain, and we hold on to that even as everything we touch slides away like sand in running water.

Why should we pretend to more confidence than we feel? Everyone is a beginner when it comes to death. We can’t practice it. When my mother died, it was the very first time that my mother died, and I didn’t know how to do that, to be a daughter whose mother was dying, to be a daughter whose mother had ceased to exist. When my best friend died—when my teacher died—I didn’t know how to do it. Each death I’ve known has been the very first one of its kind. Even with experience—I know how grieving feels, I know the altered state of a vigil, I know a lot about that—I can’t entirely prepare. And when I die, it will be the first time this particular me dies, and I will be a beginner.

Yes, I know that we are all dying all the time. That’s what it means to be a compounded thing dissolving—this self, this moment, gives way to the next as the girl gives way to the woman who gives way to the crone. I know that the me of today is not the me of yesterday, and I was also taught that if you die once, you never need to die again. But the real teaching of that formula, the falling away of body and mind for a ceaseless moment, is that you are already dead. I know this, but I don’t think my body does.

Slay the demons of hope and fear. My teacher would say this to me at a time when I was knocking up against deepening anxiety. My stubborn refusal to submit to the meaning of that anxiety made me more anxious still. The stronger I resisted, the deeper my anxiety became, until I sank well into true fear. How could I slay that demon when I was afraid to walk out the door?

We need to talk about death bluntly, honestly, and often.

“Vanitas Life, Death, and Resurrection by Ezio Gutzemberg.

The original Pali word for aversion, dosa, is various and shaded. It can be translated as anger or hatred, denial, projection, distortion, aggression, repulsion, even disgust. That is how it can feel to talk about death, about our own death. But I want you to think about it and I want you to talk about it. Even if you have considered your own death deeply, how often do you talk about it? Do you talk about your private conflicts or confusion, your questions, your plans?

How do we begin? Begin with the fear. Begin with the resistance. We know the question. It is why we begin to practice in the first place: Why do we suffer? And we know the answer. It is why we keep practicing: We suffer because of change and resistance to change.

But knowing the answer does not stop the question from being asked, and knowing an answer today doesn’t mean we will remember the answer tomorrow. Ignorance is the first link in the twelve-fold chain of causation—ignorance of impermanence, of anicca, of anatta, of no-self. This chain feeds itself endlessly—our ignorance of the ephemeral nature of the self building a self over and over. The chain is broken only by the transformation of that first mistake, being ignorant about the compounded nature of the self, which is not separate or bounded at all.

What do you fear about death? Make a list. Be honest. Autopsy? Being alone? Pain? Loss of privacy? Do you fear soiling your bed? Do you fear needles? For what do you hope? Make a list. Be honest. Do you want to see it coming? Do you want to be asleep? Do you want to be very old?

Ask the question again. Why am I afraid? Because I will die. What does that mean? (Wait a minute. Will I die? Do I have to die?) Ask yourself: Are you ready to die? Don’t answer too quickly, because that last one is a doozy. Even people who have made great strides in accepting the fact of their own inevitable dissolution will be flooded with adrenaline when the headlights bear down. The body has its own hopes.

Talk about death. Talk about everything. Imagine it. Write a description of the scene of your death. Where are you? What do you see? What do you smell, taste, touch? Who is there? Are you inside or outside? Is it warm or cool? Is there music, or words?

Imagine it. Write it down. Then tell everyone who needs to know—your family and friends and teacher and doctor—what you want. Make a record of your wishes and don’t forget to decide how your body should be handled after you’re done with it. Make copies and pass them out.

Then tear it up. Let it go with all your heart. This will be the work of the rest of your life.

We can do all this. We can make a plan, buy a plot, fill out the advance directive, decide what music we want to hear as we go. But we can’t plan not to die. The essence of dying is the loss of control. This is the hardest part for many of us—not that death will happen, but that it will happen without our hand on the controls. It will happen as it happens, when it happens, where it happens, and chances are it won’t go according to plan. The only thing we can control, and only with practice, is how we face whatever happens.

These days it is common to talk about a “good death.” (There are many official, even government-issued, definitions of a good death.) A good death is usually defined as one where a person is comfortable and at peace.

For myself, I want to think about a right death, a death that fits the life I’m trying to live. Most deaths include what anyone might call good moments and bad moments, desired and undesired consequences. So it is with our lives, and so it is with death. Right deaths are all different; you can’t define the details. For me, it means a death unhidden—from me and from those who love me. It means a death met with grace and willingness when the time comes. Achieving this will be the work of the rest of my life.

If we can face it, recognizing the reality of death will transform our lives.
Flowers are beautiful because they are brief. Beauty is a measure of fragility and brevity and transformation, created in part by our awareness of the precious value of this moment—this moment is what we love. Death is utterly natural, shared by all; it is also heartbreaking. That equation isn’t dissonant; it’s the nature of love. With our eyes open to change, each thing we meet is luminous and sparkling. To love means to lose. To lose means to love. The last breath allows us to cherish another without reservation, holding nothing back.

Slay the demons, my teacher told me. That meant accepting my anxiety, my fear. It meant coming to see that hope and fear are one thing: fantasies of the unborn future. Hope pulls and fear pushes and together they keep us stuck in what has not happened, living a half-life of imaginary events. I exhausted myself on that mountain, until I gave up. Giving up was the key. Accepting the demons of hope and fear until they slew me, which was what my teacher had been saying all along.

The parable of the burning house told in the Lotus Sutra is a familiar one. The children do not know the house is on fire, so they won’t leave until their father tempts them with carts full of treasure. So we are with our own suffering, our ignorance. The Buddha offers us treasures, including one so great we couldn’t even imagine it.

Some years ago, I had a brief, vivid dream. I saw a room completely engulfed in flames, and several people were walking calmly through the room, smiling. One turned and looked at me and said, “I can’t tell you how safe I feel in this house.”

When I begin to truly accept myself as this compounded thing—a dewdrop, a bubble, a cloud—when I really believe for a moment that my precious me is a passing sigh in the oceanic cosmos of change, then I begin to find safety inside the burning house. I don’t need to escape if I know how to live inside it. Not needing to escape, I no longer need rewards. I just walk through it, aware of dissolving.

Complete Article HERE!

Why it’s healthy to think about your own death

Everyone who’s alive now – you, your friends, your family – one day won’t be. It’s an unavoidable fact, and yet we often go to great lengths to avoid acknowledging it. Jules Howard explains why that might be a mistake.

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According to data from the company Statista, just 11 per cent of us consider death in our daily lives. Most of us are clearly busy with the subject of life, perhaps only considering the subject three or four times a year.

We in the West are, in the words of social psychologist Sheldon Solomon, masters of “burying existential anxieties under a mound of French fries”. But that’s understandable, right? Death is horrible. We live. We die. And then it ends. What possible reason could there be for thinking about death more? Plus, French fries are delicious.

According to some scientists, however, there are advantages to thinking about death more. Psychologists, in particular, point to a number of studies that suggest that thinking about death (‘mortality salience’) can raise people’s self-worth, encourage them to be less money-orientated and even make them funnier. Buoyed by research like this there are social movements, such as so-called Death Cafés and the Death Salon collective, that provide space for people to meet and talk openly about death.

In many ways, groups like these mirror Eastern philosophies, which have urged people to consider death and the frailty of human existence, for centuries.

Buddha, for instance, was an advocator of ‘corpse meditation’ where dead bodies are observed in various states of decay. “This body, too,” one text states… “such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.”

And the very notion of ‘yin and yang’ – the dualistic idea of ‘light and dark’ and ‘fire and water’ and ‘life and death’ – appears to inspire in non-Western audiences a greater appreciation of everyday things than in Western audiences.

So, are we in the West thinking about death wrong? I would argue, no. Because there’s no ‘wrong’ way to do it.

But we could certainly do with thinking about it more. Not loads more, just as much as each of us feels is right. In so doing, our perspective on day-to-day events might be imperceptibly improved. After all, to those of us that know that life is impermanent, the French fries have never tasted so good.

Complete Article HERE!

On the Politics of Death

Global events such as pandemics can momentarily focus attention on a fundamentally overlooked pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how individuals in power decide who lives and who dies.

By: John Troyer

Pandemics make ignoring death harder to do. That doesn’t mean government officials and friends alike won’t symbolically look the other way or reflexively stare harder at their phones during mortality spike events. But the longer any act of ignoring continues, the more obvious the avalanche of death being ignored becomes.

Ignoring something is, of course, different than repressing it. We are acknowledging its existence by ignoring it. We see death. We understand it happens. All of us know people who have died. Everyone reading these words will eventually die.

Which brings me to our current death moment.

The Covid-19 pandemic is but one example from a long list of morbidity and mortality events that momentarily exposed the politics of death for everyone to see. And by everyone, I mean the citizens of every single country on the planet who are suddenly witnessing what those of us who work in death full-time already knew: Our leaders regularly choose to decide who lives and who dies.

Now flip that last statement into a question and one can begin to see the genealogical shadow of Queens and Emperors: Who lives and who dies? Thumbs up or thumbs down? These are foundational and urgent questions that confront modern governments with choices to make on any given day but especially so during a pandemic. The early AIDS epidemic remains a tragic illustration of how different governments decided that the queer communities watching gay men die in unprecedented numbers could be ignored until suddenly those same governments were dealing with a pandemic that remains with us today.

Thanatopolitics, or the Politics of Death

Who lives and who dies are clearly not new questions, but global events such as pandemics can momentarily focus attention on a fundamentally overlooked pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how individuals in power answer those questions.

And while it is correct to state that all biological creatures die at a certain point, that dying is hardly universal in how it impacts different communities. What I’m saying may not come as a surprise, but it is important to foreground this information as a way of stating that when discussing death in the modern Western world, we are often discussing the politics of death. Even if people do not realize this distinction when talking about death and dying — and many people, I believe, do not — the ways end-of-life trajectories become discussed focus on the dynamics causing that death to happen. This distinction matters since understanding how a person died — the core causation of the death, especially during a pandemic — is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

While death and dead bodies are obviously connected, the politics surrounding each remains unique and should be distinguished from one another.

This death politics can properly be called a thanatopolitics, borrowing thanato for death from the Ancient Greeks and working with both Giorgio Agamben’s and Michel Foucault’s ideas around biopolitics and forms of life.

What this thanatopolitics of who lives and who dies — with a heavy emphasis here on the “dies” bit — is not is the related concept of necropolitics. The latter is a distinct and important idea first suggested by philosopher Achille Mbembe that more accurately describes the politics of dead bodies (the necro in Ancient Greek). The thanato/necro distinction is crucial in everyday circumstances since the politics of death is often described using the necro- prefix — and while death and dead bodies are obviously connected, the politics surrounding each remains unique and should be distinguished from one another. Dead body politics and death politics occupy distinct experiences for the average person, and recognizing the difference between what death is and what a dead body is remains profoundly important for medicine, the law, and everyday decision making in places such as hospices.

In my book “Technologies of the Human Corpse” I devote the entirety of a chapter to discussing precisely these distinctions between the bio, thanato, and necro, since the politics of each remains simultaneously always visible (if you know where to look) and completely hidden. The book manuscript was completed in 2019, before Covid-19, but spends many pages discussing the ways AIDS both impacted and significantly changed how funeral directors handled dead bodies, e.g., personal protective equipment, or PPE, an acronym we’re all sadly familiar with by now.

By discussing the thanatopolitics of the early AIDS epidemic (which is still happening, lest anyone forgets), it is easy to see how the Covid-19 pandemic ticks all the boxes as to what contemporary thanatopolitics relies on: social and economic disadvantages that contribute to higher mortality rates, especially in brown and black communities; hundreds of thousands of people dying entirely preventable deaths in populations that become economically acceptable deaths (e.g., the elderly and disabled); access to life-saving medical treatments that significantly favor wealthy communities and nations, and so on.

Where Covid-19 thanatopolitics morphed into something I had not predicted was when the emergence of what I call virological determinism became the logic that almost every local, national, and global governing body used to lay blame for preexisting societal problems. This is a gloss on technological determinism, the tendency we humans have to blame any “technology” for causing our very human-created problems, and works much the same way. By taking a rapidly-out-of-control pandemic and mixing in contemporary health inequalities and unprepared — and sometimes negligible — political leaders, we in the West ended up in this thanatopolitical quagmire.

I say quagmire, since it is unclear right now if and when any of this will actually be “done” no matter the speed with which people want to move on. But there are lessons to be learned, and in this way, thanatopolitics can be extremely productive and useful.

The politics of death become a way to acknowledge all those who died and what should be done in the future to prevent more needless deaths. One of those key lessons includes governmental leaders both knowing about pre-existing pandemic response plans and then using those plans when responding to a non-stop mass fatality event such as Covid-19. In addition to following the already extant response plans, leaders should continue to update and renew those plans on a regular basis. HIV/AIDS taught the world how quickly a virus could adapt to everything we threw at it. I remain hopeful that we reflect on that lesson in the coming decades.

Understanding how a person died is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

On March 18, 2020, I flew on a plane from the UK (where I normally live) to my hometown in Wisconsin to help my parents with some health issues. I did not know it then, but this was one of the last planes to make that trans-Atlantic flight for many months due to the pandemic.

On the flight, I read an incisive essay by Michael Specter in the New Yorker on the cascading failures of the U.S. health care system. It ends with the following prediction that presciently understood the who-lives-and-who-dies thanatopolitics that defined the past 18 months: “The bigger question is whether we will learn from the fact that this [Covid-19] pandemic will kill many more people than it had to. I’d like to think we would, but, if the past is any guide, this pandemic will end with a bunch of new commissions and ominous reports. As soon as they are printed, they will be forgotten.”

We can choose to ignore death and the thanatopolitics that choice brings for future body counts. But if Covid-19 has demonstrated anything it is that we do so at our own peril.

Complete Article HERE!

Will Power

— Preparing for my death has provided me with way more entertainment than is seemly

Although confronting, the act of getting my affairs in order has provided much space for reflection – and gratitude

BY

It’s lockdown number whatever, and this time I’m going to make it count. No sourdough therapy, no binge watching Schitts Creek, no ordering recklessly expensive artisan cakelets. This time I’m preparing for death.

A few years ago I helped my mother write her advance care plan. Now it’s my turn. I download it and work my way through the personal details to the end-of-life section. Who do I want to make medical decisions on my behalf? When do I want the plug pulled? I surprise myself with the strength of my written response.

It corresponds to the fierceness with which I guard my mother’s humanity: from well-meaning nurses who try to infantilise her, from doctors who talk to me about her as if she’s not in the room. I ask them politely to address themselves to her. Witnessing this, powerlessness and the loss of a stake in discussions about my own welfare have become the things I fear the most. I’ve seen firsthand how easily control of our destiny can slip from our grasp.

Her diary, once a daily record of her reflections, has become a hit-and-miss affair as her memory fades. A well-meaning relative has taken to recording my mother’s activities as a means of jogging her memory. She’s having none of it. Her latest entry reads: “Please leave me to write in this diary. It is beginning to look as if it has no idea who I am.” Despite her loss of autonomy, she has retained her sense of humour.

The fear of powerlessness is not the only prompt for my end-of-life preparations. I’m driven in part by the wish to make my passing easier for my children, whom I confidently expect to be inconsolable at the loss of their mother. To this end, I begin the task of gathering and storing my will, enduring powers of attorney, property deeds, birth, marriage and divorce certificates and, most importantly, the passwords to all my accounts.

Dying is a serious business. If a heart attack doesn’t kill you, the paperwork will.

In the search for the whereabouts of my will, I come upon some correspondence that has me reassessing my offspring’s expected levels of postmortem devastation. Two years ago I sent them a short email advising them where to find my will, and the spreadsheet that lists their individual advances on what we laughingly call their “inheritance”.

“Child X has as yet no entries in her column,” I write. “That’s what a life of abstemiousness and no driving licence can do.” To which Child Y, the party-boy comedian, responds: “How do I get my hands on some cash now? The email dragged on a bit so I couldn’t finish it.”

Undeterred, I dust off my “official documents” file from the cabinet under the stairs and sort the useful from the outdated, the originals from the copies. I find a useful online resource to list my bank details, assets, liabilities and funeral instructions.

Calculating your net worth can be confronting when the entry you put next to the dollar sign in the car column is “Not much”. Worse, the column is actually titled “cars”. I have very few entries in the “assets” side – nothing under “boat” and no idea what “other toys” might mean – but even fewer under “liabilities”. Freedom from debt may well be the only legacy I leave my children. Having gone through a financial settlement a decade ago, I’m determined to live within my means. So far I’ve managed to do it.

I’m taken with the Japanese concept of yutori: what Robert Dessaix describes as “just enough – time, friends, love, books – and a little bit more”. It’s giving yourself enough time after you have arrived at a destination to look around you. For me, it’s about having a comfortable life without the need for those notional “other toys” and the financial burden that comes with them.

My funeral wishes are essentially limited to the desire to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in my family’s happy place – a small coastal town. The musical component of my funeral is much more significant than the logistics.

Five years ago, I compiled a musical wish list before an extended overseas trip and surprised each child with their own vinyl copy, complete with album notes. Absolute Lizzie – The Funeral Selection was a highlight of my parenting career. It was a snapshot of the life I shared with my children, full of meaning and memories for all of us. The playlist is a chaotic combination of soundtracks and sentiment; a shameless play for laughs as well as a heartfelt homage to those long-dead musical geniuses who added so much joy to my life.

Lost in a reverie, I’ve managed to pass a long lazy afternoon in lockdown surrounded by dog-eared papers and wrapped in a warm maternal fug. I highly recommend it.

Preparing for my death has provided me with way more entertainment than is seemly. And a few ideas for a follow up album: Absolute Lizzie – The Afterlife.

Complete Article HERE!

Hamlet: a play that speaks to pandemics past and present

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I went to the theatre for the first time in 15 months to see the Theatre Royal Windsor’s new production of Hamlet. Starring Ian McKellen and directed by Sean Mathias, it really resonates in a time of ongoing pandemic. Mckellen’s very contemporary, teenage Hamlet slouches around in a hoodie and trackie bottoms, grieving, isolated and angry.

The setting, like the original, is the city of Elsinore, Denmark. In this version, COVID funerals are disrupted and truncated. Hamlet, a latterday prince, is a bisexual university student stuck at home with mum and step-dad when he wants to be back at uni in Wittenberg, hanging out with his friends and lovers.

Mental health issues afflict those in mourning, especially royalty. Hamlet muses “to be or not to be” as his lover, Horatio, gives the prince that most precious of things in lockdown, a haircut. Characters are overwhelmed by feelings of loss. Suicidal thoughts lurk. Denmark feels, and looks, like a prison. The government is morally corrupt.

Much of the play, this modern interpretation and Shakespeare’s original, speak to the circumstances and current climate in which we live. There is much in it to relate to and also learn from as our world widens and we learn to “live with the virus”.

Pandemics past

The spectre of plague and pandemic hung over much of Shakespeare’s life. He was born in April 1564, a few months before an outbreak of bubonic plague killed a quarter of the people in his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. Such pandemics would recur during his time in London in 1592, 1603, 1606 and then 1609.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, usually dated around 1599-1601, feelings of grief, mourning and bereavement were probably at the forefront of his mind. His parents were very elderly by contemporary standards. Shakespeare’s father, John, died in September 1601 around 70 years of age. Five years earlier, in August 1596, Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, had died aged 11, possibly of plague.

It is an uncanny coincidence that the name Hamlet is so close in sound to the name of Shakespeare’s son. The play is obsessed with fathers and sons, and how to navigate mourning a father’s death. It is full of speeches about grief and attempts to move on after bereavement. Hamlet is not alone in this as Ophelia and Laertes also suffer from unresolved grief in the play.

 

What galvanises Hamlet out of his emotional lockdown is theatre. When he hears travelling players are in town he leaps into action. Like so many in the audience he has really missed the theatre.

Despite the modern dress, Sean Mathias’ production eclectically evokes the theatre practices of the troupe in Hamlet. Most obviously, casting ignores age, ethnicity and gender, something which evokes the fact that Shakespeare’s stage had young men playing women. So while Jonathan Hyde is realistically cast as a plausible, efficient Claudius, the teenage Hamlet is played by an 82-year-old, while Francesca Annis who plays his elderly ghost.

Pandemic theatre

Lee Newby’s set design also encourages audiences to think of early modern playing conditions, transforming the Theatre Royal stage into a black metal, faux Globe theatre with two banks of seats on either side of the stage and a gallery at the back.

As a result, the onstage audience are clearly on display, sharing light with the performers. The mandatory face masks offer a constant reminder of COVID, while blanking out the audience’s reactions, but they also offer a reminder that Shakespeare’s playhouse had to navigate its own pandemic and often had to negotiate sudden lockdowns.

When the weekly plague death count reached 30 in Shakespeare’s time, the playhouses closed. Plague transmission was not properly understood, but it was clear that people congregating created a super-spreader event of sorts.

Shakespeare, a player, playwright and, most importantly of all, a shareholder in the Globe, seems to have seized the moment and written prolifically during plague lockdowns. In 1592 he was writing narrative poetry – Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece – as plague raged.

The years 1603 to 1604, 1606, and 1608 to 1609 were also bad for plague, and seem to have given Shakespeare space to write. For example King Lear was performed at Whitehall Palace on Boxing Day 1606 at the end of a year of plague. From 1597 on, Shakespeare could also escape to his sprawling Warwickshire country mansion, New Place, one of the largest houses for miles, with at least 20 rooms.

Illustration of the original Globe Theatre.
Globe Theatre, detail from Hollar’s View of London, 1647.

By contrast, many players were desperate for any income and facing destitution. So, sometimes playhouses would reopen before the mortality rate fell to the level considered “safe”. The thought of what a “freedom day” was like in the early modern playhouse, with those standing (known as groundlings) pressed closely together in the yard, is perhaps even more daunting than watching people flood back now restrictions are lifted.

Now that so many restrictions have been lifted now in the UK since July 19, I am feeling very ambivalent about the shared experience of live theatre. The Theatre Royal created what feels like a very safe space and, personally, I could get used to having such a generous amount of leg room in front of me. In a COVID-secure theatre, there’s no need to get intimate with complete strangers while trying to squeeze through to your seat.

But after “Freedom Day”, the theatre is only insisting that masks remain mandatory for the audience onstage who are in such close proximity to the actors. The theatre will only “strongly encourage” the rest of the audience to mask up.

During the first decade of the 1600s, pandemic ravaged the country’s population and theatres were closed as often as they were open. This might be the case now too. Already productions have had to close to isolate, including London’s Shakespeare’s Globe, after positive cases among cast and crew. Maybe restrictions indoors could stave off more productions having to close. It took 30 deaths to close the playhouses in the 1600s, but now all it takes to close a theatre is one case of COVID.

Complete Article HERE!

Searching for meaning in my mother’s death

By Susan V. Bosak

Death is in the news. There’s the pandemic — all the souls who died alone, a large proportion of them elders in long-term care. Now extreme heat-related deaths are making headlines. There are deaths in contexts as diverse as the Florida condo tower collapse and the unmarked graves on former Canadian residential school sites. Human-made systems and structures are dying, as is too much of the plant and animal life on this planet.

Then my mother died.

Having cared for her 24/7 for 12 years at home, right now the days are too long and the nights are too quiet.

She was diagnosed with dementia in 2007. We moved her in with us and travelled with her on her journey. It was always about quality of life, and death with dignity.

On the day she died, the people who loved her were there, including my four-year-old twin goddaughters, who called her “Nana.” I was talking to their mother, and the girls were playing by the bed. Then I noticed Mom take a deep, pleased sigh and move her mouth slightly. I initially thought she was rousing a bit because of the visitors. But a moment later I noticed she wasn’t breathing. We checked the pulse, and Mom had passed. It was very peaceful, with bright sunlight streaming in the windows. The room could have felt empty, but because the girls were there, it was full of the heartbeat of life.

It was a good, meaningful death. I know I’m lucky.

The last 12 years exhausted us, taught us, changed us. They were full of humanity, interdependence and love. This was happening in parallel to the bigger world becoming increasingly fractured and uncaring.

Coming out of this experience, as a living embodiment of my mom’s legacy, how do I honour what we learned? Perhaps by deeply questioning why we all aren’t able to live a good life, in what some Indigenous peoples call “right relationships,” and respect death in a way that informs life.

In a death-denying culture, what does all of the death around us mean? Our story around death is empty. In a context of an anti-aging fairy tale, it’s obscured by numbers and hidden in shadows. This speaks to our way of life.

Climate scientists talk about three themes moving forward: mitigation, adaptation and suffering.

Ironically, our way of life is not only causing death, but is literally built on death — from millions of years of compressed dead plant matter. When we talk about climate change, we focus on carbon as the problem. The real problem is that we don’t live carbon, we live lives — and our way of life is empty.

The most practical question we face today is how to commit to some notion of human flourishing in the face of existential threat.

Indigenous peoples warned colonists that going against Natural Law, the law of life which respects death, is like going against life, toward your own demise.

Native American Faithkeeper Oren Lyons was involved in the creation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a document that’s fundamentally about life, he has said it can be summed up in four words: “values change for survival.”

In medieval times, memento mori was a Latin phrase urging people to “remember that you must die.” Death is supposed to give life more meaning. It’s a teacher in plain sight, helping us discover what really matters.

If all the death around us is to mean anything, it should be a call to reclaim our humanity, a way of being that works for the continuation of life. Life and death are not inconsequential accidents, but organic parts of a greater whole.

This is the slippery, messy, vital work of our time. Legacy work connects your life story to other life on the planet, and to the even bigger story of lifetimes across generations. Values that are full of life flow from that kind of rich story.

Legacy is not a trivial thing. As a profound connection across time, in the context of lifetimes across generations, it can be either a burden or a gift. It’s where the power is. We don’t take that power, that responsibility, seriously enough.

Before you die, before I die, I have a question: What’s worth living for and dying for, in what we do and how we do it every day, year into year, generation over generation?

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We Are the Flowers in the Garden

By Margaret Meloni

Once while I was visiting my mother, she looked out of the window and saw some strangers wandering around in her backyard. She opened the sliding glass door and asked, “Can I help you with something?”

Sheepishly, one of the visitors replied: “We heard about your garden and we just wanted to take a peek.”

My mother had a beautiful English garden. It was her pride and joy. I know for a fact that on the morning that she died, she had worked in her garden. Which is exactly what she would have wanted. Sometimes, when I visited, we would walk through the garden together. She would give me a tour; while pulling a weed or two she would teach me which plants should be near one another, and what to plant to stave off intrusive insects or aggressive vines. She carefully cultivated each section of her garden, paying regular, focused attention to what was or was not working and adjusting as needed. I view her garden and her work as an analogy for our own spiritual practice.

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, leads to such great harm as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated leads to great harm.”

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit.”

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress.”

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, brings about such happiness as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, brings about happiness.” (AN 1: 27–30)

We are like the flowers in the garden. We require careful cultivation. To grow in our practice, we need to place ourselves in an appropriate environment, surrounded with the right companionship, placing regular, focused attention through learning and meditating and following the Noble Eightfold Path.

During our garden tours, Mom would often cut back or completely remove a dead or dying plant. On more than on occasion she said to me: “There is a lot of death in the garden.” Her tone was very matter of fact. Her statement came from a place of this is how it is.

Mom never let gardening deaths and disappointments get the better of her. She had a very good understanding of the expected lifespans of her plants. She was not completely surprised if a raccoon dug up her bulbs, or if a passing deer bit the head off of a flower, or if a plant seemed to randomly die. Occasionally she would express annoyance at the raccoons and the deer, and disappointment when a plant did not work out, but she did not dwell on it.

Mom gardened with non-attachment. With a complete understanding of horticultural impermanence, she did not avoid using a flower that would bloom quickly and then fade away. She would showcase that flower. Finding a way to surround it with plants that would allow it to have a brief moment of stardom. Then, the surrounding plants would have their turn. And eventually, they too would disappear. Within the context of her garden, Mom understood the truth of aging and death. She knew that once planted, a flower would bloom and then die.

“The aging of beings in the various orders of beings, their old age, brokenness of teeth, grayness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of faculties — this is called aging. The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of the aggregates, laying down of the body — this is called death. So this aging and this death are what is called aging and death. With the arising of birth there is the arising of aging and death.” (MN 9.22)

We are like the flowers in the garden. Once we are planted and begin to grow, we will die. And others around us will die. Take a look at a garden, or a park, or a forest. There might be tall and mighty trees that are more than a hundred years old. Then there is a flowering ground cover that shows up in early spring and fades away with the summer heat. There are rose bushes, which last several seasons. And, perhaps, tulips or daffodils that pop up once a year; they have one bloom and they are done. We do not know who that seasonal ground cover or the ancient tree will be.

Do not let the concept of impermanence discourage you. When the meaning of impermanence is misunderstood, it can push you toward nihilism. Some develop an attitude of “if nothing lasts, why bother?” If my mother had taken this point of view, she would have missed out on all the joy she felt while gardening. Her neighbors would have been denied the opportunity of walking past such beautiful scenery.

Go all in. Instead of avoiding experiences in life, learn the most you can from those experiences. Instead of avoiding relationships with others, be fully in those relationships, without attachment. Learn from the present moment because it will be gone. Don’t think, “Why bother? This will not last.” Do think: “This opportunity will not be here again. Let me really be in this moment and let it be my teacher.” Like my mother with her garden, be skillful in how you cultivate your practice and your mind. Be aware of death. And let it encourage you to live.

What arises, ceases. With each passing moment, even the strongest, sturdiest tree becomes closer to death. Today, petunias might be blooming, yet they will wilt under the hot summer Sun. It is not about if we and our loved ones will die, it is when.

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