This life is like a very long, slow fall off a cliff.
Or out of an airplane. When we’re born, we come out screaming, like a first-time skydiver, squeezed by contractions out of the birth canal an into this world and it’s loud and bright and terrifying. There we were, happily breathing underwater, minding our own business; floating for several months, then at the end being hugged all around by our mothers organs, all the time hearing the soothing shush-shush sounds of the blood rushing around her body, dampening the clang of the outer world to a soothing gentle roar. Until we got big enough to get squished out, squeezed through tunnel of bones, to gasp our first breath.
It’s no wonder we cry. We didn’t choose to jump out of this damned airplane, right?
Boom. You’re born.
Welcome to the spinning world. Cut the cord and let’s go.
From there, we are moving (at a rate that seems to accelerate as we go) toward our inevitable demise. Because it’s a long fall, and we get to watch other people and animals and plants do it, the day comes when we realize that the end is the big crash at the bottom — that is, death.
Holy shit, what? This is just going to end, and you can’t tell me when, why, how or anything?
Because this realization instills fear in most people means that most people are taking this fall in an extremely ungraceful manner. One, they are definitely not looking at the ground. Or they watch it obsessively, wide eyed, with terror. Two, they are flailing & screaming, or maybe rigidly still, pretending this isn’t actually happening by shutting their eyes tight and whispering prayers or something. Many will fall, back toward the ground, eyes upward, hands grasping futilely at the air, somehow hoping to reverse the natural sequence of things. Anything to avoid embracing what is actually going on.
When we live with this fear, we lack grace, and we’ll do anything to squash feelings of emptiness, of being down. Those feelings remind us of The End. So we cling to “up” feelings.
But we’re groping. We are kicking and screaming. Eternal babies. Wahhhhhhhhh! It’s not very pretty to watch.
So most of us start out this way.
If, as we learn about death, by watching it all around us, we come to a kind of acceptance, we suddenly are presented with a choice. Instead of kicking and screaming, pushing away and groping, We can choose to gather ourselves, stretch our feet and hands, look down and dive.
The end is the same, sure, and the rate at which it happens is comparable, OK, but at least we look good doing it.
Finally, there is a third way.
With expert practice, we become spiritual alchemists, and we start to find a lot of space, and we learn to slow down time. It probably doesn’t matter what practice it is, as long as it helps you to break free of the conditioning of your life. A subject for another post. But let’s say yoga is a way, Buddhism is a way. You get the picture.
With dedicated practice, we naturally slow time down so much that to ourselves we are no longer careering toward death, but rather we are moreso floating gently toward it. As we become more adept, time seems to slow further, instead of speeding up, and so from our own experience we are more like a feather, when we started as a rock. From the perspective of those who are falling along side us, or beneath us, we aren’t just diving, we’re floating.
And if we continue to practice, with expertise and dedication, then something really, really cool happens.
Pause the footage of someone falling out of an airplane and what do you see? They are no longer falling; they are perfectly still.
So, with practice, we learn to reside in this very moment. Each moment. When we are in this moment, and we are looking neither forward or backward, or up or down. We are not thinking “Oh shit, I’m gonna die.” In a state of not-knowing we have cultivated through practice, we release the intellectual grip on ideas such as death, or any dualistic concept. No concept, no resistance, no thought, no knowing, no fear.
From this graceful stillness, if we’re awake to this moment, all we can see is the sky, the air around us. So there’s no teleological or geographical reference point — nothing to remind us we’re moving. Also we are looking out, we don’t see the boundaries our our bodies, so we may as well not have one. We are one with the sky. It’s us and we’re it. At that moment, death and birth cease to exist.
Those falling around you see your face and your posture and recognize it — maybe not physically, but it’s deeply familiar, and gives them a feeling of joyousness. Congrats, you’re a living monument of awareness. By seeing you, you remind others that they too can dive, float, or even stop mid-flight.