In my beginning is my end.
The current health crisis and rapidly unfolding ecological degradation are a spur for us all to collectively reflect on our values. We may feel helpless in the face of a powerful epidemic or images of huge storms and tumbling glaciers, but in fact they are a reminder that everything is fragile. The beauty that we can find in our life is always in the context of magical moments suspended between birth and death. Our civilizations, our ecosystem and even our planet, a tiny dot in an infinite universe of time and space, are fragile and impermanent.
We can panic, feel depressed, or react with denial, or anger that the life we counted on or dreamed of is not happening. Or we can take this as a wake-up call and an inspiration. The beauty we can create in our lives by getting in touch with the marvelous inner qualities of our mind, the unconditional kindness that we can develop for those around us, and the little seeds of happiness we can sow, are not invalidated at all by the fact that everything changes.
There are endless examples of apparently ordinary people finding extraordinary resources of stability and altruism in themselves in crisis situations. As Matthieu Ricard often says, an under-reported aspect of the disasters whose dramatic aspects are emphasized in the news, are the countless acts of kindness and solidarity that always follow. That fundamental goodness is an essential part of who we are.
In the modern world we are bombarded with demands to preoccupy ourselves with extremely materialistic goals. A common way of dealing with that stress is “shopping therapy”, buying something new or investing in something that we imagine will fulfil our hopes and dreams.
Curiously enough, the gadgets that we acquire are a good example of impermanence: There is a slight pang of sadness when something that intoxicated us with its newness and shininess is damaged or breaks down. Even when beautiful fresh vegetables that we bought in the market get forgotten and have to be thrown away there is a feeling of loss. We may constantly try to maintain our fading beauty and sustain our health, which is fine, but we can also remember in the background that we are accompanying a natural process as best we can.
If we have been struck by a serious illness it is normal to do whatever we can to treat it. Of course we want to preserve our life, or the life of our loved ones, but part of our care should be preparing for the moment when we all have to leave this life. The blessing of moments when our life is threatened is that they are a reminder to make the most of the present moment, to appreciate the immediacy of its joys, and to give priority to what is useful and let go of what is not.
Where, when, and how our life finally comes to an end is highly unpredictable. We may be snatched away by a sudden illness or accident, go through years of physical or mental ill-health or go peacefully at the end of a long life.
There is also a huge variation in the way the last moments are experienced. Some individuals find unexpected reserves of serenity and gentleness at the end of their lives, which can be moments of extraordinary beauty. The families going through this pivotal moment sometimes manage to be present with calm, understanding, and simple love. Sometimes the emotions and fears are too strong.
A deep reflection on the fleeting nature of our lives and an understanding of the resilience of love in all circumstances will be a great help at those times. Each day we can be glad to be alive and try to make the best use of our time. We can care for our relationships now that we have the chance, and we can appreciate the magic moments that pop up all the time. Sometimes even the moment of passing can have its own extraordinary magic, but one has to have the eyes to see it.
To have a spiritual practice, in the sense that Matthieu understands it, with the firm grounding in reality that comes from meditation and compassionate reflexion, equips us to deal with the habitual ups and downs of life, but even more noticeably can help us to maintain our stability in dramatic situations.
The pandemic is continuing and we don’t know what the future holds. But in general, a large part of the circumstances of our lives is always beyond our control. Matthieu Ricard’s advice in the early stages of the current crisis has an ongoing universal resonance:
I know that many people might feel disorientated and frightened in face of the epidemic that is affecting many human beings around the world. So yes, we should take all precautions so that we can avoid it becoming a global catastrophe. We are not used any more to encounter the sort of global events that seem to be beyond our control. We are so used to the idea that man can dominate nature, use nature as it pleases, which is, of course, a very naive concept.
So maybe it’s a time also to reflect in depth and realign our priorities in life, and use the time we have in this life to really give the best value possible to every moment that passes by: basically by imbuing the time we have to live with kindness, compassion and inner freedom, going deep into the nature of our own mind.
Photo: "In my end is my beginning", Charles Hastings