Monday, July 12, 2010


In Sogyal Rinpoche's "Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying" he writes about the transitional states in life and death called "bardo."

The word "bardo" is commonly used to denote the intermediate state between death and rebirth, but in reality bardos are occurring continuously throughout both life and death, and are junctures when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened. The bardos are particularly powerful opportunities for liberation because they are, the teachings show us, certain moments that are much more powerful than others and much more charged with potential, when whatever you do has a crucial and far-reaching effect. I think of a bardo as being like a moment when you step toward the edge of a precipice.

Intermediate states are not a place for comfort, generally. We tend to avoid them. Afraid of what may be revealed about life, our loves, and ourselves. That are painful. In physics, for matter, we talk of phase transitions. The phase transition of matter from one state to another. From solid to liquid or liquid to gas.

If I am liquid water and I am 150 degrees Fahrenheit and add one more degree, I am still water. If I am 211 degrees Fahrenheit and add one more degree, I change to gaseous water - steam. I imagine being liquid water. I like being liquid water. The thought of converting to steam unnerves.

What Rinpoche teaches us is these transitions are opportunities. What illuminations await remain unseen until we sit in the bardo and open up to the inevitable revelations, uncomfortable though they are.

A major life event places us at the precipice of a phase change, like being 211 degree Fahrenheit liquid water. Do you experience boiling and expanding into steam, or dial down the heat and stay familiar water?


  1. I hope you stay water for a long, long time, John, and are around to watch your beautiful boys grow up and their many successes to come and their families grow with perhaps their children being born at The Seasons of Life Birth Center. :)

    Sending you a hug today!

  2. The great thing about a liquid - steam phase change is that it does not rule out a return to liquid. Unless I am mistaken, attempting to remain liquid at this moment -- a moment when you are not in a position to control the level of heat originating from the fireball that has engulfed you -- would require an increase pressure, an attempt to restrain and contain the force of expansion through walls of steel and seals and a focus on containment. And then there is the experience of steam, propelled forcefully from the root of the conflagration to mingle in the atmosphere with other souls where, absent the propellant source of heat, the gaseous water fades from hot steam to water vapor, awaiting only contact with a surface cooler than the dew point of air to return to the state of liquid. So it would seem that bardo, as an angst-ful state of growth, would come when one accepts and embraces the moment of propulsion out of the current phase. Prolonged under pressure in an attempt to remain liquid, would not bardo become the antithesis of a moment between death and rebirth, a corrosive state of perpetual tension without release into rebirth?

  3. Wow @Brian. I had to read your comment a couple times, but I think I agree. Staying water really isn't good at this point. But I was thinking of it a little differently - not so much to stay liquid with increased heat requires increased pressure (a seemingly dangerous situation), but rather denying the increase in temperature and denying the experience of transforming into steam. Who knows, maybe steam is better than liquid water? And yes, we can always change states the other way too.

  4. Thank you for what you share. It inspires me every time!