I was re(re)-reading some of The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying this weekend. I was looking for references to the concept of bardo. I've written about this before and won't say any more here. But, as I was searching through the text, I came across this passage:
There is no place on earth where death cannot find us—even if we constantly twist our heads about in all directions as in a dubious and suspect land . . . If there were any way of sheltering from death’s blows—I am not the man to recoil from it . . . But it is madness to think that you can succeed . . . Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come—to them, their wives, their children, their friends—catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair! . . . To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death . . . We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.
Rinpoche, Sogyal (2009-10-13).
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: The Spiritual Classic & International Bestseller:
Revised and Updated Edition (p. 15). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
In the passage above, Sogyal Rinpoche quotes Montaigne. And thanks to my google and wikipedia machine, I discovered Montaigne is Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne the 16th century French statesman, essayist, and philosopher who apparently had much to say about life and death.
Back to the quote -- It's the last part of the quote above that catches my attention: We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.
Montaigne doesn't use the word "fear" anywhere. He uses other words. But what I hear in my mind as I read this passage is about fear. Fear of death. And how that fear prevents us from living fully. Fear of death prevents us from living life fully.
Easier said than done, of course.
I've let my mind wander about this word, fear. Fear in its many manifestations. How often fear of something held me back? Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loneliness. And perhaps the most insidious: Fear of losing what I love. That fear thus preventing me from loving fully. It's a clever defense mechanism, really, to limit my imagined, future pain of that loss. To negate the storms, cries, fury, and despair. It's a pain avoidance rather than pleasure seeking. But to dull that pain means I must dull that pleasure. That's the devil's bargain.
As I enter into a new primary relationship I feel that fear more acutely. Reminders of our fragile lives are everywhere: A shooting at a high school in Ohio; war in Syria; an auto-accident on the beltway. One moment it's all there, the next it is gone so swiftly. But it isn't always so dramatic: a disagreement, an argument, a mis-communication, and the fear wakes up and I retreat from love to my imagined safety.
When my own fears return, being reminded, by Rinpoche and Montaigne, of the universality of this fear and reality of my own mortality, comforts me. And reading again Montaigne's words, as I write my words, inspires me to flip Death the bird. "Fuck you, Death," I imagine Montaigne would say if he lived in a different time and place. And it feels good to say it that way.
Moments. These moments of clarity and courage are what I'll hold onto.
But I know, as sure as this new day begins in front of me, that fear will return in one form or another, subtle or profound, and instinctively I'll look for a place to retreat. Until then, for now, I have Rinpoche's and Montaigne's wisdom to lean against.