I have a dear friend who I respect a great deal. He’s a good man, but he’s going through a tough time. He’s losing one of his closest friends to cancer. It’s going to happen quickly—which in some ways can be a blessing in disguise. But there is no way of getting around the fact that this will require a massive adjustment to a new reality for my friend.
Those sorts of situations often leave people searching for meaning. ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ people will say. But of course ‘the reason’ is created in our own minds. ‘The reason’ is constructed by us and for us. That being the case, we should be very careful about where we are going to place this sense of, or ‘density of,’ meaning.
Like Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying, I repeatedly see people going through stages of letting go, all while we mutter to ourselves about whatever stage we’re in. We can force our pain out, through the words and activities in our consciousness, stage by stage. Or, we can consciously convert the energy from that pain, into something meaningful.
That conversion of energy is one of the most powerful things a human being can do. We can take-in one kind of energy and we can act to flip it into its inverse. We can turn that energy 180 degrees. The way we do this is to fully feel our pain, and then to unfold it in some new form.
In these cases we don’t back away from our pain, we move toward it. We feel its texture. We feel what it’s made of, including the details that form those generally agonizing thoughts. We want to study them like a scientist would study a chemical reaction, or the behaviour of an animal. We want to watch ourselves so closely and come to better understand our pain. In doing so, we become aware of the preciousness of life itself; of its very temporary nature; of its fragility. And then ironically, of why we should be more grateful for its many opportunities.
If we brave these meditations, we soon realize that, just as some friend’s family did not know they were losing their father only one hour before the news arrived, the same could unknowingly happen in our own family tomorrow. And rather than turn that fact into some maudlin loss of purpose, we can choose to turn it in the exact opposite direction, and we can start to see life itself as the exciting opportunity that it really is.
We have opportunities for love in all of its many forms. We can enjoy laughter, camaraderie, empathy, romance, friendship, joy. And we are fine to sometimes even feel things like longing, or uncertainty, or pain. But when our suffering is not obligatory, and it is no longer welcome in our lives, we can convert something like the agony of loss into the unrestrained openness of unconditional love foir those still alive.
We all make a choice, either consciously or subconsciously, every single moment. We choose how to analyze the Is-ness of the world. So yes, we can look at the death of a friend as a horrible injustice and no matter how healthy we are, our mind will spend at least some time in an angry stage. But the sooner we can reach the idea of acceptance, the sooner we can begin to take our grief and convert it into love. Love for the person leaving us, and a reminder to love those still with us.
That is the awareness that death brings with it. When juxtaposed to death we can suddenly appreciate that life itself is a verb. That before being ‘healthy’ or ‘happy,’ we must simply ‘be.’ And when something reminds us that nothing lasts forever and everything changes, we realize that everything includes us. We and all of our loved ones are temporary spacemen on this little rock hurtling through the cosmos. We are but a blip on the timeline of the universe. Which is why it is all the more important that we love all we can for the short time we’re here.
It’s a wonderful opportunity, life is. Just ask anyone who’s losing theirs, if you should waste yours, and you’ll always get the same answer. Live! Live fully and deeply and bravely. Because things like failure or loss mean nothing. We all end up dead anyway. So don’t waste your life wishing for a different one. Live this one as fully as you can. Because to do that is a choice, and to not make that choice is to surrender the most valuable thing you have.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.