Inquiry on Death
What I’m about to share is my inquiry after being caught in a rip tide. The blessing of connection is that you can, by virtue of your willingness to read this, be able to spark your own inquiry without having to be caught in a rip tide yourself. I offer this inquiry tenderly. I’m cognizant that many of you are overwhelmed and only just treading water with all the deep currents you are navigating yourself. For you, contemplating kindness, all the ways you are resourced and your innate goodness may be more helpful. Be discerning in your choice to read further and know that I’ve got your back as you do.
For those of you that have the inner ground and a measure of quietude and could use some more energy investigating, I trust sharing these reflections will spark your own waking up to what is here, now, and the blessings of our connection together. Sharing together and supporting each other waking up, is part of the grace of our connection.
On December 28, I headed for Hamoa beach a mile away from where I live that I swim at regularly. It was midday and there were about 100 people on the beach and about 30 in the water. The waves were intimidating. I went in anyway.
After swimming twenty minutes parallel to the shoreline, I noticed that I was suddenly 1000 feet away from the beach. I tried swimming to shore but wasn’t making traction. I started feeling tired, scared. As the waves crashed over me, I swallowed water. I made a clear determination not to follow the fear that was starting to take hold. I flipped on my back to float and deliberately relaxed. What were my options? I had to cut across the current. One direction was towards rocks and was hazardous, but was 75 feet compared with the 1050 feet to arc past the current to the sandy shore. Assessing how tired I was, I chose the short distance even though I didn’t know how I was going to manage the rocks, made more treacherous by the waves crashing on them.
Out of the blue, a surfer appeared. He suggested I hop on his board, which I did gladly. He held onto the board, and pulled me out of the current. Then another surfer appeared with a thick wide board that rode much higher in the water and was a lot faster. On it, I made it to the shore quickly. I was tired, but not scared.
On stable ground, I went back to the surfer that orchestrated the rescue to thank him. He said, “10 feet further out, you would have been beyond rescue.”
I let his words sink in. Recognizing how close I was to being taken out to sea and the prospects of drowning, I deliberately held the close proximity of death as an inquiry to see what might emerge.
Inquiry takes a question or a topic and keeps it alive, returning to it over and over, watching what emerges. Inquiry is an investigative practice riding a current and watching what gets revealed. I notice body sensations, tightness, contraction, absence of sensations. I notice characteristics of identity. I notice patterns, beliefs, and qualities of attention. Inquiry does not seek to change anything. It simply allows what is to be as is. Yet the miracle of inquiry is that awareness and presence with things as they are goes into ever deepening investigations. These reveal the structures of my ego as well as the qualities that are timeless and ever-present. What follows are highlights from my inquiry on death.
I live with assumptions. I live thinking that I will breathe in again and you will have another breath too; that the conversations we started, we can finish another time. I live with a pervasive sense that there is time and a future and I can rely upon both. One reason for responding to the immediacy of the present moment is from urgency—it is all that I have. It’s a sign of health to shift out of survival into something more stable, where there are choices beyond the immediate moment. Here on solid ground, I have a choice to stay with the proximity of death as an inquiry. My choice is deliberate.
The close proximity of death has me focus on relationships. The first thing I notice is that I don’t know what would have happened if the surfers hadn’t come. In the absence of knowing, I lean towards my intuition, and recognize it is likely I wouldn’t have lived. So all of a sudden, my life is linked to these surfers, who before this event were complete strangers.
Questions emerge about what is unfinished and what conversations are needed so that I can rest in peace? Who do I need to repair with? Who do I need to express my love, affection and appreciation? As individuals and groups come to mind, I feel clear about who to reach out to in the immediate future, and the types of conversations I would like to have.
I evaluate my values and choices. Do I live with the authenticity that makes me feel alive? Am I trying to purchase a sense of belonging by sacrificing what I value? When I look at my daily life, where do I lean into the short term gratification of puzzles or doing something else I’m good at, to defend against the tide of anxiety, uncertainty, and an amorphous feeling of badness?
I wonder what happened in my family system that when I’m not able to get out of something by myself, I’m left with a feeling of badness or that I’ve done something wrong? I feel into what gets activated when I ask for help. What part of me goes numb or contracts accepting the help that is on offer? What keeps me from living where there is a flow between effort and surrender, independence and interdependence, between will and vulnerability/grace? It’s very common when things are out of my control that I take it personally. I wonder why that is so.
Once again, I can attribute being alive to the teachings and practice managing difficult mindstates and not succumbing to panic. I eat my food, tasting it as if for the first time. See friends as if for the first time. There is less holding me apart from the immediacy of the moment. Less keeping me from the truth of what is arising. Uncertainty is always here. The truth is that we live every breath never knowing if there will be another. Yet, our lifestyles are organized around not examining this regularly. Neither do we keep this knowledge hovering on our shoulder like a wise friend reminding us to explore our choices to check if they are aligned with our values.
After a week, I have mixed feelings. Before my heart breaks bigger from personal or collective suffering, I usually feel weary and tired. As I observe my own slow process of waking up and how slow we are waking up globally to the conglomerate of challenges we are facing, I wonder if I missed an opportunity to do more.
Independent of what I think and feel, my body has its own response towards the proximity of death. Once I let in how close I was, I was shaken. Fear took hold. Bodies don’t like to die. Unraveling this fear has coincided with spontaneous body movements quivering and shaking, needing extra sleep and allowing emotions to flow.
Restless and unable to sleep, a holographic whale appeared in my mind. I heard a loud booming voice, “I told the surfer to look out at the ocean. I was the one who saw you were in danger.” My body calms. I rest deeply. In the morning when I wake, I feel a brightness that I cannot place. I don’t try to figure out why.
This past year I have gone into and through a dull ache, an emptiness that comes from the absence of presence. This emptiness has tendrils showing up as contraction in my body, reactive patterns around loss, and shows up in my beliefs. When I allow it and stay with it, the empty vacuousness changes. Ever so slowly it has become full of presence. This gives me faith in the process.
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