However, all strategies to embrace or avoid death, to actively cultivate near-death situations or to attempt to dissolve the fear of death through familiarity, involve avoidance of the uncertainty of the moment of death. These strategies attempt to make it nearly now or nearly never, but cannot succeed in addressing actually now. When the moment of death arises it will be now. The only preparation we can engage in is to become accustomed to dwelling in now. If we are so preoccupied with our fantasies of what might be and our experiences of what nearly was, we ignore what is.
The important thing to recognise is the present moment. If we are alive in the present moment then past loss or future loss are irrelevant; past potential moment of death and future potential moment of death are also irrelevant.
Whenever death occurs, be it in sixty seconds’ time or in sixty years’ time, the moment of death will be now. It will happen in the present moment – whenever that is. Our experience of death or loss will be felt in that present moment of time.
It can never be like anything rehearsed or imagined. It can only ever be a new, fresh, unique moment of now-ness, and the only preparation that can help us is a familiarity with now-ness.
Many of our worries and fears around death and loss have to do with what will be missed, what will never be achieved and experienced because of death, and what pain and suffering may be experienced around death. These worries and fears are projections grounded in previous experience or imagination. It is never possible for our ideas about loss and death to be anything like the actual experience. I can only experience my death at the time it is happening. I can only experience the death of a loved one at the time it is happening. I risk losing the joy and happiness of life and living with my loved ones through dwelling on death and loss. If I am truly present in this moment, there need never be regret or fear. If I am truly loving and appreciative of my dear ones in this moment, there can be no loss or regret about what is. There will still be the pain of loss—this is inevitable—but it will be pain without the sticky complications of regret or guilt, reproach or remorse. Each moment of time is the reality of what is and to be present with those we love, to share genuine present moments of love and companionship with them, is to never need to feel regret or fear of their loss.
It is natural to feel sad and shocked when a loved one dies, but any regret and sadness we feel about their not being present in our future is grounded in imagination. I yearn and grieve for a future that never existed. I cry for a future that cannot be shared. This is not ‘wrong’, but is a hindrance to presence.
When I dwell too much on death and loss through fear of my own death, or worry about the loss of loved ones, I limit my experience of the shared present moment because of the projection of my fear.
When I continually challenge my capacity to face the reality of my own death and the loss of loved ones, I limit my experience of the present moment through self-obsession and an inability to connect at a basic human level.
To live in the present moment is to balance the reality that it could be our last moment of life with the understanding that it is also the basis of the next moment of life. This attitude affords an opportunity to view each moment as the precious last moment of experience, and also as the precious seed of new experience. We can let go of the limitations we impose upon ourselves because of a projected future, whilst also enjoying the moment as the ground of a possible future. We can let go, but also appreciate. We can be free and spontaneous. We can engage with the death and birth of the present moment – the emptiness and form of the present moment.
When I harbour grudges or resentment towards people, I am not living in the present moment. I am living in a conceptual construct that I have created myself. I am mediating my experience of now. Through this conceptual construct I keep resurrecting the experience of the hurt I have suffered. I feel that I must protect myself from a projected future where this person may hurt me again. I fail to engage with the unique unrepeatable present moment of potential enjoyment and appreciation with that person because of my projection.
I justify my emotion, because the projection of maintaining it into a future moment makes me feel substantial and secure. I feel that through holding on to a past emotional memory, I can protect myself in a future situation.
It is as if I am attempting to project a substantial sense of myself into the future through hoarded emotion. This feeling of being substantial insulates me from the emptiness of letting go of my emotion in the present.
Through holding on to my emotion by generating concepts, I miss out on the potential of the present moment that can only be fully engaged with from the perspective of its imminent loss.
Through attaching to the illusion of security I gain by holding on to a past hurt, I lose the possibility of experiencing open-hearted joy and appreciation in the present.
The remembered past is already lost. The future could be a rewarding, loving relationship with the person who has hurt me. At some point I have to let go of the grudge if I wish to have a continuing, pleasant relationship with them. Whenever I am able to let go of the grudge it will be now. So why not make this moment the now moment.
If we grasp the importance of complete identification with the present moment, then the notion of impermanence as something about which we need to be sad or discouraged starts to seem nonsensical. Present moments are infinite. They will never end. The arising of present moments is eternal and will never end. It is the latching on to the content of a particular moment of remembered past or imagined future, to the detriment of the current moment that causes us problems.
Once we are able to view death and impermanence simply as loss of the present moment, a great deal of energy can be liberated. We can discover the energy of the flow of the stream. It may be that our ‘present moments’ are rather ‘clumpy’ to begin with. We have the ‘present moment’ of this meeting, or this argument, or this day or this evening.
Let us imagine I have an hour-long meeting with someone I feel does not like me. This hour is my clump of ‘present moment’. I attempt to approach my interaction with the person as if it is the last hour I will ever see them, have any association with them, or have them exert any influence on my life. I also approach the meeting as if it is our first ever meeting, new and fresh, and the basis for many future meetings.
From the perspective of a last-ever meeting, I may not care what they think of me and feel free to be spontaneous; I may let go of past experiences of them because they cannot affect my future; I may decide that the important thing is to be nice to them now because there will never be another opportunity. From the perspective of a first meeting that will be the basis of future meetings, I may feel free to be spontaneous because this person knows nothing about me. I may be careful to listen and hear their point of view to ensure a basis of understanding for the future; I may delight in the opportunity to meet someone new and appreciate their individuality.
It does not matter whether I succeed or fail. It does not matter whether the person is totally unreasonable and nasty to me. I have no past to hold on to, or future to project. When the meeting is over it is over. The next time we meet I can approach it in the same way.
This might sound an extraordinary thing to do at first. ‘But they were horrible to me,’ I splutter. ‘I have to remember that in case they are horrible to me next time. I have to protect myself.’ There is nothing to protect except memory and projection. The next time I meet that person will be a new, fresh present moment opportunity – unless I decide to approach it from the perspective of protecting a remembered ‘me’ projected into the present moment.
As we become familiar with viewing impermanence in this way and embracing the present moment, our mind-moment experiences can become less clumpy. We can start to develop awareness in every actual mind-moment. At first we experience presence in a clumsy, artificial way like the flickering frames of an old black and white movie.
We continually attempt to apply awareness to our experience and arise with presence, so that we can act from the liberated energy of spontaneity rather than the stilted constriction of expectation and anticipation.
We stutter through periods of loss of presence, awareness of presence, loss of presence, awareness of presence… Gradually our ability to dwell in the present moment develops and our experience of present awareness becomes smoother and less stuttering. Eventually our ability to dwell in the present becomes complete. Then our experience of presence emerges with the flow and brilliance of a 3D holographic Technicolor super-movie.
Be-ing, by its nature, is impermanence and death, as much as it is living. To read the next chapter, the reading of this chapter has to die. This is something to be wondered at, enjoyed, and embraced. To be offered a method which teaches us how to dwell in the presence of each moment is an extraordinary opportunity, so rare and precious.
Turn your mind to the thought of the opportunity offered by impermanence and death and joyfully, enthusiastically practise. Impermanence is a cause for celebration. Impermanence is our opportunity to discover presence. Present moments are infinite. They will never end. We will never cease to have opportunities to start again. We will never cease to have opportunities to experience presence. We will always have the opportunity for this moment to be the moment when we dwell in presence.
The hate and anger of the past moment is gone, over, lost forever and never need be revisited. The potential for love and appreciation in the present moment can never be destroyed, and leads into another moment of potential love and appreciation. How wonderful!
Once I get a feeling for living in the present moment I can be whatever I wish to be. I can dissolve the mind that constrains the present with concepts of the past. I can let go of the churning over of remembered moments that feign permanence through arrogated re-living.
I can dissolve the mind that wishes to influence the future through projection of expectation, to feign permanence through arrogated fantasy.
I do not have to be defined by who I was in the last moment, or who I think I might be in the next. If I wake up in a bad mood, I can simply allow that mood to die and allow a good mood moment to be born. I can shout the yogic syllable ‘Ha’ to explode the bad-mood-mind-moment and be reborn in good-mood-mind-moment. I am liberated! I am free to be kind-mind-moment-person, ecstatic-mind-moment-person, and brave-mind-moment-person.
If I am unfortunate to be experiencing sadness in my life, I know that sad-mind-moment-person is only a temporary definition, and that it can and will change. I am free of permanent definition. Knowing the emptiness of present mind-moment I can fully enjoy its form. Enjoying the form of present mind-moment, I can be ecstatic in the understanding of its emptiness.