of mice, death and neuroticism

what a nice surprise! two years ago i asked a question on louise m. brookes’ blog and today she replied. louise teaches bushcraft and wilderness survival, and blogs about building your own renewable energy systems, sustainable technology as well as personal development, fitness and health.

she had said

death makes all of our attempts at life utterly meaningless, laughable, ridiculous almost, yet we continue, most of us with our singularly particular neuroses.

and i commented

i’m curious why someone like you, who spends so much time in nature, would say that? isn’t death just part of the cycle?

here’s an excerpt of the reply

nature has a wonderful perspective on death, one that it is continually sharing all the time, it does not consider it either bad or good. death just is, death just happens …

any moment our life can be extinguished which renders all our ‘activity’ fairly redundant and apparently without import … i say apparently because we confer great meaning on our unknown spans of life … but we fail to attach great meaning to death … in many of our day to day lives it doesn’t bear thinking about and perhaps it should. the nature of nature is impermanence. it gives me great freedom to know that i can be plucked from my reality without a moment’s notice … death balances the gift of life, like the apex of a pendulum’s swing. when we fail to grant death its place in our day to day life, we fail to have truth …

when we deny death and avoid it and live with our eyes shut we are automatically neurotic. which was why i pointed it out in this manner as rendering ‘our attempts at life as meaningless, laughable and ridiculous’, like our discussing of the price of peas when someone is pointing a weapon at us.

we have just been adopted by a cat. every day she brings us various bits of mice and birds and leaves them on our doorsteps as offerings. mice who up until their early demise in the jaws of a cat were busy fetching food and building nests for their young – the difference between mice and men is that the mice are much more aware of the cat in any given moment than we are of death.

had we all known perhaps we would make different choices about what is important and what isn’t… would i stand there still and wonder for as long about which make up looks best? would i spend more time with my loved ones, would i help more folk that crossed my path?

this, of course, reminds me of the buddhist (and also hindu) practice of mindfully and intentionally engaging with death. as v.g. gunaratna says

it is not for nothing that the buddha has, in the very highest terms, commended to his disciples the practice of mindfulness regarding death. this is known as “marananussati bhavana”. one who wants to practice it must at stated times, and also every now and then, revert to the thought maranam bhavissati — “death will take place.” this contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the visuddhi magga which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega) and with understanding (ñana).

for some reason – perhaps because of my father`s interest in buddhism – the idea that death is always near has been given to me when i was quite young, when i was about 14. i still remember it clearly. i was strolling on the sidewalk, almost home, when i realized that in the apartment building next to me, they were fixing the roof.

in germany, most roofs are made with heavy roof tiles. with a flash, it occurred to me that right here, right now, one of those tiles could fall down, hit me in the head, and kill me. i also felt in my bones a fundamental existential principle: “ìf not now, when?”

this second of realization was one of the most significant moments in my life. why i reacted to this experience with gratitude and an almost excited astonishment instead of fear, i’ll never know. it was a gift, just like having louise’s blog post land in my lap was.

may we be continuously aware of the freshness of each moment.

mice play, cats eat, i
work in the garden, sow, plant.
—  now? later?:  i die.

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