Just a couple of weeks ago I had the extraordinary opportunity and indescribable experience of watching my first grandchild emerge into this world. This is a photo of me and Tova about an hour after she was born in the middle of the night. A big palpable joy, gratitude and celebration flew over the airwaves to our families, out to our friends, and who knows where else. That’s just the kind of news we want, the kind we need, and the kind that I think sustains our faith in humanity. It’s the kind that fills my heart with strength, courage and optimism. I hope it does for you, too.
In fact, it’s said that the last instruction the Buddha gave as he lay dying was “Move into the future with confidence.” And in light of the tenuous state of our planet, feeling confident about our future is not so easy. Coincidentally, the day after Tova was born I received a blog post from Tricycle, a well-known Buddhist journal entitled something like “Death is real – Get used to it!” Given my state of life-affirming bliss I thought “no way, not today,” and I deleted it immediately.
Spending two weeks with this brand new baby who carries some of me in her, who is complete with perfect skin, with all of her perfectly functioning parts, and that perfect smell…well, it’s hard not to be awed by the preciousness of our lives. I have no doubt that our lives really do depend on each other and what we do truly matters.
Here is another teaching from the Buddha, known as The Five Daily Reflections, which at first may seem simple and obvious, but in reality is quite profound. Read them, think about them and see how they affect you.
The Five Daily Reflections
- We are of the nature to be born – pause and think about what it takes biologically for the myriad conditions to come together for viable, intact life to come into being, not to mention the social conditions required for two people to not only meet and hopefully like and love each other, but to have fully functioning bodies of their own that can make and support the development of new life. It’s extraordinary.
- We are of the nature to become ill – as obvious as this is, we get sick and we resist it. While we do what we can to manage our illnesses, we are often in contention with our body’s natural vulnerabilities. Discomfort, fear, diminished vigor, loss of function, etc. And in the midst of our pain and illness, we see that they come and go. We get better, too.
- We are of the nature to grow old – nothing stays the same, our lives and especially our bodies. We will age, our strength will diminish, our joints will degrade, our hair will gray, and our skin will sag. Look at the billions of dollars spent in the advertising industry to seduce us into thinking that just the right cream or potion will stop us from aging. Why are we so willing to be convinced?
- We will be separated from all we hold dear – death, the end of our lives as we know them. Whether it’s our own death or someone else’s, death is undeniable. And even though we know it, we don’t really Know it. In the West, we’re culturally insolated and isolated from dying. But my hunch is that those who work with people at the end of their lives, and those whose cultures normalize death as much as life aren’t so rocked by this ultimate separation.
- I am the owner of my karma – what I do matters. I love this because we can see the truth of it in everything we do. This is what the Buddha taught and how he defined karma: “My happiness and unhappiness are dependent upon my own actions, not only on others’ wishes for me.” Take some time to think about this and you’ll see that your thoughts and actions fundamentally and profoundly shape and inform your life – that your happiness and unhappiness truly are dependent upon and a reflection of your own actions. This is Karma.
After Tova was born, I spent days in awe and wonder, so full of love. It was a magical state that is beginning to wear off a little, but I am not the same person. I know a new kind of joy, a deeper responsibility for caring for my life and everything it affects, which gives me greater confidence in the future, and mostly a new depth of gratitude for simply being alive.