Sometimes when we meditate, the ghosts come knocking. This morning at the zen-do was one of those sits.
A friend from years past – Mike Low – died over the weekend, hiking the Cerise Creek trail outside of Pemberton. When he didn’t arrive at a friends for dinner on Saturday night, the RCMP were called and on Sunday search and rescue found his body in a crevasse. It’s been in the papers here, of course, though hiker deaths are not infrequent on the west coast so it would be easy to miss. I had glossed over the story about it yesterday morning, not realizing that I was reading about someone I knew until much later.
I hadn’t seen him in ten years – and it had been a full twenty years since we were anything approximating good friends. But there was a time during which he was a very good friend to me, and so his passing stings – because he was one of the good guys, the ones who *shouldn’t* die as young as 49. The fact that he no longer exists in the form that I might run into on the street is troubling – even though it’s very likely I would have never bumped into him again – so different were our social circles.
This morning during my sit, the memory of how he supported me when I was twenty and flailing – once driving me from Victoria to Port McNeil where I was starting a job, once taking me aside to counsel that my intelligence should probably get going to college instead of just dissipating in coffee shops and bars – came to me strongly. And with that slideshow, came all the other ghosts of that time in my life: the person I was, the moments I shared with others, that crew you see in the photo above (Mike is the furthest left in the photo – leaning backwards) who pretty much epitomize 1993 for me. And though everyone in that photo is still alive except Mike – the moment in which this snapshot was taken (late after a party at a bar called Rumors) is a ghost. It became one the second after the image was taken – that moment passed on, for the next one, and the one after that.
Twenty-two years (and millions of moments) later – I am looking at a snapshot of myself and others who no longer exist. Those selves *existed* but the present incarnations of them (right this second) exist.
And so I feel a tug at my heart for Mike’s passing, but more than that – what came sailing through during my practice this morning – was a gentle grief for all of who we were together many millions of moments ago. And who I was, at twenty-one – flailing, brash, unafraid of the world – replaced by the person I am now (who I also like quite a lot, really, if that old me had to pass on to become me now, it’s all for the best)…..
I’ve been reading Brad Warner’s book There is no God and He is Always With You in which he talks about this relationship between death and meditation – the moment by moment nature of being and non-being – and this came back to me in part this morning:
One of my favourite stoner rock bands, Om, has a song called “Meditation is the practice of Death.” It’s an interesting phrase. It sounds sort of morbid. Or else it sounds like it’s implying that meditation prepares one for death the way practicing bass prepares one for playing bass onstage.
But there’s another way to interpret that phrase that neither sounds morbid nor implies that we are preparing ourselves for something that will occur in the future. Meditation is how we practice death as it occurs in the midst of life. It’s how we see for ourselves our own annihilation and what it really means. It’s how we learn that annihilation isn’t some scary thing that happens at the end of life. Annihilation occurs all the time, faster than we can even be aware of it.
We imagine that we are a single being and that we exist across a series of moments. But that’s not really what happens. There is no real different between the moment in which we exist and we who exist within it. “Each moment is the universe,” is how Katagiri said it. It makes no sense to fear annihilation when we experience it every moment. Annihilation is nothing to fear. Annihilation is the meaning of life.
And so it goes. We sit. The ghosts come to speak to us. And then we let them go.
Peace to you Mike – the world is less without the fact of you in it.