I Am Living. I Am Dying. A Mantra for an Awakened Life
Recently I was driving home at night and listening to the radio, something I mainly do in my car. I was listening to NPR and although I’m not sure what specific show was on the air (because I only caught 15 minutes of it), there was a man reading from a journal. I found the story he was reading to be so moving, it inspired me to write this column. I am unclear as to whether the man was reading his own journal or someone else’s but no matter, the profundity of the story is the same.
The Story goes like this: this particular man had been diagnosed with the HIV/AIDS and was told to prepare to die. Again I am unclear as to what time in the AIDS epidemic this was taking place but no matter, he was far enough along that dying was his only option. So, he prepared to die and in his dying he was liberated. He said that he never felt more alive than when he was sentenced to die! Colors were more vidid, tastes more poignant, personal relationships and encounters more meaningful. It was as if someone turned on a light and he could finally see….after living so many years in the dark. Every day became meaningful and purposeful and he was not only acceptant about his dying, he actually felt real joy for the first time in his adult life. He accepted and embraced his fate completely until one day he went to see his doctor and the doctor told him about these new drugs. Drugs that could possible arrest the AIDS virus and save his life! And so, willing to take a chance on living, he prepared himself to live. He began the miracle drug treatment with caution and as so many people come to realize while taking “life saving drugs,” they made him really, really sick. He was nauseous, dizzy and sometimes unable to leave his apartment for days or even weeks. After a period of time spent in this homebound drug induced reflection, he realized that although he was indeed “living”, inside he felt like he was dying. And in that moment he decided he’d rather die than live like this. In that moment, he chose to quit the drugs and to be more “alive while dying” rather than “dead while living.” In his process of coming to terms with the decision he made, knowing fully it was his choice this time and that he was not a victim of there being “no cure”……he pulled out his prayer beads and created a new mantra with which he could now relate to: I Am Living. I Am Dying. I Am Living. I Am Dying.
In hearing this story I couldn’t help but think of just how many people, people who aren’t even sick, are living a life as if they were already dead. A life that has dulled their senses. A life that is full of struggle and strife. A life full of anger and resentment and regret. An ordinary life that anyone from the outside looking in might view as “decent” yet, a life that the person occupying it has become estranged to. A life that is unfulfilling. A life with seemingly little choice. A life lived from “should’s” rather than from “why the hell not’s!” We all know people like this and it is deeply sad.
Equally, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who live with a disability of some sort……maybe they are blind, or sick, or are immobile for some reason, and yet, they live as if they are fully alive! Fully functioning. Getting out on the streets even though they can not see…riding buses, holding down jobs. Crossing overpasses in their motorized scooters or using whatever devices they can afford so as to not be held back. I have seen beggars in India with no arms and no legs who have a better since of humor, deeper acceptance and a more sincere smile than most people in our modern society! It is impressive to see people not letting their physical conditions dictate their consciousness and I am often moved to tears because of it.
And then there are those with great wealth who will never have enough. And those with hardly anything who are willing to give it all away. This is a complex world in which we live. A world full of opposites – of pain and joy, suffering and celebration, wealth and poverty. It is not a “fair” world but it is the way it is. Call it karma. Call it luck. Call it fortune or misfortune. Call it what you will but by all means, call it something you can make peace with. Paint your imagination whatever color will allow you to live fully while you are living, as if everyday might be your last, and die as if dying were the next great adventure….because dying truly is that one great mystery nobody can really solve, isn’t it?
If we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that we are all living and dying at the same time. Our days are numbered and unpredictable yet we live as if we will live forever, as if dying isn’t something that will happened to us…..until it does. Like it did to my friend Miguel Walters who died suddenly last week at age of 44. And as it does to so many children. And to so many others who have not lived out their years. Having not died yet myself, I can not say it is actually a bad thing….in my version of death there is only magnificence!…..but to those who are left behind it can be a crushing loss.
By remembering the precarious and precious nature of this gift of life on a daily basis, we are bound to be more present and participatory to both, the living and the dying.
Hence a daily reminder through a mantra – I Am Living. I Am Dying.