Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sleep on Brave Soldier!

(DSH Photo: Benjamin Franklin Heald 1843-1864; James Hershey Heald 1839-1862; Sumner Hill Cemetery; Sumner, ME)


Geoff said...

You go, Dave!

Easy for me to say, of course.

But there is all this common sense stuff rattling around in most spiritual traditions about an authentic relationship with death being the ground of a life that's "fully alive". Well, that one just constantly GNAWS on me because the truth of it is clear enough, and I KNOW my relationship with my death is weak. I've got Larry Rosenberg's book...but it just sits on the shelf, seeming to glower down, saying "Yeah, ok. Go ahead and take the damn Lee Child book you've read two times already instead of me, you wimp. I'm here waiting for you to grow up!" My weak reply is "I read Elizabeth K-R. What do you want from me?"

I have a framed photograph of one of those gravestone death heads from a Concord cemetary, "Momento Mori" engraved just above. It sits in a drawer in my office. I can't figure out where to PUT the damn thing.

Anyway, so you'd be doing us all a big favor by pursuing your morbid obsession.

I want to know what Emerson thought he was doing there. Is it the (brief) equivalent of the Buddhist monk contemplating the charnal ground? He was trying to move closer to really comprehending (in his bones) his own mortality and his wife's death gave him the opportunity? Did it work? How would she have felt about this? Was she a soul mate to that degree? Dish.


David Heald said...

Emerson commented not at all about what he was doing there. In his journal, he matter-of-factly stated that he had done it. And that is all. No commentary. Robertson states: "He had to see for himself...he had a powerful craving for direct, personal, unmediated experience. That is what he meant when he insisted that one should strive for an original relation to the universe."

I'm not sure that one can ever become truly intimate with one's death before one is dying. Even then many folks evade the reality, up until the very end...All we can do is seek to engage with death, perhaps befriend it, whatever that means.

All I know is that the topic fascinates me --from a medical, artistic, literary, religious perspective. It holds a certain exquisite allure. In that sense, perhaps I would have been more at home in the 19th century.

Anyone up for a seance?

Geoff said...

That desire for direct experience--I wonder how much of this may have come from a Buddhist influence as well as the spiritual currents of the time. It's pretty clear that Emerson and Thoreau, not to mention others in the Concord writers group of the time, did study Buddhism. Walden Pond, just to name one work, is filled with that influence. Buddhism really is very hospitable to a "New England sensibility".

I've noticed in attending the deaths of a few parents that no matter how much I know that death is near, it's arrival is still a little shocking. As you say, to the end, some part doesn't "get it", even for an observer.

In the end, it is obviously about surrender, as so many things in life seem to be. I know that when I can completely surrender to the moment, natural happiness emerges, no matter what's going on. Not easy.

Gil Fronsdal notes: "Ajahn Chah once said, “If you let go a little, you’ll have a little peace. If you let go a lot you’ll have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you’ll have complete peace.” This release is sometimes called Mahasukha, the Great Happiness, which is said to be the only happiness that is ultimately reliable."

That seems to be the work. From a Christian perspective, that letting go can arise from a faith in God's way. Perhaps "faith" here being more in the Buddhist sense, that you have investigated reality as best you can, and from your own observation and intuition, you believe that "the way things are" is fundamentally good and right, and so you let go into it with the confidence of a diver at the deep end of the pool.

I think your instinctive attraction to death is a good and healthy one. There is so much of the real substance of life RIGHT THERE.