This month we're letting October be our guide to experiencing beautiful death and endings.
To read part 1, click here.
As is often the case for those who have the opportunity to guide others into new ways of thinking or seeing, the opportunities to walk your talk and take your own advice abound. I had many expectations about how this blog series should go, and when things should happen, so, as one would imagine if one were paying attention, the Universe decided that this was one of my teachable moments. You see, initially I wrote an entire post that I knew, though harmless and generally correct, was basically bullshit. And then, it "just so" happened that as I was heading towards the Publish button some kind of mysterious combination of trackpad finger slide/clicks occurred and the entire post disappeared.
The next day I decided to sit Myself down for a stern talking to, and before too long October got involved, and we end up chatting with a French idealist-philosopher-Jesuit priest-paleontologist-geologist. Here's a transcript of that conversation.
SELF: Seriously. What is your deal about this? Why aren't you more focused on this very important thing you said you were going to do?
MYSELF: It's not that I'm not serious about it, it's that I don't really know where this series is going. It just sort of blurted out in that last post that this was going to be a series, and now I'm a little stuck.
SELF: Wow. I'm just thinking and feeling so many things in reaction to that, and quite frankly, I just don't even know what to do with you sometimes.
MYSELF: I know, right?! Neither do I!
SELF: Okay, so did you ask October? October IS your guide for this, no?
MYSELF: Uh, yeah. Lemme go talk to October, and I'll get back to you. [furiously dialing October's number]
OCTOBER: [picking up phone] Hello, October speaking.
MYSELF: Hey, October! It's Me, what's up?
OCTOBER: Oh, you know, moving right along.
MYSELF: Yeah, cool. Hey, um, so, is there something that you can tell me about what's happening during this time of the year with the seasons and deaths and endings and stuff? And, like, any advice applicable to my life right now?
OCTOBER: Well, let me ask you this: In noticing my uniqueness, what is it that you think is special about me?
MYSELF: Everything is so colorful, and every day something else changes! I kind of feel like everything is changing really fast, not just the colors or the amount of leaves on trees, but the light is changing and it's getting darker earlier. The temperatures are getting cooler too, so the warm days or moments of the day are less frequent. I wish I could just walk around all day long and witness the things change, and feel every single moment of the change.
OCTOBER: I thought you hated change.
MYSELF: Well, not when it's a good change or it seems like a good change.
OCTOBER: How do you know if a change is going to be good or not?
MYSELF: Good question! Probably by paying attention to the subtleties. Noticing the directions and the patterns of the change. Not jumping to conclusions, but letting things move at their own pace through their own process.
OCTOBER: There you go. I call that staying attentive. That's what I'm all about right now. You cannot stop the mechanism that causes these changes in season, in color, in temperature, in daylight. But you can stay attentive. All around you there are gifts of this change. All around you this transition from life, abundance, and the promise of fullness, to death, dormancy, and deep rest, is happening slowly. It only feels quick to you because you get lost in your busy mind, and only pop in and out of your awareness of this transition.
MYSELF: By attentiveness, do you mean 'staying in the present?'
OCTOBER: It is sort of similar, but there is an important difference in being present and being attentive. Attentiveness requires more of you than simply your presence. You know, like when you're hanging out with your friend but all they're doing is looking at their phone while you're trying to talk, that's presence. They're physically with you, they can hear you talking, you can touch them, and they respond to you when you poke them, but they're not really THERE-there. Attentive is when they put down the phone and look at your face and into your eyes as you talk. They notice the subtleties and respond to you both verbally and non-verbally; a mutual give and receive happens between you.
MYSELF: Describing attentiveness and presence this way makes presence seem unimportant or not as good as attentiveness. How would you respond to all meditation people who talk a lot about being in the present?
OCTOBER: Well, I would say that mindfulness meditation is actually about learning to be attentive. And simply being in the present is also an important skill to learn. Learning to be present is step one; you have to know how to show up, and you have to learn to detach from the judgements and the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, and the expectations your previous experiences bring to the moment. So being present is actually crucial to being attentive, it's just that there is something after that and a lot of people stop when they get to presence.
MYSELF: You know, October, one of my favorite things about you is that you hide this lesson in plain sight. You provide opportunity after opportunity for us to practice attentiveness, and any one of our physical senses can bring us right to the feet of attentiveness. Thank you, what a beautiful gift. But I do have another question: If everything is dying right now, why pay attention to that? Won't that just make me sad and lead to suffering?
OCTOBER: Let's add my friend Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to this call. He'll say it better than I can, I'll just butcher the punchline. [punches some buttons to add a 3rd person to the call]
PIERRE T dC: Bonjour, belle Octobre!
OCTOBER: [blushing slightly at being addressed fondly by a French accent] Bonjour, Pierre! I'm here with Jenna, and she's asking about why it's important to be attentive to the process of death. I know you were speaking directly about illness when you wrote it initially, but I was thinking you could tell her that thing you said about how when intention - or particular attentiveness - is placed on suffering/death, how it holds a bunch of potential energy?
PIERRE T dC: Mais bien sur! Sufferer's naturally have the feeling that they are useless or even a burden on the earth. . . Their state seems to have no meaning. It reduces them, they might say, to inaction amidst a universe of action. . . What a vast ocean of human suffering spreads over the entire earth at every moment! Of what is this mass formed? Of blackness, gaps, and rejections? No. . . of potential energy. In suffering, the ascending force of the world is concealed in a very intense form. The whole question is how to liberate it and give it a consciousness of its significance and potentialities . . . All the sufferers of the earth joining their sufferings so that the world's pain might become a great and unique act of consciousness, elevation, and union. Would not this be one of the highest forms that the mysterious work of creation could take in our sight?**
OCTOBER: [Exhales a slow, cool, breath. Leaves rustle and dance their way to the ground, acorns drop heavily in the distinct rhythm of a slow clap.]
MYSELF: [eyes wide, mouth agape, stunned into silence, wheels of brain creaking and sputtering]
OCTOBER: Sorry, I should have warned you that I was about to go with the nuclear, philospher-smarty-pants option. That dude has a lot going on, so you'll probably be unpacking that for awhile, but let me help you put it together. Part of what I'm here to teach you during this season is how to be attentive to things, and specifically the things that are not always easy or comfortable to keep in focus long enough to see the subtleties. I want you to learn to see the enormous amounts of potential energy that are stored in the depths of pain, and loss, and how not to get stuck in, or deny the presence of, any one part of the cycle.
In Part 3, we'll discuss, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggests, how it might be possible to liberate the ascending force of suffering and give its potentialities and significance a consciousness. No promises on who will or won't show up to that conversation...
**Teilhard de Chardin quote can be found in Ursula King's Christ in All Things: Exploring Spirituality with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.