The Last Day
I woke up this morning to a feeling of the ordinary. It was the usual foggy coastal August weather, with the usual tension in my solar plexus, the everyday tension in my throat. As I was coming into consciousness I checked, and then double checked . . . Yes, I have problems I need to attend to. Yep, I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong. I feel a sense of dread that means, yes, my worth and value, my capacity for shame and the shouldering of responsibilities I feel inadequate to bear will all be activated in a matter of moments . . . 5 . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . And there it is . . . the invitation has arrived, and I am entirely identified with a fear so ancient and familiar that I cannot remember any other way of knowing myself.
It is so easy to imagine that a different tomorrow will eventually come, that on another morning somewhere in the future, I’ll wake up free of dread and I’ll have the inner spaciousness to take in the morning stillness, to walk in the moisture of settled clouds, to share a moment of attuned connection with my husband or my friends.
But at the moment I am mostly focused on feeling nauseous and wishing I was still asleep. There is, however, in the back of my mind, an echo of my teacher’s voice, suggesting that there is an opening into life right now, this awful and unwanted state marks a path into the spaciousness I imagine, and that path is available to me now . . . it is right in front of me . . . it is the nauseating dread and fear churning around in my torso and chest.
Recognizing this, I have to consciously choose to meet this internal terror. Before I can move into a day of helping others, I am going to have to risk fully showing up here, right now; I am going to have to meet this unrelenting resistance to existence that fully occupies my experience and attention.
I really don’t want to. I would prefer to wallow; I would prefer to repress my feelings. I would prefer to go eat a lot of food and attempt to numb the gripping, knotted hardness that has become my digestive system.
It takes an absolute act of will power to settle into the 90-minute crucible that is my morning meditation.
I move through layers of awareness. One grinding, aching, tumultuous, holy moment at a time, the shadow of my unlived life is illuminated.
My perspective shifts as I focus on the tense snarl that occupies my chest and belly. The importance of accomplishing daily tasks, completing my spiritual quest, perfecting myself, healing my past, avoiding humiliation, getting my needs met, making it in the world, manifesting all the material world possessions and internal states I have imagined would fulfill me, all of these things peel off, bit by bit, and fall away.
Eventually, maybe, sometimes, in that last few minutes before the meditation ends, Grace comes. All that is left in my heart is a reflection or contemplation on love. Will this be one of those mornings? I wonder . . .
And a cascade of wonderings unfold . . .
Will this life ever be one in which I wake up spacious and receptive to the unfolding of one here-and-now moment followed by the next? Will I ever be curious and open to honoring my every experience, exactly as each feeling or sensation arrives . . . even the resistance and angst, the shame and fear? Will I be able to fall in love, to truly fall in love with this life, exactly as it is?
Will I find the capacity to merge into the sacred offering of the natural world, to accept stillness and steadiness in lieu of stimulation, distraction and immediate entertainment?
Will I find empathy, compassion, kindness and love to be the motivating source of my actions?
Will I be able to comprehend and live the purpose of this precious, excruciating, unbelievable, astonishing, and heartbreaking human opportunity?
In a flash, I see the abundance of this universe surrounding me. It is always already here, waiting to be received, waiting for me to say yes. Why have I been holding back? What am I waiting for? What is my heart really asking of me? What is most important to me? In what ways am I living other people’s lives? How am I living for the sake of belonging in a social system that has forgotten about love and what matters most?
One of these days . . . I don’t know which day or how . . . but one of these day will be the last day, the last moment to have a thought, to feel an emotion, to smell a flower, to taste something sweet, and to know heartbreak, joy, and peace – to experience the awe of what it really means to be a sensitive, alive, tender human being.
What if today is that last day? Or tomorrow? Or later this week?
Knowing that death will come, I pay attention to the breath that is moving within me right now, to the feelings washing through my body, and to the opportunity to know and to be a channel of love, right here.
For a few brief moments, as my meditation comes to an end, I allow in the possibility that today may be my last and I feel my heart open, momentarily, to the gift of life.
In that ephemeral and fleeting moment, I understand that my “life's purpose” has nothing to do with my job, or my husband, or the house remodel . . . it’s unrelated to the next cool thing I manifest or whether I achieve a mythical realization on my spiritual journey. Rather, I know, in a full body way of knowing, that the purpose of my life is to LIVE, to touch each moment with presence, to offer the gift of my singular, unique heart. I know, in that full body way of knowing, that I am not getting out of bed to face a day of “helping” others . . . I am simply here . . . and perhaps my presence will reflect for others how precious and unique they are.
My meditation is over, and I rest for a few more moments, appreciating how rare and precious it is to be here.