If I write a beautiful sentence in a poem and then use it in a novel, or if I publish an article on my blog and re-publish it on social media, it is a ridiculous idea that I could be committing the crime of “self plagiarism.”
“Self-plagiarism,” explained Robert Cruetz, “is also known as ‘reuse,’ ‘recycling fraud,’ or ‘duplicate publication,’ and consists of a person re-purposing their own written material without providing proper attribution by citing the original content.”
The legal concept of “self-plagiarism” is contrary to the order of the universe, unnatural, and therefore inherently flawed. Think of genetic code as a type of writing. A rule prohibiting “self plagiarism”” would have derailed evolution from its earliest beginnings and planet Earth would still be a hot dead rock without an atmosphere or arable soil.
All life has borrowed “writing” from the prior generation in order to both survive and to thrive in the process of adding to it, improving upon it.
Here it seems to me that the spirit of the law against plagiarism has been lost. The spirit of plagiarism laws was to protect the livelihood of the original author.The ability of the author to support their life their family. Think about that.
Self-plagiarism is ridiculous and foolish legalistic concept.
I hereby confess this is a repost, self-plagiarism, from my original writing on LinkedIn.
Some have wondered about the name of this website, In The Spirit of Truth. As mentioned in my Welcome page, the URL is from a line in one my favorite prayers called the Trisagion, which means “thrice holy.”
The Trisagion (tri-SAH-ghee-on) is a set of ancient prayers from the Orthodox Church that are used at the very beginning of most corporate and private prayers. Sort of a prayer before the prayers. Paraphrasing Fr. Bill, the Trisagion is about making sure you’re reaching the right person. It’s like having your friend’s phone number. You wouldn’t key in some random set of numbers and expect to hear your friend answer. Opening prayers with the Trisagion is dialing up the exact right divine nonphysical entity, the Holy Trinity. Once you’ve got them on the line, now proceed with specific prayers, such as traditional Orthodox common morning prayers,special occasion prayers, or your own private personal prayers for any other purpose.
Below is the text of the Trisagion prayer. It is usually spoken but portions are also sung, in the clip below.
+Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee. O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious One. +Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. [3x] +Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake. Lord, have mercy. [3x] +Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Usually the Trisagion is spoken, but can be sung or chanted such as this excerpt from the Akathist of Thanksgiving.
The Lords Prayer, I particularly love the way Orthodox sing. The recording below is from an Orthodox wedding. The Lord’s prayer is also part of the Trisagion, but not usually sung at that early part of prayer. (I used to sing it to my daughter when she was a baby, during our prayers at home.) I just love this!
Focus and Practice
What’s most important is focus and practice. When I first started coming to the Orthodox liturgy, I was uncomfortable and critical of how prayers were repeated all the time, the same words used, week after week. I shared my feelings at Intro to Orthodoxy class and Fr. Bill explained that learning how to pray is very much like learning how to play an instrument. Just like practicing scales over and over again until they become second nature, you practice to the point where you don’t have to think about them, and now you can become a conduit for creativity. Then you can start making music. He said it’s the same with prayer. That made a lot of sense to me.
Neurologically, when we practice anything it’s like making a path through the woods, but in our brains. The electrical impulses actually cut a “neural pathway” through our brain. Repeating anything does. Driving to work. Habitual thoughts. Practicing scales. They all create paths of least resistance for neural impulses to travel — over time and with repetition it becomes easier and easier than hacking through thick brush with a machete. Getting good at anything is the same. Walking. talking. Communicating.
Prayer really is a form of communication.
In its simplest most basic form, communication is a sender, a receiver, and a message. The goal of course being the conveyance of a message and connection to another– the very definition of relationship. For connection and communication to occur, both parties need to be speaking the same language, not have any interference or noise, and each party takes turns speaking (sending) and listening (receiving). They are two different modes. One cannot speak and listen at the same time.
Remember the game “Telephone” in kindergarten? Everyone stands in a circle, the starting person whispers a phrase into the ear of their friend on the left (sending), who hears it (receiving) and passes it on by whispering into the ear of their friend on their left, (sending) and so on. Lowering the voice to a whisper represents a form of interference (noise), because there’s not enough amplification for the conveyance of all the nuances of the sounds of the words, thereby interfering with communication. By the time the message gets conveyed to the last person, it is usually quite changed from the original message. Imagine if nobody listened, but everyone talked or whispered. That’s kind of how our lives are these days.
Here’s what I think. People who believe God isn’t there, isn’t listening, is unresponsive — they have it backwards. The Blessed Elder Paisios said God is broadcasting 24/7; out job is to tune ourselves to his frequency. We are the ones not listening.
Truly, in my own experience — and I’m not a pro at prayer like the monks of Mount Athos, are — and in that of concert musicians and painters and anyone creative — it is normal to experience and receive communication a higher Source. To quiet the mind is key: stopping thought, getting into listening mode. It’s not hard, really. You can do it right now, while reading this. Close your eyes for just a few minutes and notice your breathing. Or a meaningless sound like a fan or clock ticking. Notice how as soon as you start listening, your mind shuts off, not thinking. You can focus attention, and shift your focus. Notice your heart beating. Now notice your breathing. Now notice any other sound in the room or outside the room. Tap your foot on the floor and hear that. That ability to focus attention and listen is the key. Focus on listening, receiving thoughts, instead of thinking thoughts.
Another analogy: baseball. You’re either up to bat (sending) or you’re out in the field waiting to catch a fly ball (receiving.) They’re completely separate modes, and you can’t do both at the same time.
Thoughts are like a roaring wind over the pond of the mind. The waters of the mind churn in the wind. But stopping the wind of thought allows the waters of the mind to become still. Once the roar of the wind is stilled–now you can hear a beautiful bird singing or crickets chirping. When the mind is still — that’s when prayer becomes a conversation. Also, if you are worrying, upset, or feeling angry about anything it is virtually impossible to come into real communication, to listen, in prayer.
Recently I wrote about my experience of a very painful injury and how offering a prayer of appreciation at that time was a kind of sacrifice. It’s also a kind of sacrifice to remove overlook –withdraw attention–from what is unwanted, and find things to appreciate and praise. Over the years I have come to find that offering prayers of appreciation are the most satisfying.
I have found great benefit from two other very simple prayers: the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me,” repeated while working, is very transformative and comforting. It is particularly effective if having trouble sleeping, feeling afraid of anything, having lack of confidence. I find that the aroma of Frankincense, or a blend containing Frankincense or other wood oils, such as Balance, is also very comforting and calms the mind.
Another very short and effective practice of getting in and out of the modes of sending and receiving, is the practice of the traditional Hawaiian prayer called Ho’Oponopono, which translates into English as “to make right,” or “prayer of forgiveness.” It entails simply focusing upon the following four emotional states in succession:
“I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
The key is focus attention, recalling something that evokes the target emotion in a strong way. For example, for “I love you,” I like to think about snuggling with my dog. I just love him and he is so unconditional, I can really deeply feel into the feeling of love.
For “I am sorry,” I think back to the worst offense I ever made to someone I love. Like my mother.
For “Please forgive me,” I thinks about asking with great intention for the forgiveness regarding the above offense. Because I really want to set it right.
For “Thank you,” I feel into the sublime appreciation of receiving forgiveness from that person, or animal, from whom I ask forgiveness.
Besides documented evidence that a traditional Hawaiian practitioner once used Ho’Oponopono to cure the emotional ills of staff and inmates of an entire hospital for the criminally insane in Hawaii, I myself have experienced small miracles with the practice. Such as the time I was catching a 9 am flight from Milwaukee to LA to attend a conference. I made a mistake in putting the wrong time into my phone, and miscalculated my departure from the house to drive through downtown Milwaukee to catch the flight. I raced out of the house a full hour later than needed!
For the entire 30-minute drive from to the airport during weekday morning rush-hour traffic in the rain, I repeated the prayer, over and over, feeling into each expression:
“I love you, I am so sorry, please forgive me, thank you.”
I will never for that drive. It felt like the parting of the Red Sea. The traffic just opened for me, I drove solid freeway times without a single slow-down and arrived 25 minutes before my flight. A pre-TSA boarding pass came out of the machine; I ran through the airport with my bags in hand as it was too late to check them. Security waived me and my bags through. I RAN through the airport and heard my name called out over the intercome twice before arriving at my gate, just as they were the closing the doors and I made it onto the plane.
So…that’s where In The Spirit of Truth comes from, and some of my experiences with prayer. Do you have any experiences with prayer to share? Thanks for reading!
MILWAUKEE–This week I had the privilege to attend a lecture at Marquette University by one of the most preeminent authors, scholars, and theologians of our generation: His Eminence, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, MA, D.Phil, titular metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain.
With his bishop’s hat, flowing robes, scraggly white beard, and distinctive British accent, this esteemed professor emeritus at Oxford could surely be mistaken for a Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts instructor at Hogwarts. (To see what I mean, check out this interview with Metropolitan Kallistos on the Philokalia.)
A prolific theologian, many would count him a worthy candidate for eventual sainthood, possibly even of the kind called Equal-to-the-Apostles.
Like every Orthodox bishop I have ever met, his warmth, grace, and above all, humility was most noticeable. He’s very down to earth. What brought him to Milwaukee? Word has it His Eminence was drawn to view the collection housed at Marquette of the original manuscripts and writings of his esteemed Oxford predecessor, J.R.R. Tolkien. Thanks to Marquette for that! The Metropolitan gave us much to think about and mediate upon, particularly as we are about to embark upon our inner journey through Lent.
Given the state of the world “out there” today, our collective prayerful journey through the Lenten desert “in here” in 2016 may well be one of the most crucial, or perhaps most meaningful, of our lives. May our prayers bear much fruit.
Lenten Meditation: In the Image and Likeness of God
In Orthodoxy, we learn to hold our hand in a very specific way to make the sign of the Cross. Join together index, middle finger and thumb, to represent the holy Trinity. Fourth finger and pinkie, folded down into the palm, represents the dual nature of Christ as both fully God and fully human.
This theological symbol we make using our own hand could summarize Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s lecture.
Like Christ’s paradox of being both fully human and fully God, Kallistos pointed out how we human beings, too, are full of paradoxical duality. Humankind embodies both hope and disappointment, frailty and strength, beauty and ugliness, “Godlike apprehension and the quintessence of dust,” he said. We are both earthly and heavenly, temporal and immortal, spirit and flesh. In theological terms, we know from Genesis that we are made “in the image and likeness of God,” while formed out of dust. Grounded in the earth, “our personhood reaches out into infinity and into eternity.” This paradoxical duality causes us human beings to be a mystery–to our very selves.
Even though we may know we are “‘made in the image and likeness of God,’ we understand only a very small part of our personhood,” said Kallistos. “We don’t understand ultimate fulfillment. We don’t yet know what we will be. And so we ask ‘Who am I? What am I?’” Perennially, in every generation.
Human beings are born with a sense of needing something. We are driven to find it. It is like we’re born as a puzzle with a missing piece. There is always a sense of something missing, which drives us to go out and seek for something: a yearning for fulfillment.
Kallistos’ comment parallels a core teaching in A Course in Miracles, how there is really only one problem in life –separation from God–we often go looking in the wrong places to find the solution. It might be relationships. It might be material wealth. It might be adventure, a good time, a sense of wonder. It might be creating a life of comfort around us, in which we feel physically safe—which we do by accumulating wealth or power. Or it might be investing our lives in something more than ourselves—raising our children, or contributing to a cause.
Yet none of these truly, deeply satisfy. When we chase things and power—we always seem to need more. When we seek fulfillment in others, they all seem to leave us, eventually: if they don’t let us down, they grow up and move way, or they die. When we seek wealth and power, we find it never lasts: the more we have, the less safe and more vulnerable we feel, and we never can take it with us. And though we may devote our lives to a “cause,” often that cause is never truly fixed, but continues on past our time here.
The only way to find that missing piece of the puzzle—to fully know ourselves—is through getting to know God.
“We have within us a God-shaped hole,” Kallistos said. “Only when it is filled can we become fully human.
‘You see, the two questions, ‘what is God?’ and ‘what is man?’ are intimately connected. It is only when we look into the depths of our hearts: it is there that we find God, reflected back to us. Self-knowledge and God-knowledge are utterly co-dependent. If you know yourself, you will know God. And if you know God, you will know yourself.”
In the image of God is the image of the Trinity, and the image of Christ, Kallistos explained. Quoting Charles Williams, he said: “It is not good for God to be alone.” God is three persons in relationship, loving one another, in an interpersonal way: “not just a unit, but a union,” he said. God is communion. God is a relational being. God is social and dialogic. God is self-giving: sharing, reciprocal, responsive, and in solidarity.
We are formed in this same image and likeness. We, too, are social, relational beings, sharing, reciprocal, responsive, and in solidarity. Dialogic means two persons in communication with one another. “It means ‘I need you in order to be myself.’”
“I need you in order to be myself.”
I understand this idea very well. I was born into a wonderful, loving, kind, generous–yet flawed–family. Like so many families, mine suffered some kind of breakdown in structure long before I was born, leaving it bereft of stable emotional support structures. Emoting was just not safe. Love was conditional: fail to behave properly, and love was withheld.
For many years I suffered the consequences of conditional love: self-loathing, low esteem, self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts. Thank God, my one attempt at suicide was very lame and I failed.
Psychologist Frank Dance described growth in human communication from birth on to traverse a spiral shape like a helix. At birth we are the center of our universe: there is only us and our needs. We cry, and God in the form of our mother meets our needs. We think we cause everything. As we start to move higher and see farther, we realize we share this world and live in the context of others: family, parents, siblings, cousins, extended family, neighborhood, city, state, planet. We circle back around, reflecting upon our past experiences while moving forward, higher up in an ever-enlarging circle. We learn that are NOT the center, we are not alone, who we are affects others, they affect us, and so forth.
With each passing experience, our circle of experience grows bigger and we rise higher. Only by interacting with others do we see ourselves: our gifts, our talents, our abilities, within a context of a social structure. As we come around to higher levels we develop the ability to empathize: to imagine ourselves in someone elses’ shoes, feel what they feel. We develop perspective, empathy, and compassion.
But for some of us who grow up with conditional love, movement forward along the growth track can feel like an electric shock. Perhaps because of abuse, neglect, or addiction, we stop moving forward. We recoil. We put on thick gloves and shields. We build a wall. We, in essence, get stuck at a developmental stage of feeling like we are at the center of the universe. The world “out there” is going to harm us, and we have to defend ourselves, put up walls.
That was the kind of family I grew up in, emotionally. Lots of walls.
Then I had the transformative experience Metropolitan Kallistos described: “I need you in order to become myself.”
I distinctly recall the moment. I was in my mid-20s, newly married, deeply in love with my new husband. We spent a lot of time gazing into each other’s eyes, sharing our stories. And then it happened. I saw myself as he saw me: I saw what he loved in me, in myself. Unconditional agape love: so strong and pure, no matter what I did, how I behaved, what mistakes I made, it forgives and endures forever. I will never forget the uplifting sensation of the opening of my heart, when I was first experienced seeing my own value, my own worth, reflected in the eyes of another. To clarify: it was not that I was validated by him. My husband did not validate me. My husband was simply the mirror–not the source. What I saw was who I REALLY am–love itself. I saw the I AM that is love, that is God–reflected in his eyes. I AM, HE IS, WE ALL ARE, that LOVE. There is only One.
That sensation of opening, of seeing that love, felt uplifting, as a revolution completed in the helical journey. I was up at the next level, looking back, and a whole new vista appeared. I experienced level of compassion for my own broken family that I had never been able to perceive or conceive of before. They simply were stuck back there, and did not know about this kind of love! How sad! (I won’t get into the years spent trying to share it with them. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion!)
Our society today is stuck, like I was, in a conditional love. Society needs to move along the path of growth. We have all suffered so much hurt, so much abuse, so much pain, many of us frozen in fear, are afraid to love, afraid to move on, afraid to trust, afraid to fall, afraid to let go.
A wonderful anthem for this generation: Let It Go! Good Lord: help us let it go! (Queue up Disney.)
Here is the point: as tightly as we cling to our fears, that does not stop the unconditional love from being there, right here, right now, right before our eyes. Love is eternal. It has and always will exists. Remember: death was overcome! John 8:51. Why hold on to fear? What is needed is to open our eyes, to simply be able to perceive God which is love. In order to perceive it, we must seek mirrors — those who reflect that love back to us. We must become mirrors ourselves: we must look deeply and with love into the eyes of anyone and everyone with whom we interact, and reflect that love to them, and act upon our love.
An inner work
People make mistakes all the time, every day of the week. Whether surrounded by unloving people, terrorists, or conditional love, many in this broken world go through life alone, with conditional love. We withdraw our love for them, put them in prison, and leave them to suffer alone.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem.
“One human being in solitude is no human being,” Kallistos said.
We are not being fully human when we are like abused children, hiding alone in the closet. We all need to come out of the closet.
The answer, of course, is that we are never actually alone in the closet at all. So long as one child hides in a closet, we need to rescue them, get them out, look into their eyes, reassure them of the truth: What is real is Christ God within us, complete man and complete God, a relational being–that’s Who is real. He is right here, inside our hearts, ready for us to find him. He promised and he keeps his promises. A heart that seeks Him, finds Him.
This message is arguably the most profound truth in all of human history. This message represented a re-setting of our reality as human beings: an entirely new paradigm. It was so profound, back in the day, that it reset our consensus calendar to begin retroactively with Christ’s birth. Look at the calendar we all share. We are in the Year of Our Lord, 2016.
“Christ’s birth,” Metropolitan Kallistos said, “was the birthday of the whole human race. Not until then were the full dimensions of human personhood revealed.”
“Theology is actually a branch of Christology,” Kallistos said, not the other way around. Above all else, “we are to be faithful imitators of Jesus Christ.”
Kallistos issued a challenge to all Christians: we must go beyond simply imitating Christ. “We will greatly err unless we take it further.”
“Let us not forget Hamlet, who reminded us: ‘I have bad dreams,’” he said. “Human beings reside midway between majesty and lowliness. While we are flawed icons, always remember: Christ is our constant companion until the end of days.”
Freedom, Self-Knowledge, Creativity, Growth and Cosmic Dominion or Priesthood
Metropolitan Kallistos encouraged us to consider five points: freedom, self-knowledge, creativity, growth, and cosmic dominion or priesthood.
With regards to freedom, he challenged us to recognize that God’s freedom is absolute and unlimited, while human freedom is limited. It is within our limitations that our freedom is to be found. Don’t worry about shackles and injustice and prison bars. They mean nothing.”You must change your mind about the purpose of the world, if you would find escape,”as A Course In Miracles so eloquently states.
Knowledge of self arises out of knowledge of God. What is He always telling us? “God says: become your true self,” Kallistos said. That’s it. Everyone can become their true self. Everyone. “Recognize that nobody is dispensable, unnecessary, or useless. It is tragic that anyone ever feel that no one would notice if they died.”
It is in our own creativity that we “bless the Lord….for in wisdom hast thou made them all.” (Psalm 103-104) All of us are made in His wisdom.
Recognize that we humans are sub-creators, as Tolkien said. “God creates out of nothing, we create out of what God has given us.” It is in offering what we make of the world, and giving it back to God, that we become truly ourselves. We transfigure, revealing in glory, what was hidden.
For example, God gives us wheat which we transform into bread and give back to him. Likewise, He gives us the gift of the vine, we transform it into wine, and give it back to him. He receives our offering, transforms both, and gives them back to us in the Eucharist. He told us to do this to re-call him back to us. Western Christianity translates it “do this in memory of me,” but the correct translation from the Greek is “do this to call me back.” It is in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, prayerfully made by our own hands, in a circle of giving, that He comes back into us: his sacrifice was not just on the Cross. His sacrifice continues every week Divine Liturgy–a Eucharistic mystical supper of his body and blood transformed mystically–to keep us alive, spiritually.
Of course, Kallistos pointed out, human beings are not the only creatures to whom God loves and gives his fruits and seeds.
“Squirrels collect nuts,” Kallistos said, “but they don’t transform them into liqueur!” Only human beings can transform, transfigure, and transmute what God gives us into something else.
“To be human,” Kallistos said concerning growth, “is to be a pilgrim, a journey from the image to the likeness.” The image is essentially our equipment, whereas the likeness is holiness. The journey is “the act of reaching forward,” or as I describe, moving along that path of growth, in an ever widening spiral, higher up, seeing more.
And through all of eternity, Kallistos assured us, “God will always remain a God of surprises.”
Cosmic Dominion and Priesthood
Regarding cosmic dominion and priesthood, “dominion does not meant domination,” Kallistos said. It is always to good to “remember the gentle service of Christ washing the feet of his disciples.
“Christ said ‘I am the One who serves.’ We in modern times have forgotten this.”
“Reflect on the contemporary ecological disaster. To say ‘environmental crisis’ is not strictly accurate. The crisis is not ‘out there,’ but in the human heart. The ecological disaster is a spiritual problem. We have lost sight of our true relationship to the world God has given us. Our human image is grievously distorted. What we need is an ecological change of mind.”
It is important, he said, to bear in mind the distinction between the king, the steward, and the priest. The concept of a king is not popular and is widely misunderstood today.
Many Christian ecologists, Kallistos said, call upon us to be “stewards,” for the world belongs to God, not us. But there is a disadvantage in that view. By taking on a managerial or utilitarian point of view, our egos inflate and we succumb to the temptation to elevate ourselves above creation. How do we prevent this?
“See nature not as an ‘it’ but as a ‘thou,’” he said. “Act as priests of the Creation. We are ordained, through the laying on of hands, to a natural, intrinsic priesthood, that is both eucharistic and doxological. How we become our true selves is to be who we are: Man the Offerer.”
“We must turn the world itself into a eucharistic offering—requiring, on the one hand, sacrifice, and on the other, love,” said Kallistos. “Love is at the heart of the Trinity.”
A commandment of God not written down, Kallistos said, is: “Love the trees.”
Many criticize organized religion for how it causes us to have to worship God, and to believe blindly. But God does not need us to worship Him. Nor does He need us to believe in Him. He exists whether we worship or believe in Him or not.
The fact is, it is us human beings who need to worship. That is our nature. Whether we worship money and stuff, logic and science, sports figures or movie stars, political heroes or villains–the truth of the matter is, we are eschatological beings: we have a need to worship. Why? Because we are designed with that missing puzzle piece that is God; we are designed to come into union with Him. That is what worship is. Worship is about opening ourselves to Him.
The truth of the matter is, “the human person is a mystery,” Kallistos said, “an inexhaustible mystery.”
“A day without prayer is a wasted day.”—Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
“Today is all that we have. Pray every day,” he said. “A day without prayer is a wasted day. Today, make a fresh start in all these things. Show compassion. Show practical help to the people around you. Then you will be a true person.”
I am so grateful I got to hear him speak, particularly now, at the beginning of Lent.
And particularly this year, this Lent, in the year of our Lord, 2016, let us all meditate upon our hand and who we really are: you and I are both made in the image and likeness of God. Fully man and fully God; relational, dialogical beings. In our hearts we find God who is love. We find ourselves, we who are love, and we become true selves: mirrors, divine sub-creators.
May your prayer bear much fruit this Lent, and may the Good Lord have mercy on us.
Every February we celebrate relationships of love. Relationship: the state of being connected. We have relationships with people. We also have relationships with things. Our cars. Our homes. Even ourselves. When doing dishes, I am in relationship with the water, the soap, the plates.
Ignore them, neglect them, and things fall apart.
I propose that there is one bottom-line key relationship that has been seriously neglected by most people. I propose furth that fixing this one relationship could help restore everything, the entire network of connections to lots of others.
You’re probably thinking I’m going to say the key relationship is with God. Nope. Not this time.
The key relationship I’m talking about? Death.
That’s right. Whether we think about or not, we all have a relationship with Death.
Think about all the beings you know. What living being–man, woman, child, dog, cat, tree, planet, solar system–is not going to die? Can we at least agree that Death is an inevitable fact that will happen to every person? And to every living thing?
While we may have varying beliefs about life AFTER death, this is only about Death itself. You and I, and everyone you see, everyone you know, will some day, face Death.
Death is real. Death walks with me and with you, every single day of our lives. Death is sitting, right now, there in the room with you, perched on your left shoulder. You were born with your Death. Your Death is always there, at arm’s length.
Yet the vast majority who walk the earth act as if that fact, that truth, is not true. That Death is never going to happen to them, to those they love, or to their children. Sigmund Freud observed that “at bottom, no one believes in his own death…. Every one of us is convinced of his own immortality.”
Because of our neglected relationship with Death, most of us are stuck within the first four stages of grief as identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. You may recall the stages, so well stated by Roy Scheider in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and finally, Acceptance.
What is your relationship with Death?
Are you in Denial? Do you just close your eyes, surround yourself with physical comforts and pleasure, and pretend it’s not there?
Are you in Anger, which is simply fear outwardly expressed: always running away, forever washing your hands, arming yourself to the hilt, erecting walls, building fortresses, protecting yourself?
Are you into Bargaining with Death? Do you see and live life through the lens of the cold, rational, scientific mind, trying to talk your way out of the relationship?
Or are you Depressed, which is simply fear turned inward: sad, forlorn, deflated, and with barely enough energy to get out of bed? Does the thought of Death tend to take you down into a pit of despair?
Most of the world is stuck in Denial and Anger. Think about the wars and the misery caused by Denial and Anger’s children: rivalry, nationalism, hoarding and fear. When we create the ideas of national borders, of possessions, of “resources,” of money, of material wealth, we are doing so out of Denial of Death. Think about the misery inflicted by cold calculating intellectual minds in the pursuit of knowledge, a form of Bargaining: If we breed the perfect human, if we build a bigger ship, if we can just crack the code of the human genome, maybe we can live forever. We think we can engineer our way out of the Truth that Death is a fact of Life.
So where are you in your relationship with that little guy sitting on your left shoulder? Do you even have a relationship with Death at all–or are you stuck in Denial, Anger, Bargaining or Depression? Instead of seeing Death as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, could you possibly entertain the idea that Death–mortality–is actually a precious gift for which to be thankful? That Death is actually a serious Ally? Ask anyone who has had a near-death experience: Death enhances the value of life. Death renews, motivates, and infuses energy into our every endeavor. Death brings us back to the powerful present moment. Death touches our hearts. Think about it.
What would your world be like if you let go of your fear, your denial, your sadness, moved into Acceptance of your own mortality, and then went beyond it — to Gratitude? What would the quality of your Life be like, if you had a positive relationship with Death? A loving relationship, even?
Steve Jobs did it. He embraced Death. Death was his greatest ally. It empowered him. It inspired him to live life to the absolute fullest in every moment. Even on his death bed, he was trying to improve the equipment in his hospital room, to make life better. Mahatma Gandhi did it. He faced down legions of armed soldiers, with Death as his ally, in order to bring about peace, to save lives, to make life better. And the man, Jesus Christ, whether you believe who he says he was or not–He went willingly to death, without fear, to demonstrate that you can’t kill God. He came not to conquer, but to make life better. As did mass numbers of His followers. (We Orthodox say, He conquered death by death, and set us all free. But that’s another story.)
Life is a gift, a precious gift! And Life is never more precious than when we cultivate our relationships with those we love. Right? Well, what if we recognized one major key relationship in our lives–our relationship with that little guy who came with the package, who’s sitting perched on our shoulder, who’s been there every day, since conception?
Let’s change our minds, change our paradigm about Death. Let’s take our hands away from our face, wipe away the tears, and look Death right in the eye. Let us see Death as a gift, an Ally, to empower us, to inspire us, to make Life incredibly richer.
Think about what would happen to our politics, our economy, our environment– if we were ALL to stop chasing the fantasy of immortality?
Truth bestows freedom. Nothing in Life is more true than Death. We can run, we can hide, we can crawl into a hole. But is that really the best way to live? Freedom from denial, anger, fear, bargaining and depression, here and now, in this world, is true freedom. Treating our own Death as a friend, may prove the most key relationship of all.