According to Zen Buddhism, there is a little bird on each of our shoulders. It reminds us of the coming of death. It tells us that death is inevitable, and unpredictable. This could be the last day of life as we know it. The purpose of this imaginary companion, the bird on our shoulders, is to make sure we NEVER lose sight of death.
Most people think death equals loss, sorrow, ending. That’s probably why we do our best to ignore the most inevitable fact of our lives: the fact that we will, without a doubt, face physical death sooner or later. But how many of us are living with this awareness? On one level we behave as though we will live forever, putting off the things that matter: love, peace, creativity, joy. We think we have plenty of time to find those things. On the other hand, we chase temporary things like they are running out, such as cars, clothes, shoes, bigger houses. We know that we won’t be able to take those things with us when we have to leave this life, yet those are the things that occupy us. All because we have forgotten about the fact of death. We ignore the elderly, thinking they are of no use, when they are the people who have the most knowledge in our society, because they have seen the most life. Our society is so caught up with temporary success, which is obvious to the eye, that we dismiss eternal success, which exists within and acts as our saving grace in moments of crisis.
So, today I am going to make a vow to myself to remember death whilst being alive. To love fully, show my gratitude and appreciation for the life I have, and to share as much joy as possible in the time I have. I don’t believe that death will be the end – I believe it will be the beginning…of something else. Yet, I will miss the life I have now, and I will miss the people I have loved until the time I see them again, perhaps in a different life. The only thing that will help me let go and detach from this life is if I know that I lived it to the full, and shared with the people around me. I won’t be thinking about the shoes I just bought; I won’t give a damn about those. I’ll see the faces of my dear ones, and I’ll be thankful for the time I had with them, because that time was not misspent.
More than anything else, life is about relationships. Learning from each other and sharing. Community and companionship. As much as I enjoy my time alone – thinking, writing, reading, contemplating – it can never be a substitute for what I experience in the presence of love, friendship, caring, conversation and laughter. Those are the things I want to dedicate myself to before my time comes.
So, why not thank the little bird for another day? Even though I don’t understand exactly how this world works, even though I sometimes find it overwhelming and crazy, I am still glad to be alive. All because of love.