Who by Fire*
*by Leonard Cohen
Do you ever think about dying?
I think so very much about living, about being here, being mindful, being fully alive.
I drive myself a bit to distraction.
I work too hard at living, at mindfulness, at presence, at relaxation.
At the same time, thinking about dying has carried with it such a taboo; nobody in my family modeled comfort with aging or illness or end of life.
I have few role models for the end-phases of life lived with hope, dignity, or consciousness. Yet I believe fully in those possibilities and commit to living into them, in this, my 70th year on the planet.
Mostly I push away thoughts of dying.
I am so full-up-happy in my life, so freed up from some ancient struggles, and, yep, counterintuitively, I find actually myself today, on this stunning just-almost-summer day…..
Thinking about dying!
It started with Leonard Cohen. Driving home this morning in the soft sunshine, after an amusing foray into Berkshire County erranding, I found the CD (yes, I still do that CD thing!) from his magical London Concert.
I listened to Who by Fire, perhaps one of life’s most gloriously beautiful and evocative songs.
Leonard got me a‘thinking about death, clearly not a bad thing.
Perhaps contemplating death doesn’t have to be a buzz-kill, a way out of the moment?
Perhaps mindful contemplating of death, my death, can be a way into the moment?
Perhaps it can be a doorway to living more mindfully, with more presence?
How do I choose to die? Surely that parallels in some way, how do I choose to live?
I know for sure—being dead doesn’t quite seem as difficult as getting dead.
It’s the getting dead part for which I am not too eager.
The powerlessness and the full and total lack of control seem somewhat edgy, an understatement, indeed.
Although we know all about impermanence, that we are just passing through, yet, nevertheless—it’s so easy to assume our foreverness, our invulnerability.
I’m not much of a practicing Jew these days, yet I have found great solace in Jewish liturgy in the past.
Leonard’s remarkable song is based on a profound Yom Kippur prayer, Unetaneh Tokef, which both declares and asks:
“On Rosh Hashanah it is written and Yom Kippur it is sealed…
How many shall pass on and how many shall come to be;
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe old age and who shall not;
who shall perish by fire and who by water;
who by sword and who by beast;
who by hunger and who by thirst…..”
Hearing this prayer chanted in temple on the holiest of holy days, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the day that we are re-written into the Book of Life, for me has been chilling, heart-blastingly-opening, sobering as all-get-go, and simply stunning. Leonard, observant Jew and Zen monk, lived in fascination of and commitment to the great wisdom traditions.
Here is a link to this, one of my favorite songs, which I believe embodies his devotion to our human relationship with that which is Divine:
May we live into this day
One moment at a time,
With vitality, grace and ease.
May we be here,
No matter what we are given.
May we live into this day
In all its preciousness,
As best we can.
And when we can’t,
May we breathe,
As we return home again.
I am clearly the president of my own Leonard Cohen fan-club. How did this song land for you?
I hope you will consider joining my program, Simple Strategies to Struggle Less and Savor More, at Kripalu Center, starting on Summer Solstice, June 21st.
Together we can practice living, with a deepening of ease, with an opening to renewed connectivity; together our individual selves are strengthened, our hearts are opened, our eyes, refocused.
Let’s come together, to strengthen the “I”, to recommit to the “We”, and to lean toward our own Truth.
And as always, please send on all any questions, comments, insights. I am firstname.lastname@example.org.
All voices, welcomed!