loving and dying with eyes wide open

'La mise en tombeau d'Atala' de Anne-Louis Girodet

I’ve been following Peter Renner’s blog (living and dying with eyes wide open) for some time now with much interest. A short while ago he did a series of posts about love and intimacy (Here and here and here). The posts themselves were (are – doesn’t everything exist forever on the internet!?) heartfelt, open and cogent to the problems we all have with loving ourselves enough to let others love us (and to let our selves love others). Even now after years of working on the problem, my early programed-in self-loathing can rear its head in response to the oddest triggers – dharma trying to teach me a new lesson about moment to moment love — and it can do so in the most dramatic and emotional of ways. The practice of zen, and a lot of therapy, has helped me to faster pop the rising bubbles of self-hatred (independent of the form it takes or the excuse it uses). But every once in a while a bubble can reach gigantic proportions before I can pop it and get back to being loving and caring towards myself and others, before I can stop hating myself enough to become compassionate again.

On the other hand, Renner’s post from August 28, 2010, raises what might seem to be a non-related matter: Death! Renner says that whenever he starts writing about death, the number of hits to his site go way down. He wonders if the reason is simply that people do not like to contemplate their own or anyone else’s death. Why not? Good question.

Ancient Greek thought had Eros and Thanatos as opposite heads of the coin called life. If this is so, love and death are necessarily intertwined. Buddhism tells us (please excuse the simplicity) that all is one, and that our task in becoming clear or enlightened or whatever, is to see how things really are.

So what is the relationship between love and death? Compassion is the highest form of love. Compassion for the universe requires us to see it as it is and then love it as it is while trying at the same time to alleviate suffering. The reality is that without death there would be no life or love. This makes me think that if we love life, or if the point of life is to love, then we must love death (all in its own good time, of course, no sense on missing out on our allotted life and love) for without death there would be no life or love.

But how to love death? Is not death the cause of the most suffering? Not necessarily. I argue that self-hatred (loathing, disgust etc.) is far more important. If we hate to think about death, then we do not love it. Why not? We all know the old saw: you have to love yourself in order to love another. Maybe we have to hate our selves before we can hate anything else, including death.

In one post Renner struggles (hard zen work) to learn the intimate difficulties of loving; and in another post, he struggles to learn the intimate difficulties attendant to the reality that we all die. Maybe the struggle is the same? All is one?

What I am trying to say here is that if we do not love ourselves then we cannot love others and more importantly we will fear death. To wit: one of the great difficulties in loving another being is the fear that the loved person will reject us. If they reject us it is easy to interpret the rejection as them saying we are bad. If we have any form of self-hatred then the rejection would confirm our worst thoughts about our self. The thing about death: we can see it as the worse rejection because it seems to totally remove any further chance that we can be loved either by our self (if we have not yet learned to do so), or by others. What it boils down to is that the prerequisite to being able to contemplate ones own death is that one must learn to have compassion for oneself.

Wish me luck in this endeavour and I wish you luck also. Or as they say, Namaste.

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