Everyone who lives is called to be in conversation with Life and Death. Our conversation with Life is inescapable because we wake to it, day in and day out, the way fish wake to the river they must swim in. And while no one wants to accept that our time is limited, that we will perish, running from this fact, or denying it, only exaggerates our fear. Running from this bittersweet truth makes the smallest disruptions urgent, while staying in conversation with the great forces of Life and Death makes our time here more precious. When Death is not faced, its presence and our need to face it don’t go away, but simply aggregate into the smallest trouble we encounter, which then becomes the repository of all our fears.
In this way, a fear of dogs, or the dentist, or a relentless worry of sudden storms can grow intensely out of proportion. Then, we urgently run to the hardware store, imagining that if we can just install one more lock on top of the two we already have—then we might feel safe. But as long as we don’t face our eventual death—that we won’t be here forever—a mistrust of life will grow until fear will find its way into every irritation we stumble through.
In this regard, compassion, to ourselves and to others, is not the well-intentioned want to absorb each other’s fears—or even to quiet them. Rather, the true work of intimacy is to keep each other company in the midst of our heightened fears and worries, while supporting each other in the difficult journey to right-size what we encounter in the world. How? By inhabiting our ongoing conversation with Life and Death, which no one can do for us. The gift of staying in this conversation, hard as it is, is that we begin to feel how unrepeatable and life-giving every moment is. And this, and this alone, enables us to take the unending risk to live completely—Now!
A Question to Walk With: Describe a fear you have that is out of proportion to what you know about life. Explore how your larger fear of death might be inflating this fear. How can you begin to be in a more relaxed conversation with life and death, so that your smaller fears along the way can stay right-sized?
This excerpt is from my book in progress, The Long Walk Through Time.
*Photo Credit: Siim Luka
Mark Nepo is offering a 3-session webinar called “The One Life We’re Given: Saying Yes to Life”. The sessions will be offered through Zoom: June, 8,15, 22, 2020, 1-2:30PM ET. Please visit https://live.marknepo.com/ for information and to register.
About the webinar, Mark says, “The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters when in trouble, so we can make good use of our heart. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. Our path to love and truth depend on this journey.”