Meditation on Death

April 9, 2010

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Because I could not stop for Death he kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just Ourselves and Immortality.Emily Dickinson

In December of 1986, I was operated on to remove my pituitary gland and the small benign tumor within it that had resulted in Cushing’s Disease, and had caused a lengthy hospital stay in the beginning of that year. It was during that earlier hospital stay that I had the out-of-body experience I have written about in a previous post (which you can read here).

I remember the anesthesia being administered and being told to count backwards from one hundred. At about 96, I blinked my eyes, and when I opened them again an instant later, I was being wheeled back to my room. I asked the nurse, “When does it start?”  She answered, “It’s all over.”

Eight hours had passed in the blink of an eye. It could have been eight years, or eight million. The anesthesia blanked me out of existence so completely, that I wondered if death was like that:

An instant that lasts for eternity!

In the years since those two events, and as I approach my sixty-fifth birthday, death itself holds no fear for me, because just as in the Angel of Death excerpt from Master of the Jinn, I really do consider it a mercy from God.  But I cannot but wonder if one of those experiences holds the answer to the great mystery of what comes afterward.  Both possessed the immediacy of experiential truth, but can both be real? Is the instant of nothingness a precursor to awaking on a different plane of existence? Can it be that our spirit, or soul, or ka, or whatever your faith calls it, leaves the physical body at death and after an instant of blankness, joins, or rejoins, the Eternal Godhead?

Socrates asked the same question, concluding: “Death is one of two things…Either it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything; or, as we are told, it is really a change: a migration of the soul from one place to another.”

My late father-in-law believed the former. Once I asked him if he thought that we live on after death. He said, “Yes, in blood and memory.”  In other words, we live on in the bloodline passed to our children and grandchildren and down the generations. And in the memory they carry of us, until that is lost in time, when those that still remember us have also died.  He considered himself a realist.

And yet, the first law of thermodynamics, an expression of the principle of the conservation of energy, states that energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed.

Is that also true of the energy of consciousness, which is, after all, the only part of us that really would go on after the body dies? Or is it just our greater Self that goes on, our soul, which is that ineffable part of us that is always in touch with, and originally a part of, the Oneness of Divine Love? Inshallah, it is so.  I do not mind at all leaving the lesser self behind; the individual ego with its fears and jealousy and enmity and regrets. Let it die as the electro-chemical brain and body functions come to a stop.

I know that love goes on.  And after years on the Sufi path,  I have seen what can only be described as a glimpse of… something other.

There is some comfort in the belief that the body is nothing but a shell for the evolution of consciousness, “to evolve toward the Godhead,” as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest wrote in The Phenomenon of Man.

And, so as not to waste what God has given, I am also an organ donor; I prefer to leave all organs that are still of any use to help others, and the rest to be cremated.  I like the efficiency of the fire, taking up as little room at the end as I did at the beginning. And I like the idea of my ashes scattered to the winds of the world.

But does individual consciousness completely die? Or does the soul or greater Self have its own higher level of consciousness? My late Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, was asked this very question, and he said, “In the end, the drop becomes one with the Ocean, but it does not lose its wetness.”

There is hope in that statement. I have studied many religions and their beliefs of the afterlife, and in all honesty they sound mainly the same, a heavenly paradise where the individual self consciousness, and often the resurrected body, is kept intact and rewarded or punished for its life on earth in just measure to its deeds. But if the individual self stops at the end of life, the afterlife must be something else entirely. What that something else, that wetness is, is one of the eternal questions of living beings.  The ultimate mystery!

And that’s what I’m counting on :) All questions are inevitably useless. The answer will come soon enough!

No mythology and metaphor for me. I want the great mystery, all of it, no matter what it is—a billion years in the blink of an eye, or an infinite panorama as vast as the universe; and an endless sea of stars on which to sail.

Death is an angel with two faces; to us he turns a face of terror, blighting all things fair; the other burns with glory of the stars, and love is there.
– T. C. Williams

Alhamdulillah!

Ya Haqq!


You only have what you give!

May 3, 2009

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Paralyzed and silent in her bed, my daughter Paula taught me a lesson that is now my mantra: You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich. …The pain of losing my child was a cleansing experience. I had to throw overboard all excess baggage and keep only what is essential. Because of Paula, I don’t cling to anything anymore. Now I like to give much more than I receive. I am happier when I love than when I am loved. I adore my husband, my son, my grandchildren, my mother, my dog, and frankly I don’t know if they even like me. But who cares? Loving them is my joy.

Give, give, give–what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world, and with the divine. In is in giving that I feel the spirit of my daughter inside me, like a soft presence.

- Isabel Allende, Chilean novelist, journalist, and dramatist.

Ya Haqq!


Sons of One Religion

April 10, 2009

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the Spirit.

-Khalil Gibran

Ya Haqq!


A Cup Overflowing

January 26, 2009

Love is a cup overflowing
Yet without bottom

How is this possible?
Where does all this joy come from?

Does love have no beginning,
No middle, no end?

Praise God! It must be so!
The cause and course of life

A treasure lent to spirit
His light formed in earthen clay

The true meaning of
Every verse of every Holy Book

And the hidden name of God
On King Solomon’s ring,

That the Jinn, created by the
Fire of that Love, could not disobey

Bless us then with Love, O Lord!
As Thy Name is praised

Make of it our garment
Clothe us in Thy ways

That with each breath may flow
The prayer of all our days

And bless the ink and pen
That writes these words

The eyes that read them
And the heart that knows

- Irving Karchmar, © January 2009


Generosity of Spirit

October 4, 2008

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

In my younger years, whenever I walked down a street, beggars would let a hundred people pass and unerringly come right up to me, no matter how much I scowled or tried to look uninterested. What did they see in me, these ragged men and women who could read faces so well? Perhaps I looked like a soft touch, an easy mark, a sucker, a fool who was easily parted with his money. Invariably I would give them a few coins, resenting it all the while. Did they use it to buy alcohol, drugs, food? I was deeply suspicious of the cause of their poverty, and felt robbed of both money and pride.

What a fool I truly was, and feel rightly ashamed of such a miserly spirit, which made me the greater beggar. After many years on the Path of Love, I have learned this at least; the giving of zakat for Eid, or of charity in general, is either from generosity of spirit or it is nothing. God alone is the judge of another’s heart or intention.

As the Master says in the Sufi novel, Master of the Jinn:

“The generous heart always has enough to give. It is the miserly in spirit who believe they never have enough to be generous. It is not lack of possessions that leads to spiritual poverty, nor prayer and fasting by themselves. It is in the abandonment of self-absorption, and in constant remembrance and reflection that the heart becomes detached. Then the hands gladly open their grasp on worldly things and cleave to God.”

And the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed, an ignorant man who is generous is dearer to God than a worshipper who is miserly.” – (Al-Tirmidhi )

May Allah bless you all with generosity of spirit, whose foundation is Love, and whose Source is the Most Loving, the Most Generous. Amin.

Ya Haqq!


The Moon is Always Full

November 13, 2007

The moon is always full
Our human eyes
See only its phases

Love is always here
Our human heart
Sees only its shadow

Joy is always present
Our human mind
Reasons it away

God is always near
Our human spirit
Knows this without words

O Moon, display your full beauty
to my inner eye
O Love, come into the light that casts
no shadow
O Joy, overflow my cup of reason
with your wine
O God, fill me, fill me, fill me
with Your knowing

That my heart may rejoice in You
My eyes may be filled with You
My reason overcome by You
My spirit abound in You

Ameen!

- Irving Karchmar, © November 2007


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 355 other followers