Martin LeFevre: Continuity Leads to Deadness
Continuity Leads to Deadness
It is a spectacular morning following the first rain of the season. The brown hills are clean and clear, and a bike-ride in the country gives the sense that the hills still enclose the town, whose development is beginning to overrun them.
The little creek, where the Native Americans who lived in this area held their prayer rituals, flows again. Because few cars are on the highway into the mountains or the thoroughfare along the edge of town, the stream's gentle current dominates the aural environment. I sit in a warm sun on a chilly morning and feel grateful for the space and solitude.
A great sycamore looms over me, its white trunk diverging into two large sections at some seven meters from the ground. (There are just enough handholds to pull oneself up to straddle the saddle at the juncture.) In the tops of its branches, a gaggle of magpies carry on, clicking and clamoring about a buzzard, which they had just been harassing, that is circling overhead.
The vulture was trying to find a perch in a dead sycamore about 100 meters away. But one after another, and sometimes in pairs, the wily birds took turns darting at the buzzard, making it move and flap its big wings to fend them off.
Finally, having retreated as far as it could into the leafless branches, it took off. Then the game really began. The magpies buzzed the buzzard relentlessly, easily out-maneuvering the object of their anger and play. Magpies have long tails, and black and white wings. They are type of crow, which are amongst the smartest animals in nature.
The buzzard flies directly overhead. A half dozen of the magpies take turns swooping and diving towards it. The scene, played out against the backdrop of a cobalt sky, evokes a sense of surreal beauty. Perhaps humans aren't the only animals capable of acting maliciously.
Concerns of all kinds drop away as the mind quiets down simply through the act of observation. Right observation (that is, watching the movement of the mind without effort or interference) gathers an unwilled attention, which then silences thought.
I can't fully describe what happens, even to myself, but at some point during a sitting attention ignites and ends the continuity of thought. 'I' don't do anything, except watch until 'I' am not watching at all. Then the brain is simply watching, without the division and duality of the illusorily separate self.
A fundamental continuity is broken, and at that moment the brain is flooded with fresh perception. Leaves shimmer, sounds reverberate, and the sight of oaks on a hillside brings inexplicable joy. One sees again with the innocent eyes of a child. Life is then a wondrous blessing, as anyone who has had a brush with death attests.
But why do we need a brush with physical death to feel this? There is a wrongful kind of continuity in human life, an almost always unseen, unbroken chain of memory and experience. Dying to self-image and self-concern however, even for a moment, breaks the chain.
Continuity leads to deadness, but contacting the essence of death ends continuity. (Deadness and death are completely different and unrelated things.)
It's strange how death and life go together. We divide life from death, but actually they are indivisible.
Of course most people fear death for the reason that 'I will be no more.' But what if the continuity of the 'I' ended while one is fully alive? After all, since we're all going to die anyway, why not discover what death is really about while still alive, rather than waiting until the body wears out?
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.