If I am fortunate enough to live my days out here on the land, in this most beautiful part of the world, in a home I have helped build, it is my fervent wish that I will share with my home the art of ageing gracefully as the years go by…
Can you imagine? A home that holds a life’s stories within its chipped walls and worn tapestries? Why ever would you replace them? What would it be like if we allowed our houses to begin to decay a little around us as we aged? To let the seams fray, paint fade and the dinted walls and scratched windows act as reminders of the stories that created them: all reflections of the experience that resides within? Could we see this as beautiful? Can we enjoy the natural decay of life as much as we do its vitality? I am not saying that you cannot do your repairs and renovations, spring cleaning and refurbishing, but rather are you able to sink into your being a little deeper and touch what motivates you to do so? Is there any chance that a house that one strives to keep forever young reflects the dweller’s own fears of the ageing process? Are you able to don fresh eyes and see augmenting beauty within and without as the years go by?
Perhaps you have moved many times and yet will again, but what if the home or homes you have lived your life in carried some of the tale of your personal journey? Like song-lines across country, what if that cup or ceramic tile, that stain-glassed window or moth-eaten rug, sang the stories of the past to those whose tender gaze was cast upon them as old friends who has shared the journey… Would you consider how you poured your tea or arranged that vase of flowers if you knew that in this very ordinary moment you were weaving your life’s story like a mantle about you? Would you get down on your hands and knees with that child and share their wonder at the cracks in the floorboards if you knew that this moment would be woven inexorably into the tapestry of their life? If such tender times carved themselves again and again on your face in appreciation of the beauty in life, imagine how your face would look if you were to experience a life of longevity? As Lorie Dechar (see: www.fivespirits.com) says in praise of the book The wisdom of your face : “the lines of the face are no longer viewed as aesthetic problems to be erased but rather as the sacred calligraphy of an evolving soul”.
Once while listening to the radio in my car, I heard a piece of music that spoke indelibly to my soul… It was a poignant composition from the pianist Ross Bolleter (see: www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2009/04/01/2532395.htm) who gives voice to perishing pianos… The piece I heard was so melancholy and hauntingly beautiful that it was clear he had spoken this dying instruments last words – an elder whose whispers of carpe diem, ever spoke of the inherent value of the Japanese aesthetic wabi sabi…’. At a later time I saw amazing images of pianos disintegrating into the ground, and to me I could see this man beside them, providing such tender palliative care. Sitting, ever patient and compassionate until they were ready to give expression to those final words that dwelt as veritable spirit within them. His sincerity of volition seemed to be a key that opened up the musical secrets of these lives; the final songs still longing for expression within them…
Are you able to see beneath the action to the volition? The Dalai Lama, when asked the heartbreaking question regarding the karmic debt that monks and nuns may have incurred from self-immolation protests, replied that it was their state of mind at the time that was most important: their volition and not the action itself. We live in times where growth and longevity are contrasted as noble pursuits against their natural counterparts of decay and death. The volition to escape the latter at all costs is what harms us most dearly, for it drives our actions and has brought about great imbalance in the natural system. If we go down below our actions as a culture to the roots, to the volition that drives them, we will see that we would rather disrupt the natural balance every time in order to have something last that little bit longer, keep someone or something alive for that extra time… If we could construct homes from building materials that ‘lasted forever’, we would; if we could stop the ageing process for people, we would; if we could keep expanding consumerism ad infinitim, we would. This is worthy of contemplation, for the consequences of this volition are vast. What would life be like if we honoured the whole cycle? Valued the whole cycle? The growth equally as the decay? In 2008 TCM practitioner & teacher Thea Elijah http://perennialmedicine.com/about/thea-elijah/ wrote a profound and challenging paper on cancer, throwing us the question: with the arsenal of weapons we use to treat cancer in western medicine, at what point does quality of life outweigh longevity? If we can eradicate the cancer by poisoning the subject to the brink of life, we often do it, but should we do it? Should we be able to say ‘whatever it takes!’, when whatever it takes is creating more cancer for tomorrow? For the poisons we dream up today are the pollutants that return our children to the hospitals the next: perhaps this is one negative spiral of decay that nature did not have in mind.
If the yang aspect of the Tao, or the sacred masculine, represents birth and life at its peak, then the yin aspect of the Tao, or the sacred feminine, represents the journey of decay and the end of life. This cycle is inescapable for all who live on the earth. Why are we so afraid to let go? To allow this natural part of the cycle? For the wheel to turn again? We know that this cycle is inevitable. Wisdom surely then would see us seek the value within it… So many of our elders are treated with an absence of respect, and yet we ourselves do not see the irony that we tread a path down the same road… Without reverence for the feminine aspect of death and decay in our lives, we indeed will use what has become a derogatory term, geriatric, and perhaps with too little consideration of the alternatives, squirrel our elders away in nursing homes where any vital spark that remains will soon be medicated out of existence.
What would it be like to die just as well as we live? Recently Russ & I both experienced the rarity of what I would call a ‘good death’ with Russ’ mum, Una Ellen Davis, passing ‘unexpectedly’ in her sleep. Just a few months before I had been reflecting with her on the subject of death itself as a close friend was terminally ill with cancer. She had asked whether my friend had prepared his ‘internal landscape’ for the journey to come and then gone on to talk about her own preparations with such enthusiasm that it bordered on effervescent anticipation. It was so refreshingly beautiful to hear an elder speak with open curiosity of the return home. Just days before she had been chopping wood and laughing with her granddaughter…and then she slipped away, just as effortlessly it would seem as her openness to the prospect of dying itself.
I hope that when it is my turn to die, that I can do so with such grace. In the meantime, I will ever strive to see the beauty in the perishing forms around me.