Three Taverns Church

Leave a comment

Last “I Love You”

Had a dream a friend and I were mugged. I ran, and as I did I heard a shot ring out behind me. I woke up terrified. My heart was racing in the darkness of by bedroom. Death had visited my dreams again.

Instead of turning away, I’ve learned to “lean in” towards death (eat your heart out, Sheryl Sandberg!) when I encounter it in my fears and dreams. What was I afraid of in this dream? What made death so frightening? If I’d been given one last wish, what would it be?

I replayed the scene in my mind, only this time when the chrome .45 came out of the bag, I didn’t run. I faced the gunman. And I paused the scene.

“Ok, here I am. Now what is it I’m so afraid of? What do I wish I’d done in life that I’m so afraid of losing now?”

And it hit me: I wanted to say “I love you” to life. All of it. For the first and last time.

Like The Way of Taoism, I wanted to acknowledge Life, even the horror of my own pending death. I see in the analysis of my dream that what makes me so afraid of Death is that I’m afraid I’ll have missed the chance to say, “I love you,” to all that Is.

We spend so much of our lives, maybe all our lives, doing exactly what the 3rd Chinese Patriarch of Zen  warned us not to do: Live with preferences. Choosing between Life and Life. Calling out and celebrating the parts of life we prefer, ignoring the parts we don’t. The small annoyances and the major problems, the simple pleasures and the incredible ecstasies…every bit of our lives are made up of these moments, and if we took out even the smallest scene, it wouldn’t be our lives!

My fear of death stems from the buried desire to take one long, full look at Life in all its beauty and ugliness, to stop making those kinds of distinctions, and simply let it Be and Love It for what it is.

Leave a comment

Anticipatory Memory & Death

I wrote recently that life is lived through anticipatory memory. When something has happened in the physical plane, at the exact moment of its happening, the mind has not yet captured the significance. It takes time to make meaning out of things. Humans can’t live effective lives behind the eight ball relative to time, motion, change, and reality. To compensate our minds become good at anticipating oncoming memories. From the perspective of our human minds, life is lived as anticipatory memory.

Viewing death through this lens, however, becomes problematic.

We only get to die once, thankfully, so death is the one event we can’t anticipate. To consider the End, or the Void, as it was revealed to me last week is awful because I perceived death as the ultimate and final ending of all memory. And because my identity, sense of self, and ego are tied up in memory, the ending of memory results in the ending of me in a way that is as terrifying as it is final. During my vision I felt my mind reach and search for the anticipatory memory necessary to prepare for the End…only, there was nothing to anticipate. There was only the Void, the End, the non-duality which goes beyond all words.

The Taoist philosopher Alan Watts frequently told his audiences, “Dying is like going to sleep without ever waking up again, just as being born was like waking up without ever having gone to sleep.” It’s a simple and beautiful way of explaining life and death. The trouble I have is that if life is lived as anticipatory memory, and death is the permanent cessation of memory, just how am I remembering anything now?

You might say rather indignantly, “Well you haven’t died yet so you mind is still anticipating memories!” Yes, that seems true. But how would I know? If we’re going to try to pretend time is as measurable and absolute as a line on a page (which, by the way, is hardly as measurable or absolute as you think!), you would say that today, June 25th 2015, I am still alive. But perhaps in fifty years or so I won’t be alive, and at the moment of my death my memories will cease and I will be *poof*! So you would say that I am at this point remembering things because I am at this moment alive.

But (and this is the part that freaks me out and gives me fits trying to explain what I mean) at some point I will stop accumulating anticipatory memories, and that means I won’t remember Me, and so how am I remembering that I’m Me NOW?

Anyway, what I really want to say is that I am very afraid. I cry frequently. Sometimes I have panic attacks, and it’s only been six days since the vision. I feel the fact that at some point I will stop accumulating memory. I feel my Ending and the Ending of everything else. I am absolutely terrified of ceasing to be. Frankly I don’t know what to do. How do I go to work or brush my teeth or eat? Of course I’m still doing these things but it feels like a horrible prank of some sort. Life feels like a terribly cruel practical joke. How do I do anything with a straight face when I know it’s all rubbish and passing show?

I know, in only the way you can know something by experiencing it first-hand, that at some point I will be gone. But even that word or phrase doesn’t do this feeling justice because “gone” implies there was somewhere to leave and somewhere to go, but in death there is just …….     ……. Like a barrier infinitely tall and infinitely wide and infinitely thick, with no way to go over, around, under, or through.

Normally I would turn inward to process my feelings and to seek shelter, but inward is precisely where I can’t go! Nor can I go outward, because it’s as if everything I perceive has an expiration date on it; turning outward reminds me of everything I’m going to lose.

Leave a comment

Lose Your Favorite Hat

Saturday I drove to Tampa to spend time with a friend at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. I was looking for a distraction from the terrible vision of death I’d had the day before and I certainly found what I was looking for on the casino floor. But I want to share with you something that happened on my drive to Tampa that I found much more enlightening.

I was driving my Miata with the top down, celebrating the summer sun even as thunderstorms threatened the horizon with flashes of lightning and gray sheets of thick rain. I felt free from work, free from responsibility, and very much alive. As my radio was blasting over the wind in the open cabin I was dancing in my seat, entertaining a school bus full of children in front of me who were pantomiming gestures through the rear windows. As I repeated their gestures I could see them laughing hysterically at the crazy guy in the little car behind them. I was in a fine mood and loving life. Within minutes traffic separated us and I waved goodbye with a smile so big it felt foreign and unfamiliar.

Moments later I adjusted myself in my seat and turned my body just a bit to get more comfortable…and my favorite hat, a Florida Gators ball cap I’ve had for years, caught the rushing wind and blew off my head into traffic behind me. Maybe if I’d pulled over immediately I could’ve rescued my hat, a bit worse for wear but nonetheless returned to my rightful possession. But as the distance grew between my moving car and my now certainly-mangled hat, it struck me how oddly I was behaving!

Here I am pursuing spiritual depth and enlightenment, having had a vision of death just the day before, and I am suddenly mourning the loss of a piece of headwear! I thought to myself, “If I struggle with losing a hat, it’s no wonder the idea of death terrifies me!”

Jesus words returned to me, “Do not store up treasures where moths and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal.”

You might rightly consider me silly for being so attached to a hat, but as I continued along my way I spent a good ten minutes thinking about it, about my hesitation to pull over and retrieve it, about how I was clearly so attached to such a mundane object. The Buddha said that suffering comes from “clinging of mind”, and boy was my mind clinging to that hat!

I learned a valuable lesson that I’d like to pass along to you: We can become attached to our possessions quite easily, and often we are blind to the “little things” we cling to because we are so busy congratulating ourselves for not clinging to the “big things”!

I want you to think of a favorite little thing of yours. Maybe it’s a hat, a purse, or a pair of shoes. Maybe it’s a small painting or framed picture. Whatever it is, I’m sure by now your subconscious mind has provided you with an object. When you’re done reading this, I challenge you to seek out that object and place it promptly in the trunk of your car, whereupon you will deliver it to a thrift store or a homeless person as quickly as possible. If it’s not worth giving away, throw it away.

Lose your favorite hat. It’ll do you good!

Leave a comment

Experiencing My Own Death

I had an experience today that I want to share with you. What you see below is directly out of my personal journal, so you’ll have to forgive grammatical errors, run-on sentences, etc. If you have had a similar experience I would love to hear from you:

Just had something like a waking dream, a conscious revelation of death. Like when you dream that you are dying and it feels so real that you are in terror, but then you wake up. Except this time I didn’t wake up! I was already awake, and it was impossible to explain. My whole focus shifted inward, and there were physical sensations of bodily separation and numbness and some sort of chemical reaction in addition to the focus that made it feel so real, like my subconscious had taken over from my conscious mind and brought it to life.

It was awful. I could feel the END, so final, nothing there…less than nothing, because even nothingness has a quality to it. It was so terrifying. And I could feel my mind reaching, reaching, reaching for something, anything in the void, and there was nothing. And I could feel my mind recoil in terror from the void, but there was nowhere to go, no ‘where’ to go, couldn’t run or escape it was happening and I felt my ending and in fact all of Life’s ending. I felt frozen with terror, couldn’t move, felt that impending end. So final. And it’s going to happen to me and every person and every living thing. I could feel a string of days and knew that those days were all I was allotted, and some day it’s all going to just stop, the end, lights out. I could feel that there is no escape from this, it’s going to happen. I won’t be able to run, begging and bargaining won’t work. I don’t understand how or why it felt so real. I could almost physically feel death. No escape, no running, and it will happen. I am afraid. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to end. And “I” am aware that “I” am saying these things, but there was no “I” in death, in Ending, there was just The End, like a movie except after the movie there isn’t a black screen, or the lights don’t come up, there is nothing, no-thing.

The finality and inescapability of the end is terrifying. How can I know what lies beyond? I cannot. Nothing.

Before I knew, intellectually, that I would die someday. Now I know. Like the difference between reading about surfing, and actually surfing. I see now. I understand. And I am so afraid.

Leave a comment

Do Affairs Give Our Lives Meaning?

Have you ever wondered why happily-married people cheat?

Have you ever wondered if there is more to affairs than just sex?

Would you believe that illicit affairs, extreme sports, ancient mythologies, and the lives of the Christian Apostles are all fundamentally identical human experiences?

Esther Perel, a relationship researcher, author, and practicing psychotherapist, claims that affairs are not about sex or even eroticism; they are about feeling desired and alive. At a recent TED Talk titled Rethinking infidelity…a talk for anyone who has ever loved, Perel observed, “When someone cheats, the assumption is that there’s something wrong in the relationship, or there’s something wrong with you…but millions of people can’t all be pathological!” She claims that people all around the world use one common phrase to explain the affairs they have: “They feel ‘alive’.” In fact, according to Perel, “affairs often live in the shadow of death, because death raises the question, ‘Is this it’?”

This question is tied directly into the purpose of every functioning mythology: Providing meaning to life. Joseph Campbell, the noted author and comparative mythology researcher, says myth provides a way to help people “feel alive”. But in our current age where we operate without a functioning mythology, we have lost our sense of what it means to be alive. We don’t have stories that tell us what being alive looks or feels like, and when we ask “Is this it?” we have no mythological system to fall back on.

Instead, contemporary culture seems to believe that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs represents the true meaning and purpose of life. Achieve the five Needs below, says Corporate America and Hollywood, and you “win” at life:

  1. Physiological – The physical requirements for human survival
  2. Safety – Personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and a safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts
  3. Love/Belonging – Interpersonal feelings of belongingness
  4. Esteem – The typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others
  5. Self-Actualization – The desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be

But according to Joseph Campbell, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are, “What people live for when they have nothing else to live for.” He asserts that what stands above Maslow’s Needs are “Myth, Madness & Meaning”. It is this “Meaning” that people live and die for. It cannot be coincidence that this list of Needs was not created until after the Enlightenment and the concurrent death of functioning mythology in the West.

Two thousand years ago the disciples of a certain Jewish teacher sacrificed their lives in pursuit of the myth of the Christ. They attained an alive-ness far greater than they could have achieved through human egoic pursuits. As the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The Christ, “the way, the Truth, and the LIFE” (John 14:6, ESV) became the sense of alive-ness , the “Myth, Madness, and Meaning”, for Paul. The Christ became that for which Paul willingly sacrificed everything and suffered so tremendously.

Back to my first question: Why do happily-married people cheat? Why risk losing it all? Having an affair stands in direct contradiction to Maslow’s Needs; you risk losing all five with an affair. Affairs cause tremendous suffering for all parties involved and they almost always lead to spiritual and relational death. Yet millions of people engage in affairs!

Perhaps having an affair gives people the same sense alive-ness that a functioning mythology should. Unfortunately, functioning mythologies suffered slow, painful deaths at the hands of the Enlightenment. The death of mythology and its attendant sense of purpose has opened the door to other methods of experiencing alive-ness…including affairs. Affairs are so common today that they have become quasi-acceptable methods of attaining meaning and the sense of alive-ness that myth used to provide. What other options do people have? Continue to participate in a defunct belonging system? Use drugs? Regularly participate in extreme sports? Sure, if you’re rich, but what methods can common men and women use to experience alive-ness?

For you can be certain: Human animals have not changed over the last few thousand years. We do not now, nor have we ever, needed Maslow’s Hierarchy. We need ways to feel alive, and affairs produce the needed sense of alive-ness that our human nature craves. Affairs may not be a moral question but a spiritual question. Adultery may not make you a “bad person” but rather a person who is hungry or even starving for the experience of alive-ness.

We are left with many questions.

How do we feel alive-ness, if not through adultery? How do we help others to feel alive? Is this the new Christian moral imperative: To help others feel alive and give them a sense of alive-ness? How do we do that without harming ourselves and others? Is that even possible? What can we believe in now that our myths have died? What behaviors help us experience alive-ness? How does society and group norming affect this pursuit? Do we need to ignore society in the pursuit of alive-ness? How do we feel alive within our careers, our marriages and our lives?

How do we find our “Myth, Madness & Meaning?”

Leave a comment

Be The Loving Memory People Never Forget

As I was leaving my chiropractor’s office yesterday the doctor asked me, “So, you’re feeling better?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “When I came home last night my two youngest kids ran to the door to meet me. We wrestled around on the ground for a few minutes…we had an awesome time.”

Then I paused for maybe half a heartbeat and, starting to tear up, I said, “Not to get all emotional in your office, but I didn’t realize until just now that it’s been almost six weeks since they’ve run to the door to see me. Ever since I got that herniated disc I haven’t been able to play with them, and they kind of just quit being interested in me when I came home. But now Dad is back (no pun intended) and I could see how excited they were to play with me again!”

Oftentimes when things go wrong in our lives, it’s a long, slow decline into pain and suffering. Moments of shock and trauma are thankfully rare; it’s much more common to wake up one day having forgotten how good things used to be. In my story above I had forgotten that my kids and I used to wrestle and laugh together, and I’d only been injured six weeks! I have friends and family who have been hurting a much longer time. Their slide into suffering was so slow that these days they don’t even realize how much they are hurting; they’ve forgotten what “normal” feels like.

How many of us know someone living in an abusive relationship who thinks it’s “normal” to be emotionally or physically abused? How many of us know someone slaving away for an awful boss because he assumes, “That’s the way it is,” or know a homeless woman who thinks she’ll be on the streets forever, for the exact same reason? How many of us know a family member who’s given up the struggle against age and physical illness because the pain has been present for so long?

Do you want to help people remember what “normal” really means, to recognize life when they see it?

Be the loving memory people never forget.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, be the love that will open her eyes to just how wonderful human companionship is supposed to be!

If you know someone in a job he hates (or someone dying for any job), be the love that helps him re-discover his hopes and dreams, and the purpose he was put here for!

If you know someone in the final stages of life who has given up, be the love that reminds her of all the good things in life, and the hope she can have in the future.

Be the love that becomes someone’s most treasured memory, something they will never forget.