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Adam Blatner

July 11, 2005

The following is an essay on my own myth-made approach to my dying, how I'm practicing for the attitude or type of consciousness that will dominate as I enter the dying process. The Tibetan Buddhists do it–it's their religion: When you die, they believe (or so I've come to understand, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead), you reincarnate according to your state of consciousness at the moment of death (or shortly thereafter). If you can practice–like military training, so that it's near-automatic–imagining only the clear light of non-attached consciousness, you may be liberated from the cycles of reincarnation. If not, but still you can maintain a fairly positive image, you may reincarnate in one of the heavens.

At this point in life, I am envisioning an act of surrender at death, and beginning to anticipate it. This is bit of creative mythmaking, as I think of it and describe it on another paper on this website. It needs to be aligned with those elusive elements of personal rapport, preference, taste. I cannot always call up the images that are the commonly-valued ones in our culture. First, many of them are too corrupted by the problematic or debased elements of traditional religion. Some are frankly too abstract for me, which may be funny for those who imagine me to be quite a bit more abstract in my thinking than most folks. I am, but for something this personal, I recognize that I need to trust the archetypal function of what James Hillman called "personification," the tendency to imagine certain abstract ideas as persons.

For me, as I hint in another paper on this website, Image-ing God, I imagine the Greater Wholeness of Being not as a father, but in several other ways. One of these that has intuitively resonated with certain elements in my temperament is the image of Shiva Nataraj, the dancing Hindu god with four arms–though in my image, there may be a hint of a thousand arms. The dance is also story and song, and represents the complexity of a full, multi-dimensional life, within a far greater and more multi-dimensional cosmos. It is dynamic, changing, evolving, and above all, a creative project. It is also an aesthetic process, meaning that it's fun, pleasing, interesting, replete with discovery, insight, new beginnings, the birth of new fields of endeavor, new technologies, new horizons. This applies also in the realms of psychology, personal relationship, and the envisioning of what life can be about.

My Way or Thy Way?

Another song that serves as a preamble of sorts to this exercise is ? ‘s song, "My Way," popularized by Frank Sinatra. This also expresses my sense of my life, with a proviso that I am very aware that much of the eventfulness of my life has not been due to my plans; rather, I have been given to, guided, sometimes kicked in the pants, by that platoon of angels who have served as God's intermediaries, bringing me along, trying to help me learn the deeper lessons of life. Through synchronicity and the great mystery whereby a soul orchestrates karma and chance, in many ways, whenever the song says, "I did it my way," it really, for me, truth be told, should say, "I did it thy way." The beauty of the dance is that even if many times the angels led the way, or provoked a confrontation, I can take some credit (or blame) for how I played the hand they dealt me. On the whole, I'm proud, though there's a fair component of humility. (I'm intrigued with the way the intensely emotionally charged memories of those occasions when I felt humiliated, shamed, guilty, still carry a surprising residual power.) But it's all in the game, it's all in the texture of the tapestry of my life–metaphors I find meaningful.

Tambourine Man: A Commentary

Another image that is more current is the "tambourine man," that Bob Dylan wrote a song about and sang (and also this was sung by "The Byrds"); a song that I've found curiously engaging, expressing a feeling I've had at almost every major undertaking, move, or role transition since I learned it in the mid-1960s. It has become, for me, a theme song, expressing the sentiment of surrender to the flow. I'll be noting the words and commenting on them below. Let's begin with the chorus:
    Hey, Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me;
    I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
    Hey, Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me;
    In that jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you.

The words to this chorus speak to a sense of beginning, the freshness of morning, and a state of care-free openness that comes as I empty myself of my score or more of projects that I keep on my to-do list. I've had a few mornings like this, and they're sweet, indeed. The jingle-jangle quality hints at the richness of simply being, resonating with far-off music, dancing, playful music.  Okay, here's the first verse:
    Though I know that evening's empire has returned into sand,
    Vanished from my hand, left me blindly here to stand,
    But still not sleeping.
    My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet,
    I have no one to meet, and my ancient, empty streets
    Too dead for dreaming.
...then the chorus again.

My life is an empire, and "even this shall pass away." I think of my life story as a tapestry, a piece of art, like a mixture of story and a symphony, and the aesthetic variables of novelty begin to wear thin. There's a certain time when the story is finished. Dragging it on gets "old," not so rich or full. This verse is an acknowledgment of a willingness to release the past, along with a poetic expression of the slight disorientation that goes along with the little dyings of this or that moment, phase, episode, within our lives.

I believe that mind expresses the life urge by being sticky, clinging, grasping, holding on, wanting to live, live well, and live better (as Whitehead says). Yet from a higher consciousness, there is also a potential to overcome this tendency, and to practice as a refined skill the opposite activities of letting go of grasping, and to a variable degree, letting go of certain desires. (Mark Epstein notes in a 2004 (?) book that one need not seek to deny desire, and indeed to cultivate and channel its expression, yet it can be done without a certain grasping-ness.)

In the next verse, the metaphor shifts to the soul journey, within the greater Divine journey:
    And take me on a trip upon your magic, swirling ship;
    My senses have been stripped; my hands can't hold the grip;
    My toes too numb to step; wait only for my boot-heels to be ramblin'.
    I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
    Into my own parade. Cast your dancing spell my way,
    I promise to go ramblin'.

Says it all. I affirm my faith in the greater flow. It's an exercise in reducing my identity to only being a shadow, a follower. I confess that I can't shuck off my ego, my subjective perspective, completely. (At least not yet.) But I can let go of my attachments to many of the other elements of my present identity, my many social, avocational, achievement, and other roles. Those, with my senses, my will (the grasping hands), fade. My parade is really a mixture of an appreciative reflection of my life as a great parade with many components. As Ben Franklin noted, a measure of vanity can be a great comfort in one's old age. And yet, having savored this, also letting it go as I open to a new adventure.

The adventure is not mine, but the Cosmic Dance and the Divine Dancer, the Tambourine Man, Shiva Nataraj dancing with Lila, the spirit of play. I may fade into dreamlike oblivion and unconsciousness, so no I continues. I choose to let go of the need to be an I.

(Oh, all right, I might have a few post-death adventures, meeting loved ones in the light, going through a de-briefing like in the current best selling book, Mitch Albom's, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." Or not. It doesn't matter. The key is that it is not important whether the me-ness with this complex of history-bound memories continues; probably it should dissolve. What is important is the affirmation in the glory of the greater dance, which is also the story of your unfolding and discovery of greater richness of life, of more love, faith, and responsibility.

Chorus again, then next verse:
    Though you may see laughing, spinning,
    Swinging madly across the sun: It's not aimed at anyone.
    It's just escaping on the run,
    And but for the sky, there are no fences facing.
    And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme
    To your tambourine in time, I would not pay it any mind,
    It's just a ragged clown behind,
    It's just a shadow that you're seeing that he's chasing.

My life has been exciting, romantic, filled with song, achievement, dance, color, art, play, fun, silliness, adventure–well, for my mouse-like, slightly timid temperament, these were adventures for me–, and for the most part, pretty nice to others. Yet it has been done mainly for its own sake.

Now I confess that this bit of poetry, this whole song, continues to reveal new nuances, meanings, as I live my life. I suspect there are phrases here that I may yet discover anew! I am content that the Great God need not know me directly; I have audience enough in my angels and friends and family. My image of the great dance is such that I'm pleased to be one of a host of followers. The ragged clown image has also always appealed to me, the "auguste" clown, like the historical figure of Emmett Kelley. I sort of identify with him, as is reflected in my elf-alter-ego character.

Chorus again, and last verse:
    And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
    Past the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves,
    The haunted, frightened trees, Out to the windy beach,
    Far past the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
    Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
    Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus fans
    With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
    Let me forget about today until tomorrow.
    (Chorus as finish.)

This verse suggests the mixture of transformations in the after-death period, the passing of the visions they write about in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. (That was a popular text, in translation, represented as a guide to both passing through episodes in life and the psychedelic experience in particular, as well as a hint at the after-death challenge to open and release rather than cling.

I confess to having experienced fear, and grief, confusion and the oppressive ruminations of memory, and the deep need to release all of these. I have embodied and identified with that beach dancer, and, I admit, shown off some (playing to the audience of circus fans), as a mixture of clown and dancer. The sea and the night sky, though, symbolize the broader field into which I can take my bow and leave the stage, a dance well danced.

All of these verses and the chorus are a repeat prayer for release, surrender, opening, emptying. Prayer for me is a verbal affirmation of an effort to align mind and heart with idea or image–in this case, the surrender to the grandeur of the Greater Divine Becoming-ness.

In traditional Judaism, there is a "kaddish," a special prayer for the dead, which is in fact not a prayer about the one who has just died at all; rather, it's an affirmation of the greatness of G-d. To me, this hints at the same theme. He danced his dance. Go with God, and know that the greater dance that you are all dancing, the world and the universe is dancing, is now what's up, and it's amazing, fantastic, wonder-filled. It's not always easy or nice, because, in my philosophy (and my reading of Whitehead's and Hartshorne's process thought), the ongoing creation of the cosmos is an improvised, unfinished development.

Humanity is still a young species, and on the whole, rather stupid. It's like a child that needs to make a lot of mistakes because that's the only way it will learn the really important lessons. Most of these lessons have to be lived–they cannot be really taught in words. Sometimes words try, but they sound like superficial platitudes. (I've boiled all these down to the deepest meanings of love, faith, responsibility, and wisdom–all of these interpenetrating with the others in the psyche and social field as much as space, time, matter and energy interpenetrate in the realm of manifest or objective existence. Well, sorry, I got into my philosophizing. But the point is to open to the greater Flow and this song expresses how I've practiced doing just this.

          Your comments are appreciated.    emailto:adam@blatner.com