All Glory Is Fleeting (كل مجد هو زائل)
It’s the nervous mantra of a self-indulgent age. “How can I live a meaningful, happy life?”
When you really consider it. It’s the second wound. Yet wherever there is a wound, as Rumi said, there is light. We’ll come back to all that.
I’ll give you my own example, or at least the person I used to be before I died. The question always haunted me. I was wounded, by the world, by trauma, abuse, neglect. Just that of daily living. Tribe against tribe (being from the North never helps), every man for himself. That was my Malawi. How could a chubby, mentally ill kid win in the forever war of extreme capitalism? Yet there is still a part of me that wants to belong. But that part is dying, though some days it fights hard to live.
Dying. Life and death. What are they, really? They are thoughts in the mind. After the primordial thought divides the world into “I” and “not I”, the next great step in discriminative thinking is another division, duality, polarity, opposition. “Alive” and “dead”.
I am born. My mind sparks into being. It’s first thought is “I” and “not I”. I am scared now. Fear, anxiety, and pain begin. What is “not I” represents danger, need, suffering. Then there is the second great thought. “I” am “alive” and one day I will be “dead”. I look at the world around me. What do I see? I see rivers and mountains and mother and father. Only some of these are “alive”, and all of these will one day be “dead”. Now there is even sharper fear, pain, anxiety, suffering. Even my parents are not all powerful. There is something inescapable in my little world now. Death.
Now there is mourning. Deep and true. Mourning for the loss of the “I”, because the mind has come to understand that it isn’t permanent, lasting, secure, safe, whole. It is as frail as a leaf. And many of us spend most of our lives in that position of mourning. I did. That is what I mean by the second wound. It is the suffering that comes from dividing the world into “alive and dead” after “I and not I”, which is the first wound.
When we ask the question “how can I live a happy, meaningful life?”, what is obviously left unsaid is: “before I am dead”. The duality of the second wound, life and death, precedes any notion of happiness and meaning, and thus happiness and meaning are subsets of life and death. So when we ask this question we are really in mourning for ourselves. We are telling ourselves that death is inevitable, and that we must find some way — some desperate and urgent way — to relieve ourselves of the killing anxiety that it is coming, coming, coming closer ever second.
How are we to heal this great wound of death, mourning, fear, inescapability? Simply by seeing. It falls apart the moment we do. Like “I” and “not I”, “life” and “death” are only thoughts. They are little categories of conceptuality on the stage of consciousness. They have absolutely no meaning whatsoever, because whatever is held in consciousness is first seen by the witness of consciousness.
Therefore, the witness in us itself precedes life and death. Logically, emotionally, spiritually, and existentially. It must exist before any thought of life and death can be held or had at all. Therefore, the witness in us is beyond the opposition, duality, polarity of “life” and “death”. It was never born and it will never die.
To say that the witness which can contemplate death can die is as absurd as saying water can wet itself. Just as “wet” is a quality of water, so “death” is a quality of thought, not consciousness. Thoughts rise and fall. They are born and die. And so we think the world around us “lives” and “dies”. A tree falls, and we suppose it has gone from “living” to “dead”. But all we are really saying is that our perception has changed. Our idea of “tree” is gone. Just as water is always wet, so phenomenal thought rises and falls, and thus what is conscious of phenomenal thought must be beyond living and dying, which are phenomenal thoughts. And for that very reason the witness itself is beyond life and death.
The moment that you really see this — and I think it takes many years of contemplation, or, if you are like me, maybe death itself to teach it to you — then a change happens in the psyche. The second wound heals. There is no need to mourn anymore, because there is no need to divide anything at all into “alive” or “dead”. What dies is only the thought of us, which is shattering every instant, second, moment, anyways. Where does it go?
Maybe this strikes you all as a pretty story — but nothing more. Let it. Laugh and love. Forget about all of it. Let the question of meaning and happiness go. Then maybe you will find them.
There is a part of me that still wants to belong. It fights, every day, to be a member of the tribe, the clan, the nation. And every day it dies a little bit more, until, now, it is barely perceptible at all. Thankfully. That part of me, that part of you, which needs and clings and fears and despairs. Let it die. It was meant to burn. To become smoke that reaches into the sky. And that is how you touch grace at last. Then meaning and happiness reveal themselves to you. How can they ever pierce the shell of your “I” and “not I”, your impenetrable little ego? They are just what is left when the witness in you sees the impossible beauty of being with the eyes of an unclouded sky.