Intimations of Mortality
On Looking at Van Gogh’s Starry Night
One night decades ago I am meditating
In my bedroom when, on an old army
Blanket folded, felt yelling, and terrified,
My mind vanishes, and mind expands,
Explodes, to shoot into a universe of comets
Star clouds, shattering, spinning supernovas,
The banging, barging of new universes,
Heart dying, self perishing while self-aware.
Were I to have let that go I would
Have died, I would have surely died.
Get up! Run! The body chased by the
Hounds in skull’s heaven. It is too soon
For you to trap me, and rip my body
And worry the flesh of mind and
have me mad or dead! So I shake
Those foul dogs off this time, and
So I embrace this time, this mortality,
And let eternity’s tremendum be.
To say that life is suffering one way
Is to make two things, life and suffering,
As separate things into one. So that suffering
Is grafted onto life to make happiness
And joy, young fruit growing from an old tree,
Separate but together, a pear on an apple host.
That is the science way; the way of the West.
To say that life is suffering in the way of the East
The way of art, is to see life and suffering
As one, that dukka is life, since everything
That arises, passes away as part of a pulsating
Storm in which all parts of it arise and pass away
Eternally. Dukka is life. C’est la vie! That’s life!
That’s the tragedy of life. All events of it
Are mortal, arise and pass away, and that the
Vision I had that night becomes a furious
Hurricane containing universes that rise and fall.
Even my tiny happiness is mortal in it, for
This also arises and falls, and is mortal in it.
Then life is to be embraced. Dukka, life, is too
Alluring to be resisted, but must be understood
And seen clearly, and an appropriate life-work
Made of it; that understanding with mindful
Concentration and intention and the effort
To speak and act and work with clarity,
Compassion, and equanimity: to love life’s
Tragic fate—to speak ‘amor fati!’ clearly.
It can’t be helped. There seems to be no choice.
I did not understand that vision decades ago.
Had I died too soon, the light death brings,
Would have let me know, but too late to tell,
And teach. But now I live, and have been given
The gift, no matter my lapses of attention,
My forgetting of names, where my darn keys are,
Getting lost in my own house—given the gift
Of seeing and understanding that even happiness
In this maelstrom, joy, and all good things in it
Arise and pass away, and that that tragic sense
Of life must be embraced, and cherished.
I could die now that I have finished this.
For I have
Just now, written this good thing, to share.
(Written on a voyage up the Seine River, August 2018.)