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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Joan Halifax is a Zen Buddhist who has been working with the dying in New Mexico for the past thirty years. In an interview, she was asked what her vision was of her own death. She spontaneously responded: "I can't think that way! I can't live that way! I don't know what my death will be."

I love Roshi Halifax's honesty. She is not relating to her life from her small self, which mistakenly believes it is in charge. Rather, she is fully in touch with her whole being, which is spontaneous, unplanned, non-organized. Recalling the death of a dear friend and fellow Buddhist, Issan Dorsey, Roshi Halifax shared a passage from the poet Rilke that resonated deeply for her: "Love and death are the great gifts that are given to us. Mostly they are passed on unopened."

How true... and how sad! It takes a deep soul such as Rilke's to apprehend the intimate connection between love and death. Whatever could he mean that love and death are great gifts? Each of us needs to answer this question ourselves. It could be seen as a true, everyday koan or challenge that life-and-death poses for us. In responding to the koan, we open the gift boxes and release the treasure within. A gift is to be opened and passed on.

Love teaches us to bear life; death teaches us to appreciate love. This is what occurs to me here-and-now. Don't expect me to answer the same way later today or tomorrow!

Already, something new is surfacing: Love is the extraordinary gift at the center of life; love is the extraordinary gift at the center of death.

And, now this: Love is death's gift to life; death is love's gift to life. As you can probably tell, each answer contains within it a new koan, a new challenge. That's because life-and-death constitute an artichoke that goes on peel after peel into eternity.

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