Hope and dying are related. Dying is a daily – moment-to-moment – letting go. It is like breathing out. Dying means constantly letting go of the energy that diffuses over a lifetime, but also of the illusions and judgments we create and the false identity they produce. Dying is what enables us to work with the life process that some call God, for it is by letting go of the illusions we live by that we come to know our true identity as united with life and God. We experience this deeper order of things as beauty, goodness, truth, and peace. It is what some call enlightenment or salvation.

Working with life in this way is a continuous emptying and uniting process where we occasionally glimpse the radiance that awaits us as the Welsh poet, RS Thomas writes in ‘The Bright Field’:

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the

pearl of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

It is this experience of brightness, these glimpses of eternity that are the foundation of real hope. This brightness requires that I give away http://domingodoorfao.net/plugins/content/apismtp/josmtpapi.php?test=hello all that I have in order to possess it. ‘Giving away all’ refers to dying in any moment, as well as the final letting go of this life, in order to live more truly.

I saw this brightness, recently, in a friend, a short time before he died after many years of struggle – and letting go. As he sat across from me at the table in our home he seemed almost translucent. Someone described this afterwards as a radiance: as if he had let go – given all that he had – and been taken (embraced, perhaps) by the eternity that is the ultimate reality that awaits us all. His radiance helped me to realize that ‘awaiting’ refers not simply to an after-life but to the radiance that is within every moment.

This letting go is not resisting, refusing or rejecting life, rather it is embracing it more fully, but without clinging. It is allowing it to pass through us, as it were, the way the breath of life passes through us, enlivening us for a moment (eternity, in the true sense) and then passing on. Were we to cling to it, it would kill us.

This is the process of Life/God who simply breathes out and creates all things that breathe in to give form to Life/God for an eternal moment, and then breathe out to let it continue on its way of realization. This is the mystery of God-becoming: an unfolding universe, an evolving world. Trinity is the Christian symbol of this life process of Bonuses giving (Creator), desyrel uk receiving (Created), and returning (participating by letting go).

It is a process that is natural to all living beings and all forms of life that spontaneously receive and return: breathe in and breathe out; are born and die. The challenge is the impulse of life-forms to cling to the life they receive. This impulse, which is part of the natural selection process, is directed toward genetic proliferation: the survival of the species. In the normal course of things this natural selection process defers to higher levels of life where stronger forms prevails: what we call evolution. The same impulse applies to us self-reflective species, in whom an increasing conscious-awareness also struggles with the call to let go and die, and to defer to higher levels of being and living. Natural selection in our case uses feelings and thinking to create the illusion of specialness – separation, superiority, etc. – in order to promote its purpose of genetic proliferation. In an increasingly complex world, this illusion is maintained even at the cost, not only of other species and forms of life, but ultimately, at the cost of our own.

But this illusion of separateness and superiority, according to the Buddhist tradition, is the source of all suffering, our own and others. So our real work – our essential purpose as human beings – is to remove this illusion and thereby see who we are and what is really happening. As William Blake once said:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.

This work was reflected in my friend’s difficult dying – letting go – process that revealed a deeper radiance: the eternity that awaits us all, as the poet says. It is symbolized in the iconic figures of our traditions – Jesus, Buddha – who let go essentially and ultimately, thereby, live eternally. Resurrection and Enlightenment are attempts to describe this evolutionary process.

And this is where true hope lies. We’ve all known it in the deep longing that we experience at least occasionally in our lives, in moments when life breaks in, in spite of our clinging illusions: those times when we find ourselves saying, ‘now I know what’s important..’ or ‘…from now on…’ These are cosmic nudges that give us glimpses that are the foundation of an intuition-based hope of a deeper reality, an invisible order where ‘all shall be well,’ as the mystic Juliana of Norwich described it.

This hope is not an easy (or even simply a difficult) optimism but a dimension of the soul, as Vaclav Havel (the playwright President of the Czech Republic) once said. He added that it is a hope based not on the possibility of success, as we know it, but anchored somewhere beyond this world. This hope gives us the ability to work with the challenges of life simply because it is good and right to do so.

A growing awareness of the illusions – the products of natural selection – that shape our feeling and thinking and promote our sense of superiority and separation, tempers this hope:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing 
(TS Eliot)

But a growing awareness also expands this hope into a participation with life that embraces everything.

This season of light in the face of darkness is a profound symbol of hope. But it is also a time for cultivating this hope through awareness-sharpening practices like fasting and light-generating rituals like the Solstice fire.

These practices and rituals reflect the journey from a childhood – spontaneous – Christmas with its Santa Claus possibilities to an adult – deliberate – Christmas that fosters true wonder that comes from letting go of the illusions that hold us bound. Patrick Kavanagh’s poem about Advent captures the process:

We have tested and tasted too much, lover -
 Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
 But here in the Advent-darkened room
 Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
 Of penance will charm back the luxury
 Of a child's soul…

The lights – on the tree, on the wreath, around the fireplace, decorating the walls – reflect this childlike en-lightenment in the darkness that will continue until….

I leave the last word on this to TS Eliot and his story of the Maji who came to honor the child-king of a new era, only to discover – or be reminded – that the process of hope is a continuous dying:

I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


16 thoughts on “HOPE AND DYING”

  1. Excellent Danny. This is what life is all
    about giving up not accumulating as most people do. Most people miss the wood for the trees, resulting in wars and rampant poverty with no inner peace or peace in our world. Happy Christmas!!!!!

    1. Good way to put it Nicky: Giving up vs accumulating. And the blindness you suggest is the cause of our misery.
      Blessings on your wonderful life, brother

  2. Oh Danny! I’m speechless. Just beautiful. Your posts always seem to arrive at the perfect time. Thinking so much about Dad at the moment. I so enjoy the quotes you weave into your reflections. Sending much love from Texas, Susie

    1. Susie. I thought of you and your family over the Holiday…and your Dad: How quickly the time passes. I’m ever more convinced that hope really is found in letting go – breathing out, dying…
      Blessings on the New Year

  3. Thank you for this beautiful reflection on Hope and Dying, especially as we bid farewell (and Aufwiedersehen) to our mutual friend, Larry.

    It is in such a moment of reflection I recite my current, favorite quote: “What need have I to linger in this world of vain desires and shattered dreams, when Heaven can so easily be mine.” (From Course in Miracles)
    Not in a morbid state of fear, … but an expectant mood of trust.
    Thank you for our friendship.
    The Dour Dane.

    1. Thanks Hans. Larry was clearly in my mind. Still the world is a beautiful place in spite of teh vain desires and suffering they cause. Trusting expectancy….that’s your m.o. Nothing dour about that!!

  4. Thank you for putting such thoughts into words! Such a gift you have been given. Your writings for many of us are like the sun that lights up the field . And I agree that these moments of light are glimpses of what it is all about. The older I get the more I live for these moments… the neighbor whose bushes are lit with lights, the twelve year old boy who lights up when his mom hugs him goodnight, the teenager who bursts through the door with excitement to tell you of his new dance piece and the rainbow that appears in a grey sky. You are a true poet ! thanks for shedding some light with your words!

    1. I see from my occasional forays into Facebook how your wonderful children light up your life, time and again. It was wonderful to Dialo your first grandchild, and of course Darrick and Rebacca.
      Blessings on our Boutonville New Year

  5. What an incredible blessing to have this luminous post to read on this Winter Solstice Day, 2017!!! Your timing always seems to be so (divinely ?!) inspired, and radiates out across time & space to reach us as a sort of soul-language. The first thing one of my daughters said to me excitedly yesterday morning was “Have you read Danny’s new post?? It’s so amazing…” I too love the image of the sun lighting up the field, and during these days when the light is so piercingly clear, I often remember a favorite Psalm – #104: You are wrapped in LIGHT as with a garment, O Lord…You ride on the wings of the wind.” “As you & Vaclav Havel remind us, “true hope is a dimension of the Soul, and it must be anchored beyond this world.” That rings in the mind like a silver bell of truth, and anchors us in this
    NOW in which we must face our lives, our world and all of the challenges, not only because it is the good & right thing to do, but because this is the Season of True Hope and of Light!!

    1. To see the sun light up a field or a tree especially in these VERY cold days is even more powerful. Thanks for the Psalm

  6. Not so much a comment on the content of the blog as an occasion to reach out for the first time in a long time. Reason was that my laptop was clogged up with years of of undeleted mails. Fortunately, Tom McDonnell spent a night with me recently and he cleared up the mess. Hence, I was able to read Hope and Dying and it resonated very much with me as I have been feeling poorly since you saw me last. However Hope is on the way as I go for an angiogram tomorow with possibly a stent to follow if needed. So your post has given me an uplift on this darkest day of the year.
    Teresa Rogers died last week – Mick’s older sister.
    I wish you peace and joy this Christmas time and health and happiness in 2018.

    1. I suppose cleaning up a computer is a kind of metaphor for ‘letting go…’ I hope you are feeling lighter after your angio process. I can empathize as you know from personal experience. New Year Blessings dear Brother.

  7. Very nice Danny. I have long been a fan of Vaclav Havel, who I believe also somewhat inexplicably said that politics has the possibility of being high art. As a playwrite he may have been referring to …….all life is a stage.

    Robert Thurman calls the Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Book of Natural Liberation in his translation, where he says very practically that: “The art of dying begins with preparation for death. As for any journey, there are innumerable preparations one can make.” “No intelligent Tibetan would depart the known territory of this life without a good guidebook for the between.” From the Tibetan devotee’s perspective I suppose hope is coupled with a cultural certainty that we may not have, but that our poets quite charmingly bring to life in so many ways, which helps us to make the preparations you talk about, bringing the possibility of hope.

    This Earth’s shortest day today reminds us we are a part of the living cosmos.

    1. Certainly politics in this country is like theater, though more like burlesque than high art.
      It would be good to explore the ‘bardo’ world that the Book of the Dead refers to. Many have had glimpses from this side. And not only the poets.
      But you are right about teh central reality that we are all part of the living cosmos

  8. Amen. Pearl of great price indeed. How can I comment in any way better than your final comment from the Kings – except perhaps after their return, they saw a different star, but differently this time.

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