by Lenore Flynn
In two days I will celebrate my 59 birthday. For most of my adult life I have viewed my birthday as a day to rejoice. All the things that have been my life have sprung from that day. I love to think of my parents on that Sunday morning happy at my arrival; my mother always said I gave her the perfect family she wanted, 2 boys and 2 girls. I am sad she is no longer here to wish me a happy day.
Some years it is a day I indulge myself in whatever I want: shopping, a massage, eating something I like, going to the movies. Some years it is a day to reflect. This year it seems like it will be for reflection.
In Buddhist practice there are 5 Recollections recited as part of the daily liturgy. They are a call to be mindful of impermanence. Thinking things will stay the way they are is the path to disappointment.
The first recollection is “I am of the nature to age, I will grow old.” This one is so easy to forget when you are young and healthy. You don’t want to remember it. Our culture rallies against it. I recently subscribed to a health magazine as a favor to a neice and page after page is about how to look younger, fight off the aging process. As if appearence really had anything to do with health and aging; I am going to age no matter how healthy I am or how good I look.
The second recollection is “I am of the nature to be sick, I will grow ill.” This human existence has its price and that is this body will get sick and need care. I bring this one to mind when I get sick and find myself fighting with my illness in anger. This poor body maintains as best it can and cannot escape its nature. We should be compassionate toward our bodies.
The third recollection is “I am of the nature to die, someday I will die.” Pretty grim for most people. The denial of this truth causes so many problems. Not that we need to embrace death ahead of time but to acknowledge its reality and inevitability gives us an impetus to pay attention. The Zen tradition admonishes the practitioner that death comes quickly so don’t squander your life. Today, right now, pay attention. Wake up!
The fourth recollection is “All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will be separated from me.” Nothing is yours, really. No thing and no body will go with you when you pass away from this life. Anyone who has been alive for any time has watch a parade of things and bodies come and go. This is advice against holding on, clinging to things. We cling to ideas, possessions, loved ones, ways of life.
The last is about karma. A popular idea nowadays but a really important one. “I own my karma, I am born from my karma. Whatever I do, for good or ill, of that I will be the heir.” This is the call to mindful in every action, every interaction. This isn’t a tally system (you did this so you get that); it is more about the fact that an action causes a reaction; your actions put things in motion. Generate good.
So on the eve of this year’s birthday, I am recollecting my good fortune to be able to know these things and take them to heart. To appreciate and be grateful for the wonderful, beautiful things I have seen, felt and heard. To appreciate and be grateful that I live in safety, warmth and knowing. I can watch my resistance to some of these recollections; I certainly want to be ageless, healthy, eternal, and never separated from people and things I love. Mindfulness of these recollections is not morbid or depressing unless we make it so. If we make the fact the sun comes up every morning depressing it would be no different; it will still come up. What we can choose is whether the light shines on us or not.