Of perhaps a hundred or so quotes I reviewed on Life, Death, and Eternity, two leapt out. Seneca the Younger (Lucius Annaeus 4-65 C.E.) authored both. Seneca was a writer, poet, philosopher, and counselor to two Roman emperors and an empress. Emperor Caligula, Empress Agrippina, and Emperor Nero sought Seneca's intellect and advice.
Sadly, Seneca fell out of favor with the last, Nero. Seneca retired to study and write. In retirement, there arose accusations that Seneca had plotted to assassinate Nero. Likely palace politics, Seneca was convicted without a trial. He and his wife Pompeia Paulina committed suicide, victims of Nero's tyranny.
Indeed, not an uplifting way to begin this article, but I shall endeavor to elevate to the positive swiftly. First, let's look to Seneca:
"No man enjoys the true taste of life, but he who is ready and willing to quit it."
Finding your particular Eternity is our subject.
Birth and death are facts. You're alive and breathing, or you're dead and not. In Buddism, breath and heat are life. Therefore, one must not disturb until breath ceases and the heat subsides. The spirit moves on.
Youngsters conceive themselves immortal. The middle-aged reassure themselves there is plenty of time left. In old age, death is imminent, an event one fears or purposefully ignores. But, as the adage goes, facts are stubborn things. Birth is not inevitable; death is. The length of the time in between is uncertain, therefore, unpredictable. Hence, most of us retreat out of fear or conscious avoidance at some point. But, there is a third way, a "good" death.
A "good" death? What does that mean? For some, it means dying in service to others. Or, like Seneca and his wife, intentionally embracing death to disallow their executioner, Emperor Nero, any satisfaction in carrying out his sentence. Each of us defines "good" in a particular way.
Here, it means acknowledging and accepting death's unpredictable imminence every moment we live. Insofar as we're able, it means embracing the inevitability of our end and the Eternity beyond. Finally, again insofar as we're able, to take charge of our demise.
A force of nature, a friend of mine, was a painter, a sculptor, a fabric artist, and a landscape designer. Six feet tall, thin, angular, she had the demeanor of a great bird, an eagle. Sharp-eyed, focused, lord, she had talons!
One odd, trivial memory always makes me smile. I'm six feet tall. We wore the same size trousers! When I wore a pair past professional acceptability, my friend claimed them to use as work clothes in the profession that was her passion, designing and installing gardens. She transformed flat bare patches of ground into verdant fantasy lands of beauty and serenity.
Indeed, it's how we came together. We both attended a meditation group. I was a passable rough carpenter and needed some work. So I was hired to build arbors, benches, gates, terraces and help install plants, trees, and garden fixtures. Thirteen years later, we were still working together.
Sadly, the great bird began to waste away. Suddenly, my friend was older and thinner, slower and fragile. But, the dominant fire was still in her eyes. Wasting or not, she was in charge.
We never named the malady because my friend elected not to seek medical care. However, I came to realize it was esophageal cancer. This was an organic, natural foods person, who didn't drink, smoke. She had no vices.
While not a religious person, my friend was indeed spiritual. Working in nature most of her life, she accepted nature would either heal her or take her.
One day, my friend prepared for a ride on a Harley Davidson "hog," piloted by her son. Then, suddenly, she got smaller. I could see life clearly leaving. Her face, her eyes, her resoluteness confirmed she knew it too.
In the very early morning after she had had a fitful, restless night, I suggested we bundle up, head for the porch, and enjoy the sunrise. We sat in the light and the warmth side by side. When I turned to her to say something, she had quietly, gently died. That was a "good" death.
I knew breath had ceased. I laid my friend upon a chaise longe she had constructed and waited until the heat dispelled. Then, I notified the appropriate authorities of her departure.
A significant utility of spiritual practice, maybe the most important, is acknowledging death and approaching it with as little fear as possible. I call it finding your Eternity.
Three ways to look at this, to corral a bit of Eternity, are easily deduced.
First: None! No Eternal. We're here. We're gone! Where gone is, nobody knows. Comforting eh? Simple, this or that, without the that. What we are, or where, is what's most important. Beyond? That's nuthin'.
Second: There might be a nuthin'. Hedge your bets! Tickle the idea. Get to know the influential few. A slight luster and a substantial bribe. Prepare ourselves with piety, the requisite prostration, the ceremonial bow. Amen. In the end, good works will triumph. Please do not mistake. Good works are not slight. We need them. We need to do them. We need that some of them are done for us.
Finally, none of these postures or actions mean anything. We are small creatures, vulnerable to each other. That is how we're made. All our different actions are just what we are.
If you believe in A Supreme and believe It created everything, the whole Big Bang. And, you believe A Supreme is infallible, no appeal beyond it, then, how could it make a mistake? Yep, the good, bad, and ugly fall into the same pot. Seneca observes:
"The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity."