Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you gotta figure out.
That is a scene from the movie City Slickers which came out in 1991. For some reason I still remember that line well enough that when the title for this blog came to me, that scene popped into my head.
The other day I was listening to a Podcast where a master yoga instructor was asked if there were just one thing she could teach her students what would it be? I thought about that. What is the one thing that is the most important in life? As I’m dealing with a lot of negative emotions surrounding death in the various groups I’m in, I ponder “What is the one thing that could help with all of that anger, fear, and depression?” And I came up with an answer. I know the One Thing.
The One Thing is to know that your body is not you. At the root of the fear of death is the knowledge that our bodies do not live forever. As much as we deny it, as much as we try to keep these bodies young, we cannot escape that nagging knowledge in the backs of our minds that it’s a futile effort. One day this body will be no more. And, since we identify so closely with the body, the natural conclusion is that we will be no more either.
If we can break that attachment to the body, we can conquer the fear of death. Yesterday I was discussing the fear of death with a young woman. I asked her specifically what does she fear? She thinks at the end of life we just cease to exist. She feared being a disembodied consciousness in a black void. Just blackness for eternity. I told her that, if she ceases to exist, there will be no blackness to perceive and it certainly won’t be for an eternity. So, nothing to fear there. She fears her friends going on and having fun without her. Again, if she doesn’t exist, she’s not going to be around to be jealous of them having fun without her. She fears what they are going to do with her body after she’s gone and people looking at “her”. I told her that after she drops her body (she will go on), she won’t care any more about what happens to her body than she cares about what happens to the hair left on the salon floor after she gets a haircut. Her fears were totally irrational, yet totally normal.
My mother-in-law has already picked out and bought her casket. Occasionally, I will tease her and tell her that we’re going to have her cremated. “Oh no. I don’t want to be burned up!” she’ll say. (I guess she thinks it’s going to be warm and dry and well lit inside that casket. I let her keep that fantasy.) When we talk about our wishes after our deaths, we’ll talk about being cremated or being buried. I’m very careful with this language. No one is cremated or buried. I’ll ask “What did they do with the body?” The body, that which was their vehicle, is discarded. To me, it makes not a whit of difference what you do with whatever assembly of molecules happens to be collected at the time when I step out of my vehicle. The molecules that were in this thing we call my body when I was born are long gone. If I live long enough, the molecules that are collected today, April 25, 2017, will be long gone when I step out. They come and they go. They pass through. They are not me.
I practice daily not identifying with the body. When I see it aging, I remind myself it’s not me. I’ve become so detached from it, I surprise myself when I get protective of it. I do take care of it. As vehicles pass by me too closely on the road as I walk, I get angry because they’re not respecting the space I want for my body. I still need it to operate in this world. But, I know my life is not dependent on my body.
If I can help people with One Thing, that’s it. You are not your body. Your body is a tool, a temple, a vehicle. Take care of it. Be grateful for it. But, don’t place ultimate importance on it. And, don’t worry about what will happen when you burst forth from it. It’s gonna be good!