Is death a real end or a transient stop? A mere passing through to something higher or the pit stop? Maybe a higher plane of the soul, maybe a stepping stone? Does death come to take our breath away at the end; the end of our time on earth or is it a temporary stop?
We experience death multiple times in our life. The kind that goes beyond biological mechanism; the ticking of our heart and the rhythm of our breathing, but still impacts the fibre of our physicality and spirituality . The death of passion, love, friendship, trust, familiarity and comfort zones. With each death our bodies change, the chemical receptors in our brains morph and our souls break down and rebuild.
Is it a good thing to celebrate something as morbid as an end rather than mourn it? To embrace it rather than regret it? To revel in it rather than curse it? To chase on the heels of a past or turn our eyes to the path ahead.
Myths, beliefs, facts and philosophies abound around death and re-birth. A phoenix turns to ash to be reborn. A snake sheds its skin. The mythical cat gets nine lives. The Hindu belief of samsara claims the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives based on karma. Sufiism urges us to die before our death. Seven years to change each cell in our body. Seven reincarnations to attain Moksha. There is a beauty in endings. An ending doesn’t have to be a severance or an uprooting. An ending can be a beginning. A challenge. A dare.
Although it’s tempting to turn back and live there, there is a reason we cannot go back into the past. We can only walk forward. Our past evaporates like steam dissolving into a stream of memories. Memories that are mere superfluous traps to bind us back to a life we have experienced. It’s done. Leave it there.
The soul comes clean and pure in the world and then it binds itself in attachments and adornments of our ego, our emotional needs and material desires. These embellishments attach and detach from our beings easily, exposing their frivolity and fickleness. Yet, being social creatures, we can let go of our material possessions but we crave human companionship, approval, validation and love. But most of all love. We weep when human love dies. But what is human love?
According to Nimattullah Sufi Order, human love is divided into three stages.
“I for myself, you for yourself; we love each other, but we have no expectations of each other.”
This is a comfortable equation. You do not encroach on each other, you don’t bother each other. Zero expectations.
But we want more for a mutually beneficial relationship, so we move towards profound love.
“I for you, you for me; we love each other, having mutual expectations of each other.”
This gets trickier. Mutual expectations may be misinterpreted, misunderstood and can lead to conflict. It’s still conducive to building the foundations of a mutually beneficial bond by trial and error.
But then, for real success in human love there is a category that transcends all conventions of expecting, wanting and needing of each other.
“I am for you, you are for whoever you choose; I accept whatever you want without any expectations whatsoever.”
Now this is highest step. To get here one must shed every ounce of ego and self-importance we may have. But people like you and me rarely get here. Sufi love responds with loving and kindness towards those who harm them. But which love and which relationship is so selfless? A mother’s love comes closest, but not much else.
We cannot achieve stage three, so we scamper back to stage two or even stage one.
So, we are back to the question of death and our equation and comfort with it. Can love in relationships die? Because that is what we fear the most, we cry and long for our dead love that once existed and is no more. But love can never die. Love is omnipotent. So we can rest our minds about that. We’ve captured it for a lifetime if we’ve been touched by it once. It marks our soul and changes it for the better, just like hate changes it for worse.
Love lives on. But we die. And we die because we need to, in order to grow, move and live. We die many times. Life is a constant movement forward, and if we are lucky if we’ve found that ladder to climb to a higher plane for our soul’s purity, at the very least it is a straight path onwards with no gain and no loss and if we are really unlucky we are going down that stairwell to perdition.
Since we don’t have an aerial view of our direction and we haven’t been given special gallery seats by our privilege, only our creator -Allah does, we cannot claim the ascent in our movement, just like someone else can’t claim the descent of our movement. The creator can judge and damn, not us or other mortal souls sitting on pedestals of judgment. They can point fingers, damning you. You can clap and praise yourself. In the end, the effect cancels each other out like two minuses. It doesn’t count.
And along this path, we die. We die multiple times. But a death is a chance. An opportunity. A retake. When death comes, it takes. But it takes away the right things as part of a divine plan. It takes away the excess, the rot, the decay, the stagnant, until something new is born in its place. In our darkest moment, something is being re-born within us. If we are not at some point at our nadir, we cannot take flight to our zenith. If we remain ploughed here forever, we can never get there. We can never get to the place we are meant to get to.
As Christine Caine puts it, ‘Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been replanted.’
So, live. But die as well, die as many times as it takes, because death is just an introduction to what you lack.