What happens when you find yourself in the Bardo?

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. — Nancy Levin

Loosely speaking, “Bardo” is the state of existence between two lives on earth, after death and before one’s next birth. It is a state between death and rebirth but not a purgatory as a Christian perspective might suggest.

This Tibetan word, with its provocative connotation, means a transition or a gap between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. Barmeans “in between,” and domeans “suspended” or “thrown.”

On listening to an interview by Richard Fidler with George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, I realised I was in the Bardo.  I feel like I’m in suspended animation, in a period of time between my usual or known way of life and what is to come.  Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t on hold.  It’s not like I’m waiting for the perfect conditions to continue but a lot has happened recently, and I find myself in an in-between place — a place without solid roots, a place of itinerancy and it’s a curious place to be.  At first, being adrift rocked me. There were moments of shock, panic and grief. After several weeks, I find I like this place of not belonging, of having no ties or roots. I belong in no place and yet every place.  I have the chance to see life from a different perspective, with fresh eyes and a respect I have not exercised before.

If the Bardo describes a state between reincarnation on earth, after death, it’s a stunning analogy for my life. After 22 years of a certain way of life having spectacularly ended and being without a home, and working toward finding a new one, I find I have the opportunity for a reincarnation of sorts. There is much to learn about who I am. So much of who we are is a response to our circumstances, relationships and the situations we experience.  Strip all that away and who are we?  On a number of occasions in recent months I’ve been asked questions that begin —  “How do you behave when faced with…”.  I can only respond with —  “I used to react like…. but now, given all the reasons I behaved that way no longer exist, I don’t know.”

Rather than face this obscurity and lack of certainty with stark terror, it’s a wonderful time of contemplation and inner reflection*, of spiritual and personal growth as well as transformation.

Being in the Bardo isn’t as dire as might be expected. It’s liberating, consolidating and a unique opportunity that I am, now that I can articulate it, grateful to be experiencing. There is part of me that longs to linger and I need to remind myself it’s a transitional time and place and that a rebirth must ultimately follow. With that vision in mind, I approach with excitement and anticipation.

 

*Interestingly my computer auto corrected reflection and it read perfection. We might never reach inner perfection but gee, it’s a gorgeous concept and a beautiful perspective to contemplate. Thanks autocorrect, for once I’m impressed.

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Begin with the end in mind

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I held a moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a flower, a tiny sliver of one hour. I dropped it carelessly, Ah! I didn’t know, I held opportunity. ~Hazel Lee

Beginning with the end in mind is a concept I encourage teachers to use regularly. Consider the assessment, what is it you want young people to demonstrate that they know and can do? Backward map from this to identify the facts you’ll teach and the processes or skills you will unpack for them. Then, identify the thinking processes involved; do they need to compare, analyse, deduct? From there develop learning goals and the sequence of delivery. This process ensures our young people are prepared and equipped to demonstrate their knowledge in the given task or piece of assessment. It’s also an opportunity for teachers to be clear about learning intentions and focuses their teaching.

I was recently presented with a sobering assignment of my own. I was challenged to write my own obituary (It’s a long story but it was part of an ongoing spiritual development process, that I’m really enjoying). Did I say this was sobering? As I was writing I became aware of the similarities to the above process.  Writing my obituary; how I’d like to be remembered, the qualities I’d like to stand out, the kind of person I wanted to be, the achievements I’d reached and so forth, made me realise the power in the process.

I don’t necessarily want, nor do I need, a gushing obituary (I certainly won’t be around to hear it at any rate) and I doubt there will be a huge crowd gathered around my grave to bid me farewell but what this task did for me was to shine a very strong spot light on my current behaviours, attitudes and perceptions. It made me realise how special life is, how relatively short it is, yet also, how many opportunities I have to make a difference, to change the way I do things for better results and how I can grow each day. I realised, not for the first time, the wonderful gift I have been given. We don’t just live once. We die once, we have a chance to live everyday.

Starting with the end in mind brings a focus to the now. Each action, thought and choice has power. Each moment we are presented with opportunity. Each day we get to create our lives anew; to be more, do more, love more, laugh more, help more.

Starting from the end in mind is confronting and it’s also a beautiful reminder of the preciousness of life. This task, writing my own obituary, might just be something I incorporate each year into my New Year’s Day ritual.

If you started with the end in mind, how would it shape your life?

Every day is an opportunity to make a new happy ending. ~Author Unknown

 

Life, it’s a gift. So write your own rules.

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”
Pope Paul VI

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A friend recently wrote about attending the funeral of a dear friend at the end of last year. Reading her post I was moved and sobered by her loss, the passing of one so young, and the very gift of life itself.

Death forces us to sit up straight and pay attention. It makes all the little things, well, look just like little things. It gives us perspective. It’s a sharp hit of reality that forces us to focus on life. A death at a time of year when many people set resolutions and goals is particularly poignant.

How often do we hear that life is short? It is. It’s too short to live with regret. To live with fear. To live small.  Life is too short not to express ourselves fully, to feel deeply and to enjoy being crazy and daring and doing the things we love.

I wrote recently of setting some goals and creating a love list for the year. I’m going to hike a mountain, swing on a trapeze, I’m going to go to the beach and walk in the forest more often. I’m going to meet friends for lunch and take my husband out, to a different restaurant, each month for dinner.  I have plans for the year. My plans are my way of living. Of making life fun. Of honouring the lives of those I love who have lost theirs. But you know, I was thinking, as I was reading my friend’s blog, that to really honour our own life and the sweet beauty of it, we really ought to focus on giving stuff up too. I’m not talking about sugar and alcohol or cigarettes or whatever your vice might be. I reckon we need to give up guilt and shame and negative self talk. We need to free ourselves from the rules that have bound us, that have hemmed us in. We really ought to rewrite the rules of our lives and live on our own terms unrestricted by those old limiting patterns and beliefs, of the pointless merry-go-round of self sabotage.

The reality of our finite existence sometimes comes with the tragic loss of loved ones. What better way to honour the lives of those who have lost theirs by honouring our own.  Go ahead and make this year your best ever. What will you start doing, stop doing and do more if?

Shannyn