Apr 25, 2011
This precious human birth
My friend Cecily recently lost her brother to illness. He had just turned 50 the week before he died. She is devastated.
Cecily is one of my best friends from college. We’ve known each other for 32 years. It’s that rare kind of friendship where even if months pass without connecting, we still pick right up where we left off. We’ve never lived anywhere near each other since graduation, but we’ve stayed in touch through all our ups and downs. It’s a friendship I treasure.
When she came to visit after her loss, there was something very poignant about it. It turned into something of a wake up call for me.
I’ve written here many times about my busy-holic tendencies. It turns out I’m in one of my legitimately busiest periods in years. I recently took on a new part-time job, on top of working to build my coaching practice, and teach meditation and dharma. This week, I start attending a training program one day a week. My husband wants to start some home renovations to prepare our townhouse for sale. And I’m keeping up with my singing engagements and voice lessons. I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again. Everything I’m doing is very important to me. I have a hard time seeing what to cut.
But sometimes I take things too seriously. I get so driven and sucked into my vision of where I want to go that I forget to live my life right now. And Cecily’s visit reminded me of that.
At my sangha group this week, it was timely that we discussed the traditional Buddhist teaching on the Four Reminders. Here’s one presentation of them, in verse form:
This human birth is precious,
our opportunity to awaken.
The body is impermanent,
and time of death is uncertain.
The cause and effect of karma
shapes the course of our lives.
Life has inevitable difficulties,
no one can control it all.
This life we must know
As the tiny splash of a raindrop.
A thing of beauty that disappears
Even as it comes into being.
Therefore I recall
My inspiration and aspiration
And resolve to make use
Of every day and night to realize it.
- Compiled by Viveka Chen, based on verses by Tsongkhapa (14th century Tibetan master)
What this teaching says to me is this. Of all the millions of different circumstances that I might have been born into, I was given this fortunate human birth. I have everything I need, and the freedom to choose how to live. How foolish it is to spend my life like a hungry ghost — constantly grasping after some elusive future.
Right Now is a good time to appreciate what precious gifts I’ve been given. And make the best use of them, both for my own benefit and for everyone else’s. When else could I do that? Besides, I don’t know how long my good fortune will last. Things could change tomorrow. I don’t know. And the opportunity might not come again.
For now, I’m not in a position to change my overloaded schedule. But I can change my mindset. For one, I realize how precious Cecily’s friendship is to me. Even though we’ve been friends for 32 years, there have been big chunks of time when we weren’t connecting. Now that we’re both in our 50s, I’m seeing more clearly how the time ahead of us is finite.
Seeing her and reflecting on the Four Reminders have given me my wake up call. There really is no time to lose.
The image above is the Holstee Manifesto Poster, available for sale here.