The hillsides and banks of the streams are at their greenest now, just before spring in the Central Valley. A few trees are already in bloom, and the first smells of spring are in the air.
Water rushes by with tremendous force, a perpetual motion sweeping everything before it, including one’s thoughts if one lets go of the self’s illusion of control. Paradoxically, the mind slows down, and thought becomes a trickle.
The present opens up as the past and the future drop away, and one passes into a timeless dimension of being. The beauty of the earth is seen again as if for the first time. There is a causeless joy, and with it, strangely, a communion with death.
After sitting in the last hour of direct sun beside the stream, the mind is quiet and the heart is at peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.” In this state, I walk by a tree with new white blossoms and tiny budding leaves. The slanting rays of a descending sun are on its branches and blossoms, and for a moment the beauty is so intense that I’m unable to move.
On a sheltered section of the path, I come upon a pair of ducks in the stream. As their telltale fan-shaped head feathers attest, they are mergansers, a fairly rare and very shy species. The male has a riveting, perfectly contrasting pattern of black and white feathers; the female has variegated brown coloration.
They start to swim downstream as soon as they see me, but cyclists and runners on the park road above the opposite bank send them back upstream. Caught betwixt and between, they swim back and forth for a few minutes, until they finally feel safe enough to float downstream on the current.
Without a trace of morbidity or fear, the completely silent human mind contacts the ever-present actuality of death. Thought-consciousness pushes death away; it is our greatest fear, the unknowable thing at the end of life. But in truth, natural death is happening all around and within us at every moment.
Death is inseparable from life. Indeed, death is the ground of life, the unknowable source of all energy, matter and being. Before the Big Bang, there was death as infinite ground. The universe will return to it, whether it slowly flames out or contracts back into a single point in billions or trillions of years.
Creation and death are therefore part of the same thing. Not just creation at the beginning of the universe, but also, more importantly, creation as it is going on every second everywhere in the cosmos. There is no separate “Creator;” God is not separate from anything, except humans. Have you ever wondered why?
Death in the cyclic sense came into being, as did the laws of physics, with the Big Bang. But given that death preceded the Big Bang, and is the eternal ground to which all things return, is there death at all as we normally conceive and fear it?
From the ground of death sprang every galaxy, star, and planet. Universes are born and die, but death is a constant, the everlasting fertile ground. Before energy and matter exploded into existence, was there an inseparable ground of awareness?
Clearly, before the Big Bang there was an essence that gave rise to all energy and matter. To my mind, the infinite ground of death, the ongoing mystery of creation, and the inseparable immanence of God are the same thing. Touching the ever-present actuality of death while fully and joyfully alive, one participates in creation as it is taking place each moment.
The universe has a beginning and will have an end. Since the cycle of life and death is integral to the universe as a whole, then death preceded the universe. Therefore the cosmic mind is both immanent in the universe and inseparably beyond it. There is no “Supreme Being,’ no design in intelligence, simply an infinite, creative intelligence randomly unfolding.
One often hears how the person who nearly loses their life appreciates each day much more. So too, the person who regularly communes with death is much more alive. Looked at this way, death is not to be feared, flirted with, or avoided until the end of life, but allowed to come near, as the never-ending wellspring of life.
As I stride over the damp paths, the setting sun throws patches of light onto the ground through a grove of oaks. The treetops are bathed in alpenglow, and streaks of fast-fading color cling to a few wispy clouds.