And letting go your last breath, would you feel satisfaction from knowing that you have done everything possible in this life to ensure that you are constantly present, always vibrating, always waiting, like the son is waiting for the seafaring father?
It’s not every month that one has a birthday, but it is every year that two Chronogram veterans both have a birthday in November. Editor Brian and I have, without fail, turned the same age within a few days of one another every November for the past 22 years that we’ve worked as colleagues in publishing. Wishing one another a happy birthday has become as commonplace as “good morning.”
When we began exchanging birthday wishes, we were young. Now, as the saying goes, we are no longer young. We have aged in parallel, though not always together. Brian leaves this column here, but as the ramen master in the Japanese masterwork, Tampopo, said to the glistening piece of pork on the edge of the bowl, “see you soon.”
Birthdays are random and contrived. Why should the repetition of a day in a month in a season be a meaningful marker arousing all manner of anxiety, satisfaction, and generalized self-consideration? In any case, they do. So I ask, how do I get in front of the experience and enact a more or less conscious and intentional experience. How do I make the occasion of a birthday something meaningful?
A few years ago, I visited the tombs of some Sufi saints in Uzbekistan. The places had palpable atmospheres, pulsing with force. They had this in common, and yet the quality of each was unique. For instance, the atmosphere around the tomb of Khwaja Muhammad Baba Samasi vibrated with an overwhelming impulse of love. It was so strong that I couldn’t tell if I was loving or being loved. Whereas the tomb of Khwaja Muhammad Baha’uddin Naqshband Bukhari emanated a grounded substance of peace that seemed to enshroud the whole complex in an otherworldly stillness.
Inasmuch as I was struck by the force of presence around what appeared to be no more or less than beautiful and harmonious architectural monuments built around long-since-interred dead saints’ bodies, I couldn’t ignore the implication that the force of a person’s life might survive their temporal existence and continue to exert an appreciable influence in the material world in linear time. Was the atmosphere the result of so many pilgrims’ prayers and meditations accumulating over hundreds of years? Was the place the tombs were located some kind of geomantic power-spot? Or was I feeling the emanations of the body of the interred saint? Or some combination of these factors?
Once dead, a person’s life, from the standpoint of the still-living, is instantaneously taken out of time. It is as though the ending of a life puts a cap on it, and it becomes complete. This is a matter of perception, but what if a life is actually existing perpendicular to linear time within a more encompassing dimensional order? In this sense, a person’s life is a singular geometric unit, a long inner body comprised of all moments aggregated as a simultaneous event.
This is what I am considering on the approach of my birthday in the middle of November. Is it possible to be present in an expanded moment, or at least in more of my life at once?
I know how to be present in a moment. I inhabit my body through sensation, my heart as awareness in feeling, my mind in thought, and then I bring them together in a balanced and harmonized state. But what about an expanded present moment? Could I also be present 10 years ago and 10 years hence, at my first inhalation at birth and at the last exhalation at death, all at once? And would the force of this larger presence open the possibility of being of service in a larger, even super-temporal context?
I’m going to give it a try on my birthday, and I suspect that a presence that can encompass a larger time scale arises from a place that is also a source of compassion and wisdom, which, together with love, are what the world needs.