I ran into a meditation friend at the market today. We talked briefly about our last group meditation and then she said she had to get through her shopping and get home, because her boyfriend, a rancher in Colorado, was arriving soon with two seven day old piglets. They planned to keep them in the bathtub in her small casita. He felt it was too cold for them in Colorado and they’d have a better chance of survival here in Taos. She told me he had a special milk formula for them. She didn’t mention why their mother was not nurturing them, but smiled when she said he had become their mother—as caring and concerned for their well being. Even though, she added, by next year they will be killed. I remembered she’d told me her boyfriend was a butcher.
I found myself blurting out, “we’re all going to die.” Perhaps I felt free enough to say that to her knowing she is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practitioner. She agreed and added that we live as if we don’t acknowledge that.
In that short interchange I seemed to come to the answer of a kind of Koan I’ve grappled with most of my life. If we are going to die anyway, why spend any effort caring for this body, this life? I felt her boyfriend’s love and compassion and concern for the two little piglets, knowing he himself would eventually slaughter them. In that moment I was able to hold the dichotomy lightly in an open heart. Though I will die, nevertheless I care for and nurture this body with lovingkindness, to the best of my ability. This can be extrapolated exponentially to all areas of life which in truth is all arising and passing away.
Years ago a high school friend wrote a poem entitled “The Dichotomy of Alive.” I don’t remember the poem but I’ve never forgotten its title. It is a both/and mystery we all must open our hearts to if we are to live a conscious life.