Training for death
Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.
– Bruce Lee
I heard this quote from Sifu Bruce Lee last night at a meditation sit in San Francisco with Anushka Fernandopulle. Anushka shared it in the context of cultivating one of the 7 qualities of Awakening enumerated in Buddhism (Buddhists love numbered lists): upekkha, or equanimity.
We were talking about the relationship between equanimity and death, a two way street. On the one hand, reminding oneself of your own death can spark the recognition of the impermanence of all things and the reality of all things being interconnected (so there’s not stand alone, individualized self). That creates a chain reaction that can result in knowing equanimity, which I think of as the willingness to be equally near to all things and phenomena (h/t Christina Feldman).
On the other hand, someone in the group was asking for guidance on cultivating equanimity towards death — the very thought of it fills him with fear and dread. He found the reminder that, because our cells turn over and are replicated constantly, we are constantly dying and being born to be helpful. In the course of 7 years, in fact, every cell in your body has been replaced. The person you were 7 years ago no longer exists. The person you were when you started reading this post is gone. The day to dayness of this idea does seem to help one build up a willingness to even be near to death.
I’ve seen dead people and animals, but I’ve never watched anyone die. I’ve read and heard that people can die in so many ways — full of fear and venom, or peacefully ready to let go. This Bruce Lee quote suggests that how you die is informed by what you’ve practiced most in your life.
This is a good reason to meditate. I meditate for a few reasons, but now one is because I want to die well. Meditation is my training for the many moments of duress I encounter, the biggest ones to anticipate being related to death.
May the training of mind help raise me to my expectations in those many future moments of struggle, panic, fear and loss. And may my expectations reflect the truths I’ve come to know through my training.