CIRCUMSTANCE AND OPPORTUNITY VII

Death is one of Zhuangzi’s favorite subjects. This seems reasonable when we consider that his entire project was about life—specifically, how to get the most possible enjoyment out of it. Death, the apparent negation of life, does tend to cast a certain pall over life, as I think we can all agree. It behooves us, therefore, to understand life in the context of death.


Death is circumstance—the greatest unavoidable event facing us all (and taking away those we love in the meantime). Death is therefore also opportunity. Life is a “school of hard knocks” whatever cultural or economic privilege we might enjoy. “Knocks” are our teachers. Death is the grand-daddy of all “knocks” and thus an especially important teacher.


This school is also a “school of cope”. Zhuangzi has his methods for dealing with death, but we should not think that these, or any other attempt to put the fear of death (aging and dying) to rest, can be final, definitive and completely successful. We must also be our fear—not deny it, but live it. There is freedom in this, too. Transcendence and transformation are more relational, psychological, than “actual”.


My death is good. For those inclined to mantras, Zhuangzi would suggest you give this one a go. Meditation on this with a view to actually experiencing it is yet another “gate” into Zhuangzi’s vision of free and carefree wandering.


Zhuangzi suggests we imagine life and death as a single body—one united reality. Such an imaginative movement also opens up into unity with the cosmos. We “hide the world in the world”, realize a cosmic identification, when we unite with death. Death is the great out-there.


“Because I think my life good, so also do I think my death good”, says Zhuangzi. Having united life and death, the perceived goodness of life carries over into death. Life and death are inseparable. If my life is good, so also must be my death. (If this is not how we already think, then this imaginative exercise can open us up to new possibilities.)


The goodness of death is not in contrast to the miseries of life, but a consequence of the goodness of life. This is the greatest possible affirmation. What an opportunity! It is not morbidity, but jubilant affirmation. Yes! Thankfulness! It’s all good!


These are all just words. But there is something else here; something visceral; something transformative. The only way beyond mere words is to actually viscerally engage with their intent to the extent of experiencing them. This is imaginative meditation. My death is good. Experience understanding.

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