Once in a great while we are given two births in a single life. There’s the one the body has, at its start, with its eventual giving rise to the sense of self, and all that entails. The hands regularly run themselves over that self, getting the lay of the land, as a person learns what it is to be a somebody. The body, with its animal nature, carries on with its innate drive to keep alive. This enables the species to make more of itself, which must be a good thing.
The parallel upkeep of the burgeoning collection of values and beliefs, longings and so on, comes to carry as strong a wish for continuance as the body has had from the start, with the persistence of breath in and breath out, the hunger demanding to be relieved, the thirst to be slaked. Only thing is, while water, food, and oxygen are elemental needs (along with the mammalian longing to be tenderly held), the self that’s become convinced it can be subject to mortal danger is simply buying into the story it’s been telling itself, from the early days (and nobody “out there” ever seems to indicate otherwise, regarding the matter of what’s deeply real). The self insists, I am real. I matter. I cannot stand to be threatened. To have the foundation pulled from beneath me is to cease to be.
All of that is what inevitably comes with the first birth (the one common to us all), since we’re influenced by those around us, and steadily shaped by life experience.
* * * * *
If a person is lucky (very fortunate indeed) there comes a second birth, in which the real-seeming self ceases to feel substantial, subject to threat. Who knows why it happens? All the person can say is that the end of suffering is worth the cost of the absence of the old familiar. Even if it feels a bit like you’re now a member of a different species.
The self insists, I am real. I matter. I cannot stand to be threatened.
Only, in fact, your homo sapiens self is still entirely operative. Moving about, needing sleep, nourishment, quenching. Yes, you will eventually quit, just like all your fellow homo sapiens. Only, you don’t dread it the way you once might have. Not because you assume there to be a disembodied ongoingness, post-death. No, it’s just that you’re having such a good time being alive.
How can it be that the self came to seem . . . not so serious anymore? No longer worthy of the lifelong fixation on satisfying needs and wants, holding pain at bay, everything a means to one end or another. What made it stop mattering that you’re thought well of, understood, needed? So strange, after all the time of its all mattering so much that to be deprived of respect or security or fulfillment could feel like being radically short on food or breathable air. Why the lightness of heart, without apparent cause, when you used to need things to be a certain way in order to smile, to relax, let down your guard? How has it come to this? Instead of being vulnerable to every little thing — people, change, the world out there, illness and aging — you are okay with each thing as it is; it doesn’t matter what. You no longer fight anything. You take it in, as it comes, allow it to register. Then you move on.
Why on God’s earth is it so different now? What has happened? The one thing you’re pretty sure of is that you didn’t cause it. There’s one other thing you know for certain: you have never loved this purely in your life. Pure: meaning, untainted by fear. Nothing in the heart is holding back anymore.
Oh, you know something awful could come to pass. You see hard things happening all around you, all the time. You know the one you love could cease to be, or the thing you revel in could come apart. Well, everything and everybody does, eventually. Brevity is one of the few things that can be counted upon, your own included.
All you know is, while you’re here, while the loved person or activity or condition is shimmeringly alive, nothing in you is tentative. Nothing cowers behind self-protection. The heart is like an enthusiastic little kid, who knows only the now, the juicy luscious now.
When it comes time for the heart to break, it breaks. All the way open. The sorrow has no idea if it will ever end. It doesn’t need to know.
Would you rather have been spared this pain? Rather the second birth had never occurred? (Are you kidding?)
I have looked back to the before, countless times, trying to see how one thing led to another. I cannot tell. I’ve pretty much given up the effort, knowing that some things are just not to be gotten hold of. Curiosity unsatisfied is okay just being its curious self. Kind of fun, wondering. Just ask a little kid.
[From forthcoming book by Jan Frazier]