29 August 2018
There was a very sweet and jovial elderly man I’ve met during my January retreat. His name is Osman. As a habit, I tend to draw an invisible distance around me when I am out in the company of people I don’t know well. I am especially conscious of my talk because of the non-local accent in me that always bring hoards of personal queries like where are you from, what are you doing here, how long you’ve been here… Sometimes I don’t mind, sometimes… I mind, particularly when I am in the reflective mode like attending seminars or retreats. Osman was different. He noted my different accent but didn’t ask me straight away. Instead, with his very smooth tongue that had flare of interesting storytelling style, he unguarded me with giggle and laugh before preceded further to interview me. I felt comfortable with his vibrant sense of humor and friendliness to unravel myself bare with someone I first met. We became dining table buddies for the rest of retreat. I even taught him how to do Yoga Walk for his troubled knee. He was grateful with the immediate relief he felt by just walking in the yogic way.
Throughout the 3-days retreat, he was never short of his story bag, always pulling something interesting out of it to entertain his audiences. He was a sweet, unpretentious and likable senior who didn’t carry his age in the attitude. In his early 60’s, he was a retired banker who loved eating, travelling and exploring new ideas. After the retirement, he made his lifelong love of storytelling and psychology into his second career, thus becoming a Peak Performance Coach with more than half dozen of self-help certifications indicated at the back of his name card. He was active with trainings and seminars in various educational and corporate settings. The retreat organizers also arranged with him to give a talk about storytelling in their center at the end of April and I was about to attend it with my son whom also likes to tell stories. I thought he could learn some tips from him. Then I received an email, the talk was cancelled by the sudden demise of the speaker…What do you mean sudden demise? You mean he died? Yes, that’s what they confirmed through his daughter. How come…? It was a heart attack, and well, life is indeed uncertain…that’s what they said. My, my… that was all I could say…
Whenever I come across with the news of an unexpected exit such as this, once more it makes me to reflect on the emptiness of life and death. Without needing to borrow the language of the Buddhist canon, it is the universal truth that whatever is born will die one day. So will be my life and yours. It is only a matter of time. Though we know it to be true, and yet, no one really wants to die or think about death seriously except time to time in the moments like this. Why? Because of fear…because of the fear of unknown and unfamiliar… We are familiar with life but not with death. We sense death as total annihilation from all the things, people we held so dear, and the thoughts of isolation, sever, is immensely frightening for many. The ancient Yoga master Pantanjali said the fear of death is something very, very deep in all of us that even the most learned ones dreads it. Thus, popular stories of Taoist immortals who never dies or many Indian yoga masters who lived for few hundred years continue to fascinate many alchemists, spiritual seekers in hope to find the formulas for longevity and immortality. The success or failure of our modern medicine also is so much depended upon extending life spans as long as possible if not curing death.
It seems the better society gets developed and the greater the modern technology advances, the more people focus on how not to die, how not to get sick, how not to get old by all measurements. But no matter how much power, wealth and fame we have accumulated, no matter how much endearing family and friends we are surrounded by, can we put a hold on Time that flows like river? Time that keep ticks in perpetual synchronization? No, certainly not. There is no almighty that can stop Time from moving forward. Each step, each day, we are that much closer to death. We just don’t know when it will end for each of us.
Then what’s the point being so afraid of it with something so sure to come sooner or later? Why not, instead, we focus on living while we are still here and don’t worry ahead of what has not yet come? Because of the law of attraction, we might just invite the very things we are afraid of if we constantly put attention on what we don’t want. Why don’t we focus on how to live well, so that we could be proud and free to leave when our time arrives at the door? Time is slipping through fingers in every minute and we might end up squandering it away in futility if we keep running to catch up with Time. Don’t think about “how not to” but let’s focus on “how to” because every minute we have now is precious. While we are still around and kicking our legs, let’s make sure we do things that will help us to stay healthy and hail with a gaiety of heart. How would you spend your time today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, so that your time on earth enriched you with greater freedom and happiness instead of gripping fear or psychotic neurosis?
As for me, I would like to nurture a healthy body, sound mind and light spirit so that I can live balanced life with a perspective. For that I exercise and meditate regularly, eat nourishing and wholesome food most of time. Above all, I focus on becoming a better person spiritually as time keeps on rolling under my sleeves. I am learning and improving bit by bit in how to love and kind to all, how to be compassionate and revere for all life, and how to laugh even in the facets of adversary. By doing so, is not to score high marks in the balance sheet of Lord Yama, but is for my own good to maintain sanity in this crazily fast moving society. I am also striving to be a harmonious person who can maintain equanimity in all up and down emotional fluctuations, or else it’s so easy to sabotage my sense of wellness and contentment, forgetful and careless ever persistently. The wheel of time keeps on turning while we all have limited time in this Earth. Thus I would like to use my allocated time in a wise, productive way as much as I can. I would like to contribute in elevating the qualities of my life and others’ lives so that I will have no shame, no regret when I have to leave. That is how I want to live for the rest of my remaining days. I don’t know whether Osman had the chance to properly reflect his life before he left.
I still have Osman’s name card in my hand, with his smiling face printed on it. He was so full of life and enthusiastic just months ago. His lively voice and laughter is still vivid with me. Though I didn’t know him very well, long enough, he was a good man who seemed to be in love with life and people. Would he have had any premonition about his approaching end when he was talking to me how much he loves good curry chicken…maybe or maybe not… He seemed so much looking forward to more learning, exploring new ideas and concepts including meditation from a Buddhist monk as an Indian Muslim…I hope his soul doesn’t linger too long in confusion by his own sudden departure and rest in peace from wherever he has moved onto, not forgetting to entertain the otherworld audiences too with his interesting story bag…that might ensure a better place next to his God, because God also needs to laugh…