The Most Important Thing

There’s but little breath left

on the boundary of this life and the next.

Now knowing if I’ll here next morning,

why try to trick death

with life-schemes for a permanent future?

 

~ Milarepa, Drinking the Mountain Stream

 

This passage really spoke to me when I read it today.  I’m currently in treatment for breast cancer, and though my prognosis is good, I’m constantly reminded that I don’t know how long I have left.

Of course, I didn’t know how long I had left before my diagnosis, either.

Still, according to this quote by Milarepa, should I plan for retirement?  It’s like the old argument new meditation students often bring up when learning to focus on the present moment.  “But if I live in the present, I’ll have nothing in the future!”  The solution is simply that sometimes the present moment is the correct time to plan for the future.  “What am I doing in this moment?  I’m reviewing my 401K.”

More to the point, should I plan for a life after cancer?  If so, how far into the future?  I think what Milarepa is pointing to is that nothing is permanent, so planning for a permanent future is futile.  As they say in the movie Fight Club, “Given a long enough time line, everyone’s survivability drops to zero.”

So I bought a house.  The house is already older than I am, and it will outlive me.  I think that’s kind of cool.  I like the idea that I’m merely one of a series of occupants in the house over the course of its existence.  I don’t plan to own the house forever, just as long as I live.  That’s impermanence.

I’ll close with this question from Pema Chodron: “Since death is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what’s the most important thing?”

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