“Floating House: Memory Drift”
© Richard Baxter
The first place that Denis and I viewed upon commencing our project to find a new home was an amazing apartment in Lyon, which was perfect for all that we wanted to do in terms of our work and lifestyle. Not only did it have the calm and spiritual atmosphere we were looking for, including an astounding view onto the river and across the hill to the Basilica of Fourvière, it also had every amenity we could ever need a short walk away.
My first thought was, ‘Wow! Finding a home really doesn't need to be a torturous process of months and months of searching.’ Following my six-month sabbatical in India, I'd returned to Europe with a sense of freedom and inspiration. This was the manifestation of the space I'd allowed for new paths to unfold. And what did I do? I freaked out! I immediately mistrusted my vision and decided that I needed to go on a wild goose chase to look at more houses, just in case…
And the more houses I saw, the more confused and conflicted I felt. I lost the clarity I had and felt myself moving further away from trusting I had all the resources I needed right there and then. I became attached to my ego and looking good, imagining I could take on learning French, life coaching, writing, running retreats, looking after a large garden, renovating a house, and so on… all full-time and simultaneously, of course!
And then came the critical question. What about the life I'm living right now? Not the life I am dreaming of ten years down the road…
Much of my adult life, I've lived like a cow, following the herd and moving unconsciously from one event to the next (from university to a job, from a job to buying a house, from having a mortgage to earning more money) without thinking about what I really loved to do. Then there was Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter and so on. Every year I was being sucked into the hype of marketing and advertising, spending money I didn't have on credit. In today's world, this feels a very unsatisfactory and soul-less existence, a cycle of life where memories simply turn into unnaturally filtered photos posted on Facebook, just to let everyone know how ‘amazing my life is!’ When I step back a moment and see the deluge of this craziness, which is multiplied by millions via social media, I feel both a sense of ridiculousness and fear of the precipice where humanity is standing.
Do we ever wonder about the risk we're taking every day to be here, living in the human form?
Many religions and traditions of the world believe in an afterlife. In the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and many pagan cultures, people believe that after death the ‘soul’ goes to some form of heaven, where it exists in a more or less pleasurable and eternal relationship with the Almighty, as determined by God's divine judgement of our actions and beliefs during life. In contrast, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs believe in reincarnation and rebirth, where ‘spiritual’ development continues after death in some form of an earthly life in the physical world, until enough cycles of successive lives are lived for the ‘consciousness’ to be liberated of it's actions and consequences.
At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It is a time when we are naturally drawn towards thinking about new beginnings. Yet a crucial part of Jesus’ story was his crucifixion, the risk he took in sacrificing his life for the salvation of humanity. So it's an appropriate time to dwell on death too. The problem though, is that it is precisely our beliefs which get in the way. For the goal of the eternal bliss of heaven, or ultimate liberation, in the future, we choose to believe in the make-believe as a way to bargain with death. So that we can put aside the question of our mortality and avoid thinking about it on a day-to-day basis.
It doesn't matter whether we imagine ourselves to be a spirit, or a soul, or soul-less. It is not necessary to be religious or to believe in an afterlife to contemplate death, to look at our relationship with our own mortality. Life in the form of a human being already seems a considerable risk from birth. For example, if we move closer to home, to the experience within our own body, we can look at the reality of nature's process (rather than the hours of energy we spend trying to buy eternal beauty, where the real risk is that we are ‘missing’ our lives). How often do we think about the biological, chemical and physical systems that run our skeleton, muscles, organs, nerves, digestion, etc? How often do we stop to appreciate the sheer wonder of this complex organism, where everything works together for every breath of life?
We certainly gain an awareness of our body when one of more of these systems go wrong, whether we get sick with a cold or develop an ongoing illness that needs to be managed by medication or other forms of therapy. And we most definitely know when our breathing suddenly gets shallow, or if oxygen doesn't get to a particular place, or when one of our bones break. And in addition to our dependence on doctors, surgeons, therapists, and others in the healing professions, we also know deep down that we are responsible for taking care of this body that gives us life.
The question is how do we embrace the risk to live knowing that one day we will die?
After returning from my wild goose chase and calming down, I was reminded of my visit to Sarajevo in 1997, not long after the Dayton Peace Accord was signed. Witnessing the physical devastation the Bosnian War had created was incomparable to the broken spirits of the people. I thought about how these same people, during the siege of the city, had to face the risk of death every time they went to fill a bottle of water or buy a loaf of bread. For almost four years! In contrast, the dilemma of where I wanted to live seemed absurd.
We make such a big hoo-hah about the question of where we live, where we make roots, where we settle. We want our ‘castle’ to be a forever certainty in a life that is anything but permanent or eternal. The real question, which I had also asked myself in Sarajevo many years ago, was whether I felt at home within myself. Because then, it is possible to live anywhere.
And the ‘riskiest’ leap to take is to trust that first response, thought, experience. Trusting in the process of life and in our intention to pay attention, we can accept the universe provides what we need. I can risk being grateful for the life I've been given. I can be confident that I have the capacity to manifest everything I need and want in the first engagement, without making it a big drama. As my own life coach said to me in our very first session, it takes far more effort and energy to create a life of compromises than it does to simply create what I want.