There is a cool book written by Rob Brezsny that is all about the concept of pronoia - an idea that I adore. Basically, pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. It's the idea or belief that everyone and everything are out to support you, ready to help rather than hinder. His book is called, "PRONOIA IS THE ANTIDOTE FOR PARANOIA: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings." It's filled with all kinds of wild and beautiful ways of honoring and taking note of the world's benevolence.
In each of his newsletters, he offers his readers a short homework assignment, which is always some provocative prompt that asks you to think. For example, in a newsletter from last July, the assignment was: "What's the single thing you could do right now that would change your life for the better?" The subject of this post however, is in response to one of his more recent newsletters. I can't remember exactly which issue it was from, but I wrote down the assignment, knowing that I'd eventually come to it. The homework was: "Meditate on death not as the end of physical life, but as a metaphor for shedding what's outworn. In that light, what's the best death you've ever experienced?"
The answer to that question found me these past few days as I've been going through all of my old photographs. For years, I've had all of my pictures, hundreds of them, thrown all together in a box. But recently, I came upon the idea of uploading all of them to Shutterfly, editing them, and then printing them all in a single book - which I thought would be an easier and nicer way to preserve them.
It's been a fun project and, for the most part, I've loved going back through all of the pictures, revisiting friends and loved ones from the past. But I can't help recalling how crazy I used to act - in my early 20's, and in high school especially. I've got to admit that these recollections sorta sting. I remember how selfish and emotionally needy I was. While I've always been spiritually minded so to speak, and introspective even at a much younger age, there was a time when I was incredibly invested in my relationships with others. Compulsively and neurotically. My sense of identity and self-worth were found in the people I cared about, and in their paying of attention to me. I needed that feeling of love and reciprocity or my sense of well-being was trashed. If someone didn't return a phone call or didn't engage with me in just the way I wanted or expected them to, I took it very personally and often got my feelings hurt. Depending on others to feel "good enough" left me very fragile.
Eventually, though, whether it be through grace or just plain old growing up (I'm pretty sure it's both), I got hip to the fact that my inner experience is my responsibility. I've come to see that nothing - no person or circumstance - outside of myself has the power to deliver me any sort of consistent peace, that it's impossible. But nor can they rob me of it either. It's the perspective I hold and nothing more. And that's a powerful thing to realize. And when I was able to see that, the unstable character I'd been playing finally began to lose its hold on me, lost its luster. So this "death" was a very gradual one. And yes, from time to time, I've resurrected that needy guy in times of lesser presence, but I've seen those behaviors for what they are; I can never truly rely on them again. No longer practiced, they lose their hold - and that's something to be thankful for.
As I look through all of these pictures, editing and organizing them for my books, I see all the people I've known - including myself - and I feel a profound reverence and gratitude for the dance we danced. I love that I went around with my camera taking random shots of these people here and there. I found beautiful smiles, but equally as much, I treasure those awkward instances in time that I captured. With maybe a closed eye, or imperfectly placed strands of hair, the gamut of their facial nuances. Seeing the kinds of clothes we wore, the objects we had around us, all frozen - little snippets of our lives and time together! Even back then as I was grasping at people and moments, I knew that one day they'd not be around - and I guess that's why I did it; I knew that I would lose.
Those "Us's" that we were back then no longer exist. We've all changed and ultimately, have become much, much more. Discovering that "the Kingdom is within" and being born in to these new, lighter perspectives, is the best death I could have hoped for. Knowing what I know, that I didn't know then, is so unspeakably worth it. Yeah, things changed and I lost what I longed for back in the day, but in its place, I gained a sanity that I didn't have, an ability to genuinely love - and everyone is better off for it. I would make that trade, and die that "death" and say those goodbye's again and again and again.