There are religious orders in both the East and West that make a great point about meditating on death. Often they make it a practice to have a skull on the dining table where monks eat, for example, so that one keeps in mind the reality of death.
This might be construed as a somewhat lugubrious meditation, but its purpose is not necessarily to be that way. Its purpose is to face the fact of life that we are all mortal and life is short and we really ought to make the most of our time on earth.
If we go into denial about our mortality, or if we fall into the million distractions consumer capitalism offers or what Thomas Merton called the “Niagara of trivia” flowing from the media, we will miss out on life and on what counts.
There are other ways of reminding us of that truth of course. Otto Rank does so when he declares that an artist is “one who wants to leave behind a gift.” To leave behind means that one knows one is leaving. When, we don’t know, but we are all exiting some time. Why not leave a gift behind? That too is an acknowledgement of our finiteness and our very real mortality. And creativity can be just that, leaving behind a gift.
But it is not just individuals who die. Species also come and go and we are living in a time of incomparable species extinction—the greatest species spasm since the dinosaurs and numerous other species disappeared 65 million years ago we are told.
And today, with climate change raging and glaciers melting and seas rising and droughts increasing and heat setting all new records and floods doing the same and countries at war and preparing for war and failing to work together to fight climate change and an entire political party in America in denial about climate change, and a “supreme” court passing a law that kills the EPA’s power to limit toxins that kill the atmosphere (but make money for industrial capitalists and there shareholders), it is time to meditate on the very real possibility of our extinction as a species.
Our becoming nothing as a species. An ex-species, an extinct species going the way of all our cousins, the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all the others. We homo sapiens are, after all, the last one standing. But for how long?
Are we headed to extinction? To nothing as a species?
To be continued
See Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 194, 183, 182.
Banner Image: Activists with Extinction Rebellion marching with banner. Originally posted to voices.earth
Queries for Contemplation
Dwell on the challenging questions raised in this rather sober—but real—meditation: Are we headed to extinction? Can the emergency of climate change and the peril of Mother Earth wake us up soon enough to steer homo sapiens into a sustainable direction? Is a spiritual transformation possible?
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.