Birth, death and gratitude

balinese daily offeringsTODAY WAS MY BIRTHDAY and as a gift to myself, I took a lesson in Balinese offering practice. There I learned that in the Balinese tradition, people make special offerings on their birthday: Instead of getting gifts, they give them to God and to the ancestors in gratitude for their life. This made so much sense to me that I decided to take it as a new practice. Going forward, I want to use my birthday (if I’m lucky enough to have another) as a reminder that just to be alive is a gift, whatever I might be struggling with in the moment. And I want to spend the day dreaming up ways to give back to the universe and its beings— especially honoring my mother and ancestors.

Even before learning of the Balinese practice, I received a series of hints in this direction. One came in the form of an email I received this morning containing a quote from Rob Brezny’s book, Pronoia:

“Thousands of things go right for you every single day, beginning the moment you wake up. Through some magic you don’t fully understand, you’re still breathing and your heart is beating, even though you’ve been unconscious for many hours. The air is a mix of gases that’s just right for your body’s needs, as it was before you fell asleep…. ‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what,’ said astrophysicist Arthur Eddington about the universe. And we are the beneficiaries.”

On the other side of this coin, in the last week, I learned that two acquaintances are teetering on the edge of life with virulent forms of cancer, and another lost the baby she was carrying. All report being struck by insane levels of gratitude and clarity, even as they find dark threads of fear, grief and confusion woven into the light.

The remembrance I need to cultivate—to be grateful for life itself—comes spontaneously to these ones as they are courted by death. They speak of the preciousness of each moment and the vivid quality that comes as they let go of the future they thought they had. All three of them are flamingseeds: in the heat of their dance with death, a seed blossoms, teaching those who will listen to open ourselves now to what we fear—the ephemeral nature of our lives—and embrace it. Each in their own way delivers the message that we might as well give up our ego projects and relax because we can’t hammer our life down and make it last just the way we want it. We aren’t in charge here.

Maybe all of our spiritual practices are really here to help us get close enough to the edge of life to remember the preciousness of what we have been given: a wild and beautiful chance to live and love as bodies for just a little while in this dynamic, ephemeral mystery.

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2 comments to Birth, death and gratitude

  • Al Jordan

    I love this post. It resonates deeply. I have a formula that I use, sometimes, with those I’m counseling: It goes face it, feel it, accept it, let it go. When we accept and let go, we can enter the openness within that comes from accepting and letting go and we can rest in the stillness and presence that remain. What remains is the deep intimacy with our ground of being and a profound gratitude for the gift.

  • Thanks Al. I see the openness you mention as an open palm, no longer clenched and grasping. Easy to see how that is a prerequisite to intimacy, whether personal or transpersonal.