Think about your life and consider the question: can you experience an ending that’s not truly a beginning; a fall that’s not truly a rise; a release that’s not truly an acquisition? Think about your life and consider the question: can you experience a no that’s not truly a yes?
And if you can, then I will ask you to think again. For, I really don’t think it’s possible.
It’s a very Taoist idea, you know - seeming opposites coexisting, not as antagonists but as necessary counterparts (as fond bedfellows, if you will), each providing the energy that supports and empowers the existence of the other; seeming opposites coexisting in something of a beautiful, symbiotic unity.
The very symbol of the Taoist tradition itself speaks to this cosmic dance, to this universal interplay of seeming opposites that so defines what it means to be a soul privileged with this earthly experience of shadow and light, cold and hot, down and up, death and birth. And make no mistake - that’s what it is – a privilege.
I have to believe that countless souls linger on the fringes of this world, longing for this thick experience in which we can touch each other’s hands, smell baking bread, watch the miracles of Puget Sound, listen to the concertos of Chopin.
I have to believe that countless souls linger on the fringes of this world, longing for the simple yet glorious experience of just breathing.
How tempting it is to miss these simple yet glorious experiences because of schedules and because of problems and because of responsibilities.
The Buddhist tradition says it this way: if you toss a life preserver into the oceans of the planet, the likelihood of receiving a human incarnation is about the same as one, specific sea turtle randomly surfacing to find his head in that life preserver. So to be clear, if you consider the area of the oceans to be some 341 million square kilometers, and the area of a life preserver’s opening to be, maybe half-a-square meter, we arrive at odds of that sea turtle finding himself wearing that new, polyethylene necklace somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 700 million. And here’s the deal: in considering the countless events which conspired for the incarnation which landed you in that seat reading these words, scientists would say that this metaphor actually offers pretty accurate odds.
It’s an idea mirrored in history.
Ancient people recognized nature as a wise teacher who dictated the release of aspects of life as the years go by – relationships, attitudes, habits, attachments – that life might reveal new potentialities; a paradigm representing a reality in which endings and beginnings coexist.
And it’s an idea mirrored in religion.
The Hindu goddess Kali is the great Mother Goddess. She is seen as the womb from which all are born and to which all return – a goddess representing a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist.
And the Hebrew Bible reminds each of us that there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to sew and a time to reap, a time to tear down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance; a teaching representing a reality in which endings and beginnings coexist.
It’s an idea mirrored in mythology, told in the fables of the sweet-songed phoenix of Arabia who, upon reaching the end of a cycle of life, builds a pyre for himself. And upon being consumed by the flames, he issues forth as a new being – young and renewed from a red egg.
Some describe her feathers as colored like those of a peacock; others, as tinged in purple like the robes of a nobleman. Ezekiel the Dramatist claimed that her legs were red and her eyes striking yellow while Lactantius claimed that her legs – covered in scales – were yellow-gold with rose-colored talons and her eyes blue like sapphires.
Now this Phoenix is not the bird of Arabia alone. He’s also known to fly through the Northern Lights over the plains of Lapland. And he’s also known to hop among the yellow flowers in the summers of Greenland. And he’s also known to float down the sacred waters of the Ganges on a lotus leaf.
But regardless of form, what is this winged wonder if not yet another restatement of a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist?
In the Southwest he looks like the Thunderbird; in England, she looks like Arthur's dragons. I might propose that at this beginning of 2018, this phoenix looks a lot like you. And she looks a lot like me. For whether you look to history or religion or mythology, the message is the same: there is a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist.
We release that we might realize new potentialities. We return to the womb that we might be born anew. We tear down that we might build up.
So, in those moments of ending, of falling, of releasing – in the moments of no, give thanks. Give thanks, realizing that such moments are tantamount to the cosmic bow being drawn back, generating an energy from which a new beginning is sure to fling forth into your experience.