Time, and Death as an Advisor
“You have little time left, and none of it for crap. A fine state. I would say that the best of us always comes out when we are against the wall, when we feel the sword dangling overhead. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
– Carlos Casteneda, Tales of Power
You may have noticed a recurring theme in this blog: that of Space and Time expressed in photos and essays about time and about the spirit spaces of our minds, as well as the grand physical spaces of America’s western landscapes.
I recently had my time sense recalibrated in a very direct way when my mother died this April. She had many illnesses and we knew her journey on this plane was limited. I was prepared for the event of her death, but, being very close to her, I wondered, aside from grief, how it would alter me after the fact. Grief is one thing – a powerful and human reaction that cannot and should never be denied. Beyond grief, however, I have been intrigued with the time perspective that her death has given me. This new and rather visceral perspective I have found to be valuable, rather unexpected, and somewhat alarming. All these reactions are useful ones, I believe.
When someone close dies, even expectedly, beyond the loss itself is the factual realization that that person’s timeline has stopped. That sounds simplistic and obvious, but I’m not referring to an intellectual realization of this raw fact. Rather, I mean a gut-level, “now I get it” effect. It is a combination of the cognitive knowledge with the emotion of that loss and then the application of that to one’s own self.
As I consider my Mother’s life, I know she lived 31 years of time before I was born. Now, barring accident or illness, I will have approximately that long to live after her life’s time is over – some 30 years if I’m lucky. I have a true feel for what 30 years is now. I’ve lived it almost twice. I can remember things from 30 years in my past as if they happened yesterday. I can project 30 years into my future with ease. I can see myself reaching that point she has reached as if it were tomorrow. That vision, so clear now, makes me flinch a bit.
This perspective, hammered home by Mother’s actual passing, levers me to be aware of and to appreciate my days more. It compels me realize with a deep inner understanding that I did not previously have, that my time, too, is very limited. I now view this future segment of my time as a new kind of resource, different in some sublime and deep way from the previous timelines in my life.
We are inundated by stories and reports of death every day in our various entertainments and news. It is another kind of thing to view it in stark reality and yet apply it boldly to one’s own life. This is the perspective change that brings the Third Act of life and can either make one angry and fearful, or inspire one to create and to play in the world to make a difference for one’s self and for others – what Carlos Casteneda called “following a path with heart.”
One of the very useful ideas in Casteneda’s books is when he has Don Juan talk about “death as an advisor.”
“Death is our eternal companion . . . It is always to our left, at an arm’s length. . . . It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you. . . . One of us here has to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them.”
– Carlos Casteneda, Journey to Ixtlan, p. 54 – 56.
For myself now, I am glancing over my shoulder from time to time and asking my own death whether what I am doing is worth doing in my time. Is it a path with heart for me? The time for just “going along” is over. It is time for new ventures and the pathway to fulfill old dreams beckons me.
My long professional career has been fun, but not very successful monetarily, so it’s time to create something new and put into action a “plan B” for those very distinct 30 years I may yet have. That is what I am engaged in now with the full intention to follow my dream. I’ll not describe my plan until it is better underway, but perhaps this new perspective I received from the event of my mother’s death is just the catalyst I needed to begin such a major change, creating my dreams as I walk time’s path, each day weighed for value and for heart. If so, it is the final, potent gift of a very loving parent to me, the son who loved her from the moment my time started.