Love and Death

The question is have I learned anything about life. Only that human beings are divided into mind and body. The mind embraces all the nobler aspirations, like poetry and philosophy, but the body has all the fun. The important thing, I think, is not to be bitter… if it turns out that there IS a God, I don’t think that He’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that basically He’s an underachiever. After all, there are worse things in life than death. If you’ve ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know what I’m talking about. The key is, to not think of death as an end, but as more of a very effective way to cut down on your expenses. Regarding love, heh, what can you say? It’s not the quantity of your sexual relations that counts. It’s the quality. On the other hand if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into that. Well, that’s about it for me folks. Goodbye. Woody Allen, Love and Death

Yes, we watched that film the other night, and I noticed I didn’t find it as funny as I had the first time, in my twenties. Even then, I had a certain frustration with its outcome, because I wanted some kind of resolution to this particular conundrum, and I hoped that Woody Allen would help me out with one of his occasional wry statements that tends to crack the universe open…well, at least a little bit. But he didn’t even do that. In the end, in my opinion, he really trivialized the question, possibly because it was just too big a subject to approach, even for him. Or maybe he really felt that way, who knows? Anyway, I was disappointed.

On the other hand, he’s not bad at asking good questions. What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of love? Why do people die, and what does it mean? That kind of thing. But his answers to the questions are trivial; for instance, sex is about the most ephemeral thing there is, so why do we act as if it is all-important? It’s nice, it feels good, our bodies seem to need it (except for those who decide not to let it confuse their lives, which it does quite well), yadda yadda blah blah blah. Is it really that big a deal?

Well, here’s a thought: when my first child was born, I had the experience mothers everywhere get to have: for that moment and several weeks afterward, I KNEW. I just KNEW, that’s all. Couldn’t have described it, but I was radiant with KNOWING. Exact same thing with the second. And there are moments like this that are available to all of us: I asked my husband what some of his were, and he brought up the birth of our second child (his first), and the death of his grandfather when he was age five. I remember moments when I was teaching and I knew the teaching had come through pure and perfect, and I remember moments of being privileged to watch another person unfold in some way; and returning to good old sex, of course, there is that moment of free-fall when one loses one’s sense of oneself and experiences that “oceanic feeling” (Maslow).

Basic LIFE 101 gives us some ground upon which to base these questions, but for some reason we have this propensity to discount the peak moments and collect and grumble over the less pleasant ones. And yet it is the peak moments that keep us asking the right questions and, for some of us, trying to answer them, or to become the answer.

For me, this means contemplative practice, which I have occupied myself with for some 35 years, and this number alone makes me think of one of Woody Allen’s more memorable remarks, about his experience with psychoanalysis: “I plan to give it one more year, and then I’m going to Lourdes” (Annie Hall). In AA circles, they say, “Don’t leave before the miracle happens,” and that’s another helpful guiding thought. There are times that I think I’m never going to “get It” for good, although there are these moments of Understanding……and certainly milestones on the path of contemplation. And I am reaching a point, now, where it feels as if heaven and earth are coming together for me, in a vast, complicated–and yet beautifully clear–cosmic soup that I am increasingly able to swim in when I have the nerve to leave my fears behind. Sometimes it is rather frightening: will I come back? I remember my teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, saying, “Oh, don’t worry, your ego will always bring you back.” So I suppose, as a teacher of mine further pointed out, “…one of the good functions of the ego is to act as an alarm system to bring us back – according to our anxiety response – which with time, as we become comfortable with it, becomes less and less.” (J.P. Gallien, with punctuation supplied by his devoted student). And, dammit, this is so true, yet I notice that he’s right: as I become more and more aware of the continuum that is between the temporal and the eternal, and even those distinctions fall away, it gets easier, and I am more and more able to revel in That.


How we long to become that which we hardly dared hope we could ever be. How we long to become that which we have always been. –Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan