“Guess what’s sad,” my boyfriend said to me on the phone last night. “In two weeks it’ll be June twenty-first, and then the days are going to start getting shorter.”
“Yeah,” I said, not really taking his sadness seriously. “But aren’t you excited? June twenty-first is the longest day of the year!”
“I hate the summer solstice. It’s the worst.”
I laughed. We then spent the next ten minutes discussing what this attitude says about his personality. After all, Paul loves the sunlight. Wouldn’t it make sense that his favorite day be the day when there is the most of what he loves?
But instead, June 21st signals to him the beginning of the end. It’s the day when he starts losing what he loves instead of gaining it. What Paul likes is the anticipation of a bright future. He enjoys the Spring, because every day is a little bit longer than the last.
I’ve been alternating doing exercises in the book Drawing with Children by Mona Brooks and drawing skulls from my set of Mexican Loteria cards. I like the skulls better. In fact, I sent a card to a friend yesterday and drew a skull on her card. I wondered if she would think it was morbid.
Speaking of morbid, the Buddhists say you should meditate on death every day. Some of them go so far as to suggest lying next to decomposing bodies and imagining your own body, bloated and cold, being eaten by maggots. Others simply recommend thinking about the fact that life is temporary and you will die one day. Meditating on death helps you better realize and appreciated the significance of life.
Maybe drawing skulls will be my daily meditation on death. I’ll imagine myself as nothing but bones, the jelly of my brain melted away, dark hollows in place of my eyes and nose.
“So what you like is the process,” I said to Paul on the phone. “You don’t like the end product – the longest day of the year – but you like getting there. You’re happiest when you are gaining something each day.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s true,” Paul said. He had been awfully quiet as I babbled on, analyzing his personality for him.
In a way, this reminded me of what my Ukrainian friend, Sergey, said when I asked him what he’d achieved in life. He said he’d achieved nothing. He said, “I think you only truly achieve something when you die. Until then, there is always more to do, more to learn, more to improve.”
That’s a rather intense way to look at it, but I think he’s saying essentially the same thing. It’s not the end product that’s important, it’s the process. I always think that when I have my end product – a published book with my name on it – I will be happy. But many authors will tell you that getting a book published is just the beginning of a whole new set of worries. How will the book be received? Will I be able to write another, and will it be as good?
“So really,” I told Paul, “you shouldn’t be sad because we’re in your favorite time right now. Every day we’re gaining more and more sunlight – you should enjoy the process.”
“Oh, I know. I will.”
Of course, I was really saying this to myself. I should enjoy the process of writing. Each day I am gaining – writing more, reading more, learning more. The summer solstice is coming. Death is coming. My book is coming. Why worry too much about these end products and when they will happen? Let’s try instead to enjoy the little things we gain day-by-day.
The Supreme Mediation (meditation on death from the Shambhala Sun)
Reflecting on Death from Wildmind Buddhist Meditation