As I was about to bite into my croissant (with butter), my mother said, “What do you think about death?”
I stopped dead in my tracks, my mouth wide open.
I finally closed it again and put the pastry back on the plate, somewhat bewildered, not so much by the question… but by the fact that my mother has been dead for twenty years.
Let’s recap. Sunday breakfast, bare feet in the grass, the sun beating down on the top of my head with its oblique rays, the plum tree blackbird still singing, a cat chasing the vole twenty meters away from the garden table where, having been seated for only a few minutes with an organic oolong tea from Yunnan and a basket of fruits, I am going to happily start the day – putting aside the practice time I give myself every morning when I get up.
If death is indeed the lifeless body I saw in its finest finery twenty years ago in a coffin – and the others I’ve seen since – then how can a memory cut me off from my early morning (but not too early) impulse to devour my croissant?
Firstly, death must be quite a concept for me to have so much trouble questioning it. Secondly: I might as well be dead now, I’m not sure I can tell the difference.
“Am I dead?” the specter of my progenitor continues unabashedly.
“Right now, that seems like a pretty rhetorical question,” I hear myself say. If I am able to have an exchange with what is supposed to have disappeared two decades ago, it is either that a light breeze of madness is blowing this morning, or that I have to revise my judgement on death – the end, the disappearance, the definitive annihilation maybe, but of what?
What is the reality of the form of my mother that I project in front of me, versus that of my partner who, leaning against her chair, nibbles a strawberry with the tip of her teeth? If I can take for real a memory, which reality has what I consider as existing – my wife lost in her thoughts – because I perceive it with my senses? Am I not being fooled?
In short, what is this mess?
A disconcerting, slightly unpleasant feeling comes over me and I squirm in my chair. What’s the scam?
I bite into my croissant, chew slowly, swallow, and finally blurt out to the ghost, in answer to her questions:
“Firstly, death must be quite a concept for me to have so much trouble questioning it. Secondly: I might as well be dead now, I’m not sure I can tell the difference.”
At that moment, the cat pounces on its prey, the blackbird falls silent. “You were saying?” asks the woman beside me, snapping out of her reverie.
“I better ask myself the right questions,” I say to myself. “‘And to go back and sit for a while.
Written by Nils Derboule
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Practicing the Great Perfection
“ Practicing the Great Perfection” by Patrul Rinpoche, is a new text translated by the Dzogchen Today! Translation Committee.
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