You are here

Alive or Dead? Teachings of Spring by Great Vow Resident Ry Testa

Flowers are unfurling from the earth around the monastery, dusting our bodies with sandy pollen. Glittering winged insects are orbiting each other in a tiny galaxy, set against thick shaded pine needles, too countless to know by name.
One moon's time ago, I walked early morning, amidst these trees. My legs were unguided by mind, which was still buried in the prior night's dream. The dream had depicted my body dead on that very trail's rich brown soil that I walked over this morning, and had also portrayed a raven landing on my chest and performing a funeral dance over my heart to sink my body deep in the soil. Held by earth, so completely welcomed by worms and roots in that dream, that morning's walk was of uncertain reality.

Awake or asleep? Alive or dead?

And then, as my legs strode right above the spot in which I had laid to rest in the prior night's dream, there it was. Lying peacefully on the trail, tender tiny paws up, the beautiful iridescent black fur of the dead baby opossum caught my mind's attention just as a raven's feathers also glistened in concert overhead.

"What is this?" The opossum was examined. Not stiff or cold, my mind concluded it must have just died. Right there. On the trail before me. Over the exact spot in which my dream was set. I agreed, I would not forget the message of the night's dreams. "This life is the illusion. The dream." Perhaps underground here is where my body does lay, resting in the earth's soothing cool embrace, as consciousness wonders and wanders above.

Bardo practice period continued at the monastery. Meditation, dream, sleep, wake, conscious, unconscious, swirling, melding, confusing, eluding.

But death cannot last forever. Eventually life reclaims, unthaws, and flows through.

On Easter morning, my legs again led a path up the trail behind echoing monastery bells. With the passing of weeks, the trail was now highlighted with the neon energy of young green leaves eager to see the sun again. Each day for the past month, I had paused by the tree where my hands had laid the dead baby opossum under a cross of broken branches. Each day no sign of predator, though I had laid only in a bed and blanket of gentle leaves as protection. Each day, "rest in peace."

My legs striding, feeling stronger and more eager that Easter morning, in the music of springs' birdsongs, again suddenly froze. In that same spot, another dead baby opossum! Like a ghost of his dead brother, laid again in the center of the path. Again, no injuries, red healthy lips, but no breath.

"What am I supposed to understand from this?"

Delicately, the young one was placed by my hands on a tree's roots, not far from its brother's.

My legs continued running the trail, but my eyes saw nothing but a tangle of thoughts. How could this be? Two seemingly healthy baby opposums dying in perfect center of my path, in perfect time for me to see. Is there a message here? Until. Laughter! Alongside a recollection: Opossums have a renown freeze response as a defense mechanism. They convincingly play dead for hours, physiological processes slowing to be undetectable to prey. And then, when perceived threat has passed, they are reanimated with instinct and magic.

Circling the monastery grounds on my usual path, my hands eventually returned to the tree roots where they had laid the graves. With still breath, pulling back the carefully placed leaves, there remained no opossum carcasses, despite crosses of sticks balanced in a way that would have revealed any predator disturbance. It was only their own life that could have brought them out of the grave.

Finding my way back to the zendo at the han's beckoning...
Dream or reality?
Awake or asleep?
Conscious or unconscious?
Dead or alive?

It is spring.
Look again.

Share/Save