There’s but little breath left
on the boundary of this life and the next.
Now knowing if I’ll here next morning,
why try to trick death
with life-schemes for a permanent future?
~ Milarepa, Drinking the Mountain Stream
This passage really spoke to me when I read it today. I’m currently in treatment for breast cancer, and though my prognosis is good, I’m constantly reminded that I don’t know how long I have left.
Of course, I didn’t know how long I had left before my diagnosis, either.
Still, according to this quote by Milarepa, should I plan for retirement? It’s like the old argument new meditation students often bring up when learning to focus on the present moment. “But if I live in the present, I’ll have nothing in the future!” The solution is simply that sometimes the present moment is the correct time to plan for the future. “What am I doing in this moment? I’m reviewing my 401K.”
More to the point, should I plan for a life after cancer? If so, how far into the future? I think what Milarepa is pointing to is that nothing is permanent, so planning for a permanent future is futile. As they say in the movie Fight Club, “Given a long enough time line, everyone’s survivability drops to zero.”
So I bought a house. The house is already older than I am, and it will outlive me. I think that’s kind of cool. I like the idea that I’m merely one of a series of occupants in the house over the course of its existence. I don’t plan to own the house forever, just as long as I live. That’s impermanence.
I’ll close with this question from Pema Chodron: “Since death is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what’s the most important thing?”