I met Jack, a beautiful and sensitive man, at a cemetery. He recently turned 87. Our conversation that day was a reminder, to train with the five Recollections more often than I do. The five Recollections are a life-affirming Buddhist practice that emphasize the transient and impermanent nature of conditions in our lives. You can review them below.
Jack was at the cemetery to visit his dead brother’s resting place which happened to be in the same block of marble as my own Mom and Dad's ashes. We began conversing. Jack’s stories as they unfolded were pointers to the Buddha’s lessons in impermanence, old age, sickness and death. These are the first lessons of life that the coddled Siddhartha Gotama realized on his first journey outside the protection of the palace walls.
Jack and I spoke of many things freely and openly for over 2 hours. It was not until sometime after our conversation that I understood we were touching on the Recollections in our dialogue.
Jack shared that at times he was lonely, just as many of us have experienced and will experience from time to time. Jack hinted at wanting to die, as he was so lonely.
The gloom of his loneliness passed as our conversation evolved into the sharing of his fulfilling and meaningful life. The more he spoke of it the more the self-created loneliness left him and his quest to continue living, was rekindled. I could see his passion for life in his eyes; which was not there when we first met.
Do we not all feel loneliness from time to time? We tend to forget that we have access to the present moment; in which we can recollect a life well lived. Jack soon moved away from his loneliness as he continued to reflect on his long life.
The spark for life arose in him the more he reflected and shared the stories of his lifetime. There were so many reasons to savor his life. Like, the grandchildren, and his only son and daughter-in-law he had just visited that morning. He loved them and they loved him back. He also expounded on a love he had from a time way back when, on another continent - the old country he called it. He told me they were only 14 years old when they met and how in love they were. He married his true love, but lost her some 12 years ago to death.
Jack spoke fondly of his beloved brother who died of a slow disease. This is the brother he was visiting that day, which presented the gift of our chance meeting.
My new friend went through each of his siblings, one by one, and how they died and from what sicknesses they had - causing their death. He did not understand why he was still alive or why he has not passed like the rest of his siblings. Talk of this and his near death calls during the war, brought tears to both our eyes. I don't believe his tears were of sadness. Could they have been tears of survivors guilt or tears of gratitude that he is still here and lived such fulfilling life full of love?
Many unpleasant mind states can be treated with human connection. Opening up with people in the present moment opens the heart. Perhaps all we need in times of grief and loneliness is someone to listen as we share our lived experiences?
He spoke of many losses and many gains in his life, both spiritually and materially. The losses were mostly the material things. It was evident to me that the spiritual gains were still with him and continuing to evolve on this very day we met. The more Jack spoke the more I understood that life is just as Buddha taught by way of the five Recollections.
After considerable reminiscing Jack told me secretly and quietly that he would not be surprised if he lived past 100 years. Two hours ago, he wished he was dead. The problems Jack created were dissolving into acceptance of the conditions of life.
Acceptance comes by way of realizing and recognizing the truth of life as it is, cultivated by the Five Recollections.
Thank you Jack.
The Five Recollections
The Buddha said: "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, (if not daily), whether one is a woman, a man, lay or ordained."
1. I am of the nature to grow old; I cannot avoid aging.
2. I am subject to illness and infirmity; I can not avoid illness and infirmity.
3. I am of a nature to die; I can not avoid death.
4. I will be parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
5. I am the owner of my actions and heir to my actions. Actions are the womb from which I have sprung.