Mortality on my mind

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 04, 2012 12:00 AM

I have been thinking about and examining my body lately. My hair is salt and pepper. My face has a few wrinkles. My teeth are nice. I have a more or less flat stomach. My legs are thin. I have a few attractive cuts when I flex my arms, which I am proud of. My overall health is great. My constitution is strong.

Recently, as part of gym training, I took a gym physical and was astonished at the results. I excelled in most categories, although I failed in two. I was able to do 60 pushups in one minute while the average for anyone my age is 18. But I failed the flexibility test since I can’t make both arms touch each other from the back.

Our bodies are with us from the day we are born. They house our memories, observations, intuition and spirit, and will do so until the day we die. My body, with all its senses and organs, is actually the only way I can experience anything — movement, joy, pain, speed, temperature, sweat, hunger, taste, fullness, lust, saturation, etc. It also houses my finer sensory abilities like intuition and extracting the meaning of things while living a mortal life. It is my door to all experience.

Looking back at how I felt about my body when I was young, I shake my head a bit. When you are young, healthy and at your prime, your body is something you hardly think about. It delivers everything you ask it to. It is tireless, full of stamina to engage in anything, including all the foolishness you can think of. Well, almost all.

In my college days, I smoked for just about a year or two. I gave up the habit under dramatic circumstances. I had a girlfriend whose dad was dying of emphysema and I was stupid enough to enter his hospital room with a cigarette in my mouth. His angry admonition — “Have you no respect for a dying man?” — put an end to my smoking right then and there.

As my girlfriend cried and scolded me for my insensitivity, I meekly crumpled my pack of Marlboros and threw it away. When I think about it now, that was an experience I will be forever thankful for.

In my youth, I could stay up all night and party. I had no trouble sleeping. I ate a lot or skipped meals and never worried about my health. I even tried a few illegal substances in moderation. If I remembered to take my vitamins, I would. I worried occasionally about pimples, or about getting sick during an important event like a prom, but that was about it. I was more attentive to whether I should keep my hair long or short. What an amazingly wonderful existence it was, I can now say, now that I am in my early 60s.

These days, I take extra care of what I eat and try to be healthy to the best that I can. I do not smoke and hardly imbibe alcohol. I do stretches and exercise as regularly as I can. I try to have a positive outlook in life and remain creative and happy. I have few vanities. I like a good haircut, an occasional massage, and comfortable shoes and clothes. As I get older, I find myself seeking more comfort than before.

I have slowed down a bit, but not a lot compared to many people my age. I still do a lot of physical activity — I take long walks and do gym exercises, jog a little, go through lots of grueling travel, conduct workshops, and I can sing for two and a half hours in a concert. I can handle a full schedule without getting tired. But I am not under any illusion that I will be this strong forever.

I have seen many people, young and old, come and go. A once healthy body can and does get sick; it can deteriorate rapidly, and even die. Or an accident can snuff out the life of a person who is physically fit. I am no exception. No one is. Mortality is always on my mind.

As I write this a few days before All Souls’ Day, I think of those who have come and gone and reflect on what life on earth is really all about. I think of life as one brief shining moment when spirit is made flesh and is housed in a physical body. For one human lifetime, spirit is allowed to experience physical, sensorial and sensual pleasures and the pains that they go with. Many times it may even forget its origin as spirit and define itself as a totally material phenomenon.

If you are of the Christian tradition, you will agree that even God wanted this experience of living in a human body. Jesus did.

The Christian faith says we have one shot at life. The Buddhists say we reincarnate continuously to perfection. I really do not know which can be proven to be true or not. To me, reincarnation is something metaphorical, but it implies a lot of truth. While I am not sure whether we literally reincarnate, it is true that a human life is so rich that it may take man many lifetimes to fully understand the big ticket items like what love and Oneness mean, and how we are truly made in the image and likeness of the Divine.

But if it is true that we only have one shot at life, as Christians believe, then we should make the most of every mortal moment that unfolds in the space-time continuum. Look at life as a mission and don’t procrastinate about what your mission is. You can and must discern it just by being alive.

Cemeteries, columbaries are monuments that can make one quite reflective. They tell us that there were people who once were alive, just like us. They lived, loved, laughed, sang, and did everything that we do. And all of it has ended for them. I sometimes wonder how many of them actually lived life the way they wanted to.

Spirit has no beginning, and it has no end. But somewhere and somehow, it is plucked out of timelessness and eternity and made to experience mortality. It is thrown out of Eden to experience being human.

I wrote a book once entitled Between Blinks where I suggested that human life is a mere blink. We live it without truly seeing, lost as we are in material and mortal callings, when in truth, we are spirits having a mortal experience. May this season of the dead remind us to reflect that we are spirit first before we are human, that this body, which came from the dust of the Big Bang of an evolving universe, will surely return to dust. And the spirit will live on.

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