The Old Pine Tree
After the asteroid struck, the majestic old pine reeled, its highest branches having been struck by the burning projectile. The earth`s friction had eroded the asteroid`s size and energy; by the time it reached the earth`s surface it was little more than a flaming speeding ball, not much bigger than one of the tree`s pine cones. After assaulting the pine, its descent took it directly into the stream that wound its way through the forest. As the water absorbed the molten energy of the asteroid it roiled and boiled, then quiesced. The asteroid settled to the stream bed, like a tumor at rest, dormant, yet capable of eruption.
For some minutes the forest was quiet; the birds had stopped singing, squirrels stood tall, unchattering, checking for strange smells. A family of deer was the first to disturb the stillness, ambling upstream to drink from the stream. Within moments the forest was again alive with energy; only the old pine tree seemed to have suffered any ill effects.
He stood stoically as always. Being the tallest and oldest of the living pine trees was a lonely existence. Other trees whispered to him through the wind, wondering if he was alright. The giant pine acknowledged the others and told them not to worry; he would be good as new in no time at all. Yet, within himself, he could feel immediate changes in his body. He could feel globs of sticky resin oozing down his trunk, filling in the injuries and fissures caused by the asteroid`s impact. The resin seemed to capture anything in its path, its only instinct to preserve the pine`s life. The pine tree, exhausted, closed its senses to the world and withdrew in itself, hoping to be protected by the resin while it healed.
It was only many years later, the pine tree had no idea of the length of his sleep, that he was roused from his slumber by a rushing of water encircling his trunk.The flow seemed to have started above his highest branches and seemed to be gradually moving lower, freeing his trunk from an ashy material in which he seemed entombed. For the first time in what must have been many, many years, the pine tree began to feel what in humans might be called happiness. He could once again feel a connectedness with the world and nature. He closed his visual sense, preferring the feel of freedom that was coursing down his length. And, could it be? The top branches were warming in the rays of the Goddess Sun! The pine could sense life pouring through his body; he could practically feel the beginning of buds bursting into life from his arms and branches.
Saul Bellow " RAVELSTEIN " pg 222-223. c2000
………………He had, however, asked me what I imagined death would be like ----- and when I said that the pictures would stop he reflected seriously on my answer, came to a full stop, and considered what I might mean by this. No one can give up on the pictures ---- the pictures might, yes they might continue. I wonder if anyone believes that the grave is all there is. No one can give up on the pictures. The pictures must and will continue. If Ravelstein the atheist-materialist had implicitly told me that he would see me sooner or later, he meant that he did not accept the grave to be the end. Nobody can and nobody does accept this. We just talk tough………………..
……………..This is the involuntary and normal, the secret, esoteric confidence of the man of flesh and blood. The flesh would shrink and go, the blood would dry, but no one believes in his mind of minds or heart of hearts that the pictures do stop……………………..
On Meditation, Psychotherapy and Death Anxiety
My friend and I were talking yesterday, wide-ranging. We were speaking of death terror and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, of Meditation and Psychotherapy. A central issue here was the nature of the terror: was it of physical mortality? Is that which drives us to cloak ourselves in our characterological defensive postures? Or is the terror more Ego driven; do we hide from it in order to deny the meaninglessness of our life experiences?
From the beginning of man and his/her endeavors to make sense of the world, there have been attempts to deny our aloneness through acknowledging a higher Power, be it the Sun or the sun as a representation of that which has ever said “ I AM “. In “The Denial of Death” Becker has shown a courageous light on our historical attempts to appear heroic, to be more than animal, more than mortal. And yet, when presenting his personal solution to our predicament, Becker agrees with all of humanities` strivings; the solution to the terror of finitude is a bowing, a giving-in to That which has made us.
As we spoke, it became clear to us that the philosophy behind psychotherapy and meditation, expressed in metaphor, acknowledges the same central truth. In meditation, each person is given something to concentrate on; a mantra, breathing, etc. When the “heaviness” of their thinking becomes alarming, the person has a safe haven on which to concentrate, thereby becoming attuned to the absence of distress. The same principle is what psychotherapy attempts to teach: in metaphor, the essence of “wellness” is having a picture, a thought, a “lightbulb” that is instantaneously available to us. This “lightbulb” should continually have less of an ideational component as we approach “wellness”. In essence, mental health can best be defined as that mental state that continually attempts to deny energy to thoughts that exist for no reason other than to cause us pain.
Y O !!!!!
I`m not sure of all that has stopped me from writing since my hospitalization. I know of terror and I think of some of my readers who have been living with that knowledge. I look back at much that I have written about the universal denial of death and its primary importance in limiting us and our cultural world view. About Becker, and his amazing presentation that has so fueled my thinking. And I realize the utter truth in his words in my week-long hospital stay. Not just the knowledge that my life is limited but that the terror inherent in that knowledge, the abyss, the “sickness unto death”, is real and inescapable.
Even now, part of me wants to describe those nights of despair, of hopelessness. Perhaps some of it may make good poetry, maybe.
But I think of my readers, you know who you are. I think of the courage I find in your writings. Even in the darkest of those hospital nights I felt myself buoyed by thoughts of you, of your struggles to be, your acknowledgement of the terror. And my patients, and my son, and S.