A contemplative essay on the nature of life and death and the purpose of it all.
| "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler." - Robert Frost
Life and death—if each were baseball teams one would be the New York Yankees and the other, of course, would be their longstanding rival, the Boston Red Sox. Two seemingly opposing teams with different philosophies, different ballparks, and different uniforms. Their fans each have a loathing disgust for the other side. When a team wins in their respective ballpark, the home fans rejoice. When they lose, the mood is quite somber, and their fans' intensity of reaction is dependent upon the level of passion each individual has for that particular game. The differences between the two teams are obvious, as mentioned above. But what if we reversed the notion of thinking they're polar opposites, and instead, claimed they were one and the same. Life and death—baseball teams playing the same sport by the same rules. Suddenly, as we shift our perspective, our distinction between the two evaporates. I realize this is a rather simple analogy as currently constructed. It's just a manipulation of semantics to further a point. But what if we went beyond semantics? Let's jump into this abyss and see where we land.
What comes to mind when one thinks of life compared to when one thinks of death? A newborn is welcomed into the world with joy, having an expected due date as to when that joy would manifest itself. That newborn is loved instantly—a type of love they didn't have to earn. It just is, as it will always be. Fast-forward 80 years. That newborn has now aged, and father time has made that clear. Death is creeping in the hallway, plotting its inevitable victory over life. When death wins, there is no joyous celebration. It strangles life unexpectedly, leaving friends and family members nothing left but the memories of that most precious life. 80 years, gone in an instant. Life seemingly extinguished. But is it?
Baseball is one sport with all kinds of differences on the surface, however, the players play by the same rules, otherwise, there would be chaos. Chaos lacks both beauty and control, and as a result, it is neither simple nor complex. If it were simple, at least one would understand it on its surface. If it were complex, at least one could master understanding with a desire to learn. Its essence is what causes frustration to boil within us due to a lack of understanding. Humans thrive and feel comforted in having control. In chaos, we don't know which way is up or down, left or right, which metaphorically, leaves us feeling dizzy. Which in turn, causes running from chaos in the hopes of possessing control once more.
Control and beauty are found in both the simple and complex. The simple things are often the most beautiful—a rose, a butterfly, the eyes of a beloved. With the simple, we don't have to question its beauty or if we have control. Our praise for simple beauty is second nature and automatic at times. Celebrities are admired and loved for their works, and for those that have physical beauty, they are even more so admired. They didn't earn that admiration; it was freely given to them. The admiration for physical beauty is within our subconscious. We can't help but enjoy looking at beautiful objects, people, or animals. Its within our DNA. Therefore, although the beauty in simplicity is more easily recognizable, its praise is cheap. Whereas with something complex, obtaining control and recognizing its true beauty are both earned. The beauty in complexity often remains veiled to those timid individuals who would rather continue to water their egos instead of sacrificing them in the hopes of obtaining wisdom. The abyss is frightening, but the reward at the bottom makes the jump worth it.
Literature, for example, is complex. You have to thoroughly read authors like Gustave Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, etc. to unveil the seed and true genius of their works. Control of complexity comes first. Slowly, as control is gained, the beauty as a result begins to inevitably shine through. High schoolers across the country (I was one of them) continue to groan at reading Tale of Two Cities, because of its complexity on the surface. It's not until you start to analyze the chapters' deeper meanings that the whole artistry and fluidity of the prose starts to unveil itself. Understanding the first chapter, then the second, and then the third, etc. evolves into having an understanding and appreciation for the whole book. The beauty of complexity can change lives, reveal passions, and broaden knowledge. The beauty of the simple does not have this power (at least not to the same extent). Now, how does one go about possessing control of the complex and unveiling its beauty?
When one desires to learn about baseball, or anything that first appears complex, it would be in their best interest to slowly begin the process of reducing the aggregate sum. In this analogy, the aggregate sum is the sport of baseball. To reduce the sum, one may begin to ask questions about the rules of baseball to gather insight. They may begin to watch games on TV, go play with friends, or study the greatest players of all time. How someone chooses to reduce is unique to them, but the basic process and goal of reduction is the same: understanding (having control) and therefore, appreciating the beauty. Reducing the sum to smaller and smaller pieces until you finally witness the seed of creation.
The aggregate sum is the same as the seed, but to understand and appreciate the sum requires a shift in perspective. The sport of baseball to an untrained mind is chaos. That mind is lost and confused. Not knowing why one action causes another, the untrained mind will run. Its inflated ego will overshadow curiosity and diminish the desire to learn why a certain action causes another. The sport of baseball to a mind that understands the rules is a mind that witnesses the seed of creation. Witnessing the seed scatters the chaos. It enlightens one to the intricacies of why things occur and the ultimate purpose of the beautiful game. It ushers in a realization and appreciation of the beauty that is the seed. A seed that was always there and always will be there, just as the beauty was always there and always will be. And this is simply because a fresh perspective sheds light where there was once darkness. Darkness that was a veil to understanding. A veil that can only be lifted once the perceiver chooses to use their free will to walk along that path.
Complex ideas, concepts, theories, etc. can't simply be answered or understood without a plan of action and dedication to thinking outside the box. Step by step, a little bit more of the truth is hopefully revealed. This essay has so far been a demonstration of reduction from the very beginning. I've been attempting to reduce life and death in order to argue that they are one and the same. Just as everything that has ever existed is one and the same as well. We are separate members of the same body. Now, it's time to move on from the aggregate sum and unveil the seed of this very essay.
Two roads in a yellow wood. We are all born as travelers on the same road in the yellow wood. Most stay on that road from birth until death—the veil never being lifted; the second road never being revealed. The road we are born on is a lot easier to navigate. It's our material reality, the objects that we can see and point to. There is light on this road, we feel safe. This road has both simple beauty and complex beauty—but beauty isn't the differentiator between the two roads. Control of our identity as the traveler is the differentiator. A lot of us don't even know there's a second road to unveil. A lot of us have tried to unveil the second road but end up forfeiting because of a perceived lack of control—it’s simply too complex to even attempt to find. They either had no idea how to even start, or they started, gained momentum and chaos began to reign more than ever. So, they decided to stay on the road they knew and live as the traveler they've known. Some, those who recognize the purpose and power of their free will, choose to begin the sacred process of reduction. The courageous journey of self-reducing the traveler. The unveiling process of our divine identity, so to speak. Jumping into the abyss of the essence of who the traveler really is and why they are in the yellow wood. What is the purpose of traveling? (i.e. What is the purpose of life?). Those who commit themselves to this process realize that the unveiling of this second road offers the ultimate control of our being. The traveler who doesn't seek this road is terrified of the chaos that plagues this path and doesn't want to relinquish control over one's life and the identity they're comfortable with. The paradox is profound. Because to truly commit yourself to looking within one's own being, you have to first question everything you were born into. Your "identity" has to be picked apart, reduced. So yes, you first have to lose control and let chaos ensue to eventually obtain the ultimate control: becoming one with the true traveler within you. The traveler who is unmarred by chaos. The traveler who is the guide to fulfilling your life's purpose and bringing profound peace to your mind and heart. The mind and heart begin to materialize into one thinking being through the light emanating from the soul. Peace is bred within this traveler through love. The light from your soul is love. Unconditional love for all beings, because this traveler realizes we are all members of one body. If one of its members decides to hurt another member, the whole body suffers.
As you begin to uncover the second road the world becomes a beautiful canvas. A beauty that was always there but veiled. A shift in perspective unveils this beauty and you have an intense appreciation for the creator's creation, the yellow wood. Control and beauty become synchronized. Trees, clouds, sunlight, are mesmerizing to the eye and provide a sense of ecstasy and wonder. The wind is silk on your face while you take in every moment with intense curiosity as if you were a little child again. You rejoice at the innocence and beauty of life reigniting within your heart that was lost over the years. It became dormant as you grew up and chaos seemed to reign. Insecurities of past relationships, lost friends, emotional abuse from someone you trusted, and rejection from those you desperately sought acceptance from. This chaos pummeled your spirit. It suffocated the innocent child within to a point where you thought there was no claiming them back. The unveiling of the second road is so terrifying because these demons of the past come rushing back to the surface, all at once. They realize you are trying to overcome them, forever, so they remind you of the chaos in hopes of restraining that child gasping for air. But you continue, because the chaos strengthened your resolve to inevitably motivate you to overcome and never look back. Jumping into the abyss would've seemed a lot more terrifying if chaos hadn't reigned. Chaos is our best teacher. It allows us to walk through the fire, eventually conquering doubt, fear, anger, and metamorphosizing the old traveler into the new traveler. Slaying the dragon once and for all. A dragon that was your ego and self-conviction.
Through this transformation you truly understand what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. The golden rule is no longer a chore, but rather, it becomes your lifestyle. You understand that through giving, charity, and generosity, you will receive. You begin to realize that these acts of selfless service naturally heal your heart and you will start to attract things in your life that will benefit you. The value of money shifts, as your perspective is illuminated. The value is not in hoarding up for yourself, but rather, hoarding and then giving to those in need. Possessing material things don't bring you happiness, as you once thought they did. An intense realization that everything in the yellow wood will disappear overcomes you. Nothing is as it seems, which awakens you to just how asleep you were before.
You have died but also been reborn at the same time: life (old traveler identity), then death (self-reduction process), and finally, rebirth (new traveler awakens). Life and death are synchronized, one and the same. How can death be death, when it gives life? When we are born and as we start to grow up, we consider ourselves "living". But are we also not "dying" a little bit more in every moment as well? Inching closer and closer to our inevitable "death".
When we eventually move on from this yellow wood, we will "die" but then be reborn again. The ultimate purpose of traveling is to die and then be reborn again while we are still in the yellow wood, while we are still traveling. It's the hardest thing any of us will ever do, but it's the single most important and rewarding adventure we can have while here, in the material world. It's a harrowing defeat of all that we thought we were, all that held us back, and it's the ultimate love letter to ourselves. Even though the abyss is terrifying, jump. When you eventually land sure footed at the bottom, your seed of creation will rejoice. Its light will dispel all darkness. Admire its beauty, and live as one with the creator, as you were always meant to.
Let those who have ears, hear. And let those who have eyes, see. Those who have ears will obtain control. And those who have eyes will witness the beauty.