What’s reincarnation?

IMG_6971We will all die. How many of us believe we’ll be reborn? I’m reading two books about death right now—Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. Both books came into my life at the same time I received news that my uncle died; some might say this is coincidental. I tend to believe there’s more to it, even though I can’t prove or define what ‘more to it’ looks like.

My mom tells me that I talked about reincarnation when I was very young, and that she was shocked to hear me use such a word. She doesn’t know where I heard it. I don’t remember thinking about it much when I was young, but I’ve been thinking about reincarnation a lot the past few days. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche recounts a few examples of individuals who actually remembered their past lives and suggests that if you want to come to a serious understanding of rebirth, “You investigate this open-mindedly, but with as much discrimination as possible.” Yes, there are frauds out there. But such is the case with many things.

I believe reincarnation is a possibility, not an absolute. I like how Sogyal Rinpoche explains it in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Most people take the word “reincarnation” to imply there is some “thing” that reincarnates, which travels from life to life. But in Buddhism we do not believe in an independent and unchanging entity like a soul or ego that survives the death of the body. What provides the continuity between lives is not an entity, we believe, but the ultimately subtlest level of consciousness. The Dali Lama explains: According to the Buddhist explanation, the ultimate creative principle is consciousness. There are different levels of consciousness. What we call innermost subtle consciousness is always there. The continuity of that consciousness is almost like something permanent, like the space-particles. In the field of matter, that is the space-particles; in the field of consciousness, it is the Clear Light…The Clear Light, with its special energy, makes the connection with consciousness.

Regardless of whether or not you believe reincarnation exists, I know that the spirits of the departed live on through the people’s lives they touched. In a way, those who have passed on are reborn again and again when we share stories about them.

If you know of anyone who is scared of death, I highly recommend they read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. People with different spiritual beliefs have said that the book strengthened their faith in their own tradition. For me, it has proven that one’s spirituality is central in how accepting of death they are; in today’s world, spiritual nourishment can be hard to come by.

Play more

Hide and seek will forever be fun to me. I love it because it’s a simple yet mighty game that requires absolutely no equipment and is filled with anticipation, suspense, and occasional fright. My nephews came over last weekend and we played some hide and seek in the dark after dinner. I feel like it’s easy to forget about the importance of play as an adult, seeing how K and I have never engaged in a game of hide and seek with adult guests we have over for dinner.

Why is this? If we still find playing fun, why do we do so little of it? And I’m not talking board game play. I’m not talking drinking games or yard games. I’m talking games that evoke pure emotion—so potent they allow us to remember moments from our childhood like it was just yesterday that we were terrified of getting our foot flushed down the toilet during a game of “Sneak.” What? You all didn’t play that game where your friend’s dad chased you around and if he caught you, he stuck your foot in the toilet and flushed it? I’m sorry. You missed out on quite a bit of fun.

We know from studies that if an experience is emotional, it locks into our memory; I might not be able to remember what I had for breakfast last weekend, but I can remember missing the bus when I was in the first grade—upset on my walk home from the bus stop because I felt like I failed big time. I can remember my wedding day very clearly; the day I got an acceptance letter to the college I attended; getting yelled at by the horrendous woman who “taught” music at the elementary school I attended; and learning how to drive a car with manual transmission. These moments were filled with emotion.

I wonder: is the amount of memorable experiences we’re having less than before? Are parents chasing their kids around these days, or are they on their phones while their kids play nearby? Are we fully feeling the moments we’re living, or are we distracted by the thought of how we’ll edit and present the moments on Facebook//Instagram//Twitter//Snapchat//Whateverapp?

I fully appreciate what technology has to offer me. However, I know that connecting with people online feels superficial compared to having a conversation with them in real life. None of the countless hours I’ve spent online (whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, email) stand out to me; they tend to blend together. So if I know this, what can I do to continue having experiences that are heartfelt and memorable? Live with intention to do so.

There must be some unwritten rule that says adults aren’t allowed to play. They’re too old. They look silly running around like that. There are too many responsibilities to think about, there’s no time for ridiculousness. The adult ego says, “I am above that sort of thing.” Well ego, I think you’re wrong. I know you’re just doing your job, trying to maintain a respectable sense of self, but you worry too much. I’m not a huge fan of unwritten rules, especially ones that don’t make any sense to me. So I think it’s time to reclaim play. Simple, no electricity required.

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FYI:There’s no age limit on slip ‘n’ slides

Design your life or someone else will

My partner and I were riding our bikes through the park this past weekend when I heard someone shout, “Hey SOUNDS!” It was a friend we hadn’t seen in awhile; we stopped and got to reconnect with him and his partner. When we rode away, I felt a sense of gratitude for the life my partner and I live; the connections we have; the decisions we’re making in our lives—and I felt pride because we’re intentional about designing our partnership and marriage the way that feels right for us.

The fact that our friend was able to shout, “Hey SOUNDS,” is because that’s our last name. When we got married, we talked about how we wanted to have the same last name, as a symbol of our partnership and unity. Traditionally, I would have taken my partner’s last name, or we would have combined and hyphenated our last names. But those options weren’t right for us, because the former seemed antiquated and the latter seemed like a mouthful. I’m not a huge fan of leftovers, and to me, hyphenating our last names seemed like taking what was already made and ready to go, mixing it together and living with leftovers as my last name ‘till death do us part.

My partner and I decided to choose our own last name. Why not? I loved choose your own adventure books when I was little and I’m wired to thrive from creative challenges. We played around with the letters from our former last names and didn’t come up with anything we loved, so we decided to go the route of choosing a last name that was related to our livelihoods. My partner makes structurally sound puzzle boxes and mechanical furniture; I give sound advice to individuals so they can identify their passion and purpose. Sound felt like a name we could grow into together. And for the past three years, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

For me, our last name symbolizes living an examined life, whether that means examining old traditions or examining the way my day-to-day living reflects my values. Living an examined life is not fun or easy, but it’s something I feel compelled to do. Like making stovetop popcorn every night. But that’s another story. 

Stay curious

Some mysteries take years to unravel. When I was on my walk this morning, I spontaneously changed course when I spotted a yard sale; I wandered over to see what gems I might spot (just looking, no intention to buy—I’m all about clutter prevention!). There were some pretty sweet strings of lights, like holiday lights, but there were horses and cowboys covering the bulbs. After a momentary desire to buy, I moved along down the sidewalk and saw the man and woman who were running the show.

Still in the process of setting items out, the man said to the woman, “Well, George has all the heavy stuff,” and the woman replied, “Thanks George!” I assumed George was the guy pushing the dolly with plastic storage tubs stacked high so he couldn’t see where he was going. The woman commented how they had more stuff this time than usual, thanks to George. As I passed the stack of tubs I caught a glimpse of George and was pleasantly surprised to find that he was the older man who I’ve seen wandering around the neighborhood for years.

He initially caught my eye when I’d see him walking down alleys, looking in dumpsters. This in itself isn’t so remarkable, it’s his air of elegance and confidence that always struck me; he held himself as someone who CHOSE to be looking through dumpsters, not someone who looked out of necessity. He always had the same tidy, plaid, collared shirt on and white hair pulled back in a neat low ponytail, sporting a faded yellow backpack. I remember the first day I saw him pushing a grocery cart; no more yellow backpack. I questioned his decision, since to me, the grocery cart dampened his dapperness.

I had no idea what his name was until today. It’s George. I have been curious about George since 2005 when I lived in a building close to where the yard sale was. Now that I think about it, that house was always having yard sales. I did wonder how so much stuff could come from one house, now I know! George.

I believe that familiar strangers are the universe’s way of nudging us. I wonder, what lesson am I to learn from George?