I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was human,
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
My son will have his license soon and won’t need me for transportation. It is one of many needs I am no longer required to fulfill. Savoring the final months of daily driving together I say yes every time he asks for a ride, even when the trip seems frivolous.
On a recent journey we drove along a dirt road in the outback of Vermont, my old VW rattling and knocking, gravel crunching under the tires. We were talking about his first experience with psilocybin some weeks earlier and he said something I couldn’t make out above the noise.
“What?!” I yelled.
All was quiet for a moment as the road briefly turned to pavement. “I realized I have a consciousness separate from my body,” he half-yelled into the vacuum of sudden silence.
“Say more about that,” I replied.
“My body was far away and I was in a world that was here but also timeless. That world seemed more real and permanent than the usual one. I felt like I had died but when it was clear I hadn’t I realized that that death is not something to fear. It’s a continuation of a process that has no beginning or end.”
It sounded like he was quoting a line from the Upanishads.
The road became dirt again and the noise returned. I drove carefully on the narrow path, sensing my body in the seat, my hands on the wheel, my son sitting beside me.
I recalled how, at 33, when my son was born I felt I had been born again as a father. It was as though a parallel life began alongside the one started at my own birth. Time slowed perceptibly in those early months. Each day of caring for the infant was long, arduous and rife with new understandings.
As I drove I remembered standing over the helpless, mewling infant as I changed his diaper. At the same time the presence of his being was palpable. Like a luminous, membraned bubble, his atmosphere encompassed the whole house and beyond. I felt him as an infinite, powerful identity.
The juxtaposition of the impotent and vulnerable body demanding care for its every need and the vast, independent presence of his being was almost too much to bear. I felt myself at the fulcrum of those two poles, and groaned with the exquisite poignance of the contradiction.
My son’s voice shocked me from my recollections as we drove through the night.
“Dad, I understand what you’ve been talking about, all the spiritual stuff. I saw it myself but now I don’t know what to do with it.”
Hearing those words I knew one thing that I wished to do as a father was complete. My son’s personal search for reality had begun.
“I don’t think you need to try to do anything,” I said. “Just sit with it, hold it, respond to what feels meaningful to you. If you are called to a path of practice, follow it.”
In the Vedic tradition a person may choose to retreat from life, become a sannyasin, when his children are grown and his role as a householder concludes. In old India people retired to an ashram or disappeared into the jungle to meditate when their children were settled. The wheel turns for the third time and a new process begins.
The Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi said this life is an analogue to a fetus in a mother's womb. We gestate in this world, in the amniotic fluid of our inner life. Progressing through stages of development, afforded both by the conditions of life and by our inner work, we are born once again into a world as comparatively vast as this one is for the newborn.
Life is a polyrhythmic solfeggio of overlapping rhythms, long and short cycles. The body is continuously renewing with hundreds of billions of cells dying and being born every day. With each inhalation life begins anew. With each outbreath life expires.
The possibility of renewal depends upon the completion of the earlier cycle, of letting go of what has been. The degree to which we metabolize and transform old forms determines how fully we may enter into emergent stages.
Our car pulls into our driveway and I see the lights shining from within and smoke rising from the chimney. It looks inviting. I get out of the car and as my son arrives from his side we put our arms around one another and walk toward the warm house.
Jason Stern is founder of Chronogram magazine and author of Learning to be Human. He is a student and teacher of the GI Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way tradition of inner work. Jason lives with his family in the Hudson Valley and southern Vermont.