i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
—e e cummings
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
This poem always comes back to me in springtime. After so many cycles, I can recite it from memory. For me, it is a prayer of rebirth, of arising again like Osiris re-membered, like Jesus resurrected, like Helios driving his fire-darting steeds across the sky once again.
No rebirth is complete without the preceding death, and so we are gifted with a composite, dual-face image, like Janus. The binary event is celebrated in the Egyptian text alternately titled Egyptian Book of the Dead and Book of Emerging Forth into the Light. The cycles are perennial overlapping alternations of darkness and light, expansion and contraction, emergence and withdrawal, like the arc of the pendulum, with stillness at the apex of each end.
Death and rebirth are continuous, emerging in large and small fluctuations. The earth circles the sun, and in that cycle, the life of the biosphere and the light of days swell and shrivel. Each month beautiful queen Regina, the moon, wains to extinction and waxes to fullness. Each day brings its phases, a cycle that Vedic scripture organizes into three phases of qualities, or gunas—rajas, the fiery expansion of morning and early evening; tamas, the inert lethargy of afternoon and the nighttime "witching hour;" and sattwa, the moment of balanced equipoise at dusk and dawn.
Closer to the home of our own being, we lie down to sleep at night and rise up awake in the morning. With each breath, we exhale with the possibility that we may never breathe in again, and then inhale once more, a respiratory death and rebirth. Then there is what we call the present moment of consciousness.
What of consciousness? How often do I die into a kind of hypnotic sleep, the living death of the zombie, in a physical body with habit and instinctive impulses, and yet no one is home? How often to I retreat into a dream of past or future, of others and their opinions, of how I look compared to a manufactured image of myself? And what happens when I wake up from this dream? Isn't this also a kind of rebirth, a springtime of the soul?
"I who have died am alive again," because I woke up from the dream. I was gone, and then I came home. In returning to myself, I am freshly birthed into a new moment in which I can accept and take the choice to see the world, my circumstances, myself, and others, as they are—infinite. In this moment of awakening, I see that I was asleep, and I accept it. In this moment of coming around, I return to the effort to more fully inhabit myself and be empty of self.
If I am vigilant, I see that in a moment I may let go of my righteousness, resentment, and greed. I may let go of my self-concern and self-love. I may let go of my vanity. I may put these impulses in a box and allow them to dissolve and disappear. I see that in a moment I have permission to release tension in my body and become mindful to what I am doing and the people I am with. In a moment I die to the unreal and rebirth in presence.
Each death and rebirth is a practice for the demise of the body. Or perhaps the death of the body is a practice for dying to unreality. In either case, it is an invitation to the unknown, as Hamlet soliloquized, "death, / The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveler returns, puzzles the will."