The meaning of immortality
“The wise understand the meaning of immortality, and do not seek the never-changing in the transient.” — Upanishads
No small part of my sorrow in life comes from my abiding difficulty in accepting that nothing on this earth will last forever. This reluctance to let go encompasses the entire spectrum of my life, from a treasured trinket to a useful appliance to more expensive investments such as houses and cars, and ultimately on to intangible blessings such as relationships with animals and other people, as individuals (such as friends and loved ones) and as groups (such as church congregations, schools, and neighborhoods or community circles).
I think this longing for something that lasts, even when we look for it in all the wrong places, is one of the surest evidences we have of immortality. Descartes, among others, asserted that a finite being could not, on its own, conceive of an infinite one. (See item 2 under the summary section on Meditation III). As much as humans tend to crave novelty, we also seek endlessly for that which is unchanging and reliable. So in one sense, it’s logical that we want unlimited warranties for our material goods, and undying commitment from the people in our lives.
Growing up in a family that embraced Christianity as the source of eternal truth, I have been taught from my earliest memory that eternity is real, and what we think of as our earthly lives are only a relatively small piece of the overall picture, however central a role these perceptions play in our everyday existence. Why, then, do I have so much trouble throwing away a magazine I have not read, or a memento of a long-ago vacation? This may sound like the ultimate leap from the sublime to the ridiculous, but I know some of you will understand. 😀
I think I need to repeat this quote from Upanishads as a sort of mantra next time I undertake another of my seemingly unlimited series of efforts to clear out my belongings and bring order to my home — or to my mind. Fortunately, there are some handy symbols of eternity to which I can cling in my anxiety over loss. The sky, the mountains, the seas, and even the reliable life cycles of nature all hint of the reality that life is everlasting. These beautiful visual aids put my Goodwill donations and full recycling bins into perspective, don’t they?
Today, when you find yourself stressed, frustrated or annoyed, try asking yourself the ultimate question. It’s not “Will this matter in 100 years?” though that is indeed a worthwhile inquiry. But how much more powerful is the question “Is this a matter of eternal significance?” Relatively few of our troubles will merit a “yes” to that question, but for the few that do, that’s a clear indication we need to go straight to the source, so to speak, and leave the matter in the hands of God. Easy to say, hard to do. But infinitely comforting.
One year ago today: