On Impermanence and Death, aka Life

My eyes have been bothering me a long time. They would be perpetually dry and irritable. I would also occasionally get styes. My doctor finally gave me a diagnosis: MGD—Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. Another day, another acronym to remember.

While not life-threatening, the symptoms of MGD are very bothersome, especially because it worsens when I’m in front of a computer for extended periods of time. Lucky for me, that’s exactly what I do at work. However—you can call this unlucky, but it really isn’t, there is no cure. In other words, I would have to live with this disturbance for the rest of my life. Doctors say MGD is often only found in people over 50 years old. I haven’t made 25, and my oil Meibomian glands are already completely blocked, and 60% of my tear ducts are already gone—a severe case of dry eyes. The กุ้งยิง I’m getting are the consequences of these clogged glands becoming infected. My doctor told me: “This case happened at one of your glands. The other 200 of them are like ticking time bombs.”

Great.

In the moment I was given this diagnosis, I initially felt angry. Yet, surprisingly, soon after an air of calmness descended upon me. I felt resigned… no, that’s not the right word. I felt… at peace with the things I cannot change. (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”) Our manifestation in the physical realm is so delicate, and its fragility and the cycle of degeneration, death and renewal is a truth that we all are too familiar with. The diseases that we get are simply an integral piece of this cycle. Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the impermanence of life. The temporal boundaries of reality are yet to be overcome, and I personally believe it is foolish to try to do just that.

After learning about my MGD, my thoughts started to drift towards the idea of death—a usual subject visited by my brain. I think I’ve already blogged about death multiple times, but I’m going to write about it again.  I’ve never understood why so many of us fear death. What does death represent? The end of fun? A missed opportunity? An unfulfilled life?

I once wanted to live a long life, but I can’t remember when the last time I felt that way was. In fact, I could sense that my time here on earth may be limited. Buddhists are taught that to be ready for and mindful of the possibility of death at any given moment, and thus we are all advised to lead honest and compassionate lives at all times. In addition to the kindness in our everyday interactions, what is important to me too is a life driven by meaning, a life well-examined, and a life defined by selflessness and dedicated to the greater good. While I have not made any impact on the scale I demand of myself, I know that if I die now, I can rest knowing that I have put in my effort to challenge the status quo defined by the discord between the soul and the systems that we have created. Furthermore, I can die knowing that I have made progress in the self-examination of my existence. Have I found an answer? Have my life created enough worth? No, not even close. However, it may not matter so much if one starts to realize the ripple effects of small acts of goodwill that can occur daily. Once one can overcome the need for self-validation (see We Do Not All Have to Shine) through tangible outcomes, then death is not to be feared; it can be embraced as a potent reminder of the tremendous opportunity we are given, otherwise known as life.

Ultimately, when we talk about impermanence and death, we are in fact talking about life; they are all intertwined. We are talking about the undeniable truths of life and how we should embrace every single breathing moment that we have to make this life worthwhile in a way that you define it. (Though I must add a caveat that your way of life must not be infringing on others’ same unalienable rights to life or else you face my wrath.)

I will never forget Steve Jobs’ words:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

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