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"You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing."
- Alan Watts
We know little of our future. Our destiny is a closed book when it comes to the days and years ahead, something we can only know once we get there. In large part this is because the universe we find ourselves in is a chaotic and complex system, far greater than any human mind could comprehend. So too are human minds beyond our own comprehension; we can't know what course our lives and decisions will take, however firm our beliefs. We can't know all the variables and thus it becomes very difficult to predict anything with any real certainty. But there is at least one certainty in each of our lives: some day, we shall die.
Many consider death to be the ultimate mystery. All religions tackle it as a matter of profound importance, and most have prescribed rites and ceremonies around the death of their members. Our Code speaks of it ("Death, yet the Force"/"There is no death, there is the Force"), as does our Creed ("it is in dying that we are born to eternal life"). But even amongst Jedi the question comes up from time to time: how do we really feel about it? How do we cultivate a harmonious attitude to death? And what does "Death, yet the Force" really mean?
Rather than answer myself I'll quote one of the most meaningful posts I have yet encountered at the Temple, by Proteus
"The simplest metaphor I've yet to contemplate for my perception of the nature of life and death:
Take a blanket (the universe... the force)
Grab one small area of it
Twist it up into a thin "focused" cone protruding out of the blanket (one human, animal, plant, or other life)
After a while, let go of it and let it relax again (death)
The part you grabbed is still there. It's just not focused into a single point anymore. The whole time, what you were grabbing was the blanket."
For me, this elegant analogy encapsulates the Jedi attitude to life and death in the Force better than any other. Balance and harmony: what goes up, must come down. We rise up, and we drop back, like waves in a limitless sea. No two waves are the same, but in form, in shape and in motion they are similar. The wave may vanish, but the water is still there. Likewise, the chemicals in my body will dissipate some day, and may next come up in a birch tree, a fox, a huge cloud... and in time those forms will also pass on within the constant flow of the Force. But all that I am today will still be there.
Reflect for a moment on the significance of this understanding. We too are the product of countless generations of lives, lifeforms and phenomena before us, not only our surname-bestowing ancestors but trees, foxes, clouds. Stegosauri, sporangia and supernovae. At their most basic form the chemicals in our bodies are as old as the universe, and like energy (or more accurately as energy) matter is not destroyed, but translated; what we are will change, but it won't cease to be.
The ongoing exchange of chemicals and energy may not seem a very beautiful approach to the cavernous mystery of death compared to pearly gates or samsaric reincarnation, but there are other senses in which we very literally "remain" once physically dead. Other traditions speak of how one's memory "lives on" and that is true; in the minds of those we have met, spoken with, loved, hated and otherwise affected, we will always remain part of the ongoing saga of their lives.
But in an even closer, and perhaps more meaningfully active sense, we irrevocably alter all we interact with. The causal system is forever changed by our presence. Every rock we disturb, every leaf or blade of grass we move is also irreversibly affected. We don't have to be a Martin Luther King (or a James Earl Ray) to transform the course of world history - every one of us changes the world in every moment, and those temporal links in uncountable causal chains will always be there, and always be significant, though we and a hundred generations of our ancestors die.
Like many (perhaps all) things, finding harmony with death is a question of perspective. If one looks at the Force as the complete system of change and movement in the universe, what follows is the truest sense of "eternal life". Think again of the opening quote by Alan Watts: we are something the whole universe is doing. We are eternal. We have life at all in, through, and because of the Force. Like a runner in a relay, we take care of this bundle of matter and energy for a while, and when the time comes we pass it along: the race continues, uninterrupted. Death is inevitable and very real, of course, but it is not the end. It is a transformation, an invitation: an opportunity. A necessary, enigmatic and incredibly beautiful part of life.
"Death, yet the Force."
To me, that's a tremendous comfort.
I am a Jedi, an instrument of peace.
I recognise the harmony of life and death.
Today I give thanks for my life.
I remember the people, places and feelings I have known,
The days of joy and the lessons I have learned.
I am a Jedi, an instrument of harmony.
Today I give thanks for my death.
I remember that all is one in the Force,
And that in dying I shall be born to eternal life.
The Force, yet life. Life, yet death. Death, yet the Force.
I am a Jedi. The Force will be with me, always.
May the Force be with you, always.