Rebirth

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Approaching the first day of spring, I think about how we are entering a new season in so many ways. I will get my second vaccine soon, and two weeks later should have full immunity. I think about what that will mean for my life. Slowly, depending on external circumstances, I may begin to see glimmers of that old life return. Maybe I’ll get to see people who I haven’t seen in a year. Venture out of my home a little bit more. Resume activities I once enjoyed. When my children can be vaccinated, life will really change for us. Slowly, I envision leaving my hibernation– this long winter of despair induced by a global pandemic that side-swiped us all.

And yet, I don’t think there is a place where we will fully return to, a normal to pick up where we left off. We are already talking about the ways in which we hope life will be different. We are being warned about the parts of life that may never go back to the same. Intuitively we know nothing will ever be exactly the same.

Will anyone ever blow out birthday candles again?

Will we go back to shaking hands? (Personally, I hope not!)

If I go into a crowd, will I continue to wear a mask? Will we become more like Asian countries, and become mindful about how we spread our germs?

Do I have to start using a vaccine passport?

There are lessons I have learned that will stick with me forever. I will never underestimate the magic of getting on an airplane and walking without abandon in a crowd. I will never forget the miracle of this vaccine. Or the gift of face-to-face contact.

I wonder what the relationship to my home will be once we enter that era of a new normal. I used to try to leave our house as often as I could. Now, I hope we will carve out more time to be home. I worry about returning to the rat race, the days when I didn’t even have time to open the blinds or sit on my furniture or notice all of the best spots to soak in sunshine at any given moment in a day. 

I contemplate what activities we’ll return to, what we will let go, and what will rise to the surface of a new consciousness.

It is in these thoughts that I ponder a sort of rebirth– a post pandemic self and society, the ways in which we can change for the better. How can we take the lessons and experiences we lived through in the past year to create a more improved existence for us all?

Coincidentally, we have the religious holiday of Easter coming soon. Full disclosure: I’m a Catholic drop-out who is studying to be a Buddhist minister’s assistant. But when I thought about rebirth, I naturally thought about Easter, and sitting in church on Sunday, turning to the person next to me and saying, “He has risen! He has truly risen!” If the priest had told me that all of this was symbolic of humanity, and if he hadn’t tried to sell me the idea that somebody came back from the dead, I may still be there. Years later, I have found myself more tolerant of what once felt deceitful to me.

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird that regenerates, constantly being born again. It begins its new life out of the ashes of its predecessor, dying in flames and combustion before starting new again. Some have asserted that the phoenix is an allegory for the resurrection of Christ. Many other cultures have similar symbols, like the Persian “Simurgh,” or the Turkish “Konrul.” 

The concept of rebirth, resurrection, and the chance to start anew is a relatable theme to all human beings.

Having a second chance.

Overcoming the odds and persevering.

Trying again. 

Rebirth.

It is  a universal human experience. A tale as old as time. An important tool for the preservation of mankind.

I learned that Easter may have come from Eostre, also known as Ostara, a pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess who is often depicted with flowers in her hair and a bunny in her arms. Not much is documented about her. We know she comes from Germanic folklore, but like all stories, I’m sure the details faded with memories, changed and morphed into new interpretations and recollections with the passing of time. A festival used to be held in Eostre’s honor during the springtime, when she supposedly turned a bird into a rabbit. The rabbit, filled with gratitude, reciprocated by laying colored eggs. Eostre is symbolic of rebirth, growth, new beginnings, fertility, and abundance. It is said that the Christian Easter replaced the festival that once honored her.

In Buddhism, we also have a spring festival. The Japanese celebrate Hanamatsuri in April. Hanamatsuri means “flower festival.” While there are no colored eggs or bunnies, there are plenty of flowers, sweet tea to pour over a baby Buddha statue, and even a white elephant. The holiday celebrates the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. I remember the first time I heard the story of a white elephant coming to Siddhartha’s mother in her dreams and entering her side, which was a sign that she was pregnant with a Holy Buddha. I cringed. Not another folktale, I thought. Here we go again with walking on water and busting out of caves and immaculate conception.

But I’ll never forget the minister clarifying in his dharma talk that it wasn’t meant to be interpreted literally.

Joseph Campbell said, “Every myth is psychologically symbolic. Its narratives and images are to be read, therefore, not literally, but as metaphors.”

We seem to underestimate the power of storytelling and how they teach us human lessons. We discount stories as something only children partake in. It is easy for us to conceptualize why stories help children make sense out of the world, teaching them lessons, values, and imparting wisdom. But somehow we forget that they can do the same for the rest of us, at any age. We’re never too old for lessons on how to be human. Stories help us make meaning out of a very confusing existence.

I remember never liking poetry until I was grieving the loss of my husband when he unexpectedly passed away. Suddenly I was thirsty for anything that could articulate the depth of my despair. Pictures could do it no justice. I listened to a lot of music, but I often found the lyrics fell short. Songs about getting dumped could maybe convey sadness, but not in the same intensity and for the same reasons I was feeling it. I searched for the right words through poetry.

I remember being at an event, grieving, with people swarming around me and going about their lives. I felt very alone and abandoned by the universe. As I waited for the event to start– and not wanting to talk to anyone– I searched for poetry on my phone. That is when I came across “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz:

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

His words resonated with me. The loss and despair, but also the hopefulness. Those last few lines have stuck with me: 

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Transformation. New chapters. Metamorphosis. Turning our pain into something beautiful. This is not the end, but rather a new beginning. Again and again and again.

So I love the idea of rebirth– not in a religious sense– but as something I can relate to as a human being. 

I think the idea of life being better in the old days is misguided. This compulsion to hold on to the past is often rooted in deep-seated fear. Change is scary, and we humans tend to like predictability and routine. It hasn’t been easy in the past year. None of us have ever experienced a pandemic. I’ve been a teacher for seventeen years, and I have had to learn many new ways to do my job, even though it once felt on autopilot. I’ve had to learn new ways to parent my children. New ways to connect with others. It has been a year of trial and error, being a beginner again. That can feel stressful and discouraging. Many of us are feeling weary and drained. We’re hearing about phenomena like “Zoom Fatigue.”

Throughout this pandemic, I have witnessed people clinging to that previous life. Wanting to do the things they have always done. Fighting for their rights to keep their status quo. I imagine that is like holding on to a heavy anchor in the middle of the ocean. 

Impermanence is a fact of the universe. Nothing lasts forever. We can view this as a source of despair and sadness, or as an opportunity to constantly reinvent oneself, embracing change as the chance for rebirth.

A growth mindset. Ready to learn new things and try new things and be willing to fail and get back up and try again.

To do so, it might help to start with unpacking our fears. I listened to an interview with Kobe Bryant, where he talks about this. If you unpack a fear, you can “look at it for what it is, which is really nothing.”

Our emotions create delusions and ignorance, and we become attached to one version of life. But there are infinite possibilities. That’s why I love the idea of letting go, starting new. Reinventing myself. Rebirth.

Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “Anything truly revolutionary is created by a few who see what is true and are willing to live according to that truth; but to discover what is true demands freedom from tradition, which means freedom from all fears.”

As I think about my post-pandemic life, I hope the powers that be seize the opportunity to let go of the things that have proven not to work, and that they boldly embrace new possibilities that can make our lives better. I hope I am able to channel my own personal strength to let go, to ponder deeply what matters to me, and to come out of my quarantine with a stronger sense of my boundaries and direction.

What is possible in your new season? What can you imagine and nurture and embrace? In what ways can you foster personal growth for a better tomorrow?

Whether it is Jesus, Buddha, Eostre, Easter bunnies, or the daffodils reaching toward the sky in your garden after lying dormant throughout winter, what can we learn from the concept of rebirth? 

A global pandemic won’t be the last thing to side-swipe us. There will be more obstacles and pain and unimaginable tragedy. The challenge is how to use these experiences to become better versions of who we once were– to not fear starting over again.

Maybe we were always meant to be reborn– over and over again. Perhaps these yearly festivals and holidays are meant to remind us that rebirth is not one and done, but rather a life-long endeavor, cyclical in nature, the price we pay for being alive. It might just also be one of our greatest gifts. An Easter egg waiting to be discovered.

I leave you with this by Zoe Skylar:

“For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse.

So collapse.

Crumble.

This is not your destruction.

This is your birth.”

2 Comments

  1. Another “winner”, Teresa! I’m going to share this w/my son (50 yrs old), since he experienced rebirth after years of being on drugs. He’s long-recovered from that life, but every day brings the kinds of challenges that force us all to be mindful of so very much. Thinking of you….. Pam Jarvis 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

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