• Claire Villarreal, PhD

Before a birth, there's a death

Reincarnation and the whole question of intentional transitions has been on my mind a lot lately.  I'm gearing up to start working on my book on that topic (or whatever it might become--a series of articles? workshops? blog posts? just a lived experience?), and as I do that I'm going through my own pretty intense transition.  I'm a native Texan and have been living in Houston for the past 11 years, and I've just shifted my base of operations to Canada.  Specifically, to Quebec, where folks are proudly--and sometimes solely--French-speaking.  To a country that gets seriously cold in the winter and also, by Houstonian standards, most of spring and fall.


I'm up here because I fell in love with a guy from this region, and I'm finding that this transition has the potential to function as a cocoon-like bardo between the end of my life based in Houston doing administrative work for Dawn Mountain, the Tibetan Buddhist temple I've been involved with for over 20 years now, and... whatever life comes next.  Life as a nomad going back and forth between Houston and Gatineau (in far western Quebec, just across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, ON)?  Life as a writer and meditation coach?  Life as my boyfriend's partner?  And/or... something I haven't imagined yet?


Just for the record, I'm not keen on change.  It makes me uncomfortable.  And disoriented.  And sometimes grumpy.  Yes, I recognize that a huge amount of Buddhist teaching is about change and impermanence, and I recognize also that writing about reincarnation, the most massive transition I can imagine, should also be good training for being more comfortable with change.


But the truth is that change is uncomfortable.  Part of the reason for all these teachings on change is that we're so good at resisting and denying it, and if I'm honest, I think part of the reason I've been fixated on reincarnation for so long is that it feels like a way of managing the ultimate change: that one at the end of our lives when we'll have to give up not just where we live and the language we speak but everything we think of as ourselves.  Body?  Gone.  Mind?  Dissolved.  Possessions?  You'd need a mind and body to keep them.  Everything conventional about us comes to a very final stop at the time of death.


And yet the teachings, over and over again, make it clear that death is not the end of us, just of the conventional aspects of ourselves that we tend to think are the full story.  So what else is there?  If our body and even our conventional mind stop at the time of death, what does it meant to say that in some way we continue after that moment?  To say that death is a transition like any other and that we can train for it?  These teachings about death are intended to help us land on buddha nature.


So what can I do with this moment of transition in my life?  It's the end of an era for me, and I have some aspirations for what comes next, but this moment feels very much like withdrawing into a cocoon, letting my caterpillar body melt and rearrange itself according to some primal wisdom that can imagine the butterfly whose time is coming.

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