Last night I had a bath which had Epsom Salts and 7 drops of these essential oils:
When I put my head under the water and held my breath I could hear the sounds of my own life process coursing in my body, the whooshing pulse of blood in my ears and my heart beating in my chest.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to suddenly slip out of my body like a lover hurrying out the door on a tryst with the beloved and not hear anything anymore. Not morosely, I thought of a world ‘turning on its gyre’ in which I wasn’t. I would be a piece taken off the chessboard and set aside in some Manichean contest where I would wait to be placed back into play but like all the pieces, end up in the same box, forever, for eternity, time without end Amen and I couldn’t. Profoundly, I realised the meaning of cogito ergo sum by thinking of its opposite; when I cannot think then I cease to be, I don’t think therefore I’m not.
Yet I don’t believe it. I doubt the ability of my mind to invoke convoke or construct my non existence so in Descartes fuller sense, my doubt validates my existence. I can no more think of the cessation of my own existence than believe I have become a King penguin on some blasted icy sheet of the Antarctic jostling and preening like some old fucker at a play waiting for intermission to be over and the second act to begin.
I cannot think about eternity, things that might go on infinitely, it does my head in. I can’t think of myself in pain either, even though in reality I have been through agony, searing breathtaking pain going over hours and hours, but now I can’t remember it at all. Likewise I can’t remember pleasure, like an orgasm, or the bite of hot fresh garlic, or the sound a metal saucepan makes as it falls on a tiled floor. You know it but can’t remember it, you remember the event but nothing more. It is the senses that validate being, it is the doing part of being. The involvement of the senses then have as much or more validity as thinking, thus doing is being, I do therefore I am. One can imagine ‘not doing’ but one cannot imagine ‘not being’.
If I can think and doubt and do, I am. Ego igitur non dubito?
Then to throw another essential oil into the bathwater, the Oil of Ontology.
I have been with dying people at the moment of their death, once while nursing in a geriatric hospital having held a man I didn’t know in my arms for his last breaths which was a bit foolish as he died of Meningococcal. We call death ‘passing’ which has a ring of truth to it but death is also accurate especially for the body. There was never a doubt in my mind that the ‘something’ of the person, the anima, the vital energy, the soul whatever it was left the body in an instant after some struggles like increasing the tension on a rubber band suddenly zhhhhht…snap out gone.
The corpse is now in a state of repose, the limbs heavier and more substantial than when vitalised. Sometimes the face is an ugly mask, the mouth a tunnel through which the parade of life journeyed in words and sounds, sometimes the body has a kind of heavy softness to it, rarely there is a radiance to the face, a friend described how at the death of his infant son the whole room was filled with light. When my sister died and I laid her out trembling with grief so hard I could barely wash her beautiful face and brush her hair still moist from the sweat which poured from her in extremis, it was clear there was nothing of her there in that lovely husk, it’s job was done. She was somewhere else.
A couple of hours or so before she died, I took her to the toilet and afterwards when I helped her stand, she and I embraced for the last time and she rested her head on my shoulder for a bit. She was having a lot of trouble breathing and it distressed her, she said she was panicking. All I could think of to say was that dying was a lot like being in labour, she had to go inside herself and shut everything out. She said that helped and relaxed.
The body doesn’t want to let go easily in general but eventually the neon lights all go out one by one, the doors swing to and are double locked, the closed sign sways on the gate and the janitors come in to sweep the floors and stack the chairs.
Many years ago I had an out of body experience coming to consciousness sometime in the middle of the night while my husband slept next to me in bed. However I was not in bed, well, my body was but I the me of me, was floating and levitating next to and then above the bed. I found it completely astounding, there was an ecstatic few moments as I realised I existed independently of my body and I marvelled at it. The moment I fully realised this, from a high point above my body in the bed I merged back with it in an instant meshing and interlocking to a minute level and knew it was happening, I was perfectly locked in behind corporeal gates.
Now I am facing my own mortality with breast cancer and although I reckon the chances are pretty good for at least another 5, 10 even 15 years, there will come the day when the struggle to release my being will come. I will go gently into that good night, although I hope for a day with spring blueness spreading a fragrance of new life in the room and the sounds of traffic and magpies gradually disappearing as I go inside myself then beyond, opening the gate and going…