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What Is Your Life Worth?

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November 18, 2015

“What is your life worth?”

This is the question an Aboriginal Elder has been asking me again and again over the last several months.  If the question came from a financial planner I would know how to answer.  I would know the intent behind the question.  But this Elder lives in an economic kind of poverty.  In my experience, the wisest elders don’t talk too much about money.  He must mean something else.

Each time I reflect on the question of what my life is worth, I come up with one answer: dust, a grain of the universe.  As I learn to dance with elephants, I have found that I have to turn toward my fears and my mortality.  My last blog post was called “Embracing Dustness” and reflected on Gandhi’s words, “the seeker of truth must be humbler than dust.”  My post before that looked at a concrete practice of replacing fear with love by meditating on your bones turning to dust.  So my answer may be in part because I have been think about dust lately, but I think there is more to it.  For me, dust is the key.  It unlocks a different way of facing elephants.

By saying that my life is worth dust, I am not saying it has no worth.  To me dust is one of the most valuable things on this earth.  Life is made out of dust and returns to dust and becomes life again.  How miraculous is that?  Remove dust and there is no life.  Life crumbles to  death and death crumbles to life. For me it is not the life or death that I find difficult.  instead, it is the particular process, which all of humanity is on – of crumbling in between.

I wrote the poem below, in part to challenge my own faith tradition to take dust more seriously.  I wrote this as I travelled back from a sabbatical as part of my work as a university professor.  In that year, I had been to Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Israel, visiting communities with some practice of healing justice.  My family and I had just lived for six months on Saturna Island, a secluded island on the West coast of Canada.  My family had travelled ahead of me back to Winnipeg.  I wrote this poem as I travelled home.  I knew my career and professional life would soon end.  I wrote this poem as I thought about preparing myself and my family for the journey ahead.

On this sacred earth (or Going Home)

On this sacred earth

I will not curse your name

I was created for life

I was created for death

And all the crumbling in between

When I die

Don’t let the crazies say I passed away

or went to some better place.

I died.

Let me go home to the earth

Where folded in silence

I can return to the dust

From which I came

Death is not some evil dominion

where Devil and Darth Vader mate

Death is life’s consequence

Together named  Very Good

in the sacred earth

Come what may

On this sacred earth….

While I still live

Don’t be swayed by fortune-sellers

Promising a better life in some other time or place

If we want to touch the sacred gift of life,

We have but one access point:

each present moment on this sacred earth

Let me go home to the earth

Where surrounded by beauty

I can learn to love and let go

Life is not some place to escape

Where sorrow and fear dictate

Life is a sacred gift

On this sacred earth

Come what may

On this sacred earth…

It’s not the living or the dying that I fear

It’s the space in between

Not living, not dying,

just hanging on

destroying all I meet

When you find me crumbling in between

Remind me to behold the flowers and sparrows

We behold these sacred beauties because they wither and die

Behold the dying flowers; there are no other kinds.

Their withering nature is how they were created to be.

Let me go home to the earth

Where we all live in between

Let me go home to this sacred earth

This dying, living, crumbling earth

Come what may

Jarem Sawatsky,

BLOG - Dancing with Elephants: A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind (http://www.dancingwithelephants.net/)

Original Blog Post: http://www.dancingwithelephants.net/life-worth/

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