House for Rent in the Bardo: River View
Bardo is a Tibetan word that literally translates as the interval between two things. It is traditionally associated with the space between death and rebirth.
While most people agree that moving (what my Brit friends call “moving house” or, sometimes, “moving home”) is stressful, I’m not trying to imply that it’s as stressful as dying.
I am, a little, right now, like someone who’s just gotten a terminal diagnosis. I have a bounded finitude – three months – and I am pre-mourning. This little rental house, admittedly and always lovely, is now indescribably beautiful to me. I am caught, twenty times a day, by some detail, some winsomely chipped bit of plaster over the fireplace, some sweet slant of light through the shutters, and briefly overwhelmed by anticipatory grief.
Or, I do some automatic thing, follow the rut of the routine that has been established, specific to the layout of these rooms, the location of this lot, the configuration of these fixtures, and suddenly I am shaken with terror at the impending loss of the structure – created within and for and thus tied to this physical structure – that supports my days.
Terror. It’s not too strong a word. I am home. At least, I am in the house that I, for three more months contractually may call home. But I feel lost. The floor – this character-laden, warm-smelling, 150-year-old wooden floor – is right beneath my feet, but I feel groundless.
So I am thinking about bardo states.
There are many teachings on how to navigate this place skillfully. What’ll kill ya, in the bardo, is grasping. Attachment of any kind. Holding on too tight to the life you’re leaving behind. Hoping too hard for your new life to take a particular shape.
Oh I do that, too. I look at listings for houses. I begin to picture my life in this one, or that one. I furnish them, in my mind. I imagine that they will support all of the ways I have wanted to be but have never manifested, because, obviously, those ways of being were just waiting for This. Exact. House. And the next day, when I see that This Exact House has been rented, to someone else, I am bereft. A whole life, richly and greedily envisioned, inhabited as in a dream, snatched away from me.
Traditionally, too much attachment, in the bardo, results in an inauspicious rebirth in one of the “hell” realms. Taken literally, this seems punitive and juvenile but the metaphor is easy enough to parse. Clinging desperately to the illusion of control in a groundless reality is a recipe for despair. I am not punished by being thrust into “hell” for incorrect thinking (as if “hell” is an actual, external place). I create that hell myself, through thoughts and actions that keep me at odds with reality.
Living in denial of what is actually happening, in negation of my lived experience, breaks me apart. I raise “hell” (etymologically meaning a concealed place, from roots that mean to cover, or hide) on the spot, when I cover my eyes, squeezing my knuckles white in fists that try to hold water. Hiding from What Is in the bunker of ego-fueled certainty and fear.
What Is: I live, today, in this beautiful house. I have made a home here. In September I will live in another house. With it’s own beauty. I will make a home there. Right now, I stand in a space where I can clearly see both – what is coming to an end, and what beginning is coming.
So I am thinking about bardo states. It is my belief that I’m always in the bardo. That every fleeting moment is equally and also, a liminal eternity. I aspire, intellectually at least, to live this belief and, occasionally, inevitably, I am served it straight. I am tested.
I am reminded.
I have let go of this handhold. I am in flight. In midair. In-between. It is not yet time to grasp the next. There is no standing, in the Place of What Is. In Reality, I float. And who can say if floating feels like falling, or flying?
This post was written by Laurie Dietrich