The problem in middle life, when the body has reached its climax of power and begins to decline, is to identify yourself, not with the body, which is falling away, but with the consciousness of which it is a vehicle. This is something I learned from myths. What am I? Am I the bulb that carries the light? Or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle?
One of the psychological problems in growing old is the fear of death. People resist the door of death. But this body is a vehicle of consciousness, and if you can identify with the consciousness, you can watch this body go like an old car. There goes the fender, there goes the tire, one thing after another— but it’s predictable. And then, gradually, the whole thing drops off, and consciousness rejoins consciousness. It is no longer in this particular environment.
–Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers (1988)
I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell, and the Power of Myth, published the year after Campbell’s transition, is one of my go-to books. I retrieved my dog-eared, coffee stained copy and, sure-enough, years-ago I had flagged the consciousness quote with a post-it labelled “Death.”
I don’t know why, but the first thing that sprung to mind after my fresh reading was this scene from Tom Hanks’ Academy Award winning performance in the 1994 film FORREST GUMP.
“Run, Forrest, Run!”
Upon further reflection, the connection is pretty obvious. As I sit here recovering from COVID-my second and much worse bout with fever and loss of my sense of taste, which is really weird—and doing my best to avoid, but likely only postpone, my 4th spine surgery within 24 months, I’ve been thinking more these days about failing parts and vulnerability.
This isn’t a “pity post;” rather only some feeble rationale for why I haven’t been my usual prolific, ubiquitous self.
As my dear friend, the late George Blystone, frequently reminded me once we turned 65 within five days of each other, “We’re on the back nine, pal. Enjoy it while you can.”
George also had a bad back and a new knee-maybe two-and transcended into consciousness when he fell and broke his neck a year ago playing on a trampoline with his grandson. The similarity of our failing parts is not lost upon me.
And yet I am buoyed by Campbell’s wisdom and Forrest’s imagery.
We all lose “parts.” When someone we deeply love transitions—a child, a spouse, sibling, parent, a dear friend—a part of us goes with them. I come back again to the words of Mark Nepo from The Book of Awakening:
Once we pour ourselves into loving another person, it seems as if they take who we are with them when they go. In truth, they take a deep part of us…”
As I wrote in “Priests, Mediums, and Quantum Theory,” it is the very part of us our loved ones take with them that creates the bridge which enables us to remain connected—unites our consciousness—and facilitates messages, help and love to be exchanged and experienced.
And, of course, there is the “predictable” deterioration of our body, the repair and replacement of our parts, and the ultimate expiration of the “warranty.”
Campbell and Nepo instruct us to cast aside fear of our own deaths and doubt as to whether we can survive the huge holes blown through us when our loved ones transition.
Melancolie, by Albert Gyorgy, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
In every space opened when what we want gets away, a deeper place is cleared in which the mysteries can sing. Nepo
As our body diminishes, there is more room and space to be filled with greater awareness and higher levels of consciousness. Our consciousness is breaking out of its vessel and is eager and excited to expand, explore and connect with the universal consciousness.
It’s anything but sad and tragic—it’s joyful.
Or at least it can be.
As Tom Zuba (Permission to Mourn) tells us, it’s a choice we make.
That’s why I got goosebumps as I watched Forrest break free from his broken parts and the bullies—his past life— and run with glee and reckless abandon to his new found level of awareness and consciousness, only the next of many more to come.
Or maybe it was the Paxlovid kicking in.
Or, more likely, the memory the scene triggered of the last stanza of the poem by my favorite writer:
And in periods of keenest pain
I’ll know that I’ve run through walls,
That doubt is a bad idea,
And this death not even a trailhead
On the endless loop through ourselves:
That when my body lies flat in the tall grass,
The rest of me bounds up the hill.
-James Gauntt, Suffering Is the Only Honest Work
RUN, JIMMY, RUN!