And here’s another fine post from our exceedingly wise alumnus, Jack Campitelli.
© 2012 Jack Campitelli LLC Revised July 17, 2012 All Rights Reserved
At the very fundament of life, at the core of conscious existence, saying “Hello” and saying “Good-bye” is all that there is. Those simple words that form much of the social “form” of how we interact with each other without thinking, are a massive foundation for spirituality as soon as one is mindful of the meaning each time one says it out loud or to oneself. And as one learns to say the words internally, without even pronouncing them in your mind, it fundamentally changes your wakefulness to “that which is.”
“Hello” – is an almost unthinking courteous greeting to another person. But it is also can be a greeting, spoken or unspoken, to all that captures our attention. A person across the street, an animal whose eyes capture our attention, a flowering plant that would have called out a cheery “Hello” if it had a voice. Even if the flower was saying “Look at me! Look at me!” Of course you would respond with an equally cheery “Hello!”
“Hello” is a first cousin to “Welcome.” An embrace of what you just greeted. “Hello” and “Welcome” are not just things one says to people. You can certainly say them to animals and to plants. And even to a new pair of socks. As soon as you say “Hello and Welcome” with true intention, the socks are now part of you. They are no longer “just socks” even though they might look like it to a stranger. And every time you see the socks, if you say “Hello” to them as you go to use them, they are, again, brought into your awareness. And it wouldn’t hurt you to say “Thanks” for their use.
“Hello” is also a first cousin of “wonder” – perhaps the single most important human calling we have. To live in a state of wonder means you are always “at one” with what is going on in your life and keenly aware. As a result, you remain a constant beginner. Each moment is a new moment to savor. If you live in a state of wonder, you cannot be jaded. You can be sad, but you cannot be depressed. Wonder seems to call forth “gratitude,” “thankfulness” for being able to have this moment of wonder. And perhaps for that to whom we say “Hello.”
And then you are gone from that moment of “Hello.” Your life-walk continues. The “Hello” recedes into the too soon past and you are ready to say “Good-bye” to someone or something to which you’ve never formally been introduced. And, there is perhaps some sadness in the “Good-bye” for that moment just leaving will not return in your life or that of the stranger’s, the animal’s or the plant’s, or the rock’s.
In “Good-bye” (God be with you) we can surely find a place of “thanks” of “gratitude” for the “Hello” – the sharing of “being” for an instant, the moment of wonder.
As we look at “real” hello and goodbyes, we think of loved ones. Our children off to school, our children home from school. Both of you there to greet each other with another “Hello” or “Goodbye”. If you are aware of your words, is there not a sense of thankfulness and of gratefulness as you say the words? And as you say either “Hello” or “Goodbye” can you not feel the innate sense of sadness that such moments are never to be again?
It is this awareness, this consciousness, of the wonderment and gratitude of “Hello” and both gratitude for the “Hello” and the sadness contained in “Goodbye” that forms the true conditions under which we live. “Goodbye” usually contains a silent prayer for the chance of another “Hello” but we never truly know and, even if it is granted, we know time has passed and change has happened and every encounter is always a new “Hello” because what or whom you are greeting has changed from the time you last said “Hello.” And your “Goodbye” is again hopeful for another chance at greeting and, at the same time, sadness that it may not happen at all but certainly that it will be not the same, and gratefulness and thanks that you were given one more chance at “Hello.”
THE RIVER OF LIFE
The ancient Greek philospher Simplicius, characterizing the philosophy of Heraclitus, is claimed to have said, “Ta panta rei” – “everything changes” or “everything flows” (1) Nothing remains the same. Plato later says: Heraclitus is famous for his insistence on ever-present change in the universe, as stated in his famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” (1)
Yet, if we think about it for a moment, is not as simple as if the river just flows past us as we watch safely from the shores; it is we who ride precariously on a sinking raft floating on the moving river. We will never see the same shore again in our life once we pass it and there is no map of where the river is taking us. Not only does the river pass our raft but we and our raft continually pass the ever-changing shore. We will never know what dangerous rapids or tranquil pools are before us. The raft on which we ride is slowly disintegrating and destined to sink, even if the dangers of the unknown voyage do not take our life before our raft naturally disintegrates.
Each moment, each instant of now, is equally a saying goodbye to what preceded it and almost demands a welcome to the new moment. Life is only “now” but now has three aspects. And each aspect is a chance for spiritual awakening – of deepening our own life journey. Each successive instance contains the inseparable aspects of now: before-now-after; before-now-after; before-now-after. These aspects of “now” are an inseparable trinity. In the realm of existence, that is, in the realm of “what is,” there is no way to separate before not-now; now; after not-now. It is words that allow us to make this distinction and it is our mind that allows us to separate the three elements by lingering mentally in the past; imagining the future; or staying “at one” in the ever-changing moment as we imagine animals do.
If you separate before-now-after in your mind, then there is little now – there is remembrance of things past or longing for things in the future – both eliminate your ability to be one with the moment you are actually in. This is, in fact, how most of us spend our lives: in the past or in the future but rarely in the moment of “now”. If you linger too long in the past or spend too much time planning the future, you nonetheless are remaining in “now” as you do this. But you are not aware of “now” because you are not there. You might ponder who is living the “now” of your life if it’s not you?
The challenge is to be in the state of being conscious of all three aspects of now simultaneously. Now contains the sadness of the forever past and calls upon us to instantly say “goodbye” to it. And it calls us to bring into our consciousness the newness that is the new now. The “Hello” if you will. It is only in this manner that one can live life fully and constantly.
A Zen priest told the story one day of her love for her favorite coffee cup that she had used for years. Each time she picked up the handmade cup she relished its beauty and she said goodbye to it because she knew what someday either she or the cup would no longer be. “And today,” she said, “was that day. It shattered in my hand and was gone. But for years I had joyfully welcomed it every morning and, as I held it, I always said goodbye to it with sadness and gratitude for it sharing itself with me.”
It is that way for all of life, actually for all that is, including you and all you care about. Life is about welcoming each moment we are given and saying goodbye to all that we care about in the very same moment. Our family, friends, pets, cherished objects; our hearing, sight, movement, our lives are all going away. In time, in their season, or suddenly without warning. We must grab each moment with glee for its very being there at all and at the same time take heed of the sadness that it will never be back.
The sad fact is that almost none of us know this. And, sadder, few of us acknowledge it as a way of being alive. And a way to a sense of oneness with all that is. All too few of us use this practice as a spiritual path.
Life is nothing if not ironic or even twisted. Sometimes the “Hello” is to something terrible and the “Goodbye” rather than sad, is to a welcome relief – even if that is death.
But there is always an “Hello” and always a “Goodbye” in the same instant.
SAYING HELLO AND GOODBYE TO BREATH
As we lay in bed, there is not much to say Hello and Goodbye to except what you bring into your imagination and you might think about this as a time for a bit of housekeeping. To go over the missed opportunities and extend greetings and farewells to people or things in your debt. But after that, there remains the ultimate spiritual practice: attentive breathing.
At the most basic level, each intake of breath is an hello and each exhalation a goodbye. Captured in the hello should well be a sense of wonder and of gratitude. Captured in the exhalation should well be a sense of thanks and sadness and hope for another breath. If you begin this practice by actually saying hello and goodbye with each breath, soon you will be able to breathe without the words but the feelings of welcome and thanks will remain. This practice can continue your whole life; and not just in bed. This is a perfect exercise to practice during all the hours of our lives we spend waiting. Instead of allowing the reverie of your imagination to keep you unbored as you wait, you can learn to immediately revert to concentrating on your breathing in the hello and goodbye mode.
While there are many variations on breathing practices, some designed to transport you to other states of being, the most important one is just to notice your breathing. Not to try and control it for other purposes, but just to be aware of your breathing. Adding the unspoken overlay of hello and goodbye, of welcome and thanks, which soon becomes voiceless, may increases the depth of the practice. It becomes your most basic way of being.
If you decide to try the “Hello Goodbye” breathing practice, feel free to experiment with variations. For instance, I find I naturally use “Hi” on intake and “Bye” on exhalation. I also find “Hi” and “Thanks” works well, too. You can find your own simple “code words” for “Welcome” and “Gratefulness” that lend themselves to your breathing patterns.
Zen often starts out with counting. One upon inhalation. Two upon exhalation. Three inhalation, four exhalation, etc. Up to ten. Then start over. When you can do that for five minutes, which is nigh impossible for a beginner, you can try just holding the one of inhalation through exhalation. Then two through both inhalation and exhalation, et seq. You can then switch to just counting exhalations up to ten before starting over. Eventually you will just “follow your breath” in the sense that your attention is directed to the sensation of breathing in and breathing out and nothing else.
When you lose count or lose where you are or find yourself in mental fancy, you simply re-direct your thoughts to counting or following your breath or saying “hi” and “bye” in your mind as you breathe. Saying “Hi” and “Bye” or “Hi” and “Thanks” is transitional but if you do it for a few weeks or months, then when you follow your breath or follow another aspect of breathing, without internal words, you’ll still associate the “Hello” and “Goodbye” sentiment with breathing – when you are attentive to your breathing – without actually using any words.
Since so much of “what is” has no voice that we can hear, it is impossible to imagine how many hellos are shouted at us each moment, each hour, each day, from all that is, that we do not hear. In fact, for many of us, it is as if we have become deaf to even listening to “what is” with strong attentiveness. And in order for us call out a cheery “Hello” in return we have to notice what or whom we are calling out to. But how many things are there that want to say “Hello!” Even our tiny yard is so full of unheard-unvoiced voices that great us that we could never find enough time to say “Hello” to them all! If you try, you can hear the bright flowers shout “Hello” and then the simple weeds spouting weed-flowers atop them wave a silent hello to you. And then the beings that move – from birds to chipmunks to bees to flies to pesky things. And even dangerous things. A serpent or poison oak. An “Oh-oh!” is also an “Hello!”
Saying a silent “Hello” to all the unheard voices is slightly different than just noticing as many of the things filling our lives as you can, but noticing is almost like giving a nod or tipping your hat. In Zen practice, you will sometimes notice someone taking a moment to gasho (bow) to something they notice and the gesture is a sign of reverence. Noticing is big even if you don’t say “Hello.” “Seeing,” as in noticing as much as we can, may be our most important human mission. So much calls for us to be seen. You will notice how much easier it is to notice and even say “Hello” if you know the name of what you are seeing. You may notice it is almost impossible to see something whose name you don’t know. And in a moment you realize that you don’t know the names of almost everything that surrounds your life. There are modern philosophers who claim that consciousness is a direct result of language. The more limited the language, the more limited the consciousness. More words equals more consciousness. And yet we all know that all words are metaphors for reality, not real reality, so that no words truly describe the reality of anything. But experiment for yourself. Does your awareness increase as you know more names of the things that you notice? Even if you know that “to name it is to shame it,” perhaps you’ll find that things almost call out to be named – it is as if you do not really notice strangers you pass on the street but can say “Hello” to people whose names you know or whom you recognize – even if it’s just a smile.
WHEN I FORGET
When I find I have been inattentive for a period of time, which is common, it is not cause to beat myself up. It’s quite human to “wander” and not be one with “now.” It really takes practice to be mindful of your life. Once you realize you’ve drifted, just smile and return to your patterns of welcome and wonder followed by gratefulness and a bit of sadness. A child, not yet with words, nonetheless has a remarkable relationship to all that is seen and touched and smelled. As a child grows, all to soon, his ego develops and his sense of “self” as different from “other” soon separates him from “not-self” and re-enforces his sense of a distinct self.
LIMITING THE SCOPE OF OUR LIFE TO THOSE THINGS AND PEOPLE WE CAN TRULY BRING INTO OUR MIND REGULARLY.
In countries of affluence, sometimes storage units and deep closets hold objects we have not seen in years. Even our homes are sometimes thick with nick-knacks that we never say “Hello” to any longer. They have lost their place in our lives – and yet they remain taking up space.
What if we were to limit the amount of our “stuff” to things we actually said “Hello” to pretty often?
As we throw out an old pair of socks, do we say “Good bye”? Do we thank them for their faithful service? It is not as if you expect the socks to speak back to you. It is your soul that expresses gratitude for the socks themselves, the materials who gave their existence to make the socks and the people who gave portions of their lives to produce them. And it may be that you never even said “Hello” to the socks when they first came into your life. Feeling their texture and appreciating their pattern or color. And do you say hello and goodbye to them every time you wear them?
Things are not just things. A chair is a tree who gave its life plus labor and transportation and storage and sales and a pork chop is an animal who gave its life plus the people who gave parts of their lives to raise it, those who killed it, those who cut it up, those who stored it, shipped it, sold it, and those who prepared it for your dinner.
I DON’T KNOW
To whom are we grateful? Ah, that is the question, is it not? I suppose one could say God or Christ or the universe. But do you or I really know to whom we are grateful? No, we don’t. The only correct answer to most spiritual questions is “I don’t know.” This is likely true on many levels but one that is for sure true is that “I” (which translates as my sense of self) is about “ego” which actually is Latin for “I”. Ego is one of those things that gives us our sense of self. It is miraculous in its own right. However, as you suspect, the ego is also the font of most suffering that comes into our lives. The Buddha was adamant about this. The ego thinks it knows everything about us. But as you grow in wisdom, you will undoubtedly find that there exists in you a voiceless “inner self” that has amazing awareness that we are largely unconscious of. Whenever we notice it, it is something to say “Hello” to and thank it for its unconscious awareness. Thus, if you accept that we have a portion of “us” about which we are largely unaware, then “I don’t know” is really saying that “My ego from whom I get my sense of individual self has no clue.” Nor should it. “I don’t know” really means “My ego has no idea”. This is another way of saying that whatever I am, there is something about me that I am not. And, in a spiritual sense, you can rightly say, “In death it is only “I” who die.”
Think about breathing. We breathe automatically. Without thought. We can concentrate on our breath and be aware of it. It’s a good meditation. But, in the end, you might come to the conclusion after pondering breath that “I do not breathe,” instead “I am breathed.” “Who or what breathes me?” And that should give you much pause for mediation. If you use words, you’ll not find the answer.
The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism.
“What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.
“Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.
“If there is no holiness,” the emperor said, “then who or what are you?”
“I do not know,” the master replied.
BLESSINGS AT TABLE
The standard Catholic blessing of “Bless us O Lord in these thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen” is at least some acknowledgement to the “Lord” but it leaves out our gratitude to the plants and animals that gave their being to feed us and the persons who prepared the food for our nourishment and our pleasure. Meal blessings are a good time to re-focus our gratefulness. All meals are an hello and goodbye that is very sacred and fleeting. Meals are also a communion of sorts. If you think of meals, or even some meals, as a sacrament, then they are a sacrament. They are a gathering together. But even if you are alone, or at a restaurant, taking a moment to be grateful not just to “the Lord” but to each element that went in to your meal is good spiritual practice.
Another opportunity for “Hello” and “Goodbye” happens at special meals. It is a chance for a prayer with or without words as you look at each person and realize you will never see that same person again. If you see them at all, they will be different and so will you. But there is another version of this: oftentimes, unknown to you, a meal is the last meal, just as every breath may be the last breath. As you feed your pet, take a moment to look at him or her and relish their presence and say Goodbye. There is almost always a moment when a pet without much warning refuses to eat and is soon gone. Enjoying the awareness of the “Hello” and saying “Goodbye” with a hug or a pat is good meditation. It works on family, too.
RETURNING THINGS TO THE UNIVERSE
This is a polite way of saying that things are used up and pass into garbage. Living food things are digested to allow us to live and then are flushed into sewage. Other refuse from our lives is hauled to dumps or incinerated like bodies in a crematorium and reduced to ashes that are returned to the earth in some fashion. Or the refuse, the discarded, are just abandoned like old shoes or old people or old animals. Interred in municipal dumps or just allowed to rot along the roadway. As if things and people were not special after a certain usefulness had passed. When you notice this, it is something to bring into your mind and take into you. This, too, is life. We can think of it as “the cycle of life” and dismiss it, but there was a time when what is being discarded was new and maybe someone said “Hello” to it. And perhaps no one said “Goodbye” in gratitude for its service. And when you notice, it is ok for you to say “Goodbye” for all of us and feel grateful for all of us. You can almost hear the graveside eulogy: dust to dust – after a brief sojourn as something that exists.
WHY AM I HERE?
The eternal question of “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?” perhaps has many true answers. But one that carries great spiritual significance is learning to be awake to the wonder of “what is” and to learn to say “Hello” and say “Goodbye” as an acknowledgement of and gratitude for our fragile existence, of the innate sadness of life, and the chance at a moment of happiness. Perhaps, as our hands are also the hands of God, so is our mind and heart. Our gratitude, whether spoken in our minds or out loud or just felt, becomes the prayer.
Final goodbyes are always filled with sadness, sometimes regret that we never said “Hello” often enough. But in life, so many goodbyes go by without us remembering to actually say “Goodbye.” In life, every instant is a “Goodbye” and we surely miss most of those chances. But often we miss milepost “Goodbyes,” too. Or, more to the point, we often say the words to others but never reflect that this in fact is a final goodbye: this moment, this interaction, this moment of happiness or sorrow, will never return. And it carries with it the real possibility that we shall never even see the person or animal again to whom we say goodbye – meaning that we rarely bring this into our awareness when we say the words. I think that’s a spiritual tragedy.
There are truly hundreds of “things” that come and go in our lives each day that truly deserve for us to have been grateful for them being a small part of our lives, or an essential part of our lives, and who deserve a heart-felt and grateful “Goodbye”
Just as “Hello” carries the sense of “Welcome” and wonder and gives to us a chance to awake to another instant in our lives, “Goodbye” gives us a chance to again feel gratitude for the person or thing that has given us a moment of happiness or usefulness. The solely human ability to have self-aware consciousness carries, I feel, some spiritual responsibility to be awake to what has come into and what is leaving our lives.
While it is easy and somehow comforting to read about “Hellos” and “Goodbyes” it is actually more difficult that you might think to make this simple spiritual exercise part of your daily life. In fact, you may find it easier to be aware that you are saying “Hello” to people and animals and plants and things as you greet them. And it’s ok to just try and say “Hello” for awhile. “Goodbyes” are tougher. They are certainly more emotion-filled and always bring to mind the briefness of it all. While you try to cultivate this path to spiritual awakening, you may find that you realize you didn’t say “Goodbye” to something or someone by bringing to mind the finality of the instant as well as a sense of gratitude. When you realize you missed an opportunity, it’s really ok to take an instant and say your goodbyes in your mind with gratitude. Eventually, your post-event “Goodbyes” will become synonymous with the actual event “Goodbye”. You may find that this is a very comforting spiritual exercise – even though it is just an expression of your true humanness.
There are literally thousands of times a day to say “Goodbye” and be grateful or say “Thanks.” From the waste at toilet to the waste at table to the dead flowers you throw from a vase to scraps of this and that that we dispose of, to people and pets, to birds we spot – everything that makes up our day gives us pause to say “Goodbye” with gratitude and thanks. If you do this for a bit, you’ll notice that you are lot more aware of the many “things” that make up your life and you will start to have respect for many more of them.
Saying “Hello” and “Goodbye” in a heartfelt manner is an amazingly powerful spiritual practice and it will fundamentally change you. After awhile, you will do it largely without words, but you cannot do it without attentiveness, awareness, wonder and gratitude. In order to truly say “Hello” and “Goodbye” you must be at one with your life. Whatever it is that we are, we carry with us the ability not just to “do” but to “be aware that we are doing.” This awareness, which we can manifest in “Saying Hello” and “Saying Goodbye,” is our sacred calling.
Goodbye. And thanks.
1. “rhei,” also anglicized “rei,” can also be translated as the verb “streams” or “flows” which is even more poetic. But the idea that nothing stays the same is the point. “All is streaming” seems quite a contemporary translation.