“Mindfulness of death, monks, if cultivated and frequently practiced, brings great fruit, great benefit; it merges in the Deathless, ends in the Deathless. Therefore, monks, you should cultivate mindfulness of death.” – The Nikāya Buddha, from Anguttara Nikāya

We contemplate death, to realise the deathless. When I was in hospital for my cancer operation, I shared some of my insights with a friend; insights which naturally happened in the simplified life of hospitalisation. She commented that my metaphysical acumen was doing well, after the surgery.

What did my friend mean, in her sentence, by ‘metaphysical’? And why are the post-modernists wary of the ‘word.’ I don’t ban words like that, though I do use them sparingly. They have a use, even if a risky one.

When someone uses a significant word, I want to know to what experience the speaker is pointing, before assuming that I understand their utterance. I’ve not been convinced that useful words need discarding. They need fresh use, and our conversations need to demonstrate in what way the words are grounded.

For instance, I’m not one to use the ‘God’ word. But, if I’m talking to a thoughtful Christian, once we’ve got clear what the word means, then I can talk with them – because, if they are an intelligent Christian – I will have some kind of experience of what they are pointing toward. This is one reason why this blog has a memoir aspect. (Dangerous as that is, because I might indulge a ‘Look at me!” sub-personality.) I’m hoping that beginners can see how the practice looks in an ordinary human being.

So, I try to show how I uncover, or invite, the experiences that I am naming. This way, you too can do the experiments and verify the meaning of the words for yourself. Here, in this text, I’m trying to show how I use language – whether speaking or thinking.

So, what is the job that words do for us? I have been convinced by forty years of inquiry into the relationship of language to experiencing, that the primary purpose of thinking and saying is to carry forward the situations in which we are using them. Language cannot give us reality. But it works non-arbitrarily. I came to this through meditation, mindfulness, and the practice of Focusing, in particular. And: from the process philosophy of Eugene Gendlin; and from the philosophy of language which I find in the early-Buddhist Nikāyas.

Let’s take the present instance: The occasion of these words is that I am writing for you, and that I am recollecting the fact of the deathless. (The Nikāya Buddha offered the contemplation of death as a powerful way to realise the deathless.) The situation is that I am expecting you will read them.

I feel into the source of these words – that is, into my bodily felt-sense of how the whole situation lives in me – so that I can speak to that same capacity in you. The words change me as I speak them; for instance, they may carry me forward into the next step in understanding, or expand my compassion, or change the way I think and say. They have meanings in me which include all my past contemplations, and the many, many situations which have contributed to my bodily-felt sense of what to say. The meanings are formed out of the fact that I personally know the trials some of you are going through.

If you are feeling into your bodily responses, the words will change both of us. A dialogue can happen, even if you are not sharing your responses. Your felt-sense speaks back to my text. Can you see how the public meaning of words cannot say what you mean, when you feel and think your response to my words? They mean what they do in the situation, and this is a completely unique situation.

So, to me, the point is to ask: “What might this word ‘transcendent’ mean, in the context, when someone uses it?” It doesn’t help to automatically be against its use, to take a position against such ‘metaphysical’ language. I resonate the use of the word against the felt presence of an implicit ‘mesh’ of the situation, and that includes all my previous bodily encounters with the word.

Now, that’s okay up to a point. However (and to me this is the clincher), there are experiences which I often have where only such ‘metaphysical’ words will do. When I am at the farthest limit of human knowledge, there, for some aspects of what I discover there in that territory, the best words are those which will not be confused with something way short of such a limit.

Let me say this point in the language of the Mindfulness Sutta – there are surpassable states of body-mind, and there are states that are unsurpassable. In the latter case, you want a different language for what you intuit there, because you are also at the limit of language.

If I use the term to mean what it means when I’m in that kind of space, I find that what I’m calling ‘transcendent’ has qualities which are palpably felt for me, yet can’t be expressed by the usual terms. However, it is not somewhere else. It is here. It co-exists with my sensorium, which the Buddha referred to, sometimes as ‘the six’ or the ‘all’ – the senses dependent on body, eye, ear, nose, tongue, and mind. This quality of the all, which the word ‘transcendent’ can refer to, is a non-separate element, and not outside the range of human knowing.

Admittedly, it takes a still mind to perceive its presence. But, there we find the meaning of ‘deathless,’ in an intrinsically undivided presence, a holistic display of creativity, resonating in the human body, spontaneously blooming as undivided relationality felt in the human body.

In my final days, won’t I want to be most in touch with what life really is? And, is life the way I concluded it was, by the time I was three, five or seven? Will I continue to live by concepts which are empty, because they are not resonated against the immeasurable?