Inside yoga 250 (19/11/2018)
I recently had my birthday. It was not a significant birthday, I had not reached 100 years old, yet it there were moments when it felt special and other moments when I wanted to treat it as just another day. Why are birthdays special and why isn’t every day special?
General consensus is that birthdays mark a milestone in our lives, showing how far we have travelled down our own path of life, so like with any journey it offers us a chance to feel good about how far we have come and achieved. But for some, it is an unwelcome reminder of how long their journey has been, and something they would rather not be reminded of. Those of us with children probably do not care anymore about our own birthday but do enjoy the pleasure our children show in our birthday.
It is possibly just an excuse to celebrate, like the festivals and other events through the year, because they are needed or wanted by many of us as a way of breaking up the unending movement of time and the tedium of routine.
Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we should call our birthdays “continuation days”, based on the Buddhist view that there is no beginning and no end, everything runs in cycles, because something comes from something, not from nothing. So when we are born we have come from something else, a past life for example (note that in Buddhism reincarnation part of the belief system), so the implication that it is a birthday implies nothing before birth, which is not possible.
This is perhaps taking the philosophical viewpoint a bit far, because it is still our birthday and we want to celebrate (or feel sad because we are one more year older). In fact, you could argue we are only one day older, so why not celebrate every day as a birthday? In Tibetan culture (ie, before Chinese invaded in 1959) they did not celebrate birthdays, although they did need to know what year they were born for bureaucratic/administrative reasons.
This philosophical point about birthdays does point to something more practical. We like to, and need to, mark the passage of time, in the old days it was so we would know when to sow crops and pick them; these days it is so we know when to book our summer holiday, and other modern reasons why time and its passage is so important.
So why birthdays? Why not? What is important here is to notice our responses to changing days, to changing moods, to change of everything. We can see this is our play and we are the actor in our own drama (it could be a comedy, it might be a tragedy, or even all of it, in an epic saga) but if we see ourselves in a play (of life) we can play our role, but understand ultimately what is really happening, that time (and our life with it) is just a series of passing phenomena and events: so that we maintain a sense of equanimity with events, a feeling of contentment with our life, and feeling of purpose.
We like to use different days as anchoring points in our voyage through life, because it does help us to enjoy life and to break up the movement of time, because otherwise we might feel time is too much. That is why in Buddhism, and yoga, emphasis is placed on being focused on the present moment, so we are fully present and engaged in that day… which after all is what a birthday is all about, enjoying the day without a care for what lies ahead or what came before! So why not enjoy it, because even though I really enjoyed my birthday it was still just another day.
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