The Beginning of the Year ... The End of Time

Eleanor Deckert
The Beginning of the Year ... The End of Time

I was literally speechless. I stood gazing at a painting.

Outdoors the winter whiteness, indoors the dark basement stairs, the cluttered studio, even the voice of my friend standing beside me all faded away.

My friend had made the painting I was trying to comprehend. An orange sunset was reflected in the quiet ocean as the golden shore was lapped by gentle rhythmic ripples. Impossible to tell where the horizon met the sky. A lone figure, his back to the painter stepped knee deep into the soft water, relaxed, dark in silhouette, bright light on his face, which, although I couldn't see it, must have been glowing with the peaceful smile of inner satisfaction after work well done.

There was no time. There was only soaking in this wonder-filled painting.

Simple really. It was not the artistic rendering that was holding my gaze. It was the story the artist had told me before she led me to her studio to share her work.

How did I get to be in this specific place, fascinated by this particular painting?

We had met at a craft fair and traded with each other. Today I went to her home to pick up what she had made for me. With my hands wrapped around a beautiful mug, sipping the warm tea, smelling the spicy fragrance and sharing autobiographical stories, I learned that Cherie had recently moved to Canada from Australia having previously spent eight years living in India.

I am always curious and eager to listen while someone else shares their worldview.

Origin myths are found in every culture. So are end-of-the-world prophecies. Violent images are part of many end-of-time messages and warnings. Plagues, fire, monsters, multi-headed beasts, strange beings with wings. 

Some people believe they will escape the troubles and be lifted up. Some believe the end is near. Some think we have already tipped the balance of nature and are already doomed.

Science fiction comics and books and movies portray the battle of Good and Evil, or starvation and plague, or a super race taking over or finding some way to escape this planet as destruction becomes inevitable.

None of these options help me sleep at night.

“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favour fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate, to know that for destruction ice is also great and would suffice.” - Robert Frost

The gestures and smile of my new friend as she shared her worldview made me feel relaxed and safe.

“I learned that what's wrong, what brings us woe, is that we feel everything,” she began. “We hold on to the sad or happy, good or bad things as if they were real. Part of us knows to let it go and not to stay focused on troubles. They pass. Eternal happiness cannot be found in the world. Happiness is in your heart, not outside of you.”

I recognized some of this from my reading of world religions.

She went on explaining her beliefs. “Reincarnated saints leave guidelines for us to follow. They are called Bodhisattva and they return to teach us a code of ethics. 'Love everyone' is the hardest thing to do. 'Do not hurt each other' is in every religion as the code for people to live by.”

“The Bodhisattva promises to incarnate until the last soul is saved,” she says. “They return and return until you understand what you are, let go of the world, and realize this high kind of oneness. Then they are all finished.”

“I have painted the Bodhi coming from the ocean onto land, full of light. He will return until every soul is saved. The end of time is when the Bodhi returns to the ocean and enters eternal life.”

Reincarnation? That is one idea that has never made sense to me.

“But, I still want to be 'me' ... to be an individual,” I say, my voice soft and quavering. “The Christian idea of the after-life includes reunion with those we love. Not a drop melting into the vast ocean.”

There is a wrestling within me. Eastern ideas. Western ideas. Can they be reconciled? Are they saying the same thing?

Is there one Bodhi or many, and what exactly is he saving us from? 

Why does it take him so many lives? Why is melting myself away better than individuality?

“May I see your painting?” and follow her downstairs to the studio.