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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Call of the Phoenix

The Mythical Phoenix or fire bird reborn from its ashes
> Download the Phoenix Haiku  trio as a song from Sound Cloud
> Read the original Phoenix Haiku Trio on HaikuFlow

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A few days after Easter this year, I was inspired to write another haiku trio I called “The Phoenix”. There were many reasons why I chose to write this haiku trio. The trio itself deals with the inevitability of death and seeks to capture our longing for safety, order and stability in face of doubt and death. During that period, I was also facing personal health issues that forced me to reflect on what meaning I could find in my state of physical weakness and  to deal with a  growing sense of isolation. 

While the mythological fire bird, the phoenix, is at the centre of the haiku trio, his manifestation is only symbolic as he serves me to embody my hope in a better future when I will return stronger than I was before to the world. It’s not about overcoming the pain and darkness that we may have to deal with in our lives. It’s about accepting it for what it is and attempting to understand its origin and real causes. Like the fire that burns the phoenix, pain and suffering can help us build us inside and make us aware of of what is really important in life. Indeed, while we often despise pain and suffering and, more often, have demonised these experiences in modern life, there’s certain pain and suffering that is both essential and necessary to ensure that we grow and learn about the world and ourselves.


Indeed, the first verses of the trio define the phoenix as being inseparable from his burden of having to burn and turn into ashes. Fire itself opens up an opportunity for another life - possibly better than the life he had before. In this sense, if we regard fire to be a metaphor for physical and spiritual pain, then the triumph of the phoenix is not in fighting the fire but enduring it until it consumes itself. For fire cannot survive without being fed but may need to be left to burn out until it is extinguished. Pain and human dissatisfaction represented by the fire can only be defeated if they are accepted for what they are. Experiences and characteristics of human existence that won’t last forever. Yet, while we may dismiss or reject them as they cause discomfort, they can also help improve us and change us for the better. Indeed, the may provide us with a chance to “live again”::   

I am the phoenix…

I will rise from my ashes…

I will live again!


In other words, in order to be happy we must be aware that we should not be so attached to the things we have or the life we have. For while we do good to enjoy what we have been given, we must also be careful not too become too tied and attached to what we have. For, despite any beliefs we might have in an absolute or in our own immortality, the fact is that, ironically, change is our only constant. Indeed, like all material reality, our body and brain are constantly changing. 

This is the process of renewal. However, although renewal can be understood to be a positive idea, renewal itself only describes that change has taken place and doesn’t draw judgment on the nature of that change. Indeed, as all matter in the universe is in the process of losing energy in an ongoing process of entropy, so does our life inevitably lead to our own entropy, we call death. Thus, the last line of the verse emphasises the fact that the phoenix too knows that his existence is finite. 

This  line apparently contrasts but  complements the last line of the first haikus. Death and life must co-exist for the cycle of existence. Death provides the chance for new life to be born. A life without dying  is impossible for, at the end of the day, no matter can escape the process of entropy and decay:

Ever constant change…

This cycle of renewal…

I will die again

Hoping against hope

While I won’t go into the issue of whether there is life for those who die, it’s a fact that the living will continue to live for some time after a person dies. Thus, we choose to remember and honour the loved ones who have died before us. Even if honouring our dead is a proper way to express our love and respect for those who died, it’s a ritual that we do for ourselves. Its a way how we can get to terms with the reality of dying and with the fact that another human being is no longer living with us. Life will continue but such an occasion should also remind us of our own impermanence and mortality. It may even be an opportunity to look at our life and realise that we cannot grow too attached to this world, as one day we will have to die too.

The hope, of course, found in many religious traditions, is that the human spirit will continue to live in another plain or in another dimension. However, we don’t have any proof of an after-life and having proof of such an existence beyond life misses the point. For, in many ways, it’s not where we go after leaving this Earth that matters as human beings. Rather, it is how we lived our present lives that really  matters. For if we lived in constant greed and  competition, if we are  held by insatiable  envy, desire  and hate In our present life, we are already living in a hell of our own creation. 

The ritual of death…

To be buried in this earth…

Hoping to return…

The final lines of the trio promise that, in some way, our material  essence, at least, will remain on this Earth and will contribute In the making of new life. In this sense, I wished to evoke a sense of continuation and as in the second haiku of the trio, to provide an example of renewal. From our deaths, there will arise new life and when this life dies, new life will once again emerge. Thus, the cycle of renewal continues but will continue indefinitely. Of course, the last lines encapsulates our human longing to see our departed loved ones to return. 

Indeed, we unconsciously seek to return to our previous life or to a better life in an after-life. We fear losing our sense of selves because we have unknowingly identified our very being with the world. We fear that death will mean that our unspoken fear that we are indeed nothing without others and without the things that make up this world. We are afraid of recognising our impermanence as this would undermine our idea of a constant and absolute self. In this life, we fear to lose our memory and sense of identity. In death, we fear losing all that we thought would be forever here. In spite of the apparent despair one may get from reading this haiku trio, the facts of life and death that I have dealt with in the trio are not matters of opinion or belief. We live and die, our bodies decay and decompose, matter in the universe is in the process of entropy. Nothing can be created or destroyed. Matter only changes in form but remains present.


In the spirit of our renewing existence, I find some consolation. For even if I will simply become nothing, I know that a part of what I was on this Earth will remain and possibly yield new life. There may be an after-life, but I feel that I cannot live a happy life if I rest my hope in an after-life that may or may not be there. I am living in the present. And it is in the present that I can find happiness. A happiness that doesn’t depend on objects of desire but that is based on an understanding that as a human being, all I am and all I have is a gift of a life that I must treasure. A life that is ultimately dependent on the world and the people who form part of it.

This, I believe, is the hope in a return that I tried to  express through  the call of the phoenix! 

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