Please don't think me ghoulish when I tell you that I found myself contemplating my sister's mortal remains in this morning's meditation, imagining the process of decay down to the stubborn, long-lasting bones. And then, by extension, imagining the process that my own body will experience if I choose interment rather than cremation. (Today's eco-thinking seems to lead back toward interment, allowing the natural recycling process to take place, rather than adding to the Earth's pollution with the noxious by-products of cremation. I'm still debating, leaning toward the former--though "green" cemeteries are still hard to find.)
Long-time readers will know of my affection for that simple mantra: This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am. I apply it often, in meditation, to the body I have been given to walk around in on this planet for a while. With this in mind, the contemplation of the mortal remains can be more liberating than disturbing. Having devoted now more than twenty years to the daily practice, I find it easier to observe the body as though from a distance as I sit, with a certain objectivity, let's say. And with less attachment to the aches and pains of the aging process.
It's a challenge, certainly, to think of the body as not mine. The illusion of the body being who I am is so powerful, so seemingly solid, so convincing that we succumb to it all the time. Yet even science tells us that, far from being the "too, too solid" stuff that Hamlet wished would melt, the human body is in constant flux, with millions of cells dying hour by hour and new ones replacing them. This body of mine is simply not the same physical entity as it was ten years ago, but something entirely new--and equally replaceable. Reason tells me that the process of actual, physical dying was already taking place at the moment of my birth.
Suffering, the Buddha reminds us, comes equally from our propensity to attach to either attraction or repulsion. The physical beauty to which we are so attracted is no more than the illusory counterpoint to the images of physical decay that so readily disgust us. I'm grateful to have received that reminder in my morning's sit.