How do I know I am more than my body? How do I know I am energy in physical form? I sensed these truths since I was a young girl. And then one day, I knew them in every fiber of my being. Literally.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/radiomoscow
I recently reread an essay I wrote over eight years ago, published as “A Girl Who Believed” in the book Held in Love: Life Stories to Inspire Us Through Times of Change, (2009, Molly Brown and Carolyn Treadway). I want to share it with you because it is the physical foundation for how I see death. And it is the spiritual foundation for how I see life.
Mystical experiences – both our own and that of others – can play a significant role in how we navigate death and dying. They allow us to take a quantum leap toward the spirit of who we really are. Though I had adventures with the non-physical world when I was much younger, this specific one was the most transformative because I experienced myself as pure energy for the first time.
For many of us, the closest we’ve come to experiencing eternity is being on hold, waiting to talk to someone at AT&T. But one afternoon at Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta CA, I glimpsed eternity in a much more satisfying way.
Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/liseykina
The sky was a smooth, consistent shade of grey. I couldn’t see the sun’s circle of light through the grey, nor could I see individual clouds. The air was still. And like water running over my hands at just the right temperature, I could barely sense the air on my skin.
Time somehow evaporated, and I didn’t know when it would become tangible again.
Of course, the sky had been grey before. The air temperature had matched my skin before too. This wasn’t the first time I imagined what it would be like if the sun didn’t rise and set, if we didn’t gauge our lives by hours and days.
It wasn’t the first time I wondered how my life would change if humans didn’t need sleep and we were awake all the time.
The difference this time was the focus of my awareness. In that moment – regardless of how long the moment lasted – I allowed myself to experience a moment out of time.
If you want your life to stay exactly the same, don’t fall in love. If you want to be unaffected by the loss of anything or the death of anyone, don’t fall in love.
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Or if you want to put off what makes you come alive or to sidestep your purpose, don’t fall in love.
Making sure you don’t fall passionately in love is simple: Guard your heart against all that Death stirs up inside of you.
Act as if you will live forever in this physical body, and so will everyone you know. Get on with business as usual when someone you love is dying. Don’t let the temporary nature of anything impact your daily routine, the decisions you make, or your future plans.
But if you are willing to live differently – to have certainty without having answers, to follow unexpected twists and turns, to be deeply moved and satisfied, to grow and give and receive and surrender – then here’s what I suggest for you:
Call upon death to be like Cupid, shooting an arrow of passion into the heart of what matters to you. Invite death to be the matchmaker between you and what brings you joy.
Then accept the real Kiss of Death: Allow death to escort you on the mysterious adventure of falling in love with life.
As the conscious dying movement continues to grow, so do questions about “dying well.” Does the notion of dying well imply that death is yet another thing to accomplish or strive to do perfectly?
Photo credit: © Stephen Jenkinson “Die Wise” video trailer
Often dying well implies how someone actually dies – peacefully, painfully, aware, medicated, with regrets, ease or struggle.
But Stephen Jenkinson (aka Griefwalker), a well-known Canadian palliative care counselor, takes it a step – perhaps a giant leap – further with his new book Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul.
Upping the ante on an already touchy subject, his states outright that the dying have a moral obligation to die well. “Dying well is a right and a responsibility of everyone,” he writes. “It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation each person owes their ancestors and their heirs.”
Don’t the dying have enough to deal with already?
But I admit, I’m fascinated with this idea that we humans have an obligation to die well, and more so, to die wise.
Just watching the short video trailer of the book brought many memories and questions to the surface. Both my life-partner Kate and my mom had a similar cancer, and died within a similar number of months after their diagnoses – Kate in twelve weeks, my mom in sixteen.
Yet how they brought their life’s wisdom forward was markedly different. Did either of them die well? Die wise?
What do a Rabbi, a Buddhist chaplain and former Evangelical Christian have to say about ministering to people who are nearing death? How does each tradition support someone in this state of being?
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These were among the questions posed as part of a recent Choosing Options, Honoring Options (COHO) event in Southern Oregon. The spring series is called “Facing Mortality: The Elephant in the Room.”
I attended a discussion about different spiritual traditions’ views on end-of-life issues. The five people on the panel work with palliative care and Hospice patients.
The presentation – which also included a Catholic priest and Presbyterian chaplain – did get into some specifics about God, impermanence, faith, and natural death versus assisted suicide. But those weren’t the pieces that I carried with me.
What I took away was much more simple. It was something all panelists agreed on. Their main common practice wasn’t based on comparative religion and finding overlaps from different spiritual traditions. Their common practice was based on a simple human act: Listening . . .