what death asks of us

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As it happens, especially when the moon is full, I laid awake at 3 am and wrote the bones of this post in my head. I saw a striking image yesterday that demanded my sleep infused awareness. Earlier in the day, Deepak Chopra posted a picture of a giant skeleton laying on it’s back in Tivoli, Italy. He wrote underneath, “Where we are, he once was, where he is, once we will be.”

There is something hugely liberating about this. I almost wrote scary, disturbing, and upsetting which is all true but the word that pushed to the front of the line was none other than liberating.

There is a meditation on death from the Buddhist tradition which may sound morbid  but exists as a way to offer perspective and has even been linked to bringing more joy into our lives. It also reminds us that everything is in a constant state of change. All is fleeting and if we don’t keep check of our attachments, our obsession with things can lead to more struggle and suffering. Every time something breaks, ends, or changes, it is a way to prime ourselves to the ultimate change that we will all experience. It is a way to practice letting go a little bit at a time.

A few weeks ago in our women’s circle, my friend Jenn talked about how she often answers this poignant invitation: “Make every decision from the perspective of your deathbed. As I imagine laying there looking back on my life, will I be glad I did this?” I am trying this. Will I feel guilty about not selling hot dogs at my son’s baseball games? Will I remember the stress involved in selling this house? Will I lay there thinking about all of the things I could have done better? What truly matters at the end should matter all the way throughout.

Losing my mom was heartbreaking. But it was also an opportunity to keep her company on her journey and to experience the sacredness of death. From where I was, the only thing, the absolute only thing that mattered, was her relationships. It was all Love and kindness. It surrounded her every minute of every day. She soaked it up and shared it with us even when she was sleeping most of the time. It was a palpable energy and it too was freeing.

When I sat with her in the days leading up to her death, holding her hand, telling her it was okay to go and sometimes even singing, it reminded me of birthing my babies. Something mysterious and magical, albeit painful and hard, was happening. Something so totally out of my grasp of understanding and day to day living. The intensity of it swallowed me whole. I could only surrender and trust that this was somehow o.k and that she was laboring into a new way of being just as I had labored into becoming a mother just as my babies were also labored into being.

Beloved Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says “Birth is a continuation.” Death is a continuation. This life is a circle. Every end, a new beginning. “Our nature is the nature of no birth and no death.”

When we contemplate death, it affords us a great blessing. It reminds us that we are here for a short blink of the eye in the universe. “Truth brings humility”, says Deepak Chopra. And truth sets us free.

Death asks us to be intentional about our living and reminds us to make our decisions from a seed truth of love instead of fear. When we choose from Love, we come from our highest, most authentic selves not from the ego. We come from a place of deep connection and intimacy and not a place of separation. When we put our egos aside and stop judging and doubting every little thing, we show up with our whole, true, compassionate hearts knowing that we are one and that somehow in some way, we go on forever.

 

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Touch and Go

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“Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.” Tom Stoppard

Yesterday I celebrated my son’s seventh birthday at his school. I brought cookies to share with the class and as the cookies were almost all passed around, the teacher looked at me with wide eyes and a forced smile and asked, “Did you bring enough cookies for all the friends?” Um, well I thought I did. I turned around to see four faces staring at me with a shocked expression that seemed to say, “This is the worst birthday celebration ever!”

I apologized and made a joke about the kids multiplying like gremlins before my eyes. No one thought it was funny. I wanted to hide and take cover in the cage with the hamsters and their hay.

The kids ended up sharing their cookies and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. However, for a few moments, I felt like a terrible mother, and honestly, the crappy feeling of being inadequate and a bad birthday party planner lingered for the rest of the day. Until I decided to stop allowing this thought to occupy any more space in my brain. There are far worse scenarios going on in the world and at the end of the day, kids don’t need all that sugar anyway.

This experience led me to thinking about letting go of the “big stuff.” How do we let go of the things and people in our lives that we love dearly? I’m not sure exactly, but I know that it is not easy. It’s risky, and it takes faith. The ideas below can help soften our surrender into the act of letting go gracefully. These are the top three that come to mind.

1. Focusing on the breath with a deep inhale and a full exhale. (This helps immensely, but once when I was sick with pneumonia and couldn’t breathe fluidly, the practice of visualizing a peaceful image also brought relaxation.)

2. In order to let something go, we often need to hold, address, or honor it first.

3. Stay optimistic; the other side of letting go is letting in.

Last year I read about the Buddhist teaching of “touch and go.” I had used the expression before but never in this context. My friend, Dwayne, shared with me his understanding of “touch and go” being like a butterfly stopping for a visit at a flower and then fluttering onto the next adventure.

There is something incredibly comforting about this image. While we may not know what lies beyond the other side of letting go, we can have faith that the mystery is beautiful and will provide us with what we need. And when we let go, although we don’t know what’s next, we create an opening and opportunity for the next adventure to take shape.

The idea is to not get too attached to any one feeling, good or bad, since our emotions, thoughts and experiences come and go like passing weather. This allows us the freedom to touch the emotion or thought like sweetness on the tip of our tongue and then allow it to dissolve into the air around us. It also reminds us that we and our problems are not at the center of the universe.

When my now seven-year-old son was a baby, I remember feeling this strange and bittersweet sense that life as a mother was going to be a constant practice of letting go. I envisioned holding onto a kite string and slowly inch by inch letting it go higher and higher into the sky and eventually hoping it would catch the wind and take flight.

I thought of this image as I watched a video of Theresa Schroeder-Sheker, founder of the “Chalice of Repose Project.” The Chalice of Repose is an organization that uses healing music to offer nurturing support to people at the end of their lives. She spoke in her gentle voice about the letting go we do each and every day. In her hopeful way she mentioned how this practice of letting go of the little things is a preparation for the big letting go we do at the end of life.

Letting go takes practice and patience, and with daily practice comes mastery. So we can all take deep breaths, share our cookies, and become masters of letting go, remembering that we’re all in this together. We just let go in different ways at different times.