Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Landscape of Facing Death



I watched my friend Chris Bernard face his eminent death with love, courage and dignity. While participating in this with him, I wondered, what is the state of mind that death requires of us?

What can we bring to it to ease our own suffering at the moment of death? Should we rage against the dying of the light like Dylan Thomas? Should we reach out for spiritual support, ask forgiveness, say farewell? What do YOU think?

37 comments:

Jeff said...

We should embrace death, as a part of life, of course. Easier said than done, though, eh?

Better not to wait until death is at your door to embrace him - better to acknowledge and ponder this mystery ahead of time, as we are doing now. Whatever our belief, it would seem to be a sort of return to the source, I think.

If we get to that moment and none of this has helped, no harm in clicking our heels and repeating "there's no place like home" a few times... who knows?

Arthur said...

For about four years or so I volunteered at a local hospital and worked with the Chaplain's Office in pastoral care.. I wasn't a Christian but I offered what support I could at the time.. before being a volunteer I was a Social Worker and had some families that were dealing with the immentent death of a loved one.

Some of the things I learned was that the transition to the next world can be eased when the family is prepared for it.. and deals with it openly. All of us pass through stages when we are dealing with the reality that we will be leaving this world.. If we deny it and run away from it it doesn't help and it doesn't help our loved ones either.

Programs like Hospice can help a lot..

My own personal case was a good example of how not to do it. My mother and father didn't want to accept that my mother's illness was terminal..so they just didn't talk about.. My younger sibs who were ohh around twelve or so were not told. When it happened that is when my mother passed on it was very difficult for them.

Spiritually I look on death as a kind of graduation to the next world.. We're oh so happy when a child is born into this world and think of all the promises and fortune that lie ahead for them.. What we do very poorly though is recognize how death is also a transition and a "birthing" to the next world.

Culturally we see only one side of life.. this side. We glamorize youth and material glitter and de-emphasize death, hence we fall short when our time on this plane draws to a close..

Mark said...

I had the honor to help take care of a friend I grew up with who was dying over a decade ago. I was rather freaked out at the prospect of doing this, as I'd never dealt with death & dying in such an intimate way before. I found no emotional discomfort in this which surprised me. I was actually "curious" about the process-I do not mean this to sound callous, but I found the need to serve and observe trumped all other feelings.

I learned to allow my friend to take the lead in telling me what he needed, what he wanted to discuss and I followed. Thus since then terminally ill people I know have already gone through the stages as identified by Dr. Kubler-Ross, toward the end there is peace for those I've known. The lessons I've learned is if the person wants to talk about their death, then talk about it with them. Be open and loving. Take their lead as to where the discussion goes. Do not impose your sense of what should be with them or you- because at this time it's about them NOT you. Like Ram Dass says, "Death is perfectly safe" thus fear or any other concerns on the caregiver's part are misplaced.

I am still unable to fathom what the state of mind is required of us when cross this bridge. Dying seems to be the ultimate self reliant act- no one can do it for you. Therefore can we really know until we are in that position? We must certainly prepare for it as Jeff says; and as Theosophists we have those tools of preparation in the scared literature of the world. I like the words of James M. Barrie, the author of 'Peter Pan', "Death will be an awfully big adventure."

Dennis said...

I believe it depends on our own level of consciousness. If we are actively raising our levels of consciousness by learning how to walk in love and forgiveness, shedding our layers of ego, etc, we might be spiritual support for others who are watching us die. I'm sure your friend was a great inspiration to you. So perhaps following his example would be good.

Jackie said...

Depends on the person and their situation I think. My Grandma fought it for several years because she wanted to be here for her great grandkids. Finally, she was just too tired. I could see it in her eyes the last time I saw her. As I was exiting her room at the hospital, something made me stop and look back at her. Her eyes said it all. "I won't see you again. I'm just too tired. It's time for me to go. I love you. Take care of them for me." ...I'll never forget that look.

Adam said...

Thought you might like to read the passage below taken from an interview with Eckhart Tolle.

"Loss is very painful, because any kind of loss leaves a hole in the fabric of one's existence. A person dies, or something you had identified with completely is gone. Your home goes up in flames. There is extreme pain at first. But whenever a form dissolves, which is called "death," what remains is an opening into emptiness. Where the form once was, there's a hole into emptiness. And if it's not resisted, if you don't turn away from it you'll find that the formless—you could say God—shines through that hole where there was a form that died."

nothingprofound said...

I don't think we need to prepare for death, death prepares us. At the moment it happens we're not even aware of it.

lanoo said...

I am OK with the thought of death, although I won’t know for sure until the time comes, but helping others is not so easy. One family member is 88 and in denial about his failing faculties and his approaching death. He seems to be governed by fear, and refuses to engage in any meaningful dialogue. We respect his desire to remain in ignorance, even though it will probably make his death more traumatic when it comes. He lives by himself (from choice) and will probably be alone when he dies. Very sad.

Lara-May said...

I heard this once in our family, and since death has touched us since then, we have relayed this message to our dying loved ones which gave them great comfort.
We rejoice when a baby is born, and it is imagined that the people with it in 'heaven' are sad to see him/her leave. So when a person dies, we grieve here but the ones they have known and loved who are on the other side are rejoicing.

I have also found that every single person I have ever known, even not well, ALWAYS visits after they have died to say goodbye. Lately it was a neighbour who had moved years ago so I was surprised to see him, but touched he came.

Forgiveness and spiritual support? It is still common for us to call the catholic priest or anglican - in our family - to discuss anything on the mind.

I am glad for the knowledge of the teachings from the TS to give me enough comfort and a state of mind not to worry too much about it all. Although I wouldn't like some yukky death like being eaten by a shark, so I avoid shark infested waters! :-) I think the 'state of mind that death requires of us' would be one as calm and content as possible.

Michael said...

The greatest human achievement, in my view, is to give up one's spirit when the time time is right in confidence, joy and love, knowing that you shall be received in the same way.

This is not a requirement, it is the ideal.

We are our own spiritual support.

There is nothing to forgive unless you wish to seek forgiveness from another.

Say farewell, but don't make a drama out of it.

As in any journey, the focus is on where you are going NOW.

Avni said...

There has been much written about the experiences which accompany the transition (death) and for those people who have read these accounts, death may be something to be greeted with much enthusiasm, For some, it will be that much awaited spiritual experience which may have passed them by their entire lives. So, I am not sure whether the anticipation and confidence at death, although certainly desirable, could be regarded as the greatest human achievement.

Jufa said...

No one here knows about death. All that anyone here knows about is life. If I am wrong, then someone tell me what death looks like before ones dies, and what is the appearance of death beyond the flesh body?

I am not talking about how the body does or does not look when one is dying from a disease, for death takes the babies, the youth, the healthy, so death appears upon all stages of life, and being it is death, it appearance cannot be identified. So one does not know what the landscape of death is.

Nabil said...

Those who understand the continuity of motion and energy will have less problems dealing with death. Life can't be extinguished in an instant. Those who are accepting of their connection to a much larger reality will find comfort in this fact.
From my perspective, fear is the worst enemy. It will cause problems and pain before physical death, and problems after, when the search for orientation begins.

Ratan said...

Death is the beginning of new journey with new surroundings and new state of happiness !!!

Michael said...

death itself is not as bad as people usually imagine. Mostly it's your own fear that makes things difficult. Of course the more difficult or surprising the circumstances of your death, the more difficult it can be to have calm and recall as you die.

Studio DavAnn said...

I like what Dennis said.

For me death is simply the door out right next to the door in. The key is the raising of consciousness that allows you to see that "life is judged by itself". I believe in recurrence and "raising the level of your being". If nothing has changed in your personal sphere of being, you are destined to repeat until you get it right. That to me is the ultimate in compassion and forgiveness.

A man of 85 years was observed pulling the covers over his head mere days from his death. When he was asked what he was doing, he said "I'm Hiding". I found this to be a very interesting statement in it itself, especially since I knew the history of this man.

As an occurrence in our life, death is an event, that has to be faced like all other events. The trouble is we have difficulty facing our own mortality. So the fears (negative emotions) confront us.

Personally I want to go through this door, as wide awake as I can possibly be.

Eso

Lee said...

It's just gota be a personal thing hasn't it?

My Grandad died just last week, he died of Liver Cancer, he had been clinging to life for the last three years and went out looking gaunt and wasted. My Nan has colon cancer and has just decided to not have treatment for it after watching my grandad fade out slowly.


It's just gotta be personal choice, yes?

Pat said...

I can only think that it's the individual's understanding of the process. And that includes Lee's 'fear' element, as well as any religious/non-religious beliefs ABOUT death. Both the religious and non-religious could have perfectly good reasons for not fearing it: the religious, because they believe that there is a life-after-death and their belief that they will experience a 'good' afterlife based on their beliefs about their own deeds during life and the non-religious, as they (MAY) expect absolutely nothing to follow, which, if true, would be nothing to fear.

Vamadevananda said...

An entire Upanishad, Kathopanishad, is devoted to the death phenomenon and beyond, before taking up the familiar core Advaita thought.

It starts with Nachiketa posing his query to Yama, the God of death. The latter says, " O Nachiketa, take all the boons of the three worlds, and more, but please excuse me from answering this one question of yours." The lad ( yes, Nachiketa was but a kid ! ) insists, spurning all the goodies !

It is also the work that fulfilled my own quest, one winter night more than a decade ago.

Molly Brogan said...

So you think we would be best served to bring this to the table (according to the story below)? "they let go of their attachments to worldly things, including their own material bodies, they will begin to experience a sense of peace of immeasurably greater value than any wealth or comfort material existence could ever offer."

The story:

The Upanishad examined in this book is the Kathopanishad, a scripture that unveils the mystery of death and the meaning of life.

An old story is told about the beginning of time. The universe was in the process of being created and not everything was yet in order or fully functioning. Before the universe could be totally engaged, the Creator had one final task to complete. To help him complete this task the Lord summoned an angel.

The angel came. The Creator told the angel that he, the Lord, had one last job to do in the making of the universe.

“I saved the best for last,” the Creator told the angel. “I have here the real meaning of human life, the treasure of life, the purpose and goal of all this that I have created.

“Because this treasure is valuable beyond description,” the Creator continued, “I want you to hide it. Hide this treasure so well that human beings will know its value to be immeasurable.”

“I will do so, Lord,” said the angel. “I will hide the treasure of life on the highest mountain top.”

“The treasure will be too easy to find there,” said the Creator.

“Then,” said the angel, “I will hide the treasure in the great desert wilderness. Surely, the treasure will not be easily found there.”

“No, too easy.”

“In the vast reaches of the universe?” asked the angel. “That would make a difficult search.”

“No,” the Creator said pondering. Then his face showed a flash of inspiration. “I know. I have the place. Hide the treasure of life within the human being. He will look there last and know how precious this treasure is. Yes, hide the treasure there.”

This treasure and the search for it are the subjects of the Upanishads. Given the nature of human beings, that treasure was indeed well hidden. As the Lord said in the story above, the last place human beings will look for the ultimate Reality is within themselves. They will look to all the diverse objects of the world for meaning, and each time, with each well-meant effort, come away with nothing worth having. In this way a perpetual cycle of births and deaths is created. They spend life running after things that are only temporal and when death comes they are empty handed, with just an invitation to do it
over again.

The Upanishads say the ignorant person keeps accepting that invitation, but the wise person sees the futility in the endless pattern of death and rebirth, and looks within for that which is eternal.


According to the Upanishads, that which we seek within is called Atman, the pure Self, our real identity, that, as the Bible says, is in the image and likeness of God. The real Self is not recognizable by the senses or the mind. It is the hidden treasure within the soul, and dwells in the innermost chamber of the heart. It is very subtle, unfathomable, and eternal. It existed at the beginning of creation, exists now, and will continue to exist in the future.

Molly Brogan said...

(cont.)


The phenomenal universe, as the Upanishads explain repeatedly, is impermanent and constantly changing, evolving, growing, decaying, and dying. It goes on endlessly this way—coming, going, dying. That is its nature. Anyone who becomes attached to the phenomenal world with all of its changing forms is sure to come to grief in the end. Yet the phenomenal world plays a role in bringing a person to the realm of the immortal. The pain and fear of death that are natural to the material world are meant to guide a person toward wisdom. A time comes when the individual realizes that there must be more to existence than this. Then he or she begins to seriously look for an alternative as the ultimate purpose of life.

The Upanishad examined in this book is the Kathopanishad, a scripture that unveils the mystery of death and the meaning of life. Of all the Upan-ishads, Kathopanishad is the most lucid and accessible on the knowledge of Atman here and hereafter. It clearly defines the alternatives confronting humanity concerning the purpose of life and the ultimate choices that have to be made.


This Upanishad is a beautiful, poetic explanation of the mystery of life and death, the law of karma, and how to attain liberation from grief and distress. It is composed in one hundred nineteen mantras and constructed around a dialogue between a spiritually minded young man named Nachiketa on one hand and Yama, the king of death on the other. Yama, unlike portrayals in Greek or Roman mythology of the king of death, is not something dreadful. He was the first man born on the earth to die and was a self realized master. In this scripture, Yama may be compared to the highest discriminating intelligence of the human being, while Nachiketa represents the lower mind, albeit with strength and courage.

The dialogue between the two reveals the character of a dedicated but yet unrealized spiritual seeker. Nachiketa is someone we can understand as well as admire. Though he has many doubts, his faith is indisputable. Above all he harbors a deep desire for the highest knowledge and ultimate happiness.


Nachiketa is tested by Yama to determine how strong his desire for truth is. Is it stronger than the attractions to the things of desire in the world? Yes. Nachiketa renounces everything for the sake of Self- realization. Above all else he wants to know Atman, the real Self.

Molly Brogan said...

(cont.)
In his faith Nachiketa knows that all the pleasures, even the highest joys of life, do not continue forever. They pass away, leaving pain in their wake. No matter where one goes, or what one does, as long as worldly desires are present there can be no real peace. It doesn’t matter whether a person lives totally in the world, surrounded by and fully partaking of the world’s pleasures, or in the wilderness apart from all enticements. Whenever there are desires for worldly things there will be discontent.


Death is no more an escape from all these desires than is the barren desert wilderness. People cling to their desires till death and drag them all back with them again to the worldly plane where they can be fulfilled.

It is only in practical daily life that people can deal with desires and attain self-control over the senses and thoughts that drive the desires. People must learn to rise above desires and see their limited value. Only when they rise above desires and gain mastery over their senses and thoughts will they begin to realize real joy. They will see that as they let go of their attachments to worldly things, including their own material bodies, they will begin to experience a sense of peace of immeasurably greater value than any wealth or comfort material existence could ever offer.

Nachiketa understood this innately. You might say his conscience was directing him, and he had the courage to follow his conscience instead of tracing the well-worn steps of so many others who chose the path of material pursuits.

The path described by Yama in the Kathopanishad is the path of yoga, whose aim is the spiritual union between the individual soul and the supreme Self of all.

http://www.swamij.com/swami-rama-kathopanishad.htm

Vamadevananda said...

Molly, it was beautiful !

Yet, it's how it is when we use words to communicate. The actual realisation is in that instant ... infinite, clear, complete, nothing, the thing. It is the One, without a second, homogeneous, witness, pure, conscious, the power, the ruler, the ordainer. It is. All. Nothing. One.

One imagery in Kath is that of the deepest recess of, in the mind : Universe, World, Body, Senses + Emotions >>> Life - force, Doubt + Knowledge >>> Mind, Knowledge + Understanding >>> Intellect, Individuated Consciousness >>> Ego, Pure Consciousness Infinite >>> Witness >>> Atman ... That Thou Art !

Pat said...

As I've heard somewhere...Death, that's a doddle; it's one of the easiest things you'll do.

WS said...

I think it varies for everyone. I found with my little mum, that she was able to sing a little song with me & then slept on & off, I asked her if she was going to leave me, she smiled & said perhaps. After they gave her a shot to calm her heart down, I knew she was going to leave her body...so I got into the bed with her, put her head on my chest & slowly rocked her while singing Home, home on the range. I felt that I needed to lay her down so she could go then. She was so sweet & seemed to take it all in stride. Such grace from her, I will never forget this wonderful opportunity to see my mama through to her last breath her on earth. I think "suffering at the moment of death" is not always there. I believe some are ready to go home & gracefully allow for the experience. I hope that I feel this way when it's my time. I rage against the dying of the light for my loved ones who have gone home but know they are very well & moving on in experience. Thank you for this opportunity to share Molly.

Mirjana said...

On Death

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.


In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?


For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?


Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

Kahlil Gibran

Solo said...

I have met many who were near death, and just before death took them. Some had fear, others had greater fear where they fought hard in hanging on only to prolong their suffering, God Bless them. I did my best to help in ways where I could give some insights to what awaited them, and I did see a slight change for the better come over them when they listened, especially their families.

Death is not something that approaches some and not others, every living thing is prone to death sooner or later, it goes hand in hand with life, in fact, life and death are much like twin brothers there cannot be one without the other. It is very sad that children are not taught in schools more on life and death, not in a way that would cause fear and concern but only the truth of it in a gentle way, where they could have the chance later in life to further this education in helping those who are dying. This I believe would give them a better outlook for when this occurs later in their own life as well. Here they could accept it for what it is, part of life. And yet death is just the beginning of a whole greater life that awaits us all.

Snow said...

I lost someone very close to me once. Before he died he was in the hospital for several weeks. During that time he described colors and visions and had an amazing peaceful energy. He confided in me that he didn’t think he was going to survive and wanted me to be OK with that. He was supposed be released from the hospital the day that he died. His death was unexpected and unexplained. I suspect he got in touch with something…

I was allowed to be alone in the hospital room immediately after his passing. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I should have been overcome with grief, instead there was a amazing sense of peace in the room and energy and maybe an unexpected feeling of the awesomeness knowing that this amazing spirit energy had just separated from that body moments before. I felt I was very much in touch with everything he was experiencing and describing before his passing.

Molly Brogan said...

I don't know about death being "easy" Pat. My father lost his memory to Alzheimers before the age of 50, and lingered on this earth without short or long term memory, control of body function or emotional recognition for seven more years. I often wonder if folks in this position are just place holders for death in some way, their continued purpose for living incomprehensible. Is there something going on at the level of the unseen or soul, that keeps them here on the outskirts of life, and at the same time, out of the final reach of death - but firmly in its clutches?

Francis said...

An old lady I have been caring for for the past five years died this morning.

She didn't die well. She had been sinking deeper into dementia for the past couple of years - a strange form of it, which left her recognition of people (names, faces, histories, characters, etc.) peculiarly complete but made her ever more incapable of organizing the simplest things in her life.


In the end, it was an abdominal tumour which killed her, discovered only six weeks ago as a result of a routine blood-check. She was admitted to hospital shortly before Christmas and never came out. She died in some pain... and great fear and confusion.


She was not, as far as I know, someone who had ever gone through great conflicts in her life. Nursing her own mother to a great age, she missed out on the opportunity to marry and have a family, worked all her life in a department-store until retirement, fifteen years ago, and lived a very quiet, somewhat lonely life, supported by visits from a home-care service and visiting the day-care centre where I work, five days a week.


I have worked in nursing for over twenty years now and have seen many people die. Some deaths have been epiphanies, others have been horrific. I have seen non-believers go in great serenity and deeply religious people fighting out of fear of the unknown to hang on to life beyond all physical and spiritual capacity. I have experienced people (who were not obviously pre-final) correctly predicting their deaths, I have had people grasp my hand and then, voluntarily, let go. Some have not been able to die until they were certain that they were not alone, others have rejected any offers of help, waiting until they were alone to die. I have read my Kübler-Ross (I have even taught Kübler-Ross to nursing students) but today I am less sure.


Death is certainly, as they say, the great leveller. Some do go gentle into that good night, others rage against the dying of the light. But all that you have achieved, titles, wealth, possessions, power, becomes meaningless.


I like to think of death as placing the final tessera into the mosaic of my life. I deeply hope that I can face it with dignity and be able to freely let go of that which I can no longer hold on to. It is the final journey and, even if I am deeply agnostic - well, that also leaves me the option of it being possibly another great adventure, even if my reason tells me that it is most probably the unending peace of complete obliteration.

Vamadevananda said...

Ah, Molly, verily, death is well within each one us, all the while. This body includes trillions of micro organisms and hundreds of compounds, working in particular ways symbiotically, strengthening or keeping us strengthened, to deliver effort. The symbiotic working fails, at first rarely, then occasionally, in parts, ... increasingly, more completely ... those same materials and organisms notwithstanding !

Death is the first coincident immanence as the pure consciousness reveals its potential ... like what breaks the indistinguishability of time and space at the origin. The revelation process is manifest in the births. The entire fabric of Being and phenomena is spun of births and deaths, and zillions of in betweens.


Which brings us back to our self and what is before us !

Molly Brogan said...

"Death is the first coincident immanence as the pure consciousness reveals its potential ..."

It seems to me that painting the landscape of death with this form would make life and death eternal...

Vamadevananda said...

Indeed, until one wakes up to the knowledge that despite their immanent presence, their hard reality, they are nothing more than mere concepts, er, forms of consciousness ... which disappears when our own reference merges in the pure ( unformed ) consciousness.

Molly Brogan said...

From Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: "In ignorance the seer becomes the seen and in wisdom he is the seeing." In terms of death, it makes me wonder what this difference in position would mean to us at the moment of death. If we are entrenched in the seen, the story, the details, the fears...the experience will be very different than one in the position of "seeing."

Pat said...

Funnily enough, I was thinking along similar lines last night. As I'm sure I've mentioned, I've been having periodic migraines over the last year. Some of which have lasted for several days and have resulted in weight loss (about 25 lbs since March of 2009) as I've not been able to eat or keep anything down during these periods as it comes right back up. I don't want to put anyone off their food, but we've all thrown up before. Lately, when I get to the point where I've been chucking every 15-30 minutes for over 2 days, I start laughing about it. I take the opportunity to escape to 'The Witness' and view it all from that vantage point. When there, I can chuckle and chuck at the same time. I know it's a temporary thing at the time and I know that it WILL end, so why be miserable about it? I view it as a blessing, much like I view my penury and relative isolation when I'm at home. Why should I trouble myself over being sick when I know that it will either end and I'll get better or it will end with my death? Either way, it WILL end. That's part of the beauty of space-time; our time here is only temporary...by definition!! It's been a few weeks, now, since I've had one, but, I'm kind of looking forward to the next one, because it gives me that opportunity to use that 'Witness' angle in a practical way.

Molly Brogan said...

had those periodic headaches for about 5 years and also wondered if it was not my opportunity to explore within, as nothing else was left to me. One of my favorite concepts from the above mentioned mystic is his idea that sleep, dream and waking are all really the same state, if experienced from the clear and ever present awareness. There are obvious differences with the experiences of dream and waking in apparent form. But taking the viewpoint (that may even be beyond the witness) based in awareness that is common to all three states changed my sleep experience entirely (my experience in all three states really) in that what I used to think was an unconsciousness, is now an intense awareness of life. The headaches ended for me when I was able to find my way to sustain this viewpoint in dream and waking states. Looking back, I can see that once I could do this, I no longer needed the headaches to take me there by necessity.

Neville Goddard calls these headache experiences Golgotha, or coming out of our skull. The more material I read written by mystics, the more I find this common among them.

Astrid said...

I'm afraid to face death in my family these days. It is honestly the only experience where I do nothing, because there is no desire, and no ability to act, nor any need for something to be done.

Maybe it is to dwell on this still point, and to sense it for a while.