Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Not Dead Yet

Tombstone symbolizing impermanenceAfter wrapping her fingers around my wrist, my acupuncturist exclaimed, “I can barely feel your pulses!”

Then she added, “But I can tell you’re not dead.”

Why was I surprised?  I knew already that certain poor choices had sent me into a downward spiral.  A spell of chilly weather froze me to the bones.  To add insult to injury, I scampered about the garden in the chilly mist for three full hours without bundling up.  Sandled but bare feet gliding through wet grass.  Placing my bum on a cold, damp rock wall for far too long.

Still, her exclamation sent a mild but penetrating shock wave reaching deep into my cells.

“I’m not dead? What does she mean?  Am I that close to being dead?”

Silly me.  I didn’t ask her exactly what she meant.  I just let a grinding level of worry set in to torment me for the next few hours at least. Till impermanence swept away the worry with yet another illusory train of thought.

You see, as much as I reflect on the truth of impermanence, it’s not an easy one to get.  A knee-jerk resistance to death seems to be built into our body and brain.

My aspiration is to meet death with confidence.  But at the moment, it still has the power to get me tied up in knots.

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche reminds us,

“The nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral,
Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness,
Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge.
How pitiful they who cling strongly to concrete reality:
Turn your attention within, my heart friends.

True, I fall into these ruts of trepidation from time-to-time.  But, thanks to meditation and reflection, there are more and more moments when the sun shines through.  Times when I’m able to see this seemingly dreadful death monster for just exactly what it is – merely the usher that introduces you to the next chapter of life.  It’s also said to be an extraordinary opportunity to realize the very essence of mind.

So isn’t it crazy to spend all our time focused on the goals of this single, brief life?  It’s just a fraction of eternity!  What about preparing for what lies beyond?

I trust that repeated reflection – spiked with a hearty dash of joyful diligence – will gradually erode away this stronghold of resistance to the reality of impermanence and death.  And as it subsides, wisdom will naturally dawn in its place.

Reflection:  Are We Fooling Ourselves?

We all know that life is impermanent.  But do we really know?  The quotation I’ve chosen for this week asks if we might be fooling ourselves!

“Have you actually understood and realized, the truth of impermanence?  Have you so integrated it with your every thought, breath, and movement that your life has been transformed?  Ask yourself these two questions:  Do I remember at every moment that I am dying, and everyone and everything else is, and so treat all beings at all times with compassion?  Has my understanding of death and impermanence become so keen and so urgent that I am devoting every second to the pursuit of enlightenment?  If you can answer ‘yes’ to both of these, then you have really understood impermanence. ”

– from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

Don’t let the word enlightenment sound too exotic or put you off.  Enlightenment lies at the heart of all spiritual traditions. You can find it within.

Have you fully embraced impermanence? Do you feel ready for death?

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this entry, please spread the word by using the share buttons below.  And I would love to hear from you in the comments. I appreciate your kindness !  Sandra

 

Previous

Those Pesky Thoughts and Emotions

Next

Heart Advice on Healing from a Special Friend

41 Comments

  1. My first instinct is to say, “There, there.” I expect you know exactly what I mean. If you never take risks, you can’t re-evaluate your current limits of will and stamina. That flag does move down field, after all. QA testing.

    Death was scarier to me until I had seen enough of it up close. For most the fear is either from worrying that the process will hurt, or because they are uncomfortable being unable to know what comes after. What really lies on the other side of the door is impossible to know, no matter what you believe. It’s unknowable by design, because the future isn’t set. We are creating it with each action and each decision. And enlightenment is as impossible to explain (before it occurs) as describing color to a blind person, sex to a celibate, or wisdom to an infant. We MUST fool ourselves, at least until we can accept not knowing. It’s a fun conceit to attempt though, isn’t it? To speak what is unspeakable.

    So, I try to focus upon learning how better to be fully alive. I can meet death as a friend, because if I’ve really lived I can let go when my time comes. I’ll have enlightenment when I have it. Until then, there are floors to clean, clothes to wash, books to write and so many beings to share love with – like you, Sandra!

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for you sweet wish to console me, but don’t worry. It’s just a moment (well a few more than one!) of self-induced suffering. It’s part of my journey toward befriending impermanence. It’s OK I’m not there yet, I’m on my way.

      I think this is a really interesting thought, “It’s unknowable by design…” Perhaps that’s exactly what impels us to explore the spiritual dimension of life, and for that reason it’s a blessing that life is a mystery. I’m not sure it’s totally unknowable in this life though. I think you can get glimpses and some – a few – even find complete liberation if not in this life then at the moment of death.

      I like your focus on living life fully. For sure, the best way to die is without regrets.

      Thanks for sharing your stimulating thought stream on this topic.

  2. Hi Sandra,

    I would like to think that I’ll accept death when it comes. What I can’t figure out is how I want my body handled after death. I don’t want to leave it up to my kids to decide, but neither cremation nor burying appeal to me.

    What is scarier than death to me is to have control of my mental faculties, but be physically unable to care for myself anymore and having to depend on my kids or Heaven forbid! move into a nursing home.

    Like you I prefer to dwell on living my life to its fullest so I’ll have not regrets when it’s time to transition to my next level of expression.

    • Hi Flora,
      I’m glad you raised this question of how your body will be handled after death. There is a practical side to death and it behooves us to think our affairs through now to make it easier for those we are leaving. This is compassionate in and of itself.

      It is frightening to think of our mental faculties diminishing or being in a nursing home. However, anything can happen to us in this life so it can’t be ruled out. I remember what a shock it was to Raam Das when he was struck by a massive stroke. It really was a crisis of faith for him, but in the end he was able to use this challenge to deepen his spiritual understanding.

      Thanks for adding this new perspective.

  3. My initial thought is to recall the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “I’m not dead yet. I’m feeling better.” That’s our reaction to the prospect of being taken away to die.

    Impermanence is the nature of everything. Even our sun is dying. Our problem is accepting that reality and not letting it ruin what time we have in this part of our existence.

    • Exactly, I’m not dead yet and I’m feeling better. Whew! Bob, the example of the sun is an excellent one. Impermanence is all around us. It’s good to be aware of it without letting it ruin our time here. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  4. It is funny that I feel that two things have better prepared me for death.

    The first is that I had children, and in some perhaps cliched way, I feel that a large part of my task on earth was bringing these children into it. Perhaps it is just pure biology talking. Don’t get me wrong, it is not part of my own plan to leave the earth until I have parented these children well in adulthood, but the fact that they are even here, somehow fills me with a feeling of satiated accomplishment. (I guess my fear of death is more about not having accomplished something worthwhile…)

    The other thing that comforts me, is the ongoing exploration of my intuitive/empathic abilities, which have convinced me beyond anything else, that I am never alone, and will never be alone. I am comforted by the daily evidence of my personal bit of connection to our Higher Source, and the knowledge it brings me that we are all irrevocably tied together. Every day this helps me feel that my life as a human is a but short time of my soul’s entire existence, so even the more precious for me to value as much as I can remember to each day.

    I’m sure that when I die, I may find it as challenging to leave this body behind, as anyone else finds it. But I have felt much more comforted, due to these two things, which always bring me back to the present moment, back to life fully lived.

    Thanks for your post.

    Kara

    • Hello Kara,

      Thank you so much for taking a moment to leave such a valuable comment. It really helps to hear from others what brings clarity and confidence on this topic into their life. Your intuitive skills definitely give you an added perspective that most people do not have. I rejoice in your ability to feel a sense of interconnection with others so profoundly as well as your ability to feel an ongoing sense of connection with the divine.

      I think you have a realistic perspective about the challenges that might come with actually leaving the body. At the same time, your wider view of life and death will no doubt make it a far easier process than it might be for many of us.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Wishing you well.

  5. Great post. I have finally trained myself to think about this every day…that nothing else matters as much as understanding that all things must pass, including each of us and the ones we love. But – just because I think and am aware of it, doesn’t mean that I integrate it as much as I want to into my life. It’s a continuous journey of push-and-pull…I hope some day I can finally be comfortable with it all and find that peace. I do find that this awareness helps me be more compassionate. When we think in terms of everything going through the natural process of death, little things don’t matter at all.

  6. Hi Terry,

    I’m really inspired by your approach embracing impermanence. You description of it being a “continuous journey of push-and-pull” is my feeling about it as well and what I attempted to describe here. Understanding impermanence intellectually is not the same as realizing it deeply in one’s being. And even realization is not yet complete liberation until it touches every moment of your life as the quote above expresses.

    I know that you will find the full comfort and peace you are aiming for one day. You are walking the path and faced in the right direction. Thanks for this inspiration!

  7. G’Day Sandra,
    I used to fear death until I faced it twice and lived. Now I value every moment I am alive and understand that death is a transition. Far harder to accept than my own death is the deaths of those who are near and dear to me. Although we have the same goal which is to face our own deaths with confidence, I have some work to do to be able to graciously accept the deaths of others near and dear to me, especially the deaths of my siblings who are younger than I am. Why? Because I’m attached to departing before they do and adverse to them passing over before I do.

  8. Hello timethief,

    Your experience illustrates so clearly how we all have different challenges and lessons in life. It’s amazing that you have faced death twice and have come to have a clear view of it as a transition. I know that you are working wholeheartedly to loosen your attachment to your siblings and that in time you will find peace with this too. You are a great inspiration.

  9. HI Sandra. This is indeed a very deep and far reaching topic. Something that both me and my late mother found rather strange is this. For all the talk about salvation and resurrection of the body that most Christians do we both noticed how dreadfully afraid of death they were. You would think that because of reassurance that when they die they will find the resurrection that they would be the most unafraid lot of people on the planet.

    While I’m not afraid of death I still have no clue what to expect. Also one of your readers mentioned the dreaded nursing home scenario. I agree that is more intimidating than full blown death. But it is not just mental deterioration that is scary it is physical as well. While I should have been very impaired both neurologically and physically I managed through the grace of God to avoid that. but the possible return of that reality and having to be dependent on others scares me more than i would like to admit to.

    Well I hope your very important discussion continues fruitfully.

    • Hi Gary,

      It is interesting how much fear of death there is in the modern world among people from all religious and non-religious background. Most people don’t have much time to truly cement their faith in a positive way. So often their spiritual understanding doesn’t necessarily penetrate very deeply.

      I’m not too keen on nursing homes either. I spent a good stretch visiting a nursing home while my father was dying. Although there was a certain level of care and kindness among the staff, overall it’s not the best scenario. I can understand your fear of physical deterioration and becoming dependent upon others. I think this is an even greater concern in modern societies where old and ill people are often hidden out of site and out of site is out of mind.

      Thanks for sharing your concerns so openly.

      • Yeah Sandra out of sight and out of mind. Like many of the disabled people i used to volunteer with. Also one has to hope the the people one is surrounded by will be compassionate and neither neglect or abuse you. That somehow one can connect even if only on a telepathic level. That too scares me at this state in my life I have very few people that I would feel comfortable with be in charge of my life should such a thing occur.

        But as you said this is by far the most scary part of our current society. Those that are too sick, disabled, or too old are locked away far far away. But do we as a people start to address this very real part of our post-modern lifestyle. No I haven’t seen much of that. It’s as if we are in a collective denial of the very real part of our lives that this represents.

        Thank you once again for the conversation and bringing such topics to your community.

  10. I’m not afraid of dying, but I don’t want to die a painful death . . . or live a painful life. 🙂

    All Things Must Pass . . . All Things Must Pass Away.

    • Nancy,

      I can appreciate your concerns. I’ve coped with periods of pain and it is difficult. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  11. Aw Sandra, you should have asked. 🙂 She probably meant that your qi – especially your spleen qi was weak. I would get that all the time. It is related to overworking yourself, but it’s nowhere near fatal.

    If I found out I had a terminal illness right now, I’d be more angry than anything else. I feel I haven’t accomplished what I’m here for in this life. I would be more afraid of long term disability or pain than dying. Death seems very peaceful from what I’ve observed. I almost died as a teenager but I didn’t get so close that I experienced the white light or tunnel phenomenon.

  12. Samuel Beckett (he of the many depressing plays!) said we’re born astride the grave. We all know we will die but we don’t want to think about that. I still do though. I write wills, think about my funeral, imagine my kids putting a nice wooden bench somewhere with a view to remember their old mum by.

    So no, I haven’t embraced impermance! I still hope to beat it somehow even though I know I’ll die it’s comforting to think that some small part of us or legacy will live on:)

  13. Jennifer,

    You are totally right! That would have been simple, but in the end it’s been a learning process. I should have asked, but my mind was already carried away. I did ask another acupuncturist about a week later and she also mentioned several reasons why my pulses might have been as they were. Pulses can be hidden, for example. My pulses were also very week when I first moved here a year ago and they have gotten progressively better. So this was a surprise, but an understandable one given the recent physical circumstances I underwent.

    You mention another interesting perspective! There’s a sense that we should be able to live a long life and, if we don’t, the sense of being cheated. Although no one ever gave us any guarantees this can definitely rise up as unfairness.

    I don’t think death is automatically peaceful from all that I’ve learned about it. I think we die the way that we live. If we’ve lived a peaceful life and our mind is peaceful, it’s more likely we’ll die in the same fashion. But that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. I do hope it will be that way for you.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They always add to the conversation.

  14. HI Sandra,
    When it comes to contemplating death I’m always torn between meditation and denial. When you feel good (and are healthy) it’s so easy to be smug about spiritual progress, but when there is a problem that’s when you are tested. I usually flunk the test.

    Riley

    • Riley,
      So too the point! I know exactly what you mean. There will always be a gap between how we are and how we could be until enlightenment (or whatever you might call it), but it’s OK because we are moving in the right direction! Thanks for your thoughts.

  15. Very brave and thought provoking post. I truly am not scared of death. I have to be very careful saying that as I tried pretty seriously to commit suicide! Really freaks some people out! I am not in any hurry to get there now and know that I have a lot of work to do here and a lot of life left to live.

    I see death as just another part of the journey. A wonderful transition. We handle it so poorly as a society. It should be a loving, respectful, heart felt, joyous send off for someone. With tears and laughter. Maybe accepting impermanence more will allow more of this to take place.

    I had a beloved brother die 14 years ago. IWhen I am in spirit, he may be earth bound again or otherwise….who knows?, but I do believe we can reconnect. I certainly look forward to that.

  16. Several years ago, my word for the year was Prepare, as in prepare to die. I didn’t think I was actually going to die that year, although I had to consider it after receiving such a sobering word. But mostly I thought it meant that we should all live our lives as intensely and as appreciatively as we would if we knew we were dying. Hmm, we all really are dying so I guess there is no “as if” about it!

    Later that same year, while sitting by the creek by my cabin, I “heard” the words “Love your death.” I decided to make death my friend.

    I have a locket engraved with the words Rabelais supposedly said on his deathbed when asked by the uptight priests who condemned his philosophy where he thought he was going. He replied, “I go to seek a great perhaps.”

    • You are an amazing woman, Galen! I’m sure you could easily write a book centered around your guiding words for each year. I’m amazed by the word and the practice you chose for this particular year. This seems to be the heart of the message of impermanence indeed: “But mostly I thought it meant that we should all live our lives as intensely and as appreciatively as we would if we knew we were dying.” I deeply appreciate your insights and experience.

  17. Thank you for a thought-provoking, post, Sandra. The seeming paradox of enlightenment enfolded within awareness of death, is profound.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Naomi. I feel that awareness of death does indeed bring us one step closer to recognition of our true nature.

  18. Hi Sandra,

    It is always a pleasure to read your articles because I am fascinated by what you like to think about. And today, horrors of horrors, you write about death and facing it with confidence. I too think about facing death with confidence from time to time. After all, a careful observation of the world around us can easily remind us of our mortality. Thankfully, death is something we can prepare for.

    “I trust that repeated reflection – spiked with a hearty dash of joyful diligence – will gradually erode away this stronghold of resistance to the reality of impermanence and death. And as it subsides, wisdom will naturally dawn in its place.” I fully agree with you here. I can’t say that I fully understand impermanence or that I am fully ready for death, but it is never far from my mind. I guess it is the choice of literature and the things that interests me that keeps on reminding me of it.

    By the way, have you given some thought to your death poem yet? The Japanese loved to write their death poems moments before they passed on. I always found such a practice fascinating because of the composure involved. Knowing what our death poems will be and what words should adorn our tombstone is another step in helping us to move onto the next world. At least it will remind us of how to live.

    Thank you for sharing this article with us! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hi Irving,

      Yes, horror of horrors, it appears that impermanence and death are one of my favorite topics. I understand why the topic is also not far from your mind considering your investigations of the art of war.

      I’ve never heard of a “death poem.” That is a fascinating practice indeed. My aspiration would be to rest spaciously in my true nature at the moment of death. However, this takes quite a lot of diligence, discipline, and practice in life and I am a somewhat feeble practitioner. But were it the case, perhaps I would be able to spontaneously utter a few poetic words. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, at least in ancient time, great masters would also utter there last teaching and testimony in verse at the moment of death. Sounds similar to the Japanese practice.

      Thanks for the intriguing comment.

      • Hmmm, spontaneously uttering a few poetic words before you pass on to the other side sounds great too. Given the significance of the event, it will definitely be taken to heart by those present.

        Coincidently, I just purchased Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide when I dropped by my favourite bookshop on Sunday. I have always admired the Japanese for their zen like philosophy and zeal. It also fascinates me as to how they viewed suicide as tolerable and necessary to redeem their lost honour. Of course before they passed on on purpose they would write their death poems for posterity. Unfortunately, it is this philosophy and the high stress environment that has led to modern day Japan having one of the highest suicide rates in the world. At least the government is trying to resolve the matter.

        • It’s interesting to look at death from different cultural perspectives like this. Honor is very important in Asian cultures. I can’t imagine committing suicide for this reason or purpose, but clearly the Samurai see it differently.

          • Yeah, neither can I. Here is a death poem I was just reading by a very formidable Japanese warlord. Uesugi Kenshin.

            “Forty Nine Years; One night’s dream. A lifetime of glory; a cup of sake.” (My 49 years have passed like one night’s dream. The glories of my life is no more than a cup of sake.)

          • This contains deep meaning. Thank you!

            In my Sunday post, I am going to quote the last words of a great spiritual master that I have been reflecting on this week.

  19. Rita

    I found this post moved me greatly……it will have me pondering your words & my own thoughts for days to come. Thanks for writing this!

  20. Rita,

    Thanks you so much for taking the time to leave and comment to let me know how strongly this post resonated for you. It means a lot to me. Thank you.

  21. It reminds me of the line from Princess Bride: “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

    > wisdom will naturally dawn in its place
    I like that — the birthing of wisdom.

  22. I like to think that when death comes i will gracefully slide into the light of just being- I been to the other side once before with no knowing, thanks for writing this

  23. I might be a little too young to take my own death altogether seriously yet, but I’d like to think that another few decades of meditating on Thich Nhat Hanh’s calm awareness exercises (“breathing in, I know that I am of the nature to die; breathing out, I know I cannot escape dying”) will allow me to face it with equanimity. I haven’t had a close brush with death yet, so perhaps I’d better wait until I do to say anything on the subject!

  24. Jennifer,

    Not to be morose, but death can come at any moment regardless of one’s age!!! So I think it’s even smarter to take death seriously when you are young. Remembering dying has the power to wake us up to the preciousness of life and help us to get our priorities straight and live more fully.

    I’m very comforted to know that you engage in these wonderful meditations from the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh! I completely agree that practicing them regularly will allow you to face death with equanimity. And I surely wish you have many more decades to practice them fully!

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén