Suggestions both practical and psychological for helping the other prepare and tips – especially helpful if you and the ill/ dying person is in a hospital – regarding potential distractions.
All of the points in How to lead a guided meditation are relevant for someone who is ill or dying so do read that page first. Here are some important additional points:
1) Before you begin, check their personal comfort level. Perhaps their bed is soiled or they would prefer to have had their daily wash first. Check if they need to use the toilet first: forestalling one’s need to can be very uncomfortable and distracting. As they become more familiar with meditation, they may well be able to relax in the presence of pain and to watch any discomfort from inside. However, initially and until they reach that point, it is preferable if their meditation time with you takes place when they are optimally comfortable.
On the psychological level: If they are clearly worried about something it might be more helpful to encourage them to talk about that first. Then, unburdened, they may be more willing and able to relax into the process.
2) The environment Hospitals are famously noisy, brightly lit, busy places – not conducive to deep relaxation. The person you are with might be sharing the room with several others who might be in pain, watching TV, listening to the radio or conversing loudly with their visitors.
We suggest you find out from the nursing staff if your friend/family member is due to have any procedures done, so you can work around that..
Suggest to the person you are with that it might be helpful to have the curtains drawn around the bedside. If they agree, let the staff know that this is what you are doing and why. The drawn curtains provide a modicum of privacy and give a message to others staying in or visiting the room.
If your friend/family member is being nursed at home, there too, there may be noises and interruptions that you can address before starting.
In spite of your trying to minimise them, wherever you and the person are there are bound to be distractions. The beauty of meditation is that we can include everything; we can learn to just watch internally, from the sidelines, as it were, whatever we can hear or see or feel. So you can incorporate sounds, for example, into the meditation.
For instance, using the example of the 4-Step Let go, at any stage when an unexpected noise happens, using the same tone of voice and still speaking slowly, you might say, ‘And you can hear that sound (name it), and just notice it, from inside; hearing that sound can take you even deeper inside…into an even deeper silence.’ And/or: ‘You can hear that sound as if it is far away, quite separate from you…just observing it.’
By and by, If you repeat this guided meditation regularly with them, they will learn how to use distractions in this way. And that is a knack they can use even when they are not meditating.
3) The similarity between meditating and dying can be helpful. For example, in both situations we need to relax and stop all doing and controlling. In both, we leave the outer world or reality and instead move inside to our own private world.
So by practising meditation it can be said we are rehearsing dying. And to be able to rehearse dying, which is generally so fraught with fear, can totally change the whole experience.
4) The more known the state of meditation and the path towards it, the better! So our suggestion is, choose one method – and if you’ve been guiding someone through more than one method, ask them which works best for them – and stay with that. Continue to use the same wording. Then by and by the path that leads to a relaxed awareness will become deeply familiar to them. In addition, through regular repetition you’ll be creating a positive association for them – of your loving presence, the sound of your voice, the music, and the space of moving into relaxed awareness.
5) When the person is clearly going through the changes that indicate imminent death, repeat the same guided meditation, step by step. However, at the last step, you will not be suggesting they ‘come back’ from it. Instead you can guide them onwards with words such as these: ‘And you can continue, relaxed and aware inside…. Yes. Continue just watching whatever is happening, knowing you are separate from it. You are the watcher…the watching consciousness. Keep on moving…Relaxed… aware…’
Once the breathing has ceased you might add, ‘The breathing has stopped now; you can move on now. Yes. You are doing beautifully. Just continue, relaxed and aware, watching everything that is happening. You are not those experiences; you are the watching consciousness.’
Even if there had not been the opportunity to guide them in meditation beforehand, now, at the time of their death, you can gently, loving, repeat these few phrases.
* You can guide the other in meditation even if they are in a coma. Sit in such a way that you can observe easily their body and their face i.e. facing them rather than sitting directly alongside them. Then you are in a good position to notice the smallest indication from them that they are taking in what you are saying. See Communicating with a person in coma.