The Italian Osho Times interviews Maneesha, asking her about her attraction to working with the dying and her ideas on why and how we can prepare for ‘the inescapable.’ Maneesha also draws parallels with her early experience of being a midwife.
For many years Maneesha has been facilitating meditation worldwide, through her groups and individual sessions. That work has included supporting people in facing their issues around death. She now plans to focus full time on assisting people from the point of diagnosis either towards a return to health, or – when clearly that’s not on the cards – through dying ‘consciously, with grace, and even gratitude’.
Osho Times Italian: What’s the attraction of this work for you?
Maneesha: When I tell people that my passion is working with those facing death I get some quizzical looks. It’s a great conversation stopper! The appeal for me is in the potential for transformation, both for the person dying and for those around him or her. And I like that, in facing dying, people tend to drop the social niceties. Emotions are deep and raw – whether we’re talking about love and joy or anguish and rage. This makes for very real encounters. I’ve found that my client and I tend to come close very quickly, and there’s a profundity to our connection that touches me…that I respect, even revere.
OTI: …and the transformational aspect?
Maneesha: In good health we can spend an entire lifetime avoiding the big questions.
When we are very ill and are forced to confront our mortality, it’s natural to we start asking, ‘Who am I?’ ‘What has life been all about?’ ‘Have I mattered?’ ‘Have I made a meaningful contribution?’ At such a time we can feel intensely vulnerable.
Think of it: you’re suddenly questioning some basics that you always took for granted, such as your very identity and your raison d’être. You are being slotted into a role – if a dying person, of a patient, that you don’t want and about which you haven’t a clue how to ‘play’… a role which seems to negate all that has been most significant to you; a role around which society has so many judgments and fear.
You can no longer count on having a future, with the open-endedness, the many possibilities that futures promise. You no longer have the illusion of being in control in any meaningful sense. You are facing self-annihilation, and it’s clear that however influential/ rich/ smart/ articulate/beautiful/ loved you may be, nothing will protect you from that. No one is immune.
You are also having to face the loss not just of one relationship – which, as anyone who has ever been in love knows, can be devastating – but all of them and all at once. That aspect alone can blow us wide open.
Throw in living in uncertainty; watching our bodies’ deterioration and possibly pain; accepting help from others; having to be patient; looking back on what has been our lives, maybe with some regrets and it’s clear there are lots of personal challenges.
OTI: Osho has said death is the last taboo. Do you think it’s one we’re going to be able to dispel in our lifetime?
Maneesha: Death gets such bad press, yet I know from being with people at various stages of dying that it’s not the bad guy it’s cracked up to be.
I reckon that, just as fear is used by politicians to coerce and manipulate us – Bush in the aftermath of September 9th comes to mind – priests have used the fear of death and what they say awaits us afterwards to coerce and manipulate us. To carry the analogy a little further: If the mystics are right, then death-as-arch-enemy, as the ‘grim reaper,’ is as substantial as those elusive weapons of mass destruction.
The myth of the bogeyman’s got to be banished; we’ve got to see it for what it is, to stop buying into it – and I think the time is right. My guess is that many baby-boomers such as I are not willing to age or die as previous generations have done. As demographer, Neer Korn, says we have always been ‘a loud group that sets cultural precedents’ (The Weekend Australian, April 10-11 2010).
The time is right, and we have the know-how: Osho has given us detailed guidelines for a different way of dying.
OTI: How exactly do you work with dying people?
Maneesha: First off: we are all ‘dying people’ – you and me included! The sick or elderly aren’t necessarily at the front of the queue.
I draw on my psychotherapeutic skills in my approach; however, my way of working is essentially from a meditative perspective We have to create the kind of life we’d like to find reflected in our death, so, first of all is meditation as a way of living consciously. More conscious, we are able to create lives that are fulfilling – lives through which we know love, joy and gratitude.
Not only is a meditative life a good preparation for dying; the act of going inside as we do in passive forms of meditation is similar to dying: when we are still and silent, with closed eyes, we are, in effect, dead to the world. We are alone; we are in the unknown, even the unknowable. The sense of ego evaporates; our identification with the bodymind diminishes as our being, or consciousness, becomes foreground. So, meditation is a voluntary rehearsal for dying. That preparation is invaluable. As Shakespeare said “The readiness is all.”
That’s how I work with those whose death doesn’t seem imminent. For those of us whose death is clearly more immediate, my role is concerned with the practical as well as the psycho-spiritual. For example, clients need help in making informed choices about treatment, and in identifying external resources. Importantly, too, they need support in recognising and activating their internal resources.
In dying as in living, meditation is pivotal – as a way of finding out who we are outside of our thoughts, feelings and the physical container we call our body; as a way of facing the moment without being seduced by hope, which pulls us out of the moment into a hypothetical future; of learning acceptance, courage, love, forgiveness, and letting go; and as a way to disidentify from all that we are experiencing, to remember that we are not our experiences. They are all transitory.
OTI: You’ve trained as a midwife, among other things, in the past, haven’t you? I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that you’re now interested in the other major transition.
Maneesha: Yes, I’ve been a conventional midwife and, over the last 20 years, a midwife for deathing. Perhaps, as you’re suggesting, I am attracted to my current work because the processes are similar in some ways.
I spoke earlier about the rawness of people’s emotions at the prospect of dying and how, because this is such a primal transition, my client and I become very close very quickly. It’s very similar at birth: a woman is such a raw, energy phenomenon during labour; red-faced, sweating, in pain, and all because she is working with a force stronger than her. I love being witness to the primal feeling that’s present then. It’s awesome. It’s sacred.
Birthing is awesome and sacred; so too can be dying. Both these times of transition need conscious, careful preparation.
OTI: Can you explain that a bit more?
Maneesha: Well, think of a young, unmarried girl, who becomes pregnant. Let’s say she’s not had a lot of education and there is virtually no support available from friends and family. Maybe she tries to deny and/hide her pregnancy; whatever…. She doesn’t have any ante-natal care, and so has had no advice about nutrition, the kind of activity she can continue and that which is best avoided; no comprehension of what changes her bodymind will go through during pregnancy and what to expect in labour.
What will that be like for her when the birth process starts? She’ll have no idea of what is happening to her body and what she can do to cooperate with the life force that is striving to assert itself. The whole thing will be nightmarish, a total trauma
Compare her experience with that of a woman having a baby with the support of the man she loves, and of her family and friends. She goes to the ante-natal clinic, and becomes fully conversant in how best to care for herself and her unborn child over the ensuing months; and in how she can participate most effectively when labour commences – how to breathe, when to push, when to pant, and so on.
Perhaps with her husband or partner right there at her side, holding her hand, giving her back rubs, and encouraging her, her birthing experience can be a highlight, even the highlight of her entire life.
Currently, in terms of acknowledging the reality of our mortality and preparing for it, the vast majority of us fall into the category of the first woman.
OTI: So what’s your idea? An ‘ante-mortis’ clinic?
Maneesha: Why not? Why is there no provision – and no request for – an education about the second biggest transition in life? How much longer are otherwise-intelligent individuals going to deny the fact that death is inescapable?
OTI: Maybe some time in a more enlightened future people will look back at these times and have a hard time believing that we lived in denial for so long! That we went, like lambs to the slaughter, with never a thought that things could be different.
Maneesha: Totally! Whether we should be doing dying differently or not is a no-brainer. What I’m proposing is sane. It’s doable, it’s friendly, and I’ve used it: it works. I’d love to think that one day it will be the only way to go.