The value of meditation in daily living is well known. Less commonly understood is meditation’s potential in facilitating a peacefully and even joyful death.
Much is written – and also supported by clinical evidence – about how beneficial a regular meditation practice is in our daily lives. [See Benefits of Meditation] Much less is known, however, about the key role meditation can play in our preparation for dying and passing through the actual process of active dying.
Those of us who are meditators will readily understand that the process we enter in meditation is very similar to that of dying.
For example, in meditating as in dying we close our eyes (generally); we drop the effort to control and instead relax. In doing that we are leave the outer world for the interior one. Even if others are sitting meditating with us or by our deathbed, we leave the world of ‘the other’ for a state of aloneness. We move from activity, from ourselves as ‘the doer,’ to that of complete inactivity, to simply being. Our identity as a body, a persona – created by the various positions we may have held, the relationships we are in, by what we have achieved and so on – becomes irrelevant when we move into our inner world.
So meditating provides a natural and a simple way to consciously ‘die before you die’ – to rehearse dying. And of course the more familiar you are with entering meditation the easier it will become and the deeper will be the effect. It’s just like a pregnant woman practising the form of breathing she is taught for when the contractions start, and the panting that she needs to do instead when the child’s head is emerging.
'When we consciously enter dying we are moving along a very similar path. So meditating provides a natural and a simple way to rehearse, to familiarise ourselves with the process of dying.'
When we know how to let go consciously and voluntarily; when we’re familiar with the vast, still, silent space inside; when we know how, as the witnessing consciousness, to simply notice painful sensations or worrying thoughts and feelings; when we realise that the body-mind is not who we are, that it is a confinement and death a joyful release from it – can there be a better way to enter dying?
And when we observe carefully, we can see that dying is in fact so intrinsic to living – they are really two aspects of the same package – that the evidence is there in our very breathing – in our inbreath, in which we take in life, and in our outbreath, when we let go of the same life.
This seems a good point at which to try a small and simple technique with which you may already be familiar though perhaps not with the particular emphasis I am going to suggest….
This will take 10 minutes or so. Good to make yourself comfortable; you might like to sit up so you avoid the risk of going to sleep! Ensure that you will not be disturbed.
Close your eyes and watch as your breath enters and leaves your body.
You can either watch from the point at your nostrils where the breath comes in and out or from your belly, as it rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation.
You can watch the breath going in and coming out – or you can watch the gaps that appear between the end of the inhalation and the beginning of the exhalation; and at the end of the exhalation, just before the inhalation. A third option is to watch the whole cycle: the in breath and the gap that follows it and the out breath and the gap that follows it. But the real thing is the same: watching. Where you focus the watching is irrelevant: that is just an excuse for watching. Whatever suits you, stay with that.
Your awareness will wander from time to time. That’s natural. No need to spend time chastising yourself or becoming frustrated. Just, as soon as you notice that you have become distracted, gently bring your awareness back to watching your breath. (Osho: Vigyan Bhairav Tantra)
After: What we can learn through this
- to voluntarily relax.
- to feel, not just understand, the interconnectedness between livingdying;
- to be able to allow thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations to pass by, without becoming embedded in them
- to feel, not just understand, oneself as that which is separate from that which is being breathed (the bodymind)
…this is wonderful, empowering preparation for dying, for when that last breath is taken, the watching can continue
I spent some weeks living in the home of a client, Revati, after her diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer. She wanted to prepare for her dying, to be present at the moment of death, so each day we would have sessions – around psychological issues that emerged – and also meditate alone or together.
Not able to be present when she left her body three months later, I heard that she was sitting in meditation in her very last moments – a seamless transition from meditation to death.
She had worked so intensively and sincerely for a conscious death and it seems that is exactly what she had. If one of us could achieve that, why not you or I?