As inspirational story about a woman living with a chronic disease, facing death – and the breakthrough that has changed everything.
She felt stuck, the woman explained, between a ‘rock and a hard place’ – the fear of dying the motivating force to continue the extremely uncomfortable dialysis sessions and their aftermath. In renal failure due to an inherited kidney disease, two years ago Joy found herself in Intensive Care. There, all her deepest fears ‘breathed directly onto me, and the ultimate one that I had been running from for years – Death itself.’
Having trained as a nurse Joy ‘knew well the limitations of the healthcare system and the doctors and nurses themselves, so I was beyond reassurance and didn’t trust the treatments. I had a front seat to see the fragility of life and how we, as the “separate self,” have no control at all.’
Both personally and professionally Joy had been exposed to a lot of death and yet always managed to distract herself from it. However, when renal failure finally ‘cornered her’ she was forced to acknowledge that she too really was going to die.
‘I can see now that through all this, life has been preparing me for death of this body and showing me the true nature of death. It just keeps following me wherever I am – in the hospital and the dialysis unit; friends and others are passing [away] frequently. The instinct to look away and the fear reactions are still strong; it is too scary to lie down and open myself to death. There is still some sense of control there, you know – the fear to let go fully into Life as Life.’
Being a baby boomer, as is typical of many of that generation she has done her share of therapy and meditation of one kind and another, and self-reflection is part of her everyday life.
She was clear from the start that in our sessions together – as she told me in this, our initial skype consultation – she wanted to look at her issues through the medium of meditation, rather than therapy. From past, extended periods of therapy she had explored herself, her story, and had reached a place ‘where it just didn’t get to the root, the Truth…. It didn’t address the assumption behind most therapies that there is a free-willing, free choosing, independent and separate self that is ‘real’ and true. Therapy would take the stance of why her situation was an issue and how to go to war with it or get rid of it, she added, while in fact what she was going through ‘actually motivates the search towards a deeper Understanding [sic],’ for ‘the driving force in me at this time is to live as That which cannot die.’
She added, ‘I have a strong, unshakable sense that whatever the “issue”, the answers are one – remain as the Self. There have been times where that revealed itself and I saw that even in the worse scenarios (of that time) all was fine.’ However, the dialysis causes her body a great deal of suffering and it is then that she notices ‘the fear of death still looms… not with the power it used to have but, still, I cannot simply rest in Beingness and meet death or even the idea of it.’
After that initial connection – and, having a mutual sense of accord – we agreed to have a session a week or so later.
I wish to pass
through dying in peace,
I am weary of the fight.
To die consciously
must be so beautiful.
I was delighted to be starting work with such an intelligent, reflective and articulate client. I admired her fortitude – living alone, as she is, and having to drive herself to and from her thrice-weekly dialysis. And her courage, her acknowledgement that while death makes her contract with fear, she is ‘so ready to say yes to death, ‘[and that her] heart longs to meet it or be ready for it as a friend.
‘I wish to pass through it in peace, as peace; I am weary of the fight. To die consciously must be so beautiful, and also for those who are close and left behind,’ she’d said in our earlier conversation.
‘For some while now I have felt a strong sense I am only here in a body to deeply understand the Truth of who I am. Nothing else seems important anymore. That includes passing through death somehow and not fighting against it. Life is teaching me through these huge challenges…. I wish to live as fully as possible, love as fully as possible while still in the body – not hiding anymore from the inevitable.’
It might have been that the initial, lengthy consultation was of some help: Just having someone listen to us and understand what we are talking about can certainly bring about clarity and enable us to make new connections and realise new insights. Aware of that, still, as we launched into our first formal session, I was surprised at the extent of Joy’s progress.
Within the last week or so she’d come to an understanding so hugely significant that she’d had a complete turnabout in her attitude towards living, towards pain, towards dying and, in fact, towards the need for us to continue our work together.
Before we go there, I want to take a slight side-track that’s relevant to the story.
I’d recently come across two methods Osho has described that are from the Buddhist tradition and I was instantly intrigued. They were relevant to my work of supporting others through illness and dying. In addition, they ‘clicked’ with me personally, because I saw that, just as Osho points out, any conflict we feel about any situation is because we want it to be otherwise; we want things to be our way. Drop that desire, accept that this is what is, that this is the ‘suchness of things’, and voila! There is no problem.
The suchness meditation
consists of living
in this word,
living with this word,
that the word disappears
and you become the suchness.
Suchness (the Buddhist term is tathata) is not resignation. It’s not a reluctant acceptance. Ever the pragmatist, rather than asking one to simply believe him, Osho suggests, ‘Just look: whenever there is a situation, don’t desire anything, because desire will lead you astray. Don’t wish and don’t imagine. Simply look at the fact with your total consciousness available and suddenly a door opens and you never move through the wall, you move through the door, unscratched. Remember, suchness is an understanding, not a helpless fate. The suchness meditation,’ he explains, ‘consists of living in this word, living with this word, so deeply that the word disappears and you become the suchness.’
The second meditation, which follows, is really a variation on the above because, ‘once you are merged into suchness, in tathata, in understanding, there is no one as you and there is no one as other-than-you, no self, no other-self. In suchness, in a deep understanding of the nature of things, boundaries disappear.’
The Not-Two Meditation
‘The truth of not-two – go on tasting it as much as you can, go on feeling it as much as you can. At every opportunity, whenever you feel some tension inside, say “Not two” and relax the whole body. And look within at what is happening when you say “Not two”.
‘Whenever there is an opportunity of division, whenever you feel now you will be divided, now you are on the verge of choice, choosing this against that, liking this against that, whenever you feel the opportunity is coming and a tension is arising, whenever you feel a build-up of tension, suddenly say “Not two” – and the tension will relax, and the energy will be re-absorbed. That re-absorbed energy becomes bliss.’
(Osho: Hsin Hsin Ming)
Joy’s insight had been nothing less than this – the realisation that any pain she feels is a product of her creating a separation between herself and the object/ situation/ person that had appeared to be the cause.
‘There is only One,’ she said. ‘I am not a victim of a disease. I am not the thought of death. It is not about “what life has given me”; I am life. Whenever the sense of separation comes in it pulls me up, with “No, life cannot be separate and death cannot be separate. Death can only happen if there is ‘you’ and ‘death’. There cannot be two of us: me and death”.’
She did acknowledge that even after this breakthrough, in her next dialysis session she did feel anger and resentment. ‘Then, at a certain level those reactions were okay; the pain, the exhaustion and the illness were just passing through.’
Her tone of voice, the pace at which she spoke, the new expression of relaxation in her face – her whole demeanour, in fact – gave me the distinct feeling that what she was saying was from an understanding that was neither borrowed nor had anything to do with philosophy…or wishful thinking. It was her lived experience.
She looked bemused when I suggested I could send her the quotation from Osho, above, that so validated her insight. And when – in response to her speaking of pain sometimes persisting – I volunteered to read Stephen Levine’s ‘Softening around Pain’ meditation to her, that same, quizzical air…as if to say ‘Why would I need my feeling to be endorsed or to “work with my pain?”‘ Not only were those offers clearly irrelevant; though she added that she enjoyed our connection and would like to stay in touch, she did not see any need for us to work together further.
I was delighted at her sense of agency and self-sufficiency and was touched by her account of a seminal moment in her life, a ‘peak experience,’ as Maslow would call it, no doubt. And, as a fellow seeker, I was happy for her that – in spite of (or because of) the context in which she was living: the pain, the exhaustion, the grind of trekking to and from hospital so often – she had had an insight of such profound depth.
She sees what has happened somewhat differently. ‘I don’t have a sense of a “me” who has managed to achieve something; that’s not the case,’ she explains. ‘Suffering is Grace – an invitation to see through the illusion of personal control and to see the shocking transience of the material world. As such, it can evoke the search for That which never passes.’ She feels the beautiful poem that follows has relevance for her personally…..
Dance when you are broken open.
Dance if you have torn the bandages off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you are perfectly free.(Rumi)