One of the greatest fears – in living as in dying – is of losing control. Many of us are self-confessed ‘control freaks’ …only happy if we are holding the reins. That need to be in charge may be helpful in the competitive corporate world, but it exacts a price at a very basic, everyday level: falling in love, even falling into sleep, can become problematic. The fear of losing control can mean that we live carefully, at the minimum.
Consider an act as simple as breathing. From the Tantric perspective inhalation, the taking in of air, is life, and exhalation, the release of the breath, is death. So we are living and dying all the time and have been since the first breath we drew! Not only that: the in- and out breath – like life and death – turn out to be not separate but two aspects of one process; and then, too, they are not inimical but complementary.
You might have noticed that when you inhale deeply, really filling your lungs, you breathe out really fully too. If you want to avoid death (exhalation), you’ll be reluctant to live (inhale) whole-heartedly. Something in you reasons that ‘If I just breathe in a little I’ll only have to breathe out a little.’ So even breathing is controlled.
We opt for safety and stability over expending our energy and exploring the unknown; we choose security – and the boredom that inevitably goes with it – over daring to dream. With that kind of outlook we’re bound to live a very tepid, contracted sort of existence. It’s natural, then, if we go kicking and screaming into death – because it’s only then that we realise ‘That was life – and I missed it!’
It’s the mind itself that is fearful of not being in charge – the cautious mind, which is always for the safe, the known and the containable. Yet probably all of us know moments when, in spite of the mind, we drop the reins. Dancing, listening to music or silently sitting still, when we completely forget ourselves; in running or playing tennis, when we disappear into ‘the zone’; in love, when we melt into the other – those are the most significant moments. There’s the feeling of moving beyond the small self and being immersed in something vast.
From the terror of being out of control to the loveliness of letting go.
Some people describe it as disappearing into a sky that has no boundaries…of no longer being confined in the body. In fact it’s as though the body is in you. In this experience all sense of separation has gone: you are one with the dance, the music, with the one you love…with existence itself. Even the constraint of time has gone. Beyond happiness… beyond all expression. This is not the ‘you’ you thought you were; yet it feels the most natural place to be. It’s as if you have come home.
There’s a mistaken idea that Tantra is a methodology of sexuality. In fact the word comes from the Sanskrit root, tan – which means ‘expansion.’ Tantra means ‘expansion of awareness,’ and that can be experienced – as we’ve just noted – in many moments in living. Dying – the final part of the process we call living – is an opportunity to voluntarily, consciously relax into that same space. Then, from a fear-riddled event to be denied, avoided and resisted for as long as possible, the whole experience of death is transformed.
Many of us might echo Woody Allen’s sentiment: It’s not that I’m afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Yet when you know you are not the body – which is certainly going to die — you have an entirely different take on what will happen at death and you absolutely want to be there for it.
Every time she enters her inner reality the meditator experiences herself as expanded, much vaster than her body and quite separate from it. From this perspective she knows it as simply a container, and a temporary one at that. Certainly a container to be taken care of and respected but chiefly significant because of the content – her consciousness. When this is one’s everyday reality, dying is felt as a breaking free of a confinement – much as a butterfly might feel escaping from a cocoon.
That’s the promise of meditation, and it affects all aspects of our living and dying – because, as meditators, we have a different perspective of who we are and what living-dying is about. All the dramas and joys are lived with totality because we understand them to be part of our experience as personalities – opportunities to know ourselves on that level and to use all experiences to grow in awareness and love.
Energetically, fear is a contraction, a holding back. Love is just the reverse; it’s an expansion, an opening up to. The Tantric approach is not to confront fear or to try to get rid of it. Nor is it about understanding the fear, analysing it, trying to find out where it came from and why it is there. Rather, through various Tantric methods, we can consciously move into the relaxed, expanded space that we might know through love, or any other experiences of letting go. As this pathway becomes more familiar, inevitably we come to enjoy it and welcome it. That joy in letting go isn’t confined to a method, to a particular context, but spills over into how we live – and love – and also how we die.
Your own death can be entirely different from what you might have once feared. Accepting the natural process that dying is, experiencing the beauty of letting go and knowing yourself as infinite freedom, transforms it from a catastrophe to a celebration. In the words of the Tantric master, Osho, dying can be the ultimate orgasm, ‘mahamudra.’
In addition, the support you are able to offer to another who is dying – a friend, a family member, a client – will be imbued with the flavour of your own, experiential understanding. Meditation works just like osmosis: the other can imbibe your groundedness, your serenity and love, and so move onwards in their journey with grace and gratitude.
Our 3-day workshop, The Tantra of Living & Dying offers a space to explore this together. We’ll experiment with a variety of meditation techniques in different contexts in life, all having in common the conscious movement beyond our small selves into the oceanic. There are additional techniques we’ll practise that can be used when we are with someone who is dying. They enable us to be with the other at the most profound level possible, so that we can, in a way, accompany them in their journey. From the dying person’s side, they provide reassurance of a loving willingness to truly be with them; for us – those left behind – such methods can open us to a new way of connecting that continues far beyond the demise of the body.