When I began designing The Sammasati Support-Person Training (now The OSHO Sammasati Experience) it was with the premise that the subject we were going to delve into is essentially a mystery. As Osho puts it: “Life and death are the deepest mysteries…. Whatever you say, you will miss the point…. They are experiences – one has to pass through them and know them.” (And the Flowers Showered)
So, clearly, just talking about life-illness-death – for example offering a series of seminars and having stimulating, in-depth discussions – would be very limiting. Yet we couldn’t make it a prerequisite that participants had to have died and come back before applying!
Yes, an experiential approach was needed but one in which participants could have a taste of not-being while still alive. Is there any experience of that ‘not being’ that most people could probably relate to? How about love? When we love deeply we want to dissolve into the other; we ‘die’ to ourselves as a separate self. And dancing too: I know that when I’m completely absorbed in dance it’s as if my body – with all its limitations – has died for me. My mind too is out for the count. There is only energy, only movement.
Yet to me it is meditation that provides the most all-encompassing experience of dying while still alive. (In addition, meditation is not dependent on the other being present and there are so many different ‘doors’ through which to enter it).
In meditation I die as a doer, a thinker, a feeler…as an individual, as a personality with its any number of roles, beliefs, attitudes and experiences. Time – the constant concern with what I was doing before and do I have time for this now because there is so much I need to do later – also disappears. And even if hundreds of fellow meditators who are as deeply immersed in silence and stillness as I am surround me, internally I am utterly alone. I’ve said goodbye to the other – friend, foe, lover, family; the world at large and all my associations with it.
Because meditation enriches our capacity to live and also enables us to ‘die before you die’ it is central to the Training.
My experience of meditation as I’ve described above is of when I choose to sit or lie totally passive, consciously relaxed and at the same time staying aware. Such a simple method, and yet think of someone who has a scary diagnosis or who is dying and is plagued by anxiety: to be able to voluntarily relax will be a tremendous key for her or him. And forget the ‘scary diagnosis’: who of us living in this century can claim to be free of tension, of fear in some form or another?
Then there’s the time-revered, very straight forward technique that Buddha used: Vipassana, aka watching the breath. As well as it being deeply relaxing, in passively observing each of your in- and out-breaths you can experience the rhythm of life and death.
I remember showing this method to a woman I met in the Palliative Care facility of a hospital. Being in a 4-bed unit we didn’t have much privacy, but all it needed was for her to close her eyes and watch her breathing, while I sat by her side and quietly guided her.
Once I could see she had relaxed into the process I suggested ‘You might notice how, each time your breath come in, life is reaffirming itself. With each breath you are being given more life, and with that new breath, that new life, new energy. It is as if every time you breathe in you are being born again….
‘And in just the same way, each time you exhale, as you let go of the breath, you are letting go of life … you are relaxing into a mini-death. And maybe you can notice how relaxing that is…that letting go, of your own accord, with each out-breath… Nothing to do, nothing to try for… just a deep relaxing….’
She was indeed relaxing deeply, and so I continued, ‘And isn’t it interesting to notice, too, that existence is taking care of you in taking care of this most important function – of bringing you breath and taking it away again? Isn’t it interesting to notice that you have entrusted this breathing in and out to existence for so many years… that you have been trusting that you are being cared for…?’
Perhaps it was in that same session or a subsequent one that I wondered aloud if she was noticing ‘How these two, seemingly opposite movements – of your breathing in and then out – are in fact complementaries…. If you are noticing that the deeper you breathe in, the more deep you breathe out, and of course the more deeply you let go of your breathe, the more you can take it on your next in breathe. And maybe, too, you can observe how, what you once might have thought of as two different aspects are in fact part of one continuous flow, just like summer and winter, being active and being passive, dark and light, living and dying….
‘You can notice that when you are aware of the breathing in this relaxed and easy way, all thoughts of or feelings about the past or future are absent: there is just this moment, now and now and now. It’s just as if time has disappeared and this moment seems to go on and on….
‘And it’s interesting to note that there is the breathing, and then there is you, as the one who is aware of the breathing, the ‘watcher’ or ‘witness’ – that aspect of your quite separate from the breathing…. And it can be that in whatever you do – eating, bathing, talking to someone – you are with that watching part of you, able to step back a little from all that you do. It can be that whatever thoughts or feelings are passing by, you can also watch them – just like watching clouds passing by in a distant sky….’
Through that small and unassuming breath-watching exercise she could experience many significant understandings. There was the naturalness of the livingdying continuum; life and death’s being inextricably interwoven; the trust, unbeknownst to us, that we have always had in existence, which has been breathing in and out through us all our life; how past and future can disappear into present-being; and, finally, that we are not our breathing, not the body, or any thoughts or feelings.
In each module of the training we experiment with a number of meditative techniques. Thanks to Osho’s eclectic approach we have a huge resource, drawn from his own methods in addition to those from the esoteric branches of all the major religions. Those methods address specific issues related to living and dying – for example, the need for serenity, for clarity or for lovingness – the common denominator is our developing more consciousness.
More conscious, we are able to live with a sense of direction, of fulfillment, and the joy that comes with that; and, having lived in a fulfilled way, to let go into death with ease and even gratitude. I for one can’t think of anything more that I could wish for myself and for those I love.