Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Some thoughts about Being with Death

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I am a spiritual midwife. I have been at over 14 births, intimately involved and known to those birthing. I have also been with the dying and death of more than 14 individuals who have been dear ones. I mean to say that I have spent countless hours, days, months and in some cases years with each of these experiences depending on how much time each passage took. I’ve leaned in to being as present as possible and as close as others will allow in these times. This is not something I particularly sought out in the beginning, but rather, it seems, life had this planned for me as part of my education from the time I was 7 years old. Being the good student that I am I sought extensively, over many decades, to understand both of these particular and inevitable passages in life. It is also my great pleasure to be with others in their healing in between these two life events!

I’ve spent much time in many of the wisdom traditions, studying with books and people in order to come to some kind of understanding about all I have found along the way.  I usually quote various teachers at some point. But for now I will offer what my own particular viewpoint has evolved into. My opinion, based on my observations, study and experience.

Each and every death and birth is a portal. The spiritual veil is thin at these times. Being present during these times offers the possibility to see beyond to what lies before and after our lives in the physical, to learn to see with the heart as the Little Prince describes. It was quite challenging in the first deaths to have any equanimity. The emotions of loss are tsunamis when one allows the heart to remain open to all that loss brings. Each death can sweep through and carry away what is not essential, those things that prevent the clearest seeing with the heart…..in those who are curious, intend to learn and seek this out. Finding out what the debris is, this is the work of each individual.Your debris may differ from mine....

And each death, the time spent with those dying, can offer shining glimpses into the highest and rarest joys, magnificent connections, amazing beauty and extraordinary clarity. Truly wonderful possibilities can be experienced while here in this life.

I’ve heard the term keeping the ropes clean. This refers to having good communication skills and using them to have nothing blocking the love it is possible to share with another being.  The extent to which good communication exists depends on how much those involved show up and make this a priority. A connection is possible moving beyond this life. The heart connection does not vanish. It alters, but it is still available.

Our mind creates many stories around loss and death. Tragic, too soon, now they are at peace and so on. And these can all be true. But to stay in the story is to miss the deep housekeeping and grand vistas that loss can usher in. Each death is a release of the spirit out of the physical and into the most essential form. This belief does not depend on having any particular spiritual tradition. The challenge is in being in our human form and having the very real emotions that loss brings, feel them fully, as well as learning to see with the heart in to what is most essential and then finding balance between the two. It is absolutely vital to have good self care and support while navigating loss in a society which seems to moving so rapidly that there is no time to pause and integrate what can be a profound and even mystical experience. It is easy to feel bewildered if you have been swept by the tsunami of death. From the outside no one may see what is moving inside of you. No matter. Honor this passage. Give yourself ample time to be with, contemplate, and integrate the changes.

And some most basic tips: drink lots of water, sit outside each day for 20 minutes (so grateful to James Stark, Christopher Kuntzsch and Katia Sol for formalizing this as 'the sit'). Seek the help of a trained herbalist if you need some help in smoothing out extreme emotions, find people in your life that allow you to talk as much as necessary about your loss, write about it, be gentle with yourself and those around you. If you feel you are in danger please reach out for professional help. Know that when lots of emotions are moving through, your body is more highly sensitive to everything and even something simple like a cup of coffee may keep you up at night when normally it would not.

Joy. Grief, the flip sides of the same coin as my dear teacher Martin Prechtel says.

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