One thing that has been a delightful surprise and enormous blessing about this journey of discovery through end of life studies, is the willingness and courage displayed by others who have been moved to share their own stories of loss.
Of course, the required reading provides stories from the perspective of hospice doctors, nurses, and palliative care providers… but the truth that is shared by a friend, of their own experience as a witness to a loved one’s departure is far more meaningful to me.
These sacred moments of vulnerability and raw emotion are so deeply personal that I consider it a great honor and privilege to be given the opportunity to hold space and bear witness, not to the dying in these cases, but to those who remain. I feel as if I am being offered a gift from a friend who shares their experience, as I am offered a reflection of grace that might just be a guide for me when my darkness comes.
At the end of our days upon the earth – the path onward splits, as the survivor has no choice but to step forward in a new direction, as they create their new normal. What a privilege to see how sorrow leads to strength and strength leads to becoming in the heart of a friend surviving the loss of a love.
The one who has died has given up all of their earthly belongings, and those who love them have lost the physical presence of someone dear. These moments are woven into the tapestry of our individual mythology, and they are important tales of our own evolution. I am honored to hold these sacred moments in the light of truth and with the warmth of love.
I just finished reading the fourth and final book of required reading for this course, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. If you are interested in reading it and enjoy audiobooks, I found it on youtube. I find that spoken words will allow pieces that feel important to me to rise up, and then I can find them in the book and deepen my focus where I have been drawn.
Within the six and a half hours of listening, I found my draw at the halfway point… just over three hours in. Interestingly, the first three hours were on the topic of living, while the last three hours were on dying, death and rebirth. These pages are filled with pathways to compassion. They offer instruction through meditation – which kind of speaks my language.
I remember the first time I tried to meditate. It was 1992, and I was taking a class on earth based spirituality. One of my teachers had a passion for meditation and offered a Saturday morning practice. I remember sitting on the floor of a darkened room, receiving soothing guidance with eyes closed. When we were instructed to open our eyes at the end, I was simply frustrated. We were going around the room, each person sharing what they had visualized on their journey within… and let me tell you these visions were magickal. As for myself, however, I felt that I had failed to go anywhere… and simply could not push the mundane out of my mind.
My teacher asked me what I had seen, and the truth was that I was balancing my checkbook in my mind. Ugh… nothing spiritual about that. He then asked me to close my eyes now, and prompted me to say aloud what I could see. I can’t actually remember the results of that exercise, but I could see that there was potential if I could just get out of my own way.
My teacher died in 1996, just ten days after his 32nd birthday. A couple of days before his passing I sat at his bedside, held his hand, and sang to him the healing chant that ultimately led me to his circle (I wrote about that in my blogpost: A Spiritual Path Less Taken.) His was the first memorial service that I planned and led, a gift to his grieving beloved. He was pagan and his surviving partner was Catholic, so it was a service that was beautiful, loving, and diverse. He loved to sing (though he was tone deaf), and had been a member of a pagan choir called Amulet, which had recorded an album of earth based / goddess centered chants (which you can find on cdbaby). This group was the healing salve between the words of sorrow and celebration throughout the service. He taught me early on that raising our voices in song is a powerful way to connect with the spirit of all that is. I never leave home without a song in my heart, thanks to him.
It was after he was gone that my Tribe dedicated a year to meditation. Each week we gathered and we rotated responsibility for sharing a meditation with the group. At this point in time, our lack of experience led us to share meditations written by others. It was a year well-spent, because at some point I did finally get out of my way and learned to travel. I offer gratitude for this accomplishment to my friend and teacher, who surely helped guide me there through his energetic form.
In April of this year, my soul-daughter wanted to practice her mediumship skills and engaged my support. Before she arrived, I wrote down the names of those I have loved and lost, without attachment. It was this friend who came through. I knew it almost immediately. Her first words were that this guy isn’t shy, but this is the first time he has communicated with a medium. He said he was not related, but a friend. His energy was smooth and calming, she said. She compared it to being on a date with him… he said, “You know, I’ve never done anything like this before…” His energy was smooth and calming, welcoming and kind, charming, strong and firm. He described to her how he saw the world in a positive way – like everything was beautiful. I told her that he literally wore rose colored glasses. Ha!
She uses metaphor when she reads, as her guides show her visuals that she can interpret. He showed her an obnoxious yellow VW bug to describe his personality… it would be quirky, bright, stand out and something you wouldn’t see every day. He showed her that his energy was quirky, gentle, delicate, calm, but with a big personality at the same time. He was not calm, but his energy was. He made a joke with her, by dusting off an old book and dusting off his shoulders, reflecting that it had been a long time since he and I had connected this way.
She said that he used symbolism to communicate with her, with a lot of imagery, in a very poetic way. This is how meditation flows, so this makes perfect sense to me. I could go on and on about what I learned from my friend on the other side of the veil, but that would take more time than you have interest.
She felt as if he was teaching her. He did so for exactly one hour and eleven minutes – 1:11. Perhaps I will transcribe his wit and wisdom to share one day. Until then, he informs me that we will continue to connect through nature… and meditation. As if affirming my acknowledgement, I just looked out the window to see a single feather floating downward from the oak that stands sentinel in my front yard.
The art of compassion and how to serve is the foundation of the Buddhist structure shared within the pages of this book… a temple of healing with the power of the mind. We are reminded to touch the suffering of another with love, rather than fear. Fear leads to pity, while love leads to compassion. In order to activate and mentally direct this compassion we may consider the following:
Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath. Visualize a green light coming through your breath and into your heart, where it brightens and expands with each rise and fall of your chest. As this light shines more brightly, it illuminates the wise ones who surround you. You may see them and name them as your own spiritual path allows… be they ascended masters, angels, guides, God, Universal Energy, Spirit, ancestors, etc. Ask for their guidance to allow your words, thoughts, and actions only to benefit and bring happiness to others… to support their transformation from suffering to peace. Direct the compassion you possess, by positive action and spiritual practice, to the dedication of the welfare and enlightenment of all beings. Know that your own attainment of these goals will be for the benefit of all. And with this breath of compassion and enlightenment – we breathe in the sorrow and suffering of others, and we breathe out kindness. We breathe in the panic and fear that surrounds us, and we breathe out happiness.
The black smoke of suffering is replaced with the green light of the enlightened heart. The art of Tonglen is to transmute pain and suffering by giving and receiving. I receive your suffering, and give you my happiness. I receive your grief, and I give you my peace of mind. All of this occurs through the breath. This is a simplified explanation of the practice that is detailed in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I feel that a daily practice will be developed from these pages, and I hope that my heart light may be a comfort to you when you are in need.
Like my teacher before me, I have gone on too long. Know that you are loved, and that I am grateful to have you walking beside me.
In the spirit of connectedness, I am sharing below a few links: to my first professionally recorded meditation to release your inner warrior by letting go of the false burdens we carry; to the recordings made by the choir to which I refer above; and the contact page for my soul-daughter, should you be interested in experiencing her divine gift, first hand.