I had the pleasure of giving a workshop at Trew Fields cancer and holistic health awareness festival this last weekend. It was truly inspiring to see so many people challenging their preconceived ideas and conditioning around subjects such as cancer, drugs, holistic therapies and death. However, even here I observed some resistance to talking about dying itself.
It is such a taboo subject, and yet my aim is to break this taboo by normalising it for people in a way that not only reduces fear of the dying process, but also gives you the tools to approach it in a conscious way, which is ultimately free from suffering.
The first thing to do to take us in this direction is to define death. Ultimately, what we see as death is just one manifestation of a process which is happening all the time. So instead of focussing on death as going from one state (alive) to another (dead), it is much more helpful to see it like this:
Dying is, the breaking down of one reality in order to make way for another.
What this definition shows us is that dying is a continual occurrence, which is one half of a bigger process; change. The other half is life. Death and life exist as one, neither being able to exist without the other. The amazing thing about seeing death in this way is that, with it comes the realisation that this movement of energy (dying) is totally applicable to our everyday lives.
Making Dying Normal
How does death manifest for us in every day life? The answer lies in identity. By this I mean, 'what you define yourself by'. This could be jobs, hobbies and interests, roles, relationships, religion, race, gender... the list goes on, but you get the picture. The thing is that sooner or later, death will take all of these things away.
Yes indeed, but not as heavy when you realise that loss of identity happens to us all of the time, and that carrying around the burden of old, used up realities is in fact a lot heavier than letting them go. Death happens to you every day. It happens every time you don't get your expectations met, every time you feel pain, or every time someone disagrees with you or does something that triggers you. On a slightly larger scale, it happens when you change or lose jobs, house or relationships. And, of course it happens when a loved one dies or you permanently lose a function of your body or mind.
Yes, this causes pain - but it doesn't have to cause suffering.
Your Pain is Where the Light Enters
Pain will happen. Of that there is no doubt. Whether it's physical, emotional, mental or even existential. There's just no way to control whether you experience pain or not. Sure, you could pop a pill, or distract yourself with entertainment or soft drugs. However, the problem with this is that it creates a kind of polarity in your consciousness. Me vs. the pain/loss. So you're never fully able to experience your reality in that moment. And why would you want to?
The thing is that we do have a choice how much we suffer. The paradox is that the more we retreat from our pain, the more this leads to suffering. If we chose to experience our pain so fully that that there is no longer a separate 'self' retracting from it, then suddenly all suffering vanishes (and often so does the pain with it). Suddenly it is obvious that this sensation no longer defines you. It no longer has any power over you, because you realise that there is a bigger part of you that cannot be touched by it. (For more on how to do this, see 'Be as a lake: A fresh perspective on pain')
Losing Your Identity to Find Yourself
Here's the other paradox. It's by letting go of these identities, which are holding us back from fully experiencing our current reality, that leads us to our true selves. There is a part of us that is beyond our experience of pain. It is beyond sensations, emotions and thought. This is not some far out concept. It can be experienced by everyone, no matter your spiritual outlook.
It's a part of us that is simply present. And the best way to reach this state of being is to simply clear the path of all the inner crap that was keeping you from it. I'm talking about all those identities that keep you in a box, attached to a specific way of living. For more ways to cultivate this see the 3-part series of articles on 'the observer'.
From this essence will come certain ways of being. These will manifest as feelings such as passion, focus, surrender, compassion, and curiosity. When we realise that an old identity is no longer a viable part of your current reality, coming back to these feelings provides us with a bridge back to our essential selves. For example, if we were to lose a job which gave us a sense of purpose, of helping to better the world, then we can connect with the sense of compassion inside. Or perhaps the job provided us with a sense of achievement or innovation - in which case we can connect with our sense or passion or curiosity. For more on this process see, 'Letting go - how to do it'
Why Fear Death?
The great consequence of doing this is that the closer you come to this essential self, the less fear you have around dying. There is simply less and less to let go of when you aren't carrying so many identities around.
We may not know what happens when we finally let go of our body. However, by learning to die right now, we can begin to fully live in each moment. Coming closer to our essential selves gives us so much stability, that there's no longer anything to fear from losing that which is no longer a part of our reality. It is not an easy process. It takes a lot of courage, especially in the beginning. But, I promise you the rewards are worth it!
Richard is a spiritual facilitator with Openhand. He is a carer, psychologist, spiritual coach and writer. He has worked close to death for 7 years and is passionate about helping people to move on in a conscious way, even though society is geared to fight against death. He offers services in Spiritual Facilitation and Conscious Dying on his website Back to the Source and writes regular articles on his blog.