What it Means to Die Consciously

“Death is psychologically as important as birth. . .  Shrinking away from it is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose.” ~ C. G. Jung

Of all the mysteries in the universe, there is none that has perplexed the human species more than death. Over the course of our short history here on this planet, no question has persisted more urgently than the one surrounding the end of our conscious existence. We are plagued by it.

For many, religion is an answer. For others, mysticism. And for the die-hards – the atheists – no answer is needed. This life alone is enough.

Yet all three groups will die. Make no mistake about it. Death is an intrinsic part of the universe, built into the very framework itself. Yes, science has proven that energy persists indefinitely, but there is no system known to us that does not bow, in the end, to the great death known as change. And for humans, there is no greater change than death.

Regardless of one’s beliefs – or lack thereof – one must prepare to face one’s death as it approaches. Anyone diagnosed with a terminal or potentially terminal condition will be immediately left facing a number of serious existential questions and concerns. Their entire perspective will shift. With this article we have pieced together advice from two spiritual authorities on dying consciously.

From oshonews.com, this is an excerpt of an interview with Maneesha, editor of Osho’s darshan diaries and a founding member of The Sammasati Project, “a support for those wanting psychological and/or spiritual support in health, in sickness, on the road to recovery or in passing through dying.”

Just as a mother consciously prepares to give birth – through ante-natal classes, learning what changes her body will go through, how she can do what is best both for herself and her baby – we can prepare for a conscious death. After all, we may not all give birth to another’s life but we all give birth to our own death! Death is, as the existential philosophers emphasize, “the inescapable, immovable boundary at the end of our lives” (Ref. 1, p 17). Given that, plus the fact that most of us fear dying, it makes sense to me to look at any issues we might have about dying while we are still able…

In my experience, when we are seriously ill, the spectre of death may well be hovering about in the background. So, my suggestion is: rather than trying to pretend it’s not there, why not use the opportunity to face the fear of dying? Ignoring or repressing fear – any emotion, for that matter – takes energy… energy that could be better channeled into healing.

If you look your fears in the eye and work through them, and then it happens that you recover, great! – you’ve used your sickness wisely in doing some preliminary preparation for when it is your time to die. And, as Yalom (Ref. 2) writes in Staring at the Sun, “Death awareness may serve as an awakening experience, a profoundly useful catalyst for major life changes” (Ref 2, p 30). And that’s what I see, too, that the process of dying provides potential for inner growth…

As an editor and author I love and respect words; as a therapist I respect the value of reflection. Yet as a meditator I know there’s a whole dimension beyond thinking that can address far more profoundly the big issues in life – such as love and dying. For example, rather than trying to ‘quell’ those very natural thoughts about death, why not explore experientially what those thoughts are really about?

Let’s say your particular fear is of ‘not being,’ of dissolving. Rather than having you just talk about that, through various techniques you can voluntarily enter the space of meditation in which you let go your identity as a bodymind, as a personality. You understand, not just intellectually but from your experience, that the bodymind is not in fact an essential part of who you are. In dis-identifying from yourself as a bodymind, simultaneously you experience your real, authentic being: that is, consciousness.

If that approach – of entering your fear – is too confrontative, I might suggest an energetic approach, i.e., in this instance, working with fear indirectly. Energetically, fear and love are diametrically opposite: fear is a contraction of energy, love is an expansion of energy: The more expanded we are, the more loving, the less fearful. So, as a client [who is dying] becomes more loving, as she experiences more often that energetically expanded state, she will become less fearful. It’s simply not possible to be fearful and loving simultaneously.

~ Click here to read the full interview.


Ram Dass, a contemporary spiritual teacher and founder of the charitable organizations Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation, is known for his many writings on the transcendence of self. He recently shared an excerpt on dying consciously from his book Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from your Spiritual Heart, in which he provides the following points, capable of being practiced at any time or stage in life.

• Live your life consciously and fully. Learn to identify with and be present in your soul, not your ego.

• Fill your heart with love. Turn your mind toward God, guru, Truth.

• Continue with all of your spiritual practices: meditation, mantra, kirtan, all forms of devotion.

• Be there for the death of your parents, loved ones, or beloved animals. Know that the presence of your loved ones will remain when you are quiet and bring them into your consciousness.

• Read about the deaths of great saints, lamas, and yogis like Ramana Maharshi.

• If there is pain at the time of death, try to remain as conscious as possible. Medication for pain offers some solace but dulls your awareness.

• To be peaceful at the time of your death, seek peace inside today.

~To read the full excerpt, click here

These key points, outlined by two individuals who have spent their lives surrendered to the spiritual pursuit, living and working with some of the great masters, as well as (in Maneesha’s case) helping to hospice many humans through their passing, can be taken as sage advice for anyone approaching the spectre of death. They can also be used, however, by anyone, at any age, regardless of health. The sooner one begins working on their integration, the more effortless the transition into death will be, whenever it does arrive.

References

  1. Cooper, M. (2003) Existential Therapies, Sage Publications: Los Angeles
  2. Yalom, I. (2008) Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death, Piatkus Books: UK

Image: Giambettino Cignaroli – The Death of Socrates