9 November 2011

The Grace in Dying

I am not obsessed with death.

I am just profoundly in touch with the ephemerality of life.

There is a big difference.

The ephemerality of life (which death makes us notice) has come starkly to the forefront of my life for three reasons...


In my early-mid twenties, I visited a psychic for a reading. She very accurately described my situation at that time, the characteristics of my husband and children, as well as the future disintegration of my marriage at the age of 34.

She also predicted that I would die by drowing at the age of 54.

I am now 51.

Whether her prediction is accurate or not doesn't matter.

Whether my fate at the time of the reading, is still on the same track now doesn't matter.

Whether I have the power to alter that destiny or not doesn't matter.

What matters is how I live my life, in every moment.


When I was 35 years old, I began to seriously study and practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. We were taught that death is close, it is our shadow.

We meditated on the meaning of death, the feeling of death, the experienced of death.

I vividly remember being led through a death meditation, experiencing the gradual dissolution of the body, the senses, the eyes becoming dim, observing the voices at my death bed fading into silence as my hearing withdrew, my mouth becoming dry as bodily fluids began to dry up, the circulation slowing then stopping, the exhalations becoming longer and longer until that poignent moment when no inhalation followed... It was the most powerful meditation I had ever done.

Needless to say, one rises from this meditation with great relief that one is still alive.

And a renewed desire to live fully.

My Buddhist training hammered into my psyche the cold hard fact that death is our birthright. As soon as we are born we are one day closer to our death, and the countdown is on.


And finally, Mark's death last December, which has led me into the deeply transpersonal inner realms of life, love and death.

It is a heady mixture of tragedy and joy that I am now living with.

I was beginning to worry about my morbidly obsessed psychological state...

That is, until I came across a book in the library a couple of weeks ago.

Funny how that happens...

The book has been a revelation, and perhaps the most profoundly important and life changing book I've read since Halfway Up the Mountain.

The book is called: The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Dowling Singh.

It is a masterpiece on the spiritual transformation experienced by those who are dying.

The process can occur over a period of months, or days, or in the last few seconds of life.

Kathleen sits with people who are dying, mostly people who have a terminal illness, and she observes intuitively their gradual transformation from the massive shock of their prognosis through to an all consuming luminous peace.

And she clearly points out that we can effect this shift during our lifetime.

We don't have to wait until death is upon us to ascend the ladder and re-merge with the Ground of Being (a Shambala Buddhist term describing that from which we came and that to which we will return upon death - it can be translated as the Divine, the Source of Life, God, Allah, Brahman...).

I have been profoundly moved by this book, and continue to wander around in awe of the simple truth that it reveals.

I urge anyone reading this blog entry to get your hands on a copy.

Here are some excerpts:

"As we deepen our understanding of the entire human journey, from conception through death, we deepen our capacity to live more fully and freely, awed by the fact that we ARE alive. We become different beings through the transformative power of our insight into the dying process. We become larger, more integrated, and somehow more real with this expasion of our horizons and remapping of our boundries. We enter levels that allow our now deeper being to open to WHAT IS - giving and taking, in living and in dying, with fewer gimmicks and simpler truth, with less frivolity and more joy, with less suffering and more gratitude."

Page 6

She describes the majestic psychospiritual process of dying as a vast evolutionary process of the return of a particular human being to the Absolute Ground of Being, of increasingly higher or deeper levels of consciousness, each more enveloping than the next, through which each of us will pass as we complete our experience in the human body.

The Nearing Death experience is characterised by certain subtle signals or qualities:The quality of relaxation - the end of struggle, a letting go, where a boundary is crossed.

The quality of withdrawal - a detachment from all worldly concerns and previously held identifications, a turning inward of all one's psychic energies, back to the centre of being. It is positive, purposeful and transforming.

The quality of radiance - the skin becomes opalescent, facial muscles relax, an inner illumination

The quality of interiority - a threshold, a liminal experience, that facilitates the path into within and on to beyond.

The quality of silence - communicaiton is only what is essential and deep, often symbolic or metaphoric pointing toward the ineffable, it is the language of love and poetry. No human language or concept can express this experience.

The quality of the sacred begins to emerge - the heart fully opens and it can be felt like a shift in the air, an intensification of energy.

The quality of transcendence - the development of a transpersonal consciousness beyond the identity of the personal self

The quality of knowing - a recognition of an inner momentum of deeper unfolding, an immediate knowing that one is a passenger in the body.

The quality of intensity - the energy field itself can often be perceived to 'open' to enlare, and intensify.

The quality of merging - an end to separation and duality, suggesting they are finally coming face to face with the Source of all Being, a melting into God.

The quality of experienced perfecton - of absolute safety, of finally allowing themselves to say good-bye, and letting go into that perfection.

"These qualities ... characterise the Nearing Death Experience. They are qualities not ordinarily known to or experienced by our separate sense of self. They are the qualities of grace. The very presence of these qualities suggests that Spirit is their source."

"The process of dying has been emulated for millennia by contemplative and meditative practices precisely because of the liberation it offers. Plutarch states: "At the moment of death, the soul experiences the same impressions and passes through the same processes as are experienced by those who are initiated into the Great Mysteries."

"Meditation goes far beyond the contemplation of death.

Meditation attempts to imitate the process of dying.

Meditation works to loosen identification with the personal self and with the current level of consciousness.

Meditation slowly and progressively purifies the ordinary mind, unmasking and exhausting its habits and illusions. With the purification comes insight into the self and the beginning of the healing of boundaries.... the healing occurs in the experience of the pain of the boundary."

"When meditation clears the ordinary mind, Original Mind shines through."

"The direct experience of truth comes from the radiant absorbtion in Spirit."

and how beautifully inspiring is this...

"We take ourselves to be so much less than we are. We know best the confined and anxious spaces of the mental ego but each of us has experienced each level of conscousness at some point in our lives, if only for a fraction of a second. Because we are multidimensional, because we have access - if just for moments - to greater dimensions of depth that arise when we move inward toward the Centre, we witness the humblingly beautiful human qualities of joy and wonder and loving-kindness and mercy and playfulness. The qualities of grace, of Being, arise in moments of self-forgetfulness. The Light reveals itself when we take off the blinders."

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