Loving and Dying Well
Getting to be with my mother in the days before her passing has been a wake-up call. As a result, I am inspired to use the time I have left in this body to prepare to die well. I am motivated to do this alongside others who also feel such a call. I only wish I had understood the importance of this sooner.
Most of us probably come to this awareness (the need to prepare to die well) as certain aspects of material life start crumbling. Maybe illness, or loss, or misfortune visit us and we get the message in our bones: “all of this will be gone one day – how ready am I to let go when my time comes?”
When we start to accept that life isn’t about getting our expectations met, the mystery of our death begins to speak to us. Maybe there is a blessing hidden in those “misfortunes,” in the way they catalyze our evolution by making us viscerally aware of where we’re headed.
Though we might conceptually know we are going to die, the letting go called for in the moment of death is not conceptual. It is total.
That kind of letting go requires a clear, unburdened heart.
Seen from one vantage point, death is an immense accomplishment of spirit, rolling back into itself the whole glittering web of stories it spun and loved throughout a life, the taking off of cloak after cloak of personality. And then there’s the intensely physical withdrawal from matter, the slowing and ceasing of thousands of biological processes … death and the triumph of spirit are actually kind of mind boggling when viewed from the standpoint of the body.
It’s a big deal. Is it even possible to prepare for such a grand event?
Before his death in 2019, Ram Dass co-wrote a book with Mirabai Bush called Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying. In it he muses:
For hours I look at the ocean, and I see it as a symbol. It’s the ocean of love, and I can just float. It’s infinite. I’m getting used to infinite. Time . . . time is just moving, and I am withdrawing out of time. I’m doing the work of sadhana: bringing up the past and loving it. . . . Loving it as a thought. Letting go of regrets and loving the past for what it was and is. There’s a difference between clinging to memories and reexperiencing them from present consciousness. They’re all just thoughts. The key is to stay in your heart. Just keep loving. (p. 29)
Loving our past can be tough. Loving the human narrative can be a challenge. Loving others we don’t agree with can feel impossible. Nonetheless, loving with a wide open heart is great preparation for dying well.
Loving without expectation and despite fear – also excellent preparation for dying well.
In the moments before death any sticking points – thoughts we can’t let go of, pervasive fears and heavy emotions, hurts we did not digest, loved ones we could not forgive, regrets we did not accept and bless – basically any identifications with anything other than Love – these sticking points will make it difficult to slip out of time and let go into that river of the eternal Now.
That’s why it’s a good idea to start preparing now. We can start by loving our sticking points! “Oh, sweet little sticking point, you’re so endearing the way you’re trying to protect me...”
Loving our past does not mean we gloss over things in some form of denial or spiritual bypass. It means we practice accepting it:
You may see that you could have done some things better, but the core practice is to love it all, to accept it all, to love yourself and your story. . . . (p. 221)
So even though death can seem like a big deal, if we’re anchored in Love, our inevitable surrender to spirit can be “as easy as a hair being pulled from butter” as the Tibetans apparently say (Dass & Bush, 199).
What would help me let go into love? This discovery will bring dying well within reach.