Remember: We are just passing through
It may help in times like these to recall and make our own the fact that we are just passing through. That should not be an excuse for complacency but it is a help to inner peace.
In recent months there have been several deaths and near deaths around Shepherdstown and around the more extended fringes of my life. At Smithsburg High School a beloved receptionist in the prime of life died suddenly last week of a brain aneurysm. Some of you have recently experienced the death of your spouses, an experience that must be devastating.
On the one hand there is no sugarcoating it. It is painful and the pain must be given its day or years and processed with great patience. Nothing can make it go away until it’s ready to go. A friend of mine once said that you don’t get over the death of loved ones, you just carry it with you and it becomes part of you. Someone I know still becomes teary on the anniversary of her spouses death even though it’s decades later. I believe death has a softening, seasoning affect on the psyche lending perspective, wisdom, and maturity.
Among the world’s religions there are different beliefs about what happens after death but the Buddhists have a helpful concept of what happens before death, while we are still alive. It’s called impermanence. “Impermanence is life” is an oft-quoted Buddhist philosophy. One way to take some of the edge off of loss is to shift expectations. If I adopt the point of view that things do not last, things will not always be the way they were, things I like will not therefore last forever, then at least I am in the flow when my present evaporates. Impermanence is also a helpful outlook to foster development in consciousness. If I view my tribe’s beliefs and customs as merely a passage along the way of my spiritual growth then I am less likely to cling to the past placing new wine into old wine skins that will no longer contain them. I am also less likely to fear or reject the stranger as different because I no longer view my own situation as the only correct one.
One aspect of death that seems to haunt many people is whether they were present at the moment their loved one breathed his or her last. On the sentimental level this is perfectly understandable. Of course we want to be there not only because it’s our last moment with the beloved but also because we hope our presence is somehow helpful. My long experience is that people die when they die and they are not particularly looking for company. We can be at their bedside night and day and then we step out for an hour and that’s when they die. Dying takes a certain amount of attention and energy. The person dying is undergoing a struggle to leave their body. Often they are seeing things that we do not see such as the presence of others who have gone before them and who are trying to help them advance to the next life. Sometimes we will hear them saying things that do not seem to be addressed to us. This is because they are communicating with the other side. At a certain point they have taken their leave of us to get on with the dramatic process of dying. In terms of consciousness, they are being drawn into the next life already.
The day before my own mother died in 2002 she told me that the rehab center where she was staying, after a stroke, was having a party for her the next day. She said they do this for everybody and tomorrow was her special day. She said they decorate everything in gold and there are flowers and everyone celebrates them because it’s their birthday. In fact the next day was not her birthday but it was the day of her birth into the next life as she died the very next day. When our loved ones tell stories like that, it is important to take them seriously and not dismiss them as hallucinations. They have a very vivid reality for the one about to depart.
(Bill O’Brien is a Consciousness Coach. He can be reached at billobrienconsciousnescoach@gmail. com.