Being ‘Awake’ While Dying

The ancient mystery teachings suggest that there are two ways by which we die—the death of the body and the death of the soul—and the greater mystery is the death of the soul—how we Awaken after a psychic death, while we are still alive in our body.

Death of the body, it is said, is the lesser mystery. . . We cannot help but Awaken to our spiritual nature—to finally realize that there IS more to life than just material reality. . .Sometimes it is easier to realize this after we are released from our physical body with all its appetites and attachments.

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I had originally intended to share with you in this blog, my learnings about “Trauma Induced Spiritual Awakenings” as an example of this mystery of psychic death and spiritual renewal. . .

However, in light of my last 10 days, I would like to share some of my own Awakenings while witnessing Marg’s dying—her showing me and others how to be ‘Awake’ while she was dying. . .

No one, of course, can predict ‘when’ someone will depart from this world any more than we can predict when a spirit enters our world as a baby at the time of birth.  On Thursday, Marg told Ann, “I am tired of dying”.  Although I did not know when, I knew it would not be long. . . . at 11:00 pm on Thursday night, Marg’s pain apparently began to increase to the degree that the nursing staff gave her Ativan and morphine on Thursday night.  After my blog went out, I received an email that our friend had died that day (Friday), attended by her friend Margarita, who stayed with her throughout the night.

Our North American culture seems to have forgotten how to usher loved ones into the other world, and so I am sharing here with you some of what I did while I was with Marg during her final days.  I am not listing everything, because it would make this post too long. . . though I know there are many, many traditions that have not forgotten. . . and I invite you to consider how you might help yourself and others when the time and opportunity comes upon you.

I recall a teaching from the Dalai Lama, who suggested that we can assist someone when they are dying to have a good birth next lifetime by helping them clear their mind as they transition.  He recommended the use of prayer, chanting and ritual.  I went to visit my friend with that intent; and I feel honoured that Marg gave me permission to chant to her during some of her very last days here on earth.

Every evening that I was with Marg, in between our brief conversations and giving her sips of water or attending to other needs, I asked for permission from Marg to chant to her.  Once permission was granted, I performed various transition rituals.

The chanting seemed to soothe Marg, like a lullaby soothes us when we are young—like chanting Om mani padme hum for a few hours.  Sometimes I was drawn to chant the Sikh Kirtan kriya SA-TA-NA-MA (which translates as ‘Infinity-Life-Death-Rebirth.)  Or I would usher her to sleep with Dream Yoga chants to seed the deep knowing of how to ‘Awaken’ in her dreams.

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I also felt moved to chant the Hebrew prayer called the Shema. .  .“Listen”.  When I was 12 years old, I was taught to recite this prayer on my deathbed. . . so, I was told, “our final thought in this world is remembering our Oneness with the Creator and all of creation.”  I frequently followed the Shema with chanting the  13 attributes of the Eternal, a prayer that is chanted on the holiest day of the year. . . before we enter the ‘holy of holies.’

Adonai, Adonai, El rakhum v’khanun, erekh apai-yim v’rav khesed v’emet. No-tzayr khesed la-a-lafim, nosay avon vafesha v’khata’a v’nakay.

Yod-Hey-Vav-hay, Compassion and Tenderness, Patience, Forbearance, Kindness, Awareness.  Bearing love from age to age, lifting guilt and mistakes and making us free.              

(Transliteration and translation, from the Aquarian Minyan Makhzor)

Once, when I chanted the 13 attributes of the Eternal, Marg opened her eyes. With her 80 year old eyes full of sparks of love, she beamed her toothless smile at me as I continued chanting; both of us gazing at each other for some time while I was chanting. . . And I suddenly realized. . . “Marg is emanating each of the 13 attributes of the Eternal. . .

. . . She is looking at me with. . .

. . . Compassion. . . Tenderness. . . Patience. . . Forbearance. . . Kindness. . . Awareness. . . unconditional Love. . . carried forward from Age to Age. . .”  I saw her as completely released from guilt and mistakes. . . she was already Free in that moment.

I felt liberated too. . . I experienced the Eternal. . . within her. . . within me. . . And, when passing the Nursing station I saw the Eternal in each of us. . . within and beyond the stories of our lives.

As I walked from the Hospice to my car at 1:00 am in the warm, Texas summer’s night’s air. . . I experienced the Eternal within the trees, and night’s sky. . . and all of existence.

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In essence we are all free.  Though we live in a world of forgetfulness, we have within us this ability to remember our essential nature.

Before leaving Marg for the last time, the final ritual I performed, I invited Marg and Ann to join me in a traditional forgiveness ceremony. Marg’s last words to me as I left her room on my way to the airport were, “I love you.”

And although I may forget from time to time Marg’s final teachings while I live amidst and within the paradoxes of our ordinary world, I will also remember—and I will remember her. She remains with me in the secret chambers of the heart where souls touch and embrace in eternal-love-age-after-age.

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