In July 2018 I decided to take a month off from my usual life and sit with my dying.
My foster daughter went to live with her brothers carer, and I took a month off from my job.
My idea was to spend as much time as possible alone, in silence, reading, contemplating and meditating.
I wanted to be sure that I was genuinely at peace with dying. Perhaps I was really in denial? Had I just convinced myself on the surface to be peaceful when underneath I was scared? Had I created a persona that I felt I needed to live up to? The mind is very clever at fooling itself, so I wanted to create a space of no distractions where I was going to be able to confront my dying head on and see what happened.
I wasn’t quite sure where this urge to sit with dying was coming from. I even wondered if I would actually die during this month. Did my sub-conscious know something I didn’t and was preparing me for imminent death?
What I discovered was that I felt a kind of excitement in not knowing. Am I going to die? Am I going to heal?. Which way will it go? Once, this” not knowing” would have terrified me. Now it felt exciting. Maybe this is my version of living on the edge!
I felt that I wanted to be able to welcome death joyfully as a friend.
What I came to understand during this month, is that mentally, I don’t live in the same reality as the medical profession.
My reality is one in which anything is possible. One in which (to quote A Course in Miracles) “there is no order of difficulty in miracles”. You see, for me, there is as much chance that I will live as there is that I will die. Doctors generally only see healing as originating from the physical body. I see healing as originating from the spirit and mind as well. Healing through purely physical means is limited and reasonably predictable. Once the spirit and mind is actively engaged, its a whole new ball game. Who knows what is going to happen. Read “Dying to be Me” by Anita Moorjani for an inspiring example of this.
Life is much more complicated, mysterious, powerful, exciting and miraculous then we can ever imagine. We limit the possibilities and the miracles by being stuck in rigid beliefs and perceptions.
So I meditated and contemplated, got distracted, went out, got busy at times then took myself back into silence again. I simply could not seem to generate any fear about dying. In fact, the deeper I went into silence, the more peaceful I felt.
Ten days into my date with death, I had a really busy weekend. Visitors staying, then I have my foster daughter and her 2 sisters and brother for an afternoon. With three pre-teens dashing around the house, it was very chaotic and noisy, and in the midst of this, the realisation slid into my mind that I was not going to die from this cancer. It was a realisation rather than a thought. The difference is tangible. The feeling of it remains with me to this day although until I read my journal yesterday I had forgotten about it. It came out of nowhere in the middle of noise and chaos, and although I was delighted, I was also indignant. I had taken a month off from my life to make peace with death: I felt the wind had been taken out of my sails. I think perhaps I was rather enjoying the drama of it all, and now I had to drop it because it appeared there was no imminent death to face. I feel a little nervous to trust this realisation, but I am compelled to because of the nature of it. I need to honour it without judgement.
A day later, during a meditation, I could clearly see that my whole idea of a dramatic wrestling with fear of death was totally misguided.
For several reasons.
The first was that I genuinely do not fear death. I am not able to generate a strong negative reaction to it. This, at times, has been a source of puzzlement to me. What I now believe, is that as we become more deeply connected with our soul, the fear of death naturally falls away. The soul does not fear death. It has no need to. Death cannot touch the soul. Death can only touch the body.
The second reason was that my mind had concocted a story about me sitting with death, wrestling with the fear of it, overcoming it and triumphantly victorious, coming out the other side. Great story. But it wasn’t really my story. What I realised, was that this whole notion of wrestling or fighting was anathema to me. I don’t agree with the language of warfare. It just doesn’t sit right. I realised it actually wasn’t about wrestling with the fear of death, it was all about SURRENDERING into death. Or rather, surrendering into the flow of life which includes death and continues on.
As I sat with this realisation, I could see that there really was no difference between surrendering into life and surrendering into death. It was one and the same. From a purely physical point of view this is patently untrue, but when we shift our awareness from the physical to the spiritual, we can see that it is true.
I got out my journal and wrote. And as I wrote, I understood that this month that had begun with a story of me wrestling with death was actually the beginning of me completely surrendering into life, and that surrendering into life was actually a return to Love. ( I deliberately write Love with a capital letter). Things are often not what they seem.
Now, as I write this blog 18 months later, I can see that it truly was the beginning of surrendering more deeply into life. A journey that continues to go deeper and deeper.
It seems a paradox that in the face of death we can learn to really embrace life. I think this is because letting go of attachments enables us to live in a freer, less stuck way.