Digesting Death, and the Only Meditation that You'll Ever Need
Today I offer a meditation on Death. Simple, short, and with Fall 'pon us, seasonal.
But what does this have to do with ghee, you may ask? Nothing. Everything. I don't know.
Now if you're still reading -- and the "d" word did not scare you away -- kudos. While it is sexy, death, unlike sex, does not sell.
That said, it should. In my life there are practices that consistently change me into more of who I always was. This is one of them.
Let's dig in. To start, take your chosen seat. Bare earth, bare feet is best. It should feel stable and easy. Open your legs, center your spine, and "drop" your weight through your midline. Protip: relax your jaw. Now notice your breath. Let it be free, easy, spontaneous and as full as can be. Don't "try" to breathe deeply, but don't mentally check out, either. Drape your fingers onto the ground. Can you dig it?
When after a few minutes your system has quieted some, vocalize the great and simple truth:
“Soon, I will die”.
Now listen and feel.
That's it. That's the practice.
These words are important. Not, “eventually” I will die or “some day” I will die (which may be true, but dodges reality), but, “soon, I will die”.
Notice what happens even as you read those words. Is there resistance, disagreement, ("well, I will die sometime but probably not soon!"), even a bit of outrage?
Notice your jaw. Feel your face. Take in your throat, chest, belly, and booty. Wiggle your toes. Shake your hands. Again, touch the Earth and repeat, “I will die”.
Now you’ll feel a particular part of your body stand out. Meet it with a hand as if to say, “I hear you”.
Again, let your breath be natural, and practice letting go of tissue, tension, and thoughts, while at the same time just letting them be. The not so secret to letting go is to just feel and accept. This takes practice. Paradox takes practice. Intend to be gentle, even if you feel anything but. Keep taking what Zen calls “the backward step”, and hold yourself in bigger and brighter arms of awareness. Trust that any discomfort that shows up does because it’s ready to, and because you are ready to hold it.
Now let the practice get creative, intuitive, and free. Let it take a life of it’s own. Trust that like water, your life journey today knows how to flow and where to go. Use our morbid mantra and contact statements like “I hear you” to be your anchors to center and ground yourself. Remember that the ground too, is here. Touch it often and adjust your seat.
And your mind may journey. You may explore memories, feel your life as it is, and envision how it could be. The key is to let it be natural, and to trust the stream of your consciousness. The point here isn’t to “better” your life or change anything, but to meet yourself where you are and to explore that in the face of one of the great truths of life.
“Some day soon I will die”.
No matter your experience, if you stick with it you will find a very real energetic distillation process occurring. The steam of your mind will melt into forest of your heart and then drip deep into the basin of your bellies. It might even trickle down the rivers of your legs and out the streams of your toes.
Grief may happen. Joy may happen. Poetry may happy. Tears, numbness, boredom may happen. You may just feel really uncomfortable, even angry. Let it all happen, and know that you can stop whenever you like. Know too though that, this is the Truth, and no matter how hard you try you to get away from it, you can't. Some day soon, you will die.
Getting Down with Death
Death is utterly grounding. When we touch death, we touch the Earth. And when we touch the Earth, we touch death.
We all want to live long, full lives rich with people, places, experiences, memories, love, sex, food, wealth, success, failure, freedom, art, and fun. If life is a feast we are ravenous, and we want our fill of all the food before the night’s through.
We want - even expect - easy deaths that are light and easy, like a delicious out breath.
While innocent, this expectation is a fantasy. This is a total fantasy. An idea that’s taken route in much of Western society, but not other cultures, (particularly those intimate with death), don’t buy in to. Interestingly, in these cultures the average life expectancy might be measurably shorter, while the reported levels of happiness are measurably higher.
The truth is that most of us die sooner than we want to, in circumstances that we’d never expect, want, or wish for.
My somatic psychology counselor shared with me that most elderly patients he sees live frozen in a perpetual state of "abject terror". They must finally digest their own deaths, and they're without palette or enzymes.
I believe that this seed of anxiety lives in most of us, and gets ever on-line the more real that life gets.
As a somatic bodyworker, I've seen that most of my clients simply do not know how to relax. And as an Ayurvedic professional, (I wear many hats), I perceive that this is because we're afraid to feel our bodies. We're afraid of feeling our pain, our traumas, and the existential truths within our blood and bones. One thing that happens if you meditate long enough is you start to see Truth. One great Truth is that everything passes. Every thought, sensation, emotion and experience, every person, place, passion, or potential is momentary. To quote the great Sufjan Stevens, "all things go".
In other words, we're in low grade (and not so low grade) panic because we don't hold hands with life and death. Some day soon, I will die. I won’t be here anymore. I’ll go away, and I don’t know where or for how long.
If this is true, All of my worry is in my vain. My past and plans are imaginary. My ego, a mirage.
Death is the ultimate tonic. And without it, we get caught in nonsense and bullshit. Nonsense thoughts, states of dread, cancerous jobs and ridiculous relationships. You know this list.
This is because we practice avoidance rather than acceptance. Acceptance takes courage, consciousness, and intention. Don't say you can't. It is a practice.
So if only for today, practice. Touch the Earth. Lightly if you like, with your fingertips. Notice what happens in your body and mind. Especially at first, it might actually increase the panic. For me it did.
Scared the spit out of me.
At first my mind called it stupid and a waste of time, and jumped to the to do list as an anchor to reality. I stayed with it, and felt a frenzy of fear. I stayed with it still, and kept taking the backward step. Eventually, it collapsed. Behind my house of cards I found pain, grief, and love. Behind everything is love, I saw. Behind everything is care.
I found I care A LOT.
I care about the birds and the bees, the wind in the trees. I care about the ripple of the little things that I say and every little thing that I do. I care about loving every person I meet, and I feel immense pain when I skip over people. Which is all the time.
I then found myself channeling poetry, and shortly after I found myself writing this article.
The truth is this practice is the only reality. At least from one perspective, and the one that I'm offering today. And the more we can move from this reality, the more we feel safe, centered in our Souls, and like we truly belong. Which is the truth, because we do.
Realization of Death is Enlightenment.
We can meditate for ten years ten hours a day and not have learned a damn thing worth sharing.
We might have totally missed learning to digest death. The western mind sequesters the truth in corners of the inner and outer cosmos. As grief mentor Holly Truhlar shares, "domesticated society is death-phobic and grief-illiterate". Our waking lives are filled with messages of progress, health, and good fortune: we’re living longer, healthier, and happier. Our newsfeed is filled with miracle diets and new and holy herbs, ancient ways of wellness recolonized and repacked to skyrocket the populace out of the very existential lack that capitalism needs and feeds. It's such utter bullshit. And so utterly obvious.
To be human is to be humble. The prefix of human - "hu" literally means "of the soil". To be human is to fall on our knees, touch the soil, and to be "of" it. To return. To belong.
When we touch the truths of Life we touch the truths of our life. We feel grief, love, and belonging. And then we’re inspired to give. Thus this brave and quiet meditation is immense service to the Soul and to the world. The point isn’t to “find” your purpose, but as the mud moves in your gut your purpose may pop up to the surface, buoyant with breath, life, and beauty.
For these reasons these practices are anything but selfish. Moreover, if we each committed 22 minutes to it every day, we’d realize utopia in a fortnight.
I can think of know better example of this than the life of the Buddha.
The Buddha's Dive
On the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment -- his epic dark night of soul -- he wrestled with the "Great Fears". There was the fear of death, and beyond that something even more terrifying. The fear of not belonging. Of being unworthy. Can anyone relate?
“Deep down, I fear I do not belong”? Every body knows this one.
"Deep down, I fear I’m not good enough to belong". For some and for many, it is not joy but this core anxiety,(which we'll call “core unworthiness”), that serves as the great motivator of life.
The Great Fears went right for this deepest wound and cried, "what right do you have to be here?!"
At this moment in our hero's journey, I imagine the buddha taking a deep breath and making a resolute choice. Not just for himself, but for all beings bound by this fear.
Kneeling, bowing, he touched the Earth. He said, “I am here, for I belong. I belong for I am here”.
And all at once, the fear left.
The Earth is a realm of transience and tenderness, as much of Life as it is of Death. It is a garden, and a glorious one. If we find ours green, we are lucky. Beyond lucky. But be not naiive: on Earth all green turns gray. Even Eden turns to ash.
So let us meet reality as it is and at least once a day, let us choose to look. Let us choose to sit. Let us choose to see.
For only in life may we know death. And only in death may we know life.
So touch the earth. TOUCH the truth. And see what happens. And in so doing, touch your truth. But don’t look for it. This practice, like the Earth, is deeply feminine. Wait and listen. Let it come to you. Like the seasons. Let what comes, come. It may not be during your first “practice", (and remember, that’s what this is - a practice!), but sooner than later I guarantee you will touch a deep and personal truth, that no one could give you and no one can ever take away. That you could never pay for. That is worth its weight in gold.
A Well of Gold
At the bottom of any well we find magical things, usually worth keeping. In the depth of this practice, you will find profound personal truths. They may be general truths, like “I belong”, "I matter" or, "I am safe". Don't discard these - if you can feel them for merely a moment, you seed them in your soul. These seeds will grow.
Or you may feel something more specific and actionable like, "Fuck, I want to write a book". "I want to build a garden". "I want to call my sister, hike the Pacific Coast Trail and even, *voice lowers* I want to quit my fucking job".
If this is you, it's 2019, already. Quit your fucking job.
It could be something epic like “I want to build a village”. That said, it often isn't. It's often something simple though equally special like "I want to do relax more, enjoy my breath more, take more time with others, eat more hemp seeds and take more epsom baths".
For me this morning, I had to write this article. I took my meditation seat frozen in fear, and arose filled with faith. Deep relief. I saw a path. And I wanted to share.
Find out for yourself, but for me death truly is a path. A path of belonging, brotherhood, purpose, and peace. You want a path or practice? A purpose? Look at your feet! Look at where you're going! Where we're all going. What’s that stir in you? Fear, frustration, faith? Feel that. Follow that. That is your path.
Death is the path - the one we’re all walking. What death does to you is your path, that only you can know. And only you can share.
We are commissioned by Death to explore Life. And we are commissioned by Life to explore Death. For the satisfaction of our Souls, that took birth for the chance to live and die again, baby.
I think that more than anything, death is a path of service. It is utterly connective, and awakens us to more than ourselves. When we look at where we are and where we’re going, we breathe deeply and see clearly, and we can’t help but want to help.
Again, let’s look to the Buddha.
What the Buddha Found
Shortly after his great and simple gesture, the Buddha utterly and irreversibly awakened. That's what "buddha" means, in fact -- one who is "awake". Now what "awake" actually means, I’ll leave for you. Everyone agreed that he laughed more, relaxed a ton, and took himself way less seriously.
But did he kick back in Taiwan to sip coconuts and binge-watch Stranger Things? Nope.
He committed the rest of his life to sharing. And to caring. And to teaching.
And with ease and joy he birthed one of the largest and most transformational spiritual movements the world has ever seen. That empowered millions to simply look within for whatever they sought. Though Buddha's teaching have been commandeered and corrupted by government and religion, the essence of the practice continues to thrive, and to benefit so many.
So if you want peace, purpose, brighter colors and deeper sleep, try out this practice. “Some day soon I will die”. And do not fear grief.
For good grief, (I had to, didn't I?), grief is good. As Mayan shaman Martin Prechtel shares, "Grief and Praise share the same bed". In other words, grief is praise!
So sit with death a while. Longer than you might like.
Who knows, you might jump up living.