We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by society. – Alan Watts
This morning when I was with one of my hospice patients, I thought, “What is the language of God?” I know that it’s not the English words that I write and speak. The language of God is the sound of my breath, the ocean waves, the song of a love bird, a baby’s cry, the sacred sound of OM, and music. The language of God is a smile, the sunset and sunrise, the mountain in the distance, loving human touch, and so many more things.
One of my dear hospice patients died a few days ago. She had a hard death. Watching her last days was tough. When she died, I felt relieved because she was no longer suffering. For the first time ever, I prayed that she would have as many blessings as a thousand petaled lotus.
My hospice patient whom I’ll call Sherri died from colon cancer. She was fifty years old with long, strawberry blonde hair. She was married and had three children in their teens and early twenties. She was a beautiful woman inside and out.
My last memory of Sherri is of her sitting in a kitchen chair supported by pillows. Her temples were sunken in, and her eyes were half open. As she breathed, her bony rib cage gently moved in and out. She looked like she was pregnant with a swollen belly. The tube that connected to her stomach helped reduce the fluid. Sherri sat in a chair because it was the only place that didn’t cause her pain. Later on, she died in her bed with her husband by her side.
I gave Sherri a gentle massage on her feet and legs. Her husband sat by her, holding her hand. As I massaged her feet and legs, Neil Diamond’s song, “Do I Wanna Be Yours” played in the background. Sherri’s husband began to sob during the song. I put my hands on his shoulders and told him that he’s doing an excellent job taking care of his wife.
Joan Halifax says, “Being with dying often means bearing witness to and accepting the unbearable and the unacceptable.” It was a hard death. And now when I think about her death, all I can feel is compassion. I’m glad it’s over.
Halifax continues to say in her book, Being with Dying, “We need to learn to stay with suffering without trying to change it or fix it. Only when we are able to be present for our own suffering are we able to be present for the suffering of others, and the difficulties they may encounter in dying. The practice of insight meditation, in which we watch the ebb and flow of mental activity, is a good way to cultivate this ability.” I know when my death comes, I will count on meditation to guide me.
Insight meditation or Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation that helps you concentrate and gain insight into reality. It is a state in which the mind is brought to rest, focused only on one item and not allowed to wander. During meditation, a deep calm pervades body and mind, a state of tranquility which must be experienced to be understood.
When I do insight meditation, I use a mantra (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration). Here are some mantras that I use (in-breath/out-breath with each sound): OM/SHANTI (universal sound and peace), SAT/NAM (truth and name), and LOVE/PEACE.
Steven Levine in his book “A Year to Live” says, “A death chant can act as a refuge from the storm, or an open window to the sun. Mantras or prayers cultivated in a sincere spiritual practice work very well for many.”
Someday, death will come knocking on my door. I want to be as prepared as I can be. Meditation is the key to help me create peace and acceptance as I step into the thousand petaled lotus.
There are two times in my life that I thought I was going to die. The first time was after the birth of my first daughter. I had a grand mal seizure right after giving birth, and I could have bled to death. The second time was in 2015 when I was in India riding a tour bus on the foothills of the Himalayas. I want to share my story about the bus ride.
I was riding a large tour bus with my classmates to Rishikesh, India (we were on a study abroad trip to learn yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda). There were 16 students, two professors, the driver, and the assistant driver. The roads in India are dusty and narrow. I remember I sat near the window of the bus heading toward Rishikesh during nightfall. I feared for my life and for the life of my fellow travelers because the driver admitted that he has never taken a bus on this dangerous road before – plus it was getting dark, so the visibility wasn’t good.
The tall, oversized tour bus ventured onto a small, gravel mountain road with sharp turns and large potholes. Several times the bus got stuck in the deep potholes. No one in their right mind would take a huge bus on a narrow, curvy, mountain road! As the bus took ever-so-slowly sharp turns over and over again, all I saw was a cliff heading straight down. I feared one wrong move, and that bus was rolling!
I struggled to find my seat belt. It was stuck between the cushions. I found the seat belt and put it on. Silence filled the bus as I prayed. I was panicking a little – I couldn’t look out the window anymore. I threw my jacket over my head and breathed.
Now that I look back, I see that I was only thinking of myself when I put my seat belt on (at the time I didn’t think of anyone else). I should have told everyone on the bus to fasten their seat belts. I thought about this, and I realized that’s not the kind of person that I want to be – just protecting myself. If that bus rolled down the mountain – many of my fellow student’s lives could have been saved by wearing a seat belt.
My lesson is to not just think about myself! I want to protect other people. I need to be brave enough to speak up!
Thankfully, because of our skilled bus driver, we made it safely to Rishikesh (after two hours of torture). However, we all agreed that we would NOT ride back that way! We loaded our suitcases on the bus, hiked for almost an hour to the other side of the Ganges river, and then took rickshaws to meet our bus.
Visiting India is a lot like riding on that oversized bus on a tiny, narrow mountain road. It’s crazy! You take one step into the unknown, and you have no choice but to trust. India runs on crazy! Nothing seems to make sense, but it all works out in the end.
“When the early morning hours have come and gone. Through the misty morning showers. I greet the dawn. For when its light has hit the ground, there’s lots of treasures to be found underneath the London sky.
Though the lamps I’m turning down. Please don’t feel blue. For in this part of London town, the light shines through. Don’t believe the things you’ve read. You never know what’s up ahead – underneath the lovely London sky.
Have a pot of tea. Mend your broken cup. There’s a different point of view awaiting you. If you would just look up. I know.
Yesterday you had to borrow from your chums. Seems the promise of tomorrow never comes. But since you dream the night away, tomorrow’s here, it’s called today. So count your blessings. You’re a lucky guy. For you’re underneath the lovely London sky.
Listen. Soon the slump with disappear. It won’t be long. Sooner than you think you’ll hear some bright new song. So hold on tight to those you love. And maybe soon from up above, you’ll be blessed so keep looking high. While you’re underneath the lovely London sky. Lovely London sky.” – From the movie, Mary Poppins Returns.
Lately, I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of getting older or if I am learning to accept things the way they are. I feel more grounded and content. One of the reasons why I think I’m content is because of my awareness and wisdom about life. I am learning to look at life objectively.
I recall one of my blog posts, “Being Anonymous.” In that post, it says, “I exist, and I do not exist. I am anonymous. Knowing that I am a transient being helps me to see that I am a visitor on this planet. Most human beings on this earth do not even know that I exist! And this is okay with me. Being anonymous creates freedom in my mind and spirit.”
I have thought deeper about the fact that I exist and I do not exist. If I do not exist, then my problems to do not exist either. It is difficult to explain this concept, but I will try. It is like two sides of a coin: one side you exist and the other side you do not exist. And you need two sides to make a coin. If you can tap into the “you do not exist” side – that is where you find freedom.
If you can expand your mind – that’s great! Most of people live in their HEAD. Pema Chodron says it’s important to have a sense of spaciousness. She says, “One way to do this is to imagine that you’re breathing into a space as vast as the sky.” She continues to say in her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, “There’s lots of room, unlimited room, enough room to accommodate anything – misery, delight, the whole gamut of human emotions.”
We are limitless, and anything is possible. If you can turn your coin around and look at your life objectively, you will see that you are as spacious as the sky.
“Our identity, which seems so reliable, so substantial, is in fact very fluid, very dynamic. There are unlimited possibilities to what we might think, what we might feel, and how we might experience reality. We have what it takes to free ourselves from the suffering of a fixed identity and connect with the fundamental slipperiness and mystery of our being, which has no fixed identity. Your sense of yourself – who you think you are at the relative level – is a very restricted version of who you truly are. But the good news is that you can use your direct experience – who you seem to be at this very moment – as the doorway to your true nature. By fully touching this relative moment of time – the sounds you’re hearing, the smell you’re smelling, the pain or comfort you’re feeling right now – by being fully present to your experience, you contact the unlimited openness of your being.” – Pema Chodron (From the book, “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change.)
“Begin. Keep on beginning. Nibble on everything. Take a hike. Teach yourself to whistle. Lie. The older you get, the more they’ll want your stories. Make them up. Talk to stones. Short-out electric fences. Swim with the sea turtle into the moon. Learn how to die. Eat moonshine pie. Drink wild geranium tea. Run naked in the rain. Everything that happens will happen, and none of us will be safe from it. Pull up anchors. Sit close to the god of night. Lie still in a stream and breathe water. Climb to the top of the highest tree until you come to the branch where the blue heron sleeps. Eat poems for breakfast. Wear them on your forehead. Lick the mountain’s bare shoulder. Measure the color of days around your mother’s death. Put your hands over your face and listen to what they tell you.” – Ellen Kort
We need to remember that life comes as moments. One of my favorite stories is about how the Dalai Lama upon hearing some tragic news, began to cry. Then several minutes later, he was smiling and laughing. The Dalai Lama truly embraces how life comes as moments. He doesn’t hold onto that sadness forever – he moves on. It doesn’t mean that the Dalia Lama’s not sincere. He just goes with the flow and accepts things as they are.
Sometimes I have a big ego, but I am learning to soften it. My ego presents itself as self-important, special, and seeking approval. I need to address my ego so that I can become aware of how strong it can be and work on transforming it.
One way to soften the ego is through compassion. Compassion for yourself and for others. When I am with my dying patients, I am compassionate and my ego takes a back seat. The hospice environment is easy for me to be compassionate. However, I need to learn how to transfer that same compassion into different situations.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compassion means, “Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” I think the key word here is “consciousness.” We need to become aware that we all go through difficult times and we need compassion for each other. My friend Harriet who is from Africa says, “I seek humanity.” These are powerful words. We are all one. However, the ego may not like the fact that we are all one.
The mind likes to compare, judge, and analyze. The mind observes how well or how terrible we are “doing” in life. The ego can rise up to either praise or criticize. My mantra right now (to deal with the critical mind) is to sing the three words from the “Frozen” song: Let it go. Let it go…
We all have an ego. It keeps us alive. Joan Halifax who is a Zen Buddhist Teacher says, “We believe that it takes a strong back and a soft front to face the world.” That soft front is compassion.