I’ve been around a few people while they are dying. In each case I remember their world shrank to what they could literally reach out for. A cup of water, their bedding, maybe reach for friends hand. But more often than not even the family around them recede in importance. The world slows down too. A finger raised ever-so-sloowwwly to attempt to adjust an oxygen line or scratch an itch, just the eyes track around the room, and talking, if at all, comes in halting gasps. The basics of bowel movements, liquid and food intake, medication for pain relief are what matter. Medical staff matter, even if it is to reject or fight them. People continue on in this way for days, even weeks. My mother, who died 12 years ago on the 11th December, went quite quickly. Bless her. Bless all mothers.
Sitting a meditation retreat, as we have just done, has its parallels with dying. Ones world contracts, movement is slower and more considered, concerns become basic and immediate. For example getting settled for the next meditation period, taking care with that. And there is fine attention to sensations too and of moving inwards while at the same time being finely aware of rain and wind crash about outside, the drip drip of water inside the hall, the birds striking up their song in the early morning. We sit with eyes neither closed nor fully open, we sit facing towards a plain wall. There is looking out from behind ones eyes. Who is it that sits? For 35 mins there is sitting still, if there is movement it is done ever-so-sloowwwly. Strictly speaking there is no physical moving at all, just the rise and fall of the breath. There is an awareness of that.
And what of the mind of a dying person? Or of the meditator for that matter. I’ve seen people go back and forth over their lives, remembering yesterdays far gone, as if they were right now. Images from childhood, happy times on holiday, and past regrets, streaming into the present. I have seen dying people in distress both physically and mentally and it is clear we die as we have lived. No judgment, no right or wrong death nor right or wrong thoughts-emotions-sensations. Nothing to add or remove. And if in the living there has lain hidden, in some dark recess a secret, now is when it may come to light. Or not. So it is sitting a sesshin, one enters the private recesses of ones being, seemingly utterly alone and yet infinitely not alone.
More contemplations tomorrow. It’s good to be back.
5 thoughts on “Contemplations (one)”
My partner’s mother withdrew like that – she travelled her own path inwards letting go bit-by-bit. She declined radio / chemotherapy. The end was rough, but we all recognised something outside us at work, and all there was was silence. It was natural to sit quietly, nothing lost, nothing gained.
Bless all mothers as you say.
It’s good to have you back!
If you could, sometime, can you talk about mourning? Buddhist advice for those left behind?
Glad you’re back. Can you play mp3s where you are? Cd versions of mp3s? Let me know, and I’ll send you some shows.
I recognise what you describe from the way my father moved towards death and I see the parallels with meditation. Could I add a request for some discusion of Buddhist funeral ceremonies as well as the approach to mourning? Thanks.
Heather, Yes I will write about mourning. I can play mp3s on CD and that’s really kind of you to send some of your radio work. You have an interesting take on pop culture generally and always enjoyed your progs when I remembered to tune in.
Ian, Thanks for leaving a comment. I think I may be right in thinking you have been reading this blog for some time. Anyway, yes a bit on Buddhist funerals would be good and it looks like I’d better start a list of possible subjects. I really do welcome requests by the way.
Angie, Yep, glad to be back in action and glad to see you up here at the monastery.
Walter, Thank you for your contribution. There is much that could be said around the mystery of death. On one level it is simple, the system slows and stops, and on another not so simple or explainable through ordinary means of reason.