3 Steps to Approaching Death — Gently and Together.
“Death is the hardest thing from the outside, as long as we are outside of it. But once inside, you taste of such completeness and peace and fulfillment that you don’t want to return.”
Carl Jung wrote this after a near-death experience in 1945.
Lately, my inner meandering has had me circling around death. I am not sure why.
Perhaps because throughout my career as a Pranic healing practitioner, I have walked with many towards it.
Perhaps because I recently conversed with my grandmother about her fears, as it looms around her.
Perhaps because I listened to a hospice nurse sarcastically brush aside the questions and concerns of a dying patient, with a scoff and chuckle.
In this moment, my heart darkened with sadness.
What are we missing in the way we approach death? Perhaps the approach itself is missing. We don’t approach it until we are forced to.
And as the spiral draws me nearer, I have found a host of guests, that I have attempted to ignore completely, waiting to converse.
Fear stands there with her axe — the axe that attempts to cut me off from my source of serenity, a source I have spent many years tending.
But I wonder why I have not spent as much time tending to Fear. Is it my un-tending that created the power of the axe she holds?
Uncertainty stands beside her, carrying his rock — the rock that sits in my stomach, and grows heavier when I look away.
Grief and Confusion stare at me. I look at them, and wonder why we are blind to the reality of consciousness after death.
A part of me trusts and finds comfort in the mystical and yogic teachings of the soul and its continuation, and another part of me drowns in the unknown and cringes at the thought of separation from those whom I hold dear in this life.
And so this piece of writing is not an attempt to provide solace and comfort or a philosophical explanation of life after death.
This piece of writing is the acknowledgement that death is scary, painful, gut-wrenching, and confusing. It is an invitation to begin to approach death, and watch who shows up on the journey towards it.
It is an attempt to gently guide us towards a life where death isn’t avoided in our conversations and rushed over in our interior reflections.
And so I offer three small steps to encourage and soften this approach, perhaps as gentle guides for myself, as much as for anyone else.
1. Live life with a consciousness of death.
This means we breathe into it, we look at it, we talk about it with one another — in all its beauty, its gifts, its tormenting reality, and what it surfaces within us. We are all drastically aware of our mortality, but we often push it aside. What gets pushed aside often comes back in drastic measure.
In working with many clients through their journey with cancer, the one thing each of them expressed was complete relief when I talked to them about death — their thoughts, concerns, fears, knowledge, and comforts.
Many of them felt as if they had entered a sort of death field with their diagnosis. And yet, no one wanted to talk to them about it. The doctors didn’t, as that would mean their work failed. Their family didn’t, as they are often immensely scared of losing them.
And so, many of my clients expressed lumps of built-up pain and frustration, a deep desire to approach all of this, holding a comforting hand.
Perhaps, as we live with a consciousness of death, our mind and intentions sharpen. Our heart opens. We appreciate the time we have been given, and know with each day, we are, indeed, approaching death. And that is okay.
That is the reality of our human condition. That is the universal story that connects each of us. And yet, we often don’t tell or talk of this story.
2. Tend gently to whatever arises.
As we begin to approach or feel into death and the process of dying, there are often a host of emotions that surface. Each one of them is okay. Each one of them deserves your gentle gaze, your focused attention.
If one feels overpowering, reach out for help. Breathe. There are other places in your psyche that trust, that are immensely strong and resilient. These, too, will surface.
I recently watched a spiritually-oriented psychotherapist seek the guidance of another wise counselor. After years of guiding and helping others through loss and death, a tidal wave of fear surfaced within her as she reached her mid-seventies, realizing her own end was approaching.
All she had told herself and others for decades had vanished within her.
But this was all part of the process of truly approaching her own death, and tending to what sat there… waiting.
And she didn’t walk away. She took the hand of a friend and guide, and approached it all… gently.
3. Remember this is our universal story. Talk, read, study and prepare.
There is something comforting in knowing we are not alone.
Each one of us has been torn apart by the loss of someone we love. Each one of us has been put back together, and somehow, found a sense of acceptance and peace. Each one of us will die.
When we are about to give birth, we study the process, we prepare ourselves, we take vitamins, and classes, and learn breathing techniques. Just ask a new mother how many pregnancy books she has read, or how many prenatal classes she attended.
Why don’t we do this with death? Few of us study the process of dying. Few of us read or find seminars that prepare us for death. Few are offered.
I cannot help but wonder what would happen to us, as a society, if we study and prepare for leaving the body, if we gather and share our own stories of death. Just look at the opening quote from Jung. Something about it is immensely comforting.
There are spiritual books and teachings on death, but how much time have we really spent with them?
Of course, unless we have had our own experience, there is no way to know the unknown. And here is where death becomes the ultimate surrender, the giving in to Reality, in all its bizarre forms and demands. But, somehow, even the acknowledgement of this feels like sacred work.
Sacred work I am hoping we all will begin approaching… gently and together.