Contemplating Death by Bruce Lyon
This is my fifth day in hospital as they continue to run inconclusive tests and my condition deteriorates. I’m wrestling with all the usual stuff you get in a health crisis - should I go with chinese medicine, pray, do shamanic work, take supplements on advice from others, undergo more medical tests and possible surgery? All of the above. But is it already too late? The possibility of cancer ‘looms' although the doctors are careful not to even think it yet because as soon as they think it they must now tell you what they are thinking. And it would be a difficult prognosis form of cancer - bile duct and liver. And of course consulting doctor google lends itself to contemplating all possibilities. I do not think this is what is really happening, but as a thought experiment i decided to seriously consider my own immanent death as a meditation on how i would live the rest of my life. I have wondered from time to time how my generation of baby boomers would approach their death. More specifically, how I would approach my death and have it be an integrated part of my life experience and part of the meaning and message of my incarnation. How to die as I have lived - somewhat recklessly, full of adventure and exploration, valuing love and intimacy, creating time and space temples for the human soul to flower in?
I have watched friends and other teachers go through this passage and observe different approaches. On one side is the optimistic fighter. Death and disease is seen as a sign something is wrong and the human spirit can overcome it by the power of prayer, health changes, focus on life purpose, positivity and our core divinity. The other side of this seems to be a kind of disillusionment often accompanied by a withdrawal from the public eye as if by becoming ill and dying they have failed somehow in their message and promise of eternal life and happiness. Death itself becomes the focus and this reminds me of Tantra and sex. Tantra is not about sex but Tantra is not not about sex. Dying is not about Death but dying is not not about death. Dying is a process and a practise. Death is simply the orgasm. So here is my first insight from this meditation.
1. If I am dying I do not want to spend my time focused on death - avoiding it, fighting it, being ashamed of it or trying to make other people comfortable in the face of it. I want dying to be part of living. Nor do I want to pay too much attention to why I am dying or the cause of my death. Everything dies. People can have horrific birth and death experiences and still live amazing lives. I want to live my dying as fully as I am able while managing my energy levels.
I have always lived my life independently from others and yet knowing that my life is also part of the great web and can be a contribution to that web or a drain on it depending on whether or not i am living authentically and true to my core vibration. One of the richest parts of living has been the experience of that life being a contribution to others - through transmission, inspiration, education or practically in the form of time money and energy. Why should my dying be any different if it is actually part of my living? Yes i would like to spend time with family but I would not want to retreat back into family. And I would certainly not want to experience the thrown together community of a rest home or hospice largely driven by geographical and economic realities. My life has been about seeking out and celebrating soul tribe all over the world, helping them gather and generate empowering and delicious ways of being together and co-creating love and freedom. Why would I stop doing that? So my second insight.
2. I would want my dying to be part of the contribution my living makes to the world and to others. I would want to open to both receive the love of others during the process and invite them to learn from and through my experience. I would run workshops and satsangs where i invited others to come and share the living of my dying and face their own. I know my encounters with death and with those who are dying have been some of the sweetest and richest of my life. I would want others to share this.
One of the core parts of my teaching is on embodiment. My own journey was to seek out consciousness first and foremost often at the expense of the wisdom and health of the body. My lifestyle, dietary and exercise choices during the first half of my life have had consequences. In my 40’s I began the journey of descent - bringing an awakened awareness back into full incarnation. Paying attention to the body - turning towards it with love and compassion and expressing our divinity through and as it - is different than still being identified as primarily the body. Many embodiment paths focus on health, vitality, sexuality, diet and so forth almost exclusively so that a healthy vibrant body becomes the epitome of success on the path. In extreme cases this approach can be death and disease denying. I want to fully accept the vulnerability and limitations that come with incarnation while at the same time transcending them and being open to new growth and endless possibilities. My third insight involves full acceptance of the body in sickness and in health. My soul’s commitment to love and stay with this divine animal through whatever it is experiencing.
3. I would want to make more space in my world and the world for the reality of the frailty and vulnerability of embodiment. I would like to integrate and get behind duality of health and wellness vs disease and sickness. I want to lift the veil more and bring the processes of death and dying out from the hospitals and hospices. I want to live unashamed of my body’s condition while at the same time accepting responsibility for the ways in which my behaviour and my consciousness influences that condition. I don’t want to stop talking and teaching about living life fully just because my body is showing signs of decay and approaching death. I’d like to give online seminars while I’m on a drip. I’d like to make love on the day I die. I love what David Bowie and Leonard Cohen began to do with their aging and frailty as part of their art and gift to the world.
I also want to get behind another duality that Freud pointed to about the instincts. Eros and Thanatos. The urge to generate life force and libido in contradistinction to the urge for dying and destruction. Freeing our eros has been a major part of what the global tantric movement is doing - releasing guilt fear and shame about our life force and sexuality. Freeing our Thanatos maybe a little harder in the same way that depression is more difficult to embrace than happiness but the reward for shifting out of duality and integrating the repressed pole is great. Repressing our eros just means it controls us in the shadow and the same with our Thanatos. Part of freeing up the death urge is admitting and speaking freely about the part of our souls that wants to die, that sees the process of embodiment and incarnation as a prison sentence in a psychiatric ward where everyone is suffering and no-one is telling the truth about it. It is a statistical fact that we are more likely to kill ourselves than be the victim of a terror attack including war by others. And there are many ways to kill ourselves without making it obvious. Illness, accidents and being a victim are just some of them that may have unconscious thanatos operating. Yes, shit happens but sometimes we want shit to happen. Witness the american elections. So I want to liberate and integrate any of these urges as well. When I contemplate death I can feel the part of me that would be relieved. The sensitive part of my soul that has struggled to accept what passes for normality in this world. I have also been close to many who have committed suicide and I don’t buy the conventional wisdom that comes from the fear of our own thanatos - that they are cowards - unable to face their lives - or selfish, inconsiderate of the impact of their decision on others, or self absorbed in their own suffering and so on. Yes, often these are factors but I have also known considerate, loving, wise beings who chose this path from their centre and with compassion for all. If I have cancer, along with all the other environmental factors I would want to consider if there was a voice in me that wanted out and was so desperate that it could only find this way to express itself. So my fourth insight deals with this:
4. I not only want to live my dying but I want to feel free, when the mood strikes, to celebrate my death. This would include celebrating a disease which gave me a short but significant time frame to tidy up my responsibilities for projects I have initiated in this world; to honour relationships that deeply mattered to me, to pass on my wisdom, wealth and belongings in a way that honours and respects the life I have lived. I love this earth deeply and incarnation is a wild and beautiful ride. I’ll come back but if I’m being sidelined for a breather I want to be free to be in joy and anticipation for that journey. That also makes every day and every connection while I am still here that much sweeter. After all we are all in the process of dying whatever we tell ourselves about it. Some of us will just get more opportunity to do it consciously.
I haven’t just been wool gathering and self indulgently morbid here on my bed. Everyday I do the hard work of listening deeply to my body, supporting it to release and open any energetic blocks so they rise through my emotions into consciousness. I’m humbly accepting help while holding to my own wisdom and right to make choices for myself. I’m doing whatever I can to heal. Lot’s of ‘get well’ messages coming in but I’d also like a card that says “ Enjoy your sickness and possible death". Part of my process is fully accepting what is and what could be. i know that my thought experiment with the possibility of such a diagnosis is, for many people, a reality that they have to live every day and that reality may have very different challenges than i am contemplating. I reach out to you in love, compassion and celebration of your path. Whatever happens I am glad that I have glimpsed into such a journey and found a way to accept it should it be my own. Not “ There, but for the grace of god, go I” but “ There, not separate from the grace of god and the compassion of the goddess, go I and all of us”