Before I could sit patiently, I wasn’t ready for death. And as a result, I did a terrible job walking my grandmother, and my mother, through this transition. I wish somebody had told me about this before we got there. If they did, I wish I had done a better job of listening.
At the most basic level, so much of contemplation is about sitting patiently, sitting quietly. I hadn’t meaningfully practiced this quiet before those two wonderful and important women died. And as a result, I wasn’t there.
Sometimes, physically, I was. I spent my time with them. But when I was there, I was watching the clock. I would make a deal with myself about how long I expected myself to be there. This is such a cliche: even when I was there, I wasn’t there.
And now I wish I had more time with them. There is a part of me that is beginning to grasp the idea that not only did I lose that time with them. I lost the opportunity to try something new with them, to enter into a new kind-of relationship with them, as they took their walk toward death. That possibility, that the season of death holds the possibility of a new frontier in a relationship… I know that to be as morbid as it is true.
When I sit in meditation, or contemplation, or wordless prayer… I get myself ready for death. I am getting ready because I am facing my own death. It is a little like death, that state. Dwelling in a quiet, dwelling in tranquility, dwelling like peace. This little death comes before a ressurection. This is one of the ways I die to my flesh, that I die to the world, that I die to myself. That embrace of death is an agnowlodgement of my own someday death.
With out that first step in facing my death, I am not sure how I will ever take a second step. That second step is watching literal, physical death happen to somebody I care about. If meditation is a subtle recognition that someday I will die, watching my mother die was this Death screaming right in my face, “This, someday, will happen to you.” If I had faced the subtle reconition, I might have been able to respond calmly to that scream, “Yes. I know.”
But there is a more general preperation happening here. It is not only directly about death. It is also about how I handle those things which distress me. It is my about my over-riding rules of engagement for facing the world itself. Will I run from the things that I don’t like? Or will I recognize that discomfort is is just discomfort?
There is something about labelling mental events. “This is a thought.” “This is a feeling.” “This is a distraction.” I realize that thoughts, feelings, and distractions don’t have to sit in the driver seat. So much of my time and energy doesn’t need to be spent avoiding them.
I am learning to tolerate suckiness. I wish I could have done that better before.
Deaths of all sorts lead to this narrowing. Things shrink down, and down, and down. The whole universe of my dying mother became her hospital room. The whole vast universe outside of her window was irrelevant to her in those last few weeks.
More symbolic deaths mirror this. Right before the end of a relationship, it can feel like that is the only thing in the universe that their is. The broken-ness of this connection renders all the good things in the world pointless. The fight to keep a job going that is about to be lost, or the energy spent holding onto a belief that isn’t working any more… These things crowd out the whole rest of everything. At these times, nothing else seems to matter.
There are spiritual practices that confine the practioner to a small physical space: the area of a prayer mat, the sparse footage of a monk’s cell, a meager few feet of outside space while awaiting a visionquest.
The thing I am learning is that claustrophobia and boredom are these profound and universal experiences. They don’t seem as noble, some how, as fear, depression, and lonliness. But being confined, being taken from distractions, somehow, lead us inevitably to fear, depression and lonliness.
When my mother and grandmother died, they had no choice but to face this spiritual claustrophobia. There was no alternative to this boredom. It came from the brutal truth that all the other distractions they had ever chased were just pointless.
I would have been there, with them, if I had chosen to experience them. Choice is such a powerful thing. It would have demonstrated solidarity with the literally, physically dying. It would have taught me the reality of rebirth after then death, the truth that I can be bigger than the thing that seems like the end.
I wish I had learned all that before. When it comes again, I will hate it, I will rail against it, I will probably find my thoughts here hopeless sentimental and romanticized. And yet, I have this hope that I will do better, next time.
Did you read the previous post? Did you follow along with my suggestion and sit for a while after you did?
I think you ought to do that again today. Sit quietly. Recognize that their will be boredom. And there will be fear. Sit for a while longer today than you did yesterday.
When you’re done, leave some comments. I would love to hear about how it went.