MY mother says: “No one ever really changes.” But I’ve just been travelling with a friend who has. She survived a very aggressive form of cancer; and there’s not a second of life — good or bad — that she doesn’t cherish.
How can one stay focused on the preciousness of each moment in the harsh reality of our day-to-day lives? And then it happened to me. Not through a real brush with death but a virtual one. During my recent travels, I went on retreat as part of my spiritual practice. On the last day, my master took us through an exercise that was devastating.
In keeping with Eastern tradition, we were taken deep into meditation. When our defences were down, he told us to imagine we had a week to live; to feel it; the news; the grief; the panic; to observe the decision we make. Six then five days left. Who is around us; what are we doing; how are we coping? Four days left, and we are being forced to let go. Our bodies are degenerating. Three, our loved ones are standing around us looking frightened and broken-hearted.
At this point, I panic. I need to sit up, my tears are choking me, but we are held down by the master’s hypnotising voice. Painfully, I let go of my friends and family, one by one.
Two days left and a goodbye to the sky; trees; my house. There’s no need to worry about plans, nothing more to crave, nothing left to do but die. I say a painful goodbye to my beloved cats.
D-day. Around us all are our mothers and fathers, children or partners. I let them go, except my teenage daughter. I have so much more to teach her … but a heavy blanket descends; my eyes close. My organs are shutting down, sight, sound, the heart is labouring as I go inside myself. There’s no more energy left to resist. “Focus on the miracle of the breath … Notice the breathing: in and out, in and out, the final out-breath is coming … ”
I feel myself die. I leave my body. I’m serene. I float for a long while, still looking down at my daughter. Suddenly, I’m unable to leave her. I struggle desperately to get back to her, but I’m moving away rapidly. “I’m not ready yet,” my soul cries into the darkness. Many reported later that they died peacefully. Mine was not a good death. I couldn’t accept the inevitable — this is a sign that I’m still spiritually stuck.
But over that hour I changed, my priorities changed. Everything changed. “Dying meditation” is not an experience I’d wish on anyone, and yet “knowing” death has been the greatest gift I’ve ever received.