Finisterre: Not a Favorite Topic, But– Death

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I just officiated at a memorial for a friend of mine–who is still very much alive. We danced for four hours the night before, singing karoke with thirty or so friends who all gathered for her sixtieth birthday. (She favors dive bars.) But she, who will not let any elephant remain in the room, reminded us at the party that she has a terminal cancer diagnosis, and she wanted to hear all the good things that her friends would say about her before she dies. So, of course, we complied because we love her, and we know she has always lived her life by her own rules. The next morning we gathered on the beach on the Oregon coast to read poems, tell stories, anoint and bless her. So in all its beauty, death was among us, full of life.

One of the readings was from Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It isn’t primarily a practice of thinking of one’s last hour, or of death as a physical phenomenon; it is a seeing of every moment of life against the horizon of death, and a challenge to incorporate that awareness of dying into every moment so as to become more fully alive.”

That is the dance of our lives, living life fully, knowing we will die. Yet it is our cultural tradition to shun death and shy away from even talking about it, unlike my friend who is practicing embracing it. But death is as natural as the seasons, “not as an enemy or a failure, but as a stage of life.” (Ram Dass).

My Diamond Approach teacher, John Davis, remarked on death this past Saturday in an online class that added another twist to this relationship of life and death. He said, “The world thinks that birth comes before death; but in spiritual work, we know that with death, there is a birth.”

Like Steindl-Rast, Davis wasn’t just thinking about the physical death, although the statement holds in this as well. But anytime we have the courage to let something die that no longer serves, there is the possibility of a birth–and usually it is painful, just as physical birth, and yet worth it. Letting an attachment to any person, place, thing or belief is a little death. And it is important to delineate that it is not necessarily ending the relationship, but ending the attachment to it. It is the attachment that keeps one in a small box. There is a three step process in the Diamond Approach that is countercultural to the way we face any death. I have come to trust that always works if I can stay with it; I know that’s a significant if, and I don’t always have the courage to do it; but if it do, it feels like nothing less than grace.

The Theory of Holes:

1. Something is uncomfortable and we can’t fix or change it. We try and we can’t. It feels like a hole. It can feel like hell.
2. Go with the feeling of being in a hole; see what’s there; be curious. Stay with it.
3. Surprise! The hole opens up to some aspect of Essence–like spaciousness or lightness a feeling of compassion or strength or renewed will arise. Like I said, grace. Nothing I have done. But I have been willing.
(See Book One of the Diamond Heart series by A.H. Almaas for a more explicit explanation)

My friend doesn’t know how long she has to live; and I don’t either. But I have a path through the life I am granted on this planet that doesn’t shy away from death and the emotions that arise. Instead, I am encouraged to remain curious, even in the sadness or depression or sense of loss that comes.

It is always possible to be present with what is dying or who is dying, even if that is an old identity of who you think you are.

There is newness and surprise assured to us in all that dies. Until there is some contentment with loss, it is almost impossible to fully realize what life offers.

Full transparency: I am not content with my friend’s diagnosis yet. I am not content that she may die too soon for my liking. That is being human and that is part of my loving her. But knowing her death is a birth beyond what I can imagine, I keep walking the path, willing to be open, waiting to be amazed.

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