You can read Part 1 of Death, From This Side of the Veil HERE.
How can we prepare for death?
So, what about death, yours or mine? It’s a fact that we’re not getting out of here alive. It’s also true that we have very little control over the manner or timing of our death. It can be totally inconvenient. We could drop into our cornflakes or onto the street, while asleep or in the car. In Australia 86% of us will die in care, hospital, nursing home or palliative care. We could be in peace or in chaos, alone or surrounded by love or strangers, in pain, drugged or in a coma. We could have the TV blaring, people crying or arguing, or we could be being resuscitated. If we’re very fortunate we’ll die in peace in palliative care or at home surrounded by love and people attuned to the sacredness of the moment, where there’s enough time for deep truth and intimacy, forgiveness, time to come to peace with our life, our people, our story, and time to connect to the deeper and vaster reality of the sacred.
If it doesn’t unfold that way, we’ll just have to deal with whatever our circumstances are or however our mind is, in the moment. The truth is that we’ll die successfully anyway, i.e., there will be a dead body at the end of it. But how can we face it? How can we prepare, make it easier, from this side of the veil?
1. Clean up your life on this side
Life stuff – First of all it’s a good idea to get basic life administration sorted now to make it easier for others when we’re gone, and for ourselves so that we’re not spending our limited time and energy on minutiae. (That’s me, sitting up between people on ventilators, scribbling out my will and bank passwords!). Then we can focus on what’s important.
Simplify your finances and affairs and make a will. Don’t leave others with a burdensome opaque mess or debt. I remember one poor young woman who was absolutely furious with her father when he had a stroke and left her with years of taxes not done and a huge debt to deal with. Don’t be that person.
Body stuff – Register now as an organ donor or donate your body to science as an act of kindness. Don’t be wimpy about it; make sure your death is useful to someone. There are many others who do need the corneas, hearts, kidneys, lungs etc. that you won’t be using.
Mind stuff – Find out for yourself what’s true. Don’t go to your death with vague ideas and hopes about crossing over, hanging out with relatives in the sky for eternity, or staying at home as a friendly ghost waiting for a medium to get in touch! And don’t insist on having depressing philosophical opinions about nothingness after death. How would you know? I’ve heard that cynicism is quite cowardly; I think that’s true. There are beings in this world who know everything about transcending death and who are themselves living truth, living deathlessness. This doesn’t mean that we can get out of the process of human dying, but these beings can teach us and show us how to realize the mind beyond death, that which never dies.
There are many Buddhist books that show the truth of this and, if possible, you can go to teachings with some of the great teachers who are still living. When you are in the room with Truth you will know it. It’s a huge relief and the greatest support for your heart and mind to find that there is a vast all-loving ground where you can just relax and let go.
Get help – Don’t take the rubbish with you. Get help with your repetitive negative emotions and stuck memories and stories. There are plenty of good psychological and energetic techniques that work these days. My favorites are TAT and Feeding Your Demons for healing and transforming even the most persistent patterns. And don’t underestimate the power of simply speaking truthfully to someone who is compassionately present with your emotional pain. Being truly heard without judgement can be enough to heal deep wounds.
Death is no picnic so please be open to wisdom help as well, i.e., pray. There is a much vaster, deeper, wiser, sacred dimension available to you.
Heal your heart – Sincerely forgive everyone and apologies to everyone either in your mind or in person, dead or alive, whether they deserve it or not, and forgive yourself for everything. TAT is exceptionally good for this. It can make what seems impossible, actually doable. Forgive God or the world, the bigger forces that impact on us. Let yourself and everyone connected with you be at peace recognizing that we are all mad, we have no idea what we’re doing here. We’re all stumbling around bumping into each other’s minds and filling our own with endless hero and victim stories. We’re just people.
I love Zen Master Hsu-Yun’s expression “the poise of the dying man.” “It is the poise of knowing what is important and what is not, and of being accepting and forgiving.” Self-forgiveness is very important too and it must come with a genuine clear-eyed seeing of any harm we have caused to others or our own bodies and sincere regret (not self-flagellating guilt but intelligent regret) that we have added pain and suffering to others, to the world. We all have. As Caroline Myss, a wise and witty Christian mystic, says, “There are people out there doing therapy because of you”. When we regret the harm, we have done then we can put it down, leave it be, by making amends and deciding, “I’ll never do that again”.
It’s so healing to sincerely pray for forgiveness to whatever greater compassionate power you can relate to; God, Buddha, universal spirit, love, kindness, truth, and allow that forgiveness to come into your heart and mind and touch you tenderly. That wonderful alchemy of openness, compassion and blessing soothes the deepest pains and scars and opens you to profound peace.
2. Get Steady
Swimology – S.N. Goenka, the great meditation teacher, talked about the regular practice of meditation using the analogy of swimming. When the boat sinks you need to have already practiced swimming not just have read about it. We all need a regular basic meditation practice to stabilize the mind and then, when the hard times come, we will be able to turn to the practice and have more steadiness and presence of mind instead of being tossed around helplessly by every circumstance.
3. Open Your Heart
Live from your heart, not from your emotional reactivity –
Practice love, wish everyone well. In your heart and mind bless everyone. You can start small and extend it to include everyone, even the bad guys. May you be well and happy. We all just want to be well and happy.
Practice compassion; truly wishing to take away the suffering of others. Pray for them, that they are relieved of their suffering. Pray for all the others who are sick, afraid, dying or lost that they are loved and held and at peace. Enlarge the circle of your heart to include everyone.
And the more you open your heart, the more familiar you become with the subtler, deeper and vaster world of the sacred where beauty and meaningfulness reside and the more you are at peace within yourself.
There are wonderful Buddhist and Taoist practices for opening the heart and I am sure there would be similar ones in other spiritual traditions.
An exquisite moment of inspiration has stuck with me for many years. I went to a Tibetan Buddhist teacher’s funeral in Sydney and saw his beautiful peaceful face in the open coffin. He had spent a whole lifetime doing Buddhist prayers and practices for others and, even though he’d had the last few years in a nursing home with vascular dementia (thinking he was back in the monastery), his face was utterly radiant days after his death. He was beaming! It was profoundly inspiring that such a thing is possible. May we all have such good deaths!
It’s good to become accustomed to feeling and trusting your own inner compassion and love. That brings wisdom and peace, the sense of something much greater than the everyday suffering self and, over time, it builds confidence in a greater platform of reality, a realm that is a deeper, more profound, beautiful and meaningful experience of being human, that is beyond life and death.
4. Practice letting go –
Death is the ultimate in letting go. But our survival instinct just wants to grab, hold on, insist. You can practice letting go on small things. When the mind is grabbing for the next distraction, the phone, chocolate, wine, entertainment, outrage, don’t fight it, just take a breath and relax the grab. Let it go. Leave a space. It’s just another thing in an endless line of things. Enjoy having the space, the freedom of not having to grab the next thing.
Every night, you could practice letting go when you lie down to sleep.
Consciously forgive everyone with a broad brush, “I forgive you all”. Deliberately forget horrible or scary things (drop all the bad stuff, past, present and future, out of your mind and put it in a mental locked box under the bed). Calm yourself by thinking of something nice and relaxing, like lying on warm soft sand by the ocean (see it, hear it and feel it). Let go into that feeling and let everything else go, stories, worries, roles, emotions, the past, the future. And wish everyone in the world well. May you all have wonderful, happy lives.
If you’re interested, there are exquisite practices of merging into the awareness beyond death in Sogyal Rinpoche’s, Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (P’howa). If you practice beforehand it is the best support when the time comes.
Find a teacher – To meet a teacher who embodies boundless compassion and deathless awareness is the greatest gift of all. Truth is truth and you’ll know it when you’re in the room with it. Then you’ll know where you’re aiming.
You don’t have to wait for death to take a peek behind the veil.
Dr. Julie Kidd is a GP and hypnotherapist in Canberra, Australia. For over forty years, she has been practicing medicine in public hospitals, as a country GP, holistic GP, in heart disease prevention and in medical hypnosis. For the past twenty of those years, she’s been helping people with their minds – breaking the cycles of anxiety, fears, depression, insomnia, addictive behaviors, and weight problems. Just over ten years ago, she was diagnosed with a hemorrhaging malignant brain tumor that required drastic surgery and caused severe disabilities. She has recovered and rebuilt her mind and body so that she now lives a happy, healthy life.
Find out more about Dr. Julie Kidd and sign up to receive an excerpt of her new book, The Mind of Healing, by visiting her website — MindofHealing.com.au