Please forgive the length of this post? I know from?the start?that it will most likely not be a quick post.? I get frustrated with long posts when I am tired and can?t concentrate so I beg your pardon for my indulgence?
I?ve been re-listening to an audiobook by Pema?Chodron.? I?ve actually decided to spend my evenings,just before bed, listening to the library of Ani Pema?books I have.? Her talks give me great comfort and always impart such wisdom.
I used to listen to her audiobooks a lot when I had a?90-minute?commute round trip every day and now that my commute is 5 minutes each way, I don?t unplug and listen to retreats as often as I would like.
Usually I am heading out-of-town?toward Madison or Chicago and?will listen to one.? But, I?ve been missing sangha and I thought that listening to the books and then coming home and doing the practices would be a smart thing.
I took today off from my full-time?job to focus on school related?tasks.? It was a cold and snowy day and I found myself inside and very introspective tonight.
I received word tonight that someone I know who has been slowly?dying is going to be leaving the hospital after a lot of heroic measures and?is going to finally be given the peace and dignity of being allowed to rest easily and have hospice take over her care. Needless to say, my heart is quite relieved.
I don?t understand our need to think everyone is Frankenstein?and that people should be kept alive at all costs.? It?s not something I want for myself.? It?s not something my family members want nor has?it been what family who has already died has ever wanted so the whole experience?has been unfamiliar, disjointed, and confusing for me. . .? sometimes, it has felt un-compassionate at times though I know people are doing what they think is right.
I?m trying to have respect for both sides of the issue? themedical professionals need to do their job and keep someone alive at all costs and?the very personal side for me of knowing that as a person transitions into their?own dying, it can be a beautifully peaceful, compassionate time where a tremendous amount of love and light can be shared.
I guess for me, I question how much compassion and tranquility?there can be hooked up to machines and having the body be forced to do things that it isn?t willing to do on it?s own.
After finishing the last bit of Ani Pema?s audiobook, I decided?to wrap up in some warm blankets and sit here in my chair and do some tonglen?for this person who I have mentioned. I cannot imagine what she is going through as she has not had a lot of time?of being conscious and being able to communicate to people.? Does she know what?s going on?? Does she understand where she is and why people are doing things to her?
My hope is that what she is experiencing, despite the pain,the fear that might be accompanying the inability to breath, etc is the real experience?of the love of the people who go to visit her.? I hope that can be experienced in a palpable way?that can sustain her through these difficult times as she moves in and out of consciousness, as her abilities to move and be awake wax and wane.
I find illness, dying, and grieving (or re-creating our lives?after loss) to be such a rich time for our practices of compassionate meditative and contemplative practices.
There is so much to practice for? for the person who is ill,the people who love that person, the professionals making tough decisions, the caregivers?who feel helpless, and the outward ripples of all who are affected in the situation of illness and dying.
So tonight, I decided to do some tonglen?for the person who is ill and dying.? There are a lot of other?people I could do it for in this situation but I guess in my heart I get concerned?for a natural tendency of the patient being overlooked while medicine is ?done to them?.
I want to spend my energy, even if it is far away, focusing on?the humanity of that person who is in that bed? the life they had prior to their hospitalization and the connections and history that comes with them.
In keeping with Ani Pema?s instructions, I focused on my breathing, some samatha?vipassana?practice to begin with of allowing my attention to rest in my body and to become aware of my breath.
I invited my Tibetan bell to ring and allowed any experiences?to wash over me, allowing them to just happen and not try to orchestrate them.
As the bell sounded, I began to breathe in the sensations of darkness?and tightness.? I breathed in the feelings of being cramped and claustrophobic.
That?s how I imagine being in a body that is trying to shut down, unable to breathe on it?s own and having organs that are failing except for the artificial support.
As I breathed out, I focused on the sensations of lightness, coolness, and vast spaciousness, like the sky in Wyoming. . . free of anything that might hinder that kind of vastness.
I breathed in fear, confusion, exhaustion and breathed out comfort, warmth, and unconditional love. I breathed in heaviness of body, clumsiness of body, and disorientation of?mind.? And I breathed out experiences that I knew were really important and satisfying to this person?s history. . .dancing, camping, visiting loved ones.
This is how I spent part of my hour. . . giving and receiving for this particular person that I know.
And then I spent time breathing in these sensations and thoughts?for people all over the world, throughout time and space, who have been?in their bodies, suffering from being trapped and not being able to be free.
And I breathed out all of the things that I would hope for each?of them. . . the awareness that their lives mattered, that they had touched someone?s heart, that they had made the world a better place, and that other?s had grown more compassionate and loving for having known them.
I realized after my meditation that I wish I had been able to?do this for those who I loved who had died and at the same time, I realized that?I could do that practice for them right here, on the spot, as there truly is no such thing as time and space.
I also realized that some day, when I am in this position,as we all will be, somehow, someway, that I hope that there is someone in some remote?part of the world doing similar practices for me? and if time and space are?not real, at least I know that tonight, I did those practices. . . when it is?my time, I will know that at that very moment, the me that is tonight will be doing these practices for the me who is living my dying.
I know that there are many people who have heavy hearts tonight, surrounding this woman?s situation of living her dying.? And that pain and grief will most likely grow more intense as her dying comes closer.
My plan is to spend time each day, even if it?s only ten minutes, doing this kind of practice for her, for those who love her and for all?beings everywhere who are living with a similar experience.? I might not be there by the bedside or holding?the hands of those who grieve her dying but I can spend time in my practice?to focus tonglen meditation for them.
I found tonglen?to be a very useful and healing tool with some?of the groups I had done while I worked at hospice.? I hope that this explanation of how I am using tonglen?in the situation of dying and grieving will help those of you who read this post.
May the merit of our practices extend out into the world and bring?about joy, compassion, equanimity, and lovingkindness.
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