Carlos Castaneda said you should let death sit on your left shoulder. I feel this is a very good advice, for me at least. When I first heard it many years ago I did not understand it so well. Today its like a blessing, because when I remember that each day is a gift and that I don’t know how long time I have left; one day, one year, ten years, maybe more, nobody knows, then I can feel how eternity is just around the corner.
These are times when we need each other more than ever, when people of this world needs to see themselves as a whole organism, not just as particulars.
Just like I can see myself and my small situation as the most important, which it is to me, I can also lift my view and see beyond me, see the greater picture, the totality. This crisis brought about with the pandemic is a great opportunity for us to learn and to bring more awareness to the whole.
More than ever spiritual teachers are offering their meditations online for free. In service and in empathy groups, music and culture of all kinds meet online and there is a lot of good things happening socially, not only do we get cleaner air and water, we also get more quiet and have time to reflect, be still together.
There comes those days when things happen in each ones life which we call humbling, a dear ones passing, a friend leaves, things crumble and old age comes. This time it is happening to the whole world and its humbling. Nature is our friend when we take care of her. When we exploit our friends too much it comes a point when they turn our backs on us. Now its time to start to grow some seeds of sharing the best of us and get back to basics.
This what we call life in a physical body needs our respect, love and deep compassion. My personality is temporary but it can love and be devoted and by loving my Self, the small self and the big Self, I get united with that beloved. The non dual is oneness and love itself sure, but you and I are it’s expression and when we love ourselves we are united with what we love. I love to live to love to unite with my beloved through my love from the smallest grain.
A longer text on death from 2009
When my mentoring teacher once asked me if I was not afraid contemplating death, and I said no, I later had to ask myself if this really is true. Am I not afraid of death or am I in a state of denial? I really don’t no for sure. But as I now feel into where fear arises it is much more to do with things in life, like my boyfriend leaving me or people getting really angry with me and deserting me, leaving me behind, making me feel left out and so on. These are the kind of things that scare me, because I know from experience that the emotions of pain can be so overwhelming and the sadness and loneliness that comes with it. But when I read about death and dying, when I contemplate death and impermanence in such an open way, inspired by people like Joan Halifax (Letting Go, Letting in Light, Being with Dying, Joan Halifax Roshi), Steven Levine, (One year to live), Larry Rosenberg, (Living in the Light of Death), and the buddhist- maranasati practice etc. on death it gives me a sense of direction; what really is important in life.
But initially when I read the Buddhist sutta 143; Advice to Anathapindika, I felt sick and had to put the book down. But then as it went I started having similar experiences as when we did the charnelground practices during a retreat during last fall, looking at photographs on dead bodies. My mind got into such a dark and silent place, it stayed for hours that time. It is peaceful, like a very silent, dark and mysterious place of nothingness within the mind itself, strange and powerful. Like being nowhere and nobody. Now with practicing awareness of dying it happens every now and then. More often when saying out to myself the sentences like:
“this body will die, time of death is uncertain”
It is really interesting! There is a deep mystery to this practice looking at dying, and I want to devote more time to it, it brings peace. I am remembering Ramana Maharishi who went through death as he a was laying down to die at age 16 in his room. This practice also makes me detach from “my life”, “my stuff”, “my things”….
I start to appreciate all the little details around me, small things like caring for my food, washing up, walking, breathing, talking, reading, meditating, writing, cleaning up my wardrobe, clearing out old stuff from the basement and giving it away to charity or selling it at a flee market for almost nothing, having a sense of it just being recycled moving into another’s hand. It brings awareness to everything’s connectedness.
And when I think about how it was when my mother died 20 years ago and how I nurtured her through the last two months of her life, unprepared as we all where for this sudden event, when it was found that she had a terminal illness, very painful and short time left to live. I took it on to serve her as my own child and when I think about it I can still feel her, sense her, as if she did not go anywhere but only the body left. I cannot explain this, but death felt to me like a relief. The whole room was bathed in light and stillness, it became a sanctuary and she was so beautiful the first 15 hours or so after.
”I guess I don’t believe in death.”
There is no end to things just like there is no beginning. Contemplating death while being alive seems to me to be a very important thing that has been neglected by our culture. It puts things in perspective; where and what do I really want to do with the time left of this life? What is worth putting energy into? Where can I be of best service, how can I embrace love and live from a more loving place? These questions are burning issues within me and I feel an urgency and a willingness to change whatever circumstances needed (if needed), in order to live this life, moment by moment with honesty and integrity, sincerity and passion for the Dharma, the Enlightened life of -the Buddha, and the Sangha, the community of people who share an interest.
Readings on death:
MN 143: “Advice to Anathapindika,” trans. by Bhikkhu Bodhi, plus 2 versions on-line:
“Kisagotami” from Great Disciples of the Buddha,
Our Real Home, by Ajaan Chah, available on-line:
“Compassion” from The Four Sublime States by Nyanaponika Thera,
“Death is Unavoidable”, from Living in the Light of Death, by Larry Rosenberg (pp78-121), attached
“Everything is impermanent”, from Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master, page 68,
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
A Year to Live, Steven Levine
An interview with Stephen Levine:
Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die, Sushila Blackman
The Grace in Dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh
Being with Dying, Joan Halifax
Living in the Light of Death, Larry Rosenberg