Living With Death

His death had rocked her hard. They had just started to talk about what retirement might look like in 10 more years–and then he was gone. I had just started working with her on her self esteem when she asked me to go to the funeral with her that day. She just wanted to feel a bit more solid. She faintly trusted me when I told her that even feelings this bad would eventually pass, like they all do.

His life had been pleasant if not exciting, so there it was at least a funeral where the sentiments expressed at the podium all felt sincere. Her part was made harder by the fact that none of her small family were able to make it over from Europe. She also hadn’t been here long enough to establish the deep sort of friendships that help one through things like this. His friends were great, but in truth she felt largely alone, with me being a strange exception.

When it came time to speak she stood there at the podium and she met her commitments, but she found the whole experience wracked and painful. She was grateful she wasn’t overly religious–the entire process had not taken long. She asked if we could walk. I too felt like being under a big sky. The whole day felt like a hug you never wanted. The feelings were too big for words for a long time, so we drive to the river valley and parked and headed down a trail.

We walked down by a little lake. Finally, she asked what she could do to stop the hurting. I looked at her genuinely confused. I explained that the hurt was the other side of the love. They were inextricable. If she took the pain away then she would have needed a history where she didn’t love her husband. It is possible to be relieved when someone dies, but this was not one of those cases.

I asked why she didn’t want the pain. She thought it was a bizarre question, which I realised from her perspective it would be. She’s just started with me, so she thinks she wants to increase her happiness and decrease her sadness, when what she’s really looking for doesn’t do that. It makes you feel the same way about your happiness as you do about your sadness. Rather than liking the good parts, you value it all.

I explained that she chose an identity of a woman who’d lost her husband and it hurt. I felt that was suitable. If the universe gave you the capacity to experience emotional pain like that, I suggested that the death of a beloved loved one was maybe the most suitable time possible to get that feeling out of your quiver of feelings.

I was sorry the pain was stabbing, but that’s how that feeling operates. Far from living wrong, I thought the pain was a sign of her health. She seemed to be right where one would feel it was appropriate or natural for her to be. When she asked what she was supposed to do with the pain, I told her to feel it; to know it. I told her that the more she understood it, the more valuable she would be to people in similar situations in the future.

I explained that knowing the pain didn’t make it worse, it made her wiser. Crying at the death of a loved one is wise. So is being stoic if that’s how you naturally unfold. The point is, of course there would be a reaction of some kind. Accept that. And know that it won’t last. That it’s just the suitable feelings for the context, just as a raincoat suits rain.

She told me that simply knowing there was no answer had actually taken a layer of suffering away. I explained that what she had removed was the illusory layer of suffering that her mind layered over top of the pain. Now that she had gotten rid of the voluntary stuff, it made it easier to handle the mandatory pain. Plus she felt stronger, which was a nice feeling.

It’s going to take some time for her to go through this. She’ll do it in stages as everyone does. She would need build a new mindset to be a single woman with new challenges. And then one day someone will really need her, and she’ll know just the right thing to say to them and they’ll be so relieved, or maybe grateful. And then she’ll realise that this experience is what taught her the wisdom she shared. Our cracks truly are where our brightest light escapes.

Don’t offer resistance to painful experiences. They pass more quickly with less resistance, and you can learn a great deal by travelling through them. Some are simply awful, and if you’re experiencing one right now I am so sorry and I love you. But you too will get through it, and you too will live to laugh again. But in the meantime, you’re going to be collecting some of the most hard-fought wisdom a person gets in their lifetime. Big hug.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Friday Dose #73

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Today’s Dose is about the remarkable, consistent and unconditional love of animals. Our pets love us in such a pure way. They know everything about us and yet if we’re not conscious enough to do anything about it, they still let us get away with fair amounts of neglect and they will still meet us with love.

Today your mental distraction starts with the brilliant mind and eye of a German photographer who specializes in pets, and in particular Dog photos that could be featured in ways that communicate their personalities. Her work is delightful, it’s gorgeous and it’s very likely to make you happy. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you Elke Vogelsang and her models:

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Elke Vogelsang Photography

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And after that bit of lightness we will proceed on to an absolutely beautiful film that will has a great lesson for all of us in life. It’ll make you cry in that way we all love doing, where you feel better afterwards–even you tough guys out there. This is a story narrated by Denali, about his life with cancer, and the living he did with his best friend, Ben Moon. I highly recommend it:

Thanks everyone. If anyone’s interested in any more dog material, here’s the link to my last day with my beloved dog Mo: Mo-ments

Have a great weekend everyone. Love who’s present.

peace and love. s

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The Friday Dose #67

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Let’s use today to move through the stages of life. We’ll finish with dying, and we’ll precede that with aging, a look at the middle of your life and we’ll start off here with kids. As I’ve written before, most of the world group-sleeps. Brothers and sisters and other family members cuddle up, using each other as pillows and they sleep to the sound of each other’s breathing. There’s an epidemic of people who have trouble falling asleep and that’s a huge reason why. Here’s a talk with James McKenna on how our society urges us to train children to be unnatural:

A Conversation with a Co-Sleeping Expert

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Next David Cain takes on the next stage of programming of your life. This is where you learn to work instead of live. He talks about the simple joys in life that are surrendered without us even realizing it. If this short article doesn’t get you to really think about your life carefully I’ll be surprised, and the comments are almost as interesting as the short article:

Working to Live

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Next we’ll hear Maurice Sendak, author of books like Where the Wild Things Are, as he discusses aging and dying and how life only becomes more precious and where our tears are generated more by great thanks and appreciation than over loss or sadness:

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And we’ll close with a talk by the great Alan Watts on what you’re supposed to do before and after your life:

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No matter what stage you are in life I hope you found this helpful in getting yourself to where you’d really like to be. Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

peace. s

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Spirits, Ghosts and You

Because of the experience I had when I was little, many people ask me about my experiences with life after death, my belief in ghosts and spirits, and whether or not I believe in any kind of God. They are often surprised that my response feels as much scientific as it does spiritual or paranormal.

542 Relax and Succeed - We can think of the soulShelagh Rogers recently did an interview on CBC Radio’s show The Next Chapter, where she talked about a variety of subjects with author Karen Connelly. Among them were questions about the spiritual events surrounding Connelly’s sister’s recent death. In the interview Connelly talked about how, as her sister faded, she began using blunt terms for travel for her situation. It’s important to note that she wasn’t using them as metaphors—she would talk as though she was literally going somewhere with statements like, I’m not allowed to leave, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to leave, or where’s my passport I’m leaving soon. Connelly talked about how her research after the fact demonstrated that those are common terms of reference in palliative care. Moreover, as the patients got even closer to death, they would imagine spirits or angels or guides appearing to make things more helpful. Today’s post will endeavour to explain to you what those spirits are and where they come from.

I’ve previously written about how dreams are when you integrate with the rest of the universe and you loosen of your own personal interpretation of events as being events that happen to a singular you, and instead your reality warbles and you melt back into the universe where your experiences are merely experiences to be had in principle. The fact that you see them as having happened to a You is only because you weave that narrative with your own personal thinking. But that narrative is weaved from the energy of the universe and it plays out in the energy of the universe. So it’s like during the day you’re an icecube floating in water. You’re water, the water’s water, but you’re in different states. But during sleep—and near death—that hard sense of a separate reality starts to get narrow and it’s as though the icecube—recognizing that it truly is just water in another state—begins to melt back into its larger context: the universe.

542 Relax and Succeed - After your deathRather than truly individual brains, our personal human minds are more like a connect-the-dots that moves through the universe. All of the elements of life that we have been taught are then part of our quiver of metaphors that we can draw from. So in essence, when we die we are engaged with the act of melting back into a full realization that we always were made of the water that surrounds us. Our personal minds will naturally convert that experience into a metaphor relevant to our experience of the universe. So if that aspect is You then you will turn it into something that makes sense in your personal experience. So if you’re a physicist it’ll all be about energy, if you’re a neurologist it could be about your brain’s experiential wiring, and if you’re a lay-person it might be about ghosts, spirits or guides. Each group will literally experience the belief it holds. All are true and none are true.

So are ghosts, spirits and guides real? Are we really going somewhere when we die? These things are both real and not-real. It might make it clearer if I explain it this way: to me your daily waking life is just as real/unreal as dreaming or dying is. These performances all take place on the same stage. So to me whether you’re saying you’re alive or there are spirits and some place to go that could be anywhere other than here and now—that’s all irrelevant. It just feels like different terms for the same thing. So yes, there are spirits and ghosts. And you’re being one right now. When that statement doesn’t seem like a paradox, then you’ll fully understand what it is I’m trying to say here. I wish you every good-fortune on this meditation. It’s a good one and it’s really worth engaging in. Don’t forget to have fun. 😉

peace. s

Prepare to Die

This may not be easy to read. It certainly won’t be to write. But because I intend to cause it to exist for my own growth I will be fine with the fact that it will be difficult. I’ll be blunt: if any of you met my parents you would realize that while they are very active and relatively alert, they are simultaneously also candidates to die at any moment. They are far past the national 464 Relax and Succeed - The soul is born oldaverage for age, and while my wonderful mother teaches exercise three times a week, and my father is extremely active with his gardening and walking every neighbour’s dog for miles around, they are also old enough that a brain or a heart could simply reach its natural conclusion at any moment.

Death is of course an integral part of nature. The very earth that plants and trees grow upon is in fact made up of previous plants and trees, now deceased. This is the natural cycle. Scientifically they say it’s likely that each of us carries about 500,000 atoms of Shakespeare in us. Now atoms are inconceivably tiny, but that’s pretty cool when you think about all of the people and places that you have formerly been. You are literally little ever-changing bits of the universe that come together to be you for a short while in the universe’s infinite history. And of course my parents are too.

I was recently quite sick for what was fortunately a short but intense period. I sought comfort in my parent’s home—a place I historically associate with being cared for. The plan for that day was for me to help Mom, and instead it was her nursing me—bringing me ginger ale and dry toast. I’ll admit, I liked it. It may be the last time I ever get mothered like that in my life so I really paid attention and drank it in.

Of course it’s no surprise to me that my parents could die. Intellectually this is obvious. But knowing something intellectually and knowing it well enough to live it are two different things. Otherwise smokers would quit because they understood smoking was bad for them, or people would leave abusive relationships because they would know they could do better. Well that day my awareness of my parent’s temporary-ness became sharp and clear and seeing it that clearly instantly changed my life priorities.

464 Relax and Succeed - The more you are motivated by loveThey say you cease to be a child when you first realize that you will die. And to at least some degree you become a different sort of adult when you can actually appreciate the fact that your own death could happen at any time. Suddenly your time on Earth isn’t about what you can achieve or get or own—it’s simply a question about what sort of experiences you’re going to have between now and when your opportunity for experiences ceases. By seeing my parent’s frailty in such clarity, I realized that the most profound and meaningful way to live is by making the appropriate preparations to die.

Are my parents cataloguing their belongings or trying to collect more? No. Are they trying to impress you with their personality or achievements? No. Is there some big future event that they are building toward? No. My parents live Moment to Moment, really without ego. They’ve been embarrassed enough times in their lives that they’re virtually unembarrassable. They’ve felt every emotion so many times that they’re familiar enough with all of them that even big things have a casualness to them. In the most beautiful way, they don’t argue much with the world anymore. The world has proven its superiority enough times that they are humble enough to surf the waves they are given, rather than forgo surfing in favour of begging for better waves.

I don’t want my lose my parents. I love them dearly and I know when they’re gone I’ll think of a million questions I didn’t ask. I’m glad I took a Christmas years back to set up some video cameras and record my nieces asking them a million questions I had prepared: Who 464 Relax and Succeed - As we express our gratitudewas your first love? How did you meet? What was your worst subject in school? What did you dream of being when you were young? How much did you get paid at your first real job? (For my Dad it was 17.5 cents per hour!) Etc. etc. etc. So that’s all interesting to know. But that’s what my parents did. Who they are is how they feel to me. And so rather than trying to know them through information, that day on the sofa I decided that what I should do instead is simply be with them in an open and loving state.

I can’t stop what’s happening. But I can use it to help me define priorities. And so for now, rather than buying birthday or Mother’s or Father’s Day cards, I am instead using my ability as a writer to communicate to my parents what they truly mean to me. Because in my practice the one thing I see consistently is that parents are very hard on themselves and they always notice their kid’s struggles rather than their successes. And so I want my parents to know with certainty, in detail, before they leave this beautiful planet, that they did a fantastic job as parents and as people and I couldn’t be prouder to call them Mom and Dad. And the best and only thing I can do before they die, is love them as much as I can while they are here. And that is precisely what I intend to do.

peace. s