The team at Compassion in Dying recently gave a talk about planning ahead at a workshop facilitated by Maneesha James of Osho Sammasati. Her work focusses on how meditation can help us approach the end of life in a new way. Attendees were keen to hear about the legal tools available to them to ensure their wishes for treatment and care are known about and respected. Here, Maneesha James tells us more about her approach to mortality and the end of life …
Encountering our Mortality: a new approach
When we acknowledge that, at some point, we are all going to die, the question can arise: What can I do to prepare for it?
Think about childbirth. I know from my days as a midwife that receiving ante-natal instruction in the months before delivery can make a significant difference to a woman’s experience. Giving birth is an awesome event, but it will be quite different if we’re confused and frightened.
Preparing for death can improve people’s end-of-life experiences
Similar to the function of ante-natal classes, at Osho Sammasati we provide classes to help prepare for dying. We give support, both individually and in groups, taking into account the practical, the psychological and the spiritual challenges we face when it comes our turn to die.
Some of the practicalities that need consideration include making a will, creating an Advance Decision or Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare, the important issue of who we’d like present as we’re dying, what we’d like done with our body and details about our funeral or celebration. There may be other considerations – such as ensuring that any dependents are adequately provided for, and so on.
Facing up to these issues helps us confront the reality of what dying means – to ourselves and to those we leave behind.
Each person approaching the end of life will have their own issues to identify and deal with. Some of these can be addressed psychologically; others need to be addressed experientially: that is, through meditation.
Dying as a meditation
Meditation is becoming more mainstream. What is not so well known is how it can prepare us for dying. This is not so surprising considering the many similarities between the two. For instance, in meditating as in dying, we move from the outer world to the inner; from activity to relaxing into stillness; from relating to aloneness; from a world of stimulus to one where input from outside oneself is reduced to a minimum.
Through meditation we can consciously and voluntarily let go of the need to control and in doing so, experience what it is to relax deeply. When our body and mind are relaxed, there is a sense of expansion inside and, with that comes the feeling that we are separate from any bodily sensations, from our thoughts and feelings. We can watch them as if they are external to us. You might have experienced something similar while having a massage.
For many of the people I work with, practising meditation means the path to this space becomes not only familiar but also welcomed and loved. So when the time comes for our dying, we already know the way: we know how to relax inside; to watch what is happening and to be at peace.
One client with whom I worked with on an individual basis and who had ovarian cancer very consciously prepared herself months ahead of her death. In our sessions during that time, she worked on the various emotions that came up – such as sadness, fear, and anger – but as a thread throughout was meditation. ‘I don’t know what death is,’ she said, ‘but I want to meet it in meditation.’
As it happened I was elsewhere at the time of her death but it seems she got her wish. Her husband one side of her, her daughter the other, my client sat up in bed meditating and – without them noticing the change – from one moment to another she passed, silently and effortlessly, into death.
A common misconception is that to give any attention to death is anti- life. Yet, consistently, the feedback we receive is just the reverse: consciously encountering it diminishes fear of death and, at the same time, only enhances the joy and gratitude for life and the impetus to live it to the full.
The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Compassion in Dying or My Life, My Decision.