Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya.
You killed my father.
Prepare to die.
– The Princess Bride
Preparing to Die: An Integral Conversation Recapped
The next Integral Living Room is coming up soon in Boulder on November 10 – 13, 2016. The topic of conversation this fall is Life and death; Love and loss. We have hosted three community calls in preparation for the event so far – the last of which was held on Thursday, August 4.
This call was an exploration of the importance of preparing to die, and it was especially poignant because of the recent death of our good friend and colleague, Brett Andrew Walker. Brett died on June 7, 2016 unexpectedly, and this significant loss made our contemplation all the more vivid, real, and tear-stained.
Most traditions suggest that we acknowledge the fact of death in life: our own certain demise and the eventual death of others. Doing so brings the preciousness of this fleeting human experience into full display.
There is an enormous array of spiritual practices that can help us to be present with others in their dying process, and to prepare for that final moment when we breathe our last. These practices range from disciplined meditation to forgiveness work to imagining the dying process itself in excruciatingly fine detail. There scores of preparatory practices, but in this conversation, we honed in on three: 1) The cultivation of wisdom and virtue in this life, 2) learning to surrender, and 3) meditating on impermanence.
Jeff began by reflecting about a time when he was musing with Ken Wilber about reincarnation. Ken remarked that there is a belief that what survives from one lifetime to the next is the sum total of the wisdom and virtue that we cultivated in this life. Jeff recalled that he and Brett had considered this idea together, and in the wake of Brett’s death, Jeff couldn’t help but wonder how it is going for him now. Particularly because Brett was such an elegant soul, and had a truly kind, open heart. Did wisdom attend him into another realm, dimension or form of rebirth? Did he take his significant virtue with him? “Does the beauty of Brett continue?” Jeff wondered aloud. Of course, he can’t know, but he allows for the question all the time. It brings home the possibility of living a life more deeply imbued with the good, the true, and the beautiful. And it is commonly known that a well-lived life, especially one imbued with kindness and love is easier to surrender than one filled with confusion, ill will, and regret.
Terry discussed practicing the art of surrender. He reminded us that all of spiritual practice can be viewed as a rehearsal for death. But it’s not easy to relinquish even small attachments, let alone the entirety of our life. And because the physiological process of dying can be so gritty and painful, and because the utter loss of the ground can be so frightening, we need to practice letting go in while still alive. We must learn to submit before we encounter what may be an excruciating or terrifying experience.
But Terry suggested that with practice, when the moment of dying comes, it may be possible to go into it with a deep willingness, with an ability let go and trust in the complete unknown. As he put it on the call, he wants to be able to meet his own dying moments “heart first.”
He said he imagined a possibility of being drawn through the gross reality to the subtle, to the unmanifest with a kind of “crazy, excruciating bliss,” and surrendering into the mysterious, transcendental conscious heart of existence. Because, he said, surrender is, ultimately, a profound pleasure. It is through our surrender and submission that we are in right relationship to that which is immeasurably greater than ourselves.
Terry offered that our ability to bear the ordinary difficulties of life, to really let go on the meditation cushion, or to be deeply there with another human being, are all rehearsals for this profound surrender of the largest letting go.
Finally, Diane let us through a reflection on impermanence. We recalled an earlier stage of life, remembering what our environment and home were like at that earlier time, who all the people were that surrounded us then, and what the activities were that we used to engage. We remembered what it was like to be ourselves then; what interested and occupied our thoughts. Then we noticed how profoundly everything that has changed in the whole of our life since then that early memory. After that, we moved our minds to remember a later stage in life with the same series of questions, but in a different time frame. And again we recalled how so much has changed.
To conclude the reflection, we noticed the fact that the one constant in our life has been our awareness, that which has experienced the whole of our life. And then we rested in that open state, identified with awareness itself for the final minutes of the meditation. Whether there is something called an afterlife, or whether this light is full extinguished at the moment of death, the practice of awareness prepares us equally for this great unknown.
As an Integral Life practice, Ken Wilber encourages us to deliberately face the reality of death and to engage meditative practice, realizing the timeless, unconditioned dimension of who we are. Familiarity with our vast, unconditioned nature will certainly give us the ability to surrender to this great change when it finally comes.
The Integral Living Room is billed as the “Best conversations of your life.” If you are interested in hearing the entirely of this conversation, including the questions and answers at the end of the call, you can find it at our web page www.integrallivingroom.com
If you would like to plunge into the practice of integral conversation, please join us. As of this writing, there are still a few spaces available but the Living Room always sells out, so if you’re interested please register soon.