Themes and articles on death and dying are vogue these days. I noticed in the current issue of the SUN magazine a number of articles on the subject. Featured in this month’s issue on the “Dog-Eared Page” is a well-written article on death and dying. (I always turn to the “Dog-Eared Page” first when a new issue arrives because the articles featured there are usually short and timely.) In fact, death and dying seems to be the theme of a couple of articles. “Who Dies?” is the title of this article, written in a meditative tone by Stephen and Ondrea Levine and focusing on the eternal question “Who am I?”
We think we are our thoughts. We call our thoughts “I.” In letting go of thought, we go beyond ourselves, beyond who we imagine we are. Behind the restless movement of the mind is the stillness of being, the stillness that has no name, no reputation, nothing to protect. It is the natural mind.
I’ll return to this article shortly. But first I would like to connect with the Event of the day as we prepare to celebrate Easter this coming weekend.
EASTER IS ABOUT RESURRECTION, NOT DEATH
It certainly was for me eleven years ago when, on Easter Sunday, April 20th, 2003, I was given a new lease on life with open-heart surgery in Ft. Collins, Colorado, for which I am profoundly grateful to God and to the wonderful surgeon who held my heart in his healing hands that blessed day of personal resurrection. Life is good. It also has purpose for our health crises. For me, that purpose has revealed itself in many wonderful and fulfilling ways over the past decade.
This is “Holy Week” and tomorrow is “Good Friday” when Christians the world over pause to reflect on the crucifixion and death of their “Lord and Savior,” followed in three days by the celebration of his resurrection from the dead. Mozart’s Requem in D minor is slated for performance at our local University Methodist Church. A local newspaper’s editor touts it as his “top choices of don’t-miss-it entertainment” (italic emphasis mine). “Make Good Friday great with Mozart,” he highlights in his plug for the event. The church choir director describes the masterpiece as “…grand, complex, delicate at times. There are moments of fury and power. The ‘dies irae,’ which is the day of wrath, about the judgment day, is full of brass and timpani.” Singers in the community flock to sing in the event and people will fill the church pews tomorrow to revel in the ecstatic musical inspiration—a few perhaps to ponder the meaning of life and death and to entertain once again the deeply embedded belief in a dreaded “Judgment Day” when the wrath of God is supposed to come down upon the heads of all sinners, which most who come to hear the performance are convinced they are.
SO ARISE AND SHINE
We are so entertained by the mystery of life and death—and rightly we should be as, by and large, we do not seem to have a clue as to what either one of them is all about. The Lord of Love came here to show us how to live and how to face death victoriously and move on to greater things beyond death’s door—and to give us the “good news” that there is a larger context to our existence in his Father’s house of many mansions. Easter gives us an opportunity each year to arise and shine our light of love into the world and to remember to shine our light every day.
MODERN MEDICINE SPOILS OUR ENTERTAINMENT
The SUN carries two other articles on death and dying. One is an interview with journalist Katy Butler entitled “The Long Goodbye — Katy Butler On How Modern Medicine Decreases Our Chance Of A Good Death.” The title speaks for itself. In her own article later on in the issue, “The Art of Dying,” Katy tells how her father’s life was prolonged with a pacemaker only to make him live long enough for him to experience the painful miss-management of the last days of his ageing and degenerating body by medical science. You can read the entire interview at the link above.
Reading her story, I am reminded of my own mother’s medically-induced longevity with a pacemaker that only staved off an otherwise natural and peaceful death with her children around her bed, only to see her ageing body used for further profiteering on the backs of taxpayers through the convenience of Medicare and Medicaid.
Is my judgmental cynicism here unwarranted? Perhaps so, but must we insist upon doing things just because we can . . . and because it’s “covered by Medicare?” Our modern technology has turned us into gods “knowing good and evil” as the serpent promised Adam and Eve in the story in Genesis. Yet, we do “surely die” in the end, as we were duly warned we would. In an ironic way, death was given to us more as a blessing than a curse: a mechanism of release from our self-made prisons.
DEATH IS A RITE OF PASSAGE
Death, like birth, can be celebrated as the rite of passage it is from this world back into the realms of light from which we all came on our day of incarnation. It can be another birthday, which is how I imagine our departed friends and family, along with the angels in heaven, celebrate it. Thankfully, we now have hospice care to provide peaceful and sacred space for our last days and for our transition to the other side of the veil. But let me return to the SUN’s feature article.
“THERE IS NO PERSON IN THERE; JUST A PROCESS”
I love where Stephen and Ondrea Levine take their meditation in the end. You’ll want to read the article in its entirety on page 2 of this post.
. . .There is no place we can solidly plant our feet and say, “This is who I am.” It is a constantly changing flow in which, moment to moment, who we think we are is born and dies. All that we would project ourselves as being is seen as transient and essentially empty of any abiding entity. There is no person in there; there is just process. Who we think we are is just another bubble in the stream. And the awareness that illuminates this process is seen for the light it is. We begin to give up identification with the mind as “I” and become the pure light of awareness, the namelessness of being.
The body dies; the mind is constantly changing. But somehow, behind it all, there is a presence, called by some “the deathless,” that is unchanging, that simply is as it is.
To become fully born is to touch this deathlessness: to experience, even for a moment, the spaciousness that goes beyond birth and death; to emerge into a world of paradox and mystery with no weapons but awareness and love .•
For me this article describes the human mind’s search for its identity and meaning. In truth, the mind has no identity or meaning of its own. It has meaning only as it is connected, activated and allowed to be used wisely by its Creator. Otherwise it is self-activated by self-centered purposes and prides itself of having an “ego” (which is Latin for “I am) that depends on bolstering compliments for its sense of worth. The human ego is the self-active human mind. That dies, thank God— if only we would let it pass away peacefully and naturally. But, alas, it has invented a way to stave off its demise through modern medical technology. To what end? I ask.
We’ve made such a complicated mess of our life and death on Earth. Life is simple, as is death. We come. We live. We ascend to return and live again in this beautiful world—or in other even more beautiful worlds. In our Father’s house there are surely many mansions, and our souls are not limited to this one.
In my Healing Tones blog I am considering the processes of resurrection and ascension. Join me there for inspiring exploration of things that must be hereafter. Until my next post,
Here’s to your health and a happy death.
Anthony Palombo, D.C
Sources: THE SUN magazine, April, 2014, issue 460. Visit them online at http://thesunmagazine.org. The feature article quoted herein is “Excerpted from Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying by Stephen and Ondrea Levine, copyright © 1982 by Stephen Levine. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.”
About the authors: STEPHEN AND ONDREA LEVINE live in the mountains of northern New Mexico. For more than thirty years they counseled the sick and dying and their loved ones through Conscious Living/Conscious Dying workshops, which used guided meditation combined with the teachings of Buddhism and other wisdom traditions. They have written several books together, including Who Dies?, Embracing the Beloved, and A Year to Live.