One Truth, Many Paths...
“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.”
Last week I was at the gym to go for a swim, and overheard two women
sharing their recent experiences of caring for their quite elderly mothers through
end of life. It was Mother’s Day, after all, and each was relating the particular
sting of her loss.
“Oh, the whole thing is just brutal,” one sighed; she was missing her Mom
deeply. Her friend murmured sympathetically, then offered “Yes, well, we’re all
going to die someday…”
“I know, I know. And that’s what’s so terrible about it, that we know about it
ahead of time. It’s like being on Death Row!”
Her sorrow and worry were palpable, and familiar. Mortality sucks, and
denial works – until it doesn’t. As a longtime hospice counselor, I have worked
with hundreds of patients looking for ways to soften this fear.
There’s no universal balm for this angst. If I were to pick one good starting
point, I’d choose a daily mindfulness practice. When we’re able to consistently
focus our attention on our breath, or just one focused activity, negative and
distracting thoughts can more easily recede into the background. If you think
about it, a lot of depression is based in the past, and anxiety often fixates on the
future. If we can stay in just this moment, and then the next, we have more room
My friend CJ Liu, an online radio host and longtime meditater, received an
indelible lesson on this concept in January. A former Microsoft manager still
sometimes prone to a driven lifestyle, she set off to Kauai, Hawaii for a week-
long silent meditation retreat. Two days in, she began to feel the unity of mind,
body and spirit in earnest. As she was walking back to her dorm room, the
serenity was punctured by a text message blaring from her cell phone –
Emergency Alert- BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK
IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
After texting her husband and sons with loving messages, CJ and the rest of
the meditation group filed silently into the hall. Everyone had received the
ominous alert, yet everyone remained quiet and began meditating. What else
was there to do?
“I wasn’t scared of dying,” CJ said later, noting that it helped that she was in
the midst of an intense meditation retreat. “There was nothing left to say or do
except to die consciously with love in my heart.”
There are many avenues to these expanded states of awareness.Try different
kinds to see what speaks to you: prayer, meditation, chanting, qigong, yoga,
brain-wave entrainment, or long hikes in nature.