Abiding in Dying

As you know from reading these journal entries, my mother is in hospice care. She is approaching her final days or weeks in her current body. She recently began refusing food and stays in bed all day. She cannot really communicate but offers a few bursts of words—sometimes making sense, sometimes not.

I sit with her, following her breath, noticing changes. I read in whispering tones from the Bardö Thödol, the Book of Liberation Upon Hearing. This text offers a kind of spiritual map with guidance through the realm of dying. It is amazingly accurate, describing the way in which the body dissolves and the associated effects in the mind. I sense that mom’s essential being being can receive the intention behind the text. Dying really does not have a language.

Even though I may experience profound assistance from the Book of Liberation, I mostly just sit with mom and offer hints about letting go. When I offer mantras from the Buddhist tradition, I chant them quietly like a hum of bees in the background—while abiding in the space of dying.

I feel fortunate to be part of a tradition that is so upfront with death. All our practices are devoted to letting go—allowing little deaths to happen naturally throughout our days. The breath arises and lets go. The heart contracts and relaxes. And the mind, when allowed to be in its natural state, simply watches the dream-like play of experience as it arises, emanates, and returns to emptiness.

If we practice abiding in dying, the fear of not existing diminishes because we know we do not exist in a solid separate form anyway. Paradoxically, we live more fully, undistracted by momentary emotional dramas and habits of mind. More importantly, our realization of the illusory and fleeting nature of existence allows us to be more present to others, to help relieve their suffering in both life and death. That is my prayer.