How you live is how you will die.
This is something I want to share from my experience of end of life support and shamanistic work. Not just being around people who were dying, but over 20 years corresponding with various prisoners in the US on Death Row (and their families) and also working with people who have been badly traumatized and suicidal. Death is something that's shrouded in mystery for a lot of people. But what can the dying process teach us about life and about mindfulness?
Quite a lot actually. Death is obviously the ultimate experience of trauma. It's the complete and total separation of consciousness and energy, the end of a life that has been lived and also - as all physical existence and reality is based on the energy cycle and vibration - the start of a new life cycle. Most people see death in linear terms, as an end of their whole existence and point at which they go into the unknown, so naturally death is something which creates fear, anxiety and even terror. Most people would love to see death for what it is, an interval between two life cycles, but usually there are doubts in the back of one's mind.
Death Row prisoners in the United States live in conditions I think all of us would find intolerable. They live in a prison cell which usually measures about the size of a typical bathroom, say six feet by ten feet. They face restrictions on everything they do. They are constantly monitored. They can spend anything up to 30 years or more living in conditions of extreme deprivation while their appeals work their way through the courts system. They have zero 'touch' contact with anyone other than prison guards. Most end up on Death Row because a violent crime got way out of hand and someone died, and it's often the case that it doesn't sink in that they are facing the death penalty until they arrive on Death Row. Then of course they try to find ways to get off Death Row, by either trying to claim their innocence or, more commonly, by trying to find mistakes in the way their trial was handled and claiming that there's a lack of due process, an unfair trial, or that their lawyers were incompetent.
However it's also important to remember that death affects the living and those who are left behind far more than the person who dies. This is what lies behind my vehement and passionate opposition to capital punishment. In addition to the notion that punishing a corpse is ridiculous, and the ugly truth that capital punishment in the US is based on white supremacy and arose out of the lynchings of African-Americans and slavery, it punishes innocent families far more than convicted murderers. The families of murder victims are denied closure from understanding how their loved one died, often for decades and the concept of so-called 'justice' is a very poor substitute. The trial was never going to be about the lives of the victims. Then there's the family of the convicted, who lost a father or a mother, a son or a daughter. What must go through the mind of say a mother watching prison staff kill her son with clinical planning and methodical, ritualistic premeditation?
The most important event in your life is your death
Contrary to what many people may think on some level prisoners on Death Row generally do not need to be dragged off to the execution chamber. It's not like it's shown in the movies. Decades of being in almost solitary confinement and the harsh conditions of Death Row have a major penitentiary effect on most prisoners. This is where many Death Row prisoners figure out their meta-physic, finding spirituality and mindfulness, simply because they have nothing much in their lives to focus on besides contact with family and friends, their appeals process, and current events. Of course there is sadness and regret that their lives worked out the way they did, and all the nasty emotions that any end of life puts you through - anger, resentment, guilt, remorse and so on. But generally many Death Row prisoners look forward to their execution because it means release from prison, freedom, and a new life.
Prisoners on Death Row are unique in the fact that, unlike everyone else, they get to know exactly when they are going to die months and even - in some states such as Ohio - years in advance. Some of the later appeals in the process have nothing to do with clemency, pardons or commutations, but far more to do with how the execution is going to be carried out and recently, allowing a spiritual advisor to be present with them in the chamber with them at the time of their execution. This is extremely important because all execution methods are extremely violent - simply because it takes a significant amount of force to extinguish the life force of a relatively healthy person. Their past crimes and convictions are no longer important, because they are completely different people who have gone through the penitentiary process. What matters is they be afforded a humane death with is dignified and as humane as possible, bearing in mind that both loved ones and media witnesses are witnessing the execution.
Much work is undertaken by various spiritual advisors, ministers and mystics to prepare the condemned prisoner for execution. Going through an execution as a condemned prisoner requires complete and total presence of mind, mindfulness and also complete integrity. This spiritual work by advisors, ministers and mystics is not specific in any way to prison, capital punishment or Death Row prisoners, but is standard 'end up life' spiritual work or soul work which also goes on in hospices and hospitals for the terminally ill.
Separation of the elements
Ideally, dying is the very last action or thing you do in life and it is this specific action which is why I, and many others who walk the spiritual or healing path, keep going on and on about the sheer necessity of mindfulness, presence of mind and letting go of unnecessary shit in your mind. You do not know what is going to happen next after you die. I don't either. Nobody does. But the general principle is that how you die and what goes through your mind as you die largely determines what life you are going to be born into next and how you are going to be born.
The critical stage in the dying process are what I refer to as the separation of the elements - earth, water, fire, and air and the sensations experienced in the process of dying. This separation of elements is a process which can be corroborated by doctors and nurses, particularly those involved with terminal or end of life care.
- Separation of earth element
- The separation of earth element gives a sensation of heaviness or weight.
- Separation of water element
- The separation of water element gives a sensation of dryness and thirst.
- Separation of fire element
- The separation of fire element gives a sensation of coldness.
- Separation of air element
- The separation of air element makes the out breaths (breathing out) longer than the in breaths (breathing in).
This is the process of separation of spirit or consciousness from the physical body and mind. It's a natural process during which - when you go through it as you die - you need to have complete presence of mind, be in a completely mindful state, with no emotional or psychological attachments to your life or what has happened previously. Any loose ends tied to your death need to be addressed and settled prior to this stage.
From death to rebirth
Tibetan Buddhists often have very clear ideas about the journey from death to rebirth. It is believed that an entirely peaceful, natural death can result in rebirth as early as the next day, which would make death roughly the equivalent to a night of sleep. On the other hand a violent, sudden or traumatic death, may delay rebirth for many years.
However there's a much wider consensus that a 'clean' death requires presence of mind and complete mindfulness, and any form of emotional or psychological clinging or attachment during this dying process not only affects the process from death to rebirth creating further trauma, but may also change the nature of the mystical experience which happens after death when the consciousness retained in memory is released into the atmosphere.
Indeed there is an even wider consensus in mystical circles that any attachment or clinging during this dying process - particularly at the stage of the separation of elements - can cost you most if not all of your mindfulness experience and practice, even built up over many years. If this happens the trauma of death is exacerbated by suffering. This is about the clearest definition I can think of with regards to the statement 'throwing your life away'. This is important, simply because dying is the most important thing you can do in your life.
From what I know and understand of palliative care, end of life care and hospice work, only a small minority of people get to die naturally or peacefully and go out with a 'clean' death. When death comes, even for some people who have qualified for hospice care, often there is a look of complete and utter bewilderment. It's almost as if the dying person did not expect to die and doesn't even realize that it's happening. I have thought a lot about this in my practice. I have often wondered if miscarriages are a symptom of premature rebirth where the mother has developed a foetus but for some reason the rebirth cannot happen. Maybe, just maybe it's spirit returning to life too prematurely after a traumatic death process.
The importance of dying well
This is something I stress early on in the process of mindfulness and spiritual awakening. You can only die once, therefore it stands to reason that you need to be able to die well to the very best of your ability. This is something you need to think about doing not just for yourself, but for your family, loved ones, children, and friends. These are the people who are going to be most affected by your death. While we can speculate endlessly over what happens when we die, I often feel much more needs to be said about how our deaths affect other people and their grieving processes. If you yourself have lost a parent you will know what I'm writing about here, and if you have children I suggest you spend some time thinking about this.
Given the fact that most people die prematurely, it important not just to have financial matters in place such as a will, a funeral plan and arrangements, but you also talk about stuff connected with your death. Many people die leaving so many things unsaid, and this is often because despite the fact that people die and we are all aware that people die, we kind of assume that it's something which happens to other people and not us. Often when someone experiences a Near Death Experience (NDE) and they come within a whisker of dying, the resulting shock shakes them to their core and they often develop completely different priorities in life. But why does it have to be this way?
However there is no need to constantly be thinking about death and dying, because there is sleep. Sleep also works on the exact same principles as death but instead of death, rebirth and birth you simply go to sleep at the end of one day and wake up to a new day.
The relationship between sleep and mindfulness
A similar process involving the four elements takes place when it comes to sleep. The only difference is how the process takes place and the outcomes. Let's revisit the separation process again but this time apply the same process to falling asleep:
- Separation of earth element
- The separation of earth element gives a sensation of heaviness or drowsiness which is coming from tiredness and fatigue.
- Separation of water element
- The separation of water element gives the same sensation of dryness and thirst. Dehydration causes disruptions and disturbances in sleep.
- Separation of fire element
- The separation of fire element gives a sensation of coldness. Going to sleep in coldness can cause disruptions and disturbances in sleep.
- Separation of air element
- The separation of air element makes the breathing more shallow as you drift into a different state of reduced consciousness and require less air and oxygen.
This is where involvement in dream weaving can be both beneficial and effective. Through dream weaving workshops and activities you can quickly learn to develop two completely different states of consciousness and develop the ability to switch between the narrow focus of conscious attention and the much wider and more refined levels of consciousness through which you can centre yourself and return to a state of mindfulness.
In being able to switch between Normal Everyday Consciousness (NEC) and Dream States of Consciousness (DSC) with some practice you will even be able to connect between your Sleep State of Consciousness (SSC) and Normal Everyday Consciousness (NEC) so that thoughts and ideas you experience or have during a dream, which you do during REM deep sleep, you will be able to recall them from memory after waking up. Unlike other methods of mindfulness, such as meditation and yoga, where you are seeking to achieve mindfulness using the mind, through dream weaving you're using meta-physical means and magic to clear your mind through your individual conscious perspective.
If you would like to know more about dream weaving then feel free to read through the contents of this website, come to a dream weaving workshop or meeting, or get in touch with your questions.