Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Each of us must strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your lives."
at Zen Mountain Monastery
Today I meditated under a tree about a hundred yards or so from where I saw my eldest daughter Persephone born in 1972--and witnessed the death of my father in 1975. Though I sat in formal meditation for only ten minutes or so (my son Joshua was walking nearby with a sleeping Granddaughter Amelia in the her stroller), I had the opportunity, at least momentarily, to once again open my heart to the Profound Immensity of Life/Death in a way that most folks in this society probably haven't allowed themselves to consider possible--or even desirable.
I'm incredibly grateful to the teachers, teachings and practices that have allowed me to experience even the tears that flowed during those moments as an outright blessing, to feel again the utter Preciousness of Life.
Afterwards, Josh, sleeping Amelia and I continued walking the grounds of what was once St. Therese Hospital (Now owned by Vista Health System) in Waukegan, IL talking about our rather tumultuous family history. It's been that sort of week.
All too often within families, the death of a loved one is accompanied by a great deal of "unfinished business". Rarely is there a willingness and ability to engage in the type of deep, open, and honest communication about our lives--and our deaths--that could serve to heal the inevitable wounds inflicted and incurred in the course of a normal life. In a society that, in the main, has lost sight of the Sacred possibilities of Forgiveness and True Human Love, the grief of the ultimate loss is often compounded by the anguish of guilt and regret.
When I read Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living, Conscious Dying by Stephen Levine years ago, I took the first step toward approaching my death intentionally, as an integral part of my life and practice. Although I had already had a set of "peak experiences" that had dissolved a fundamental fear of death, I saw pretty clearly that there was a lot of work to be done within my own family. It was going to take a deepening of my own personal practice and a lot of communication with my loved ones before I would be able to "let go" and take that last breath "in peace".
A couple of years later, I was fortunate enough to attend "Healing Into Life and Death", a five day retreat presented by Stephen and Ondrea Levine. The two of them were masterful in creating a sense of community among the 300 or so folks gathered there, about a third of whom were terminally ill. Amidst the hours of meditation, guided meditations, interpersonal exercises, talks and discussions, I first touched an essential form of forgiveness: the ability to forgive myself for the countless ways that I had caused harm to those I loved, intentionally or unintentionally.
As time has gone on it has, once again, become clear that even the deepest experiences are ephemeral as I've stumbled and bumbled ahead in life. Yet, although I still blunder quite regularly--and I can and do feel moments of guilt and shame emerge and dissolve--it is also quite clear that something had shifted, something had healed. That experience has enabled me to more quickly extend and accept forgiveness. This has helped me to slowly and carefully engage in the needed conversations over the years with those I love.
The work, of course, isn't done. I don't suspect it will be until I do take that last breath.
But, at this point, that seems fair enough.