I have yet to witness an intrigued reaction when I tell someone that I view life as the preparation for death. People aren’t even curious to entertain the idea. They are too busy being shocked of my seemingly brutal insensitivity towards their carefully constructed illusions of security. I understand them. I’ve been conditioned the same way to fear death and to avoid talking about it. But then I went deeper into the meaning of life, and I realized that it is not random at all. It really is a preparation for death in the sense that we have the time contained in our lives to understand who we are and why we live, so that we can meet the moment of our death in peace and contentment. Like when you go to sleep totally at ease because you have completed everything you needed to do during the day, and all is fine as it is. Then you let go in gratitude.
When I have the chance to add this explanation to my shocking statement, I see people slowly loosening up. The tightness of their bodies opens for a short while as they drift away in the longing for that feeling of ease that all is fine as it is. I see clinched fists turn into stretched fingers and tense shoulders descending to the sheer delight of the rigid necks which get permission to gain some length. I see people breathing up, allowing air to enter them as opposed to pulling air in nervously. And I see how frowned faces turn into expressions of innocent desire.
But it doesn’t take long, and they get tight again. The fearful mind gathers ammunition to defend the deeply entrenched conviction that Death is the enemy. The idea to acknowledge it as the destination of our lives is way too farfetched. Now I’m under siege:
- “This is a very gloomy view upon life. Aren’t you depressed?” — they ask me.
And then I invite them to tango:
- “We are conditioned to be afraid of death, that fear serves as rock foundation to all our human fears. But Death is not bad. Our projections make it into something negative. Death simply is. There is no nuance, no confusion, it is very clear. Its sheer inevitability makes it the most stable element of our lives.”
- “How can we live if we accept that we are preparing for dying with everything we do?”
- “Isn’t that the truth anyways? However, it is not the same how we die; therefore, it is not the same how we live. What we do with the time we have, which priorities we choose, which distractions we allow and how much attention we give to understanding the grand design of Life — all these determine the success of our life and the ease of our death.”
- “And what about the loved ones who we lost? I miss them and it hurts. This idea that they just completed their preparation invalidates the gravity of mourning. Or is mourning senseless to you?”
- “Mourning is never senseless, and loss is meant to hurt. But we need to be very clear about what our pain is. We get attached to beings because they reveal the most genuine parts of ourselves. The more authentically we experience ourselves with another being, the more attached we get to that being. And the less we will want to let go when the time comes for one of us to leave. But it is not that being that we hold on to. It is the experience of ourselves in the interaction with that being.”
We suffer the most when we lose someone or something that validated our being in profound ways.
That’s why we say “I’ve lost a part of myself” when someone who was close to us died, or when a significant relationship ended, or when we lost a project that was dear to us.
The loss is about us, not about that which is dead.
I am grateful that I understood this before my father’s death. He wasn’t yet 60 years old when he died, so according to the mainstream culture he left way too soon. Knowing the life he lived, and the tremendous transformation he accomplished in the last two months of his life when he finally opened up to being honest about the cracks of his personality, I believe he left right on time. His preparation was complete.
He was a proud man, you see, so proud that he felt offended when he first got the big C diagnosis. How dare this ordinary disease gathering common victims attack him? He fought it vigorously for two years. He was skilled in research, so he actively participated in his own treatment, often to the horror of his oncologist. He decided to cut deep twice, both colon and liver were cleaned of all intruders, and he underwent 52 rounds of aggressive chemo. At a certain point the oncologist pointed it out to him that chemo is not available à la carte when my father asked to be given a new cocktail which he considered would work better than what he was already getting. He truly believed he was somehow above “the average folk” and the laws of nature had distinct sections written especially for him.
Until that day two months before he died, when he went to the bathroom for the last time, and he fell.
I was reading on the ground floor when I heard the big bang of his body dropping to the ground. He was in good shape, considered by most a handsome man. Amazingly, he kept his looks all the way through cancer. He defied even the cruel rule of chemo hair loss. Weirdly, the poison acted as a boost to his hair; it was thick, dark brown, and strong.
I waited downstairs until he called out for me. I was already trained to not rush to his aid because that could backfire easily. He was eager to prove that he wasn’t helpless. But on that evening, the call came soon, so I climbed up the stairs and as I walked toward him on the long corridor, I felt the extraordinary gravity and the wonderfulness of that moment when my father had realized his mortality and finally surrendered to Life.
It was not easy to get him back into bed, and he didn’t want to see me the next day. I understood; he needed time to come to terms with his realization.
The third day we had a talk and it was the best talk we ever had.
- “When I fell, for the first time in my life, I was afraid of dying. But then I realized: I will not beat this thing. I cannot win.”
- “I know. But winning over cancer is not the point. Cancer is just the tool that helps you embrace Life, so you complete your preparation for Death.”
- “I would have never agreed with what you’re saying, but now I see.”
- “You don’t have to be afraid ever again because together we take care of that which lives in you.”
Tears run down my face as I was listening to my father’s confession about his cracks, his pride, the vanity that simultaneously fed him and consumed him, the self-righteousness that made him very lonely. Surrendering to his life as it was, got him ready for his death.
I rejoiced in his breakthrough. For the first time we could interact as two manifestations of clear consciousness in human form. The more my father embraced the cracks of his personality, the more light was shining through them. The famous Sufi mystic — Rumi said: “the wound is the place where the light enters you”. Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the magnificent Leonard Cohen endorsed Rumi’s words: “there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”.
My father’s acceptance of his defeat was his victory. My ability to see him through the intimidating packaging allowed me to be there for him at the most important time of his life. During the next weeks, we had good talks, we laughed, we planned his funeral and I enjoyed being with him because we connected underneath the layers that covered our common essence. He was free from all expectations and allowed to be as he was at the time: a dying human form with clear consciousness within.
Others, as most people are in similar circumstances, were lost in their attachments to who they could be as long as my father was around, or in relation to him. They expected my father to not give up but continue fighting, they were describing foolish scenarios of activities that would take place after my father supposedly gets back on his feet. I warned them to quit being selfish and start being present with my father or else they will lose the precious momentum.
When someone is dying, the focus should be on the person finishing their preparation. It is not about those who stay.
I’ve been attacked for this view as well. I’ve been even accused that I didn’t suffer from my father’s death. I let the accusations slide because the people making them need compassion not convincing. They live in fear, and they hide behind the delusion that Death is not the central part of our lives. But the clear consciousness which is in those people is the same with the clear consciousness which is in me. The packaging is different, but what’s underneath is the same.
When we see only the cracks of our beings, we are disconnected. When we relate only through the covering layers, we are separated. But when we also recognize what’s underneath, we are all one.
Experiencing oneness is the most wonderful feeling you can have in this life. When the essence of your being meets the essence of another being and the covering layers get their due recognition so they are quiet, the peace and the joy are beyond mental understanding. Oneness does not exclude individuality. We may celebrate all the ways in which we are different, after all they are the manifestation of Life’s richness and diversity. But all along, underneath all that separates us, we must be aware of that which connects us.
You may have lived moments of awe when words were superfluous and you just knew looking in the eyes of another being that you’re sharing an extraordinary instant, which is not attached to any expectation or condition. You both simply are. Life manifests through the two of you and the flow is unobstructed.
I was blessed to live this awe on a daily basis for 15 years 3 months 2 days with my cat Kicsike. He embodied my soulmate, my child, my life partner and was my most significant relationship. I was so attached to him that when he left, I didn’t know anymore how to be. I could no longer access the most authentic part of me, and I couldn’t interact with Life in meaningful ways anymore. Everything felt senseless and I felt worthless. And all this despite my progressive view upon Life and despite my comprehension of (re)incarnation rooted in my Buddhist background.
Indeed, you will never truly understand something until it actually happens to you.
There are many gradations to grief and sadness and reaching to the bottom of it allowed me to better understand these experiences. So many people are crushed by these states, and they are all treated with the same compassionate nonsense: “think of the good times”, “you always have your memories”, “pull yourself together”, “you must be strong”, “accept the order of life and death”, “life goes on”, “time heals all wounds”, etc.
And what if life does not go on? What if everything just stops? What if you cannot pull yourself together? What if it just hurts too much to be conscious about the order of life and death? As for the cliché that time heals all wounds, with all due respect, don’t fool yourselves! Time alone does not heal anything. Time spent doing the right thing — this indeed can heal wounds.
“The right thing” is a catchy name for something that is awfully hard to identify. What does it mean to do the right thing? And how can we know for sure that what we think is the right thing, is in fact the right thing?
When the voice inside my head told me to push through the sadness and the grief because that was expected of me, I knew it was not the voice of the truth and thus it could not be the right thing to do. How did I know that? Because I saw myself helpless and hopeless: I saw myself weak and I could not resist to letting it be. So, I did the only thing I could do: I was being honest. I surrendered to the part of me that did not fit the image I was supposed to show (that of a person who knew how to handle death, who ought to behave like a teacher).
Instead of hiding my brokenness or displaying it in intellectualized explanations and/or sappy stories hoping to gather sympathy, I just sat with it. I let it be. It was not a conscious decision as I did not decide to deliberately practice surrender. What actually happened was much deeper than the mental process of decision making. I let my brokenness be. I let myself be exactly as I was at that time, without making it better, without cleaning it up, without explaining it, without denying it, without justifying it. I let the wound bleed and the howling pain scream.
The result was space.
Space, so I could breathe again. Space, so I could stand up the next morning and go through my day with all the heaviness I felt. Should I have fought against the sadness and should I have hurried the grief to dissolve, I would have contaminated space.
Space is the opposite of crowdedness, tightness, business, pressure, and tension. Space is the peace of surrender, but not peace with what happened. Space is not apathetic passivity. Surrender doesn’t mean that the loss doesn’t still hurt immensely. The change happens on a different level: I had peace in myself and with myself that I was allowed to be hurt. Just like when my father granted himself permission to be dying as he was lying on his deathbed and I respected his freedom to do that surrender, the same way I too granted myself permission to be hurt and I too felt the relaxation of that surrender. The space created in this way was there for Life to fill it with something new.
When you are hurt, allow yourself to be hurt. Feel it; don’t run away from it. Don’t fight it, because you will create more problems in doing so and the hurt will be still there, but you will also be pressured into being something that you are not at that time. You will be hurried to be OK, to be brave or to be whatever they want you to be, of which none is who you are at that moment in your life.
Allowing yourself to be hurt when you are hurt is the greatest act of kindness towards yourself, as you give yourself unconditional love the way children get unconditional love from their mothers even when they are not OK, even when they are not good. That acceptance is space, and creating space is the most important task we have in this human life. It is the best preparation. When we create space within our being, we interact meaningfully with Life. Life can fill up the space with its wonder.
In my case, the wonder was Kicsike’s return signaled with multiple specific indications, in a new healthy little furry body, graced with beautiful and clear markings just like the great Buddhist Lama’s do when they reincarnate. We were separated for 4 months on the physical plane, it was an important interruption in our journey together, but we stayed connected all along. And by having done both life and death together, I learned to access that place of authenticity within my being which before I could only experience through Kicsike. His contribution to my preparation is as vast as my gratitude for his continued presence in my life. Whenever my time to go comes, I will be more ready thanks to Kicsike.