I worked in spiritual care for hospitals and hospices on and off for seven years. One of the most challenging aspects for me was to confront, over and over again, how poorly most people were prepared for end of life.
When someone is dying, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, everything that is unresolved comes to the surface. This can manifest as intense physical pain that is difficult to manage and that stubbornly moves around the body. When one area of pain is treated successfully, it will pop up somewhere else.
Even when a clinical team recognizes that the source of someone's pain is probably difficult emotional material, a dying person may or may not have the capacity to engage in processing it with a counselor. Many people reach end of life never having done any type of inner work.
In his insightful book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, meditation teacher Jack Kornfield writes of trying to teach his father meditation on his deathbed: "It was useless. Fifteen minutes of practicing meditation could not undo seventy-five years of practicing paranoia." This is true.
While it is possible to come to peace with our relationships and life choices, however conflicted and difficult they may be, this often takes more time than we are allotted when we become aware that our physical death is imminent. If we reach the end of life without any tools to help us through our process, it is going to be a very rough ride both for ourselves and for our loved ones.
When we are healthy, modern culture offers us countless ways to avoid feeling emotions we find unpleasant or to confront the fact that one day we are going to die. We can work long hours, exercise intensely, zone out in front of a screen, self-medicate with alcohol and/or recreational drugs. Even spiritual practice can be engaged in a way that avoids rather than supports emotional process and psychological maturity. We can "have fun" and repress what we don't want to deal with until the dying process opens up all of our closets and lets what's been haunting us out of the basement.
The only thing any of us are guaranteed in this life is that we are going to die some day. This need not be a depressing or scary reality. The more we cultivate the capacity to engage constructively with the fullness of our lives now, to live in integrity in the day-to-day, the greater the likelihood we will be able to navigate end of life in a conscious, reconciled manner. It is work worth doing.
Copyright © 2020 Engage Your Being, LLC - All Rights Reserved.