We die a thousand deaths within one lifetime. We experience ourselves in untold numbers of transitions. We face the unknown at every stage of life, and it appears as though most of us have survived.
There is the deconstruction of our childhood as we immerse ourselves into puberty and adolescence; we leave behind adolescence when we choose careers, marriage, families – arenas of life where we grow our willingness to be accountable for our words and our actions. The death of innocence occurs over and over again, as reality shows us the ugly, the horrific, and all that has us question our sanity. Each of these crossroads bring us into a process of metamorphose, within which we experience an undeniable transformation. The past becomes irrelevant. The future cannot yet be imagined. In this moment, we stand naked and free, strong and willing to fly.
A Warrior and Defeat
Carolyn is transitioning. Vitality and vigor to fight her stage 4 cancer were the sword and shield she wielded. She had apparently been winning the battle for the past 2 years, but something shifted, and she has gone from seeing herself as unstoppable and unbeatable to an individual who hasn’t the energy to walk, talk or eat. She has transformed herself from everyone’s champion to a frail human being, with the inability to even desire to do what it would take to be who she was just weeks ago. Carolyn is at the edge of her final frontier, experiencing the adventure of being Carolyn through this stage of life – her last stage.
My heart aches as I write this, because for me, this moment in Carolyn’s life is truly one of the most rich and poignant she will ever have an opportunity to experience. She could very well miss the achingly beautiful truth of who she is within this now fragile human form.
In our discussion group at the Senior Center, when the discussion of dying comes up, it is mostly regarding fear of the process being a painful one, with a lot of suffering. We anticipate the worst while we hope for the best. We spend countless hours and untold amounts of energy thinking about, imagining and worrying about the potential worse case scenarios of the end stages of life. Many would deny this to be the case, however, even Freud said that the fear of death influences us more than any other, even if it is on a sub-conscious level.
Most of us ignore our dying process as much as we ignore our aging process. We don’t want to think about it, because it stresses us out! My friend, Shahiri, who has been at the side of many people as they transition from life to death, says that most people do the majority of their spiritual development in the last two weeks of their life. Why is this, you might ask? Because the inevitability of truth that is being experienced directly can no longer be denied.
When Carolyn received the prognosis from her oncologist, that there wasn’t anything more they could do for her, she went home to be alone with herself. She isolated herself from her husband and her son. I imagined that she faced, for perhaps the first time, true defeat. And, with that, for any warrior, comes great humiliation and shame, because she failed to beat her cancer, she failed to beat death. I imagined that she also experienced guilt and self-hatred for abandoning her husband and son. Dying is a humbling experience, one that releases us from who we think we are, who we think we should be, and allows us to be fully open to who we are as our Divine, essential nature.
Dying is the process of transitioning out of this bodily form. For most people, it isn’t death that is so frightening but this process of calmly dying, surrendering the fight, releasing the baggage that we have to leave behind, and heading out on another big adventure. Everyone of us has a ticket for this grand experience. How we engage with this – yet another metamorphose process, is a very intimate and personal experience. What an opportunity to know oneself in a way that has yet to come our way. When the time comes, I hope that I will stay conscious, brave and open – kind of like keeping your eyes open on a roller-coaster ride – I don’t want to miss a moment of it!