Dying Before You Die
Thursday, April 4, 2019
All great spirituality is about letting go. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us how to win by losing. In fact, this “Path of Descent” could be called the metanarrative of the Bible. It is so obvious, consistent, and constant that it’s hidden in plain sight. Christianity has overlooked this overwhelmingly obvious message by focusing on other things. Why did that happen? How is it that we were capable of missing what appears to be the major point? I think it has to do with the Spirit patiently working in time and growing us historically. I think it has to do with human maturity and readiness. And I think it has a lot to do with the ego and its tactics of resistance.
Author Philip Simmons (1957–2002) shared what it took to awaken him to this wisdom:
We’re stubborn creatures, and it takes a shock to make us see our lives afresh. In my case the shock was the news, when I was just thirty-five years old, that I had the fatal condition known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and would probably be dead within a few years. . . . At some point we all confront the fact that each of us, each individual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says, “fastened to a dying animal.”  We’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not. For me, knowing that my days are numbered has meant the chance to ask with new urgency the sorts of questions most of us avoid: everything from “What’s my life’s true purpose?” to “Should I reorganize my closets?” What I’ve learned from asking them is that a fuller consciousness of my own mortality has been my best guide to being more fully alive. . . .
We deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting the fact that we will one day lose everything. When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarily find most precious—our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves—can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom. In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them.
To accept death is to live with a profound sense of freedom. The freedom, first, from attachment to the things of this life that don’t really matter: fame, material possessions, and even, finally, our own bodies. Acceptance brings the freedom to live fully in the present. The freedom, finally, to act according to our highest nature. . . .
Only when we accept our present condition can we set aside fear and discover the love and compassion that are our highest human endowments. And out of our compassion we deal justly with those about us. Not just on our good days, not just when it’s convenient, but everywhere and at all times we are free to act according to that which is highest in us. And in such action we find peace.
 William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium,” The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. Finneran, 2nd ed. (Scribner Paperback Poetry: 1996), 193.
Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life (Bantam Books: 2000, 2003), x, xi, 20, 21.