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Center for Action and Contemplation

Dying Before You Die: Weekly Summary

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Dying Before You Die

Summary: Sunday, March 31—Friday, April 5, 2019

Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find our real Source. (Sunday)

Contemplative practice might be five or twenty minutes of “dying,” of letting go of the small mind in order to experience the big mind, of letting go of the false self in order to experience the True Self, of letting go of the illusion of our separation from God in order to experience our inherent union. (Monday)

When we sit in meditation, we take the little child of our ego self off to school, where we must learn to die to our illusions about being dualistically other than God. We must also die to any grandiose delusions that we are God. —James Finley (Tuesday)

[We] make the conscious choice of living not in the past or future, but in each present moment. This takes great courage and the ability to make peace with your life: to live without hope or fear, to let go without regret, to know that you have lived fully. —Angeles Arrien (Wednesday)

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. —Philip Simmons (Thursday)

The more we live in the Wonder and welcome our placement in this very heart of Love, the easier it is to trust . . . to “release our fears” . . . to live without proclaiming certainties . . . to settle into this very core we can only call Love. —Shelley Chapin Drake (Friday)


Practice: Living Toward Death
Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski has spent many years companioning those who are dying. Through these experiences he has come to know that life and death are not separate:

Suppose we stopped compartmentalizing death, cutting it off from life. Imagine if we regarded dying as a final stage of growth that held an unprecedented opportunity for transformation. Could we turn toward death like a master teacher and ask, “How, then, shall I live?” . . .

The [following] five invitations . . . have served me as reliable guides for coping with death. And, as it turns out, they are equally relevant guides to living a life of integrity. They can be applied just as aptly to people dealing with all sorts of transitions and crises—from a move to a new city, to the forming or releasing of an intimate relationship, to getting used to living without your children at home.

  1. Don’t wait. [Step fully into life. Be present.]
  2. Welcome everything, push away nothing. [Turn toward your suffering.]
  3. Bring your whole self to the experience.
  4. Find a place of rest in the middle of things. [For example, focus on your breath.]
  5. Cultivate don’t know mind. [Practice a beginner’s openness, curiosity, and humility.]

Angeles Arrien suggests some very tangible practices to help us live more intentionally with death in view:

What legacy will you leave for future generations? How will you be remembered? How do you want to be remembered? Write a draft of your desired obituary. Prepare your own memorial. As you do these practices, what is revealed to you about what is meaningful for you in your life and how you want to be remembered?

Use your own death as a teacher, a companion who is always with you, who reminds you to live your life fully every day, for it may be your last. This in itself is a rigorous practice, although you know you are going to die at some unknown hour or day, you do not believe it.

What attachments do you find in your personal life? Professional life? Spiritual life? Consider Mary Reuter’s three layers of release from attachment: from material gain, from self-importance, and from the urge to control or dominate others. [1] Which of these will you practice releasing this year?

Create a Book of Revelations: include your favorite memories, turning points, epiphanies, peak experiences, synchronicities, prayers, spiritual practices, significant moments, and important dreams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you live—that is to have succeeded.” [2]

[1] See Mary Reuter, in Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (Bantam: 1992), 172-173.

[2] Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Harold Kushner, Living a Life That Matters (Random House: 2002), 157.

Frank Ostaseski, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully (Flatiron Books: 2017), 11, 13.

Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom (Sounds True: 2007, 2005), 146-147, 152.

For Further Study:
Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom (Sounds True: 2007, 2005)

Ilia Delio, Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness (Orbis Books: 2015)

James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004)

Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying (Anchor Books: 1982, 1989)

Frank Ostaseski, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully (Flatiron Books: 2017)

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life (Bantam Books: 2000, 2003)

Image credit: The Gulf Stream (detail), Winslow Homer, 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Those who follow life to where it resides in the heart live life fully. —Stephen Levine
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