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Center for Action and Contemplation

Living Fully

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Dying Before You Die

Living Fully
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Those who follow life to where it resides in the heart live life fully. —Stephen Levine [1]

In the last few decades, I’ve faced my own mortality on several occasions through cancer and a heart attack. Each time I’ve experienced an outpouring of love and care from others and from God. The sky and the whole world take on a nostalgic and fleeting tone. God seems inside, closer than my own skin. I hope I can hear the messages: listen to your body, slow down, live in the precious now, love all that is. How can I not believe in the Incarnation of God in the compassion of so many, in a pattern of discovery, waiting, and healing that all feels like mercy? Facing my death has helped me live more fully.

Anthropologist Angeles Arrien (19402014) described approaching what she called the Gold Gate:

At last we arrive at the Gold Gate, which is glowing and bathed in a numinous light. This is where we awaken to the deepest core of who we are, and are asked to let go and trust. . . . It is the gate of surrender, faith, and acceptance, where we learn to release and detach before beginning something new or progressing forward. . . . It requires us to befriend the death of our physical form. . . .

At the Gold Gate, late in life we learn to befriend death and prepare for its arrival. We acknowledge that we have been born, lived, learned, and loved. We accept our losses, the roads unexplored, the people we miss, and the dreams unfulfilled; we begin to make peace with all that is in and around us. We reject nothing and cling to nothing. We simply observe the ebb and flow of our life.

We practice the art of dying while we live, experiencing endings when we say good-bye to people who will be separated from us for a time, or when we complete something that has significance. Every night we practice letting go when we release ourselves to sleep and the mysterious place of dreams, trusting that we will return. . . .

The Gold Gate offers the wisdom gifts of freedom and liberation. Nonattachment, surrender, and acceptance foster our deliverance, while courage and faith strengthen our capacity to face our own suffering, pain, or sadness. . . . To hold onto nothing is the root of happiness and peace. If we allow ourselves to rest here, we find that it is a tender, open-ended place. This is where the path of fearlessness leads, and where we rest in expanded, unlimited peace. . . .

[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. [2]

[1] Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying (Anchor Books: 1982, 1989), 154.

[2] Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom (Sounds True: 2007, 2005), 137, 142-143, 144-145.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 174.

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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