The Ground of Being — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Ground of Being

Death and Resurrection: Week 1

The Ground of Being
Sunday, November 11, 2018

The fact that life and death are “not two” is extremely difficult to grasp, not because it is so complex, but because it is so simple. —Ken Wilber [1]

We miss the unity of life and death at the very point where our ordinary mind begins to think about it. —Kathleen Dowling Singh [2]

To accept death is to accept God. —Thomas Keating [3]

It is no surprise that we humans would deny death’s coming, fight it, and seek to avoid the demise of the only self we have ever known. As hospice worker and psychotherapist Kathleen Dowling Singh put it, “[Death] is the experience of ‘no exit,’ a recognition of the fact that the situation is inescapable, that one is utterly at the mercy of the power of the Ground of Being. . . . It is absurd and monstrous.” [4]

“The Ground of Being,” a commanding phrase that theologian Paul Tillich (1886–1965) used, is an excellent metaphor for what most of us would call God (Acts 17:28). For Singh, it is the source and goal that we deeply desire and desperately fear. It is the Mysterium Tremendum of Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), which is alluring and frightful at the same time. Both God and death feel like “engulfment,” as when you first gave yourself totally to another person. It is the very union that will liberate us, yet we resist, retrench, and run. This is why historic male initiation rites invited the young man to face God and death head on—ahead of time—so he could know for himself that it could do his True Self no harm—but in fact would reveal it. Though we may resist dying at first, afterward we can ask ourselves, “What did I ever lose by dying?”

Death—whether one of many deaths to the false self or our physical dying—is simply returning to our spacious Ground of Being, to our foundation in Love. Kathleen Singh again:

Love is the natural condition of our being, revealed when all else is relinquished, when one has already moved into transpersonal levels of identification and awareness. Love is simply an open state with no boundaries and, as such, is a most inclusive level of consciousness. Love is a quality of the Ground of Being itself. In this regard and at this juncture in the dying process, love can be seen as the final element of life-in-form and the gateway to the formless. [5]

[1] Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness, 2nd ed. (Quest: 1993), 110.

[2] Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort, and Spiritual Transformation (HarperOne: 2000), 218.

[3] Thomas Keating with Carl J. Arico, The Gift of Life: Death & Dying, Life & Living Companion Book (Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.: 2013), 11,

[4] Singh, The Grace in Dying, 107.

[5] Ibid., 239.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 139-141.

Image credit: Woman Knitting (detail), fancycarve.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
There is a thread you follow. It goes among
Things that change. But it doesn’t change. . . .
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
—William Stafford
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