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Feb 07
Opinion Pieces
Death in Advance, Part Two

How our viewpoint on life can change through the practice of contemplating death

by Anne-Marie Keppel

I was overjoyed when I recently read in Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s new book, The Lost Art of Good Conversation, instructions for how to contemplate our last breath on our deathbed. He asks, “What do you need to say and to whom?”

Ooooh, do this practice. Do this exercise fully and often. When you have spent time with the dying you come to realize how enormously important this exercise is, and how much more fully and lovingly you will live your own life. And, if you are able and if it is appropriate, you can use this contemplation for not only healing but for inspiration and motivation in your life as well. 

Sit in a nice comfortable meditation posture or lie down in a place where you won’t be disturbed for a bit. Settle in, take deep breaths, roll out your shoulders, wiggle your bottom, and then stop moving. Get dead. Get really good and dead.  But not to the point where there are maggots partying in your guts ,or you’re about to be pushed into the fire chamber of the crematorium. Freshly dead. Gently dead. No organ function. No pain. No fear. No work. No stress. Only total clarity and genuine peace.

Stay right there.

Look at your life from the point of your death. You are not imagining yourself dead sometime in the far future. This will work best if you imagine that you just died in the very moment you sat down to contemplate.

Make four lists:

1)     Who or what do you need to make amends with? Who do you need to tell that you love them? Who do you need to tell that they hurt you? Who do you need to get clarification from because you really feel screwed over? Or, are you able to let that go now that you have perspective from your deathbed?  Remember, you’re dead, so being angry that your spouse didn’t help to clean up or prepare the meal for all of your in-laws doesn’t really count. Details of daily life seem to hurt in the moment but they don’t stand out when you’re dying; no one cares anymore about the dishes. In fact, these little pains and annoyances become completely irrelevant. If your spouse abused you, or if you abused your spouse, or if they left you for your best friend, this is more the kind of thing that counts. These are the broad strokes that you are seeking.

2)     What are you thankful for accomplishing in your life?

Were you able to forgive someone who deeply hurt you? Did you parent your children as best you could at that time with the amount of knowledge and resources available? Did you produce beautiful gardens or food, or help animals? Did you do your best to speak for those who were unseen or unheard? Did you gently take care of yourself? These are the things your friends and family will remind you of on your deathbed. If you are dying alone, you will be glad that you thought of these accomplishments in advance, because often they hidden even from us among the many details of our everyday life.

3)     What do you need to forgive yourself for?

What is your biggest emotional pain? That’s probably the one you need to forgive yourself for.  Sometimes you need to forgive yourself for being to harsh with yourself. There might be several things you feel you need to forgive yourself for… Or hundreds. It’s ok. List one at a time. Be gentle, so very gentle.

4)     What were you capable of doing that you did not do?

Would you have been able to be more patient and kind with others had you looked at things differently? Were you capable of helping more people? Were you capable of speaking up when everyone else was quiet?  Were you capable of letting go of grudges and regrets while you were alive? Were you capable of being more kind to yourself, if you had been able to see things from a different viewpoint? All of this will arise and confront you on your deathbed.

If you are not crying already, now is a good time to let it happen. The gift of life that your mother gave to you has come to an end, and you are dead. Look back at your magical life. Life is utterly and unexplainably magical. How the heck did you even get into that body? And from where? From this view you now can see that you did absolutely everything you could to survive in the best way you knew on planet earth. You didn’t arrive with a set of instructions on “how to live” and even if you had been, the clarity and preciousness of insight is so easily masked in everyday life. People who are able to forgive themselves will die more peacefully.

After this beautiful contemplation from your deathbed you may want to curl up in a fetal ball and sob.  You should. You should cry your heart out because crying is such an ALIVE thing to do!  Your breath will get choppy and your chest will heave. The blood will rush to your face, making you puffy, and salty water will run from your eyes and mouth and nose. Your ears will throb.  You’ll throw the blanket over your head as the phone buzzes and you’ll be reminded of all of your responsibilities and unfinished conversations. You’ll be reminded of time all of the things! Your brain will race and freeze at the same time (you did not even think that was possible), and you’ll be confused and angry and grief will grip your heart and you’ll be in so much turmoil that you’ll wish you were…. No, not dead. More awake.

Yes, it is good to deeply, wholly love yourself on your deathbed. Practice now so you can also deeply and wholly love yourself while you’re still alive.

Anne-Marie Keppel lives in a magical dwelling in northern Vermont with her husband Pablo Coddou, three children ages 20, 16 and 2, and two guinea pigs.  She is Head Teacher at Karmê Chöling’s Family Camp, is an Executive Council member of the camp, greatly loves Kasungship, and teaches tightwire as a mind/body awareness practice. Currently launching a business in Community Deathcare, Anne-Marie is a Hospice volunteer, trained death midwife, and is in school to become a Celebrant with a focus on funerals and memorials.

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4 responses to “ Death in Advance, Part Two ”
  1. Thank you for fully enriching writing of Part 1&2.

    Could death be neither a cursor, index or precursor to life, nor an exit.

    If I forget something, it may be investment in outcome – don’t know.

    Arigato, Suzuki Roshi.

  2. vicki alexis genson
    Feb 10, 2018

    To A-M. K. You have an ease in describing difficult things, do continue . . . to use your gift, which will help all sentient beings.

  3. Thank you for bringing this passionate compassion out into light of day.

  4. David Schneider
    Feb 9, 2018

    Thank you so much. Beautiful contemplations.
    Beautifully and powerfully written.
    Good on you.

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