What is an ideal death? Qualities such as going beyond fear, feeling deeply connected with loved ones, and realizing oneness with the Divine, with God, with non-dual Reality as death approaches are hallmarks of a dying openly and gracefully lived. During twenty-nine years of being a spiritual guide for the dying, I have participated in such a full death occasionally, but much more often deeply held psychological issues preclude a complete letting go into the divine embrace as life in a body comes to an end. Being caught in fear or anger, lack of passionate involvement in the living/dying process, attachment to opinions – all these limit the spiritual possibility that dying presents.
The only way through these constrictions is compassion for them – compassion for the part of your body that may soon kill you, compassion for the parts of your personality that make being present almost unbearable. Before we can deeply explore the spiritual potential in the dying process, we must courageously and passionately dive into the parts of our humanity that resist letting go into freedom. Compassion, the open heart relating to suffering, is the necessary foundation.
Realizing compassion as the foundation of the healing process for one with a life-threatening illness clearly extends to our own healing as individuals, and as members of our families, of our communities, of our nation, and of the world. Wherever we yearn to move toward more openness and freedom, compassion for that which suffers is the core foundation. In fact, most of us probably feel compassion for the ill, for the dying, for the hungry and the oppressed. As I look around me, however, compassion in public life has profoundly diminished over the past decade. No longer are we surprised to see drivers on a crowded road enraged with each other. The expectation of integrity, civility, justice, mercy, and cooperation from our elected officials has long since disappeared. Never before in my adult life has compassion seemed so lacking in our national and international political discourse. Power without compassion is dangerous. Everybody is self-righteously blaming the other guy.
Of course we must forcefully protect our country from those who wish to destroy it. Of course we must forcefully express our political beliefs. Yet action emanating from fear and a violent heart will never heal. This is a truly difficult time to act compassionately when so many seem to be acting with such blatant disregard for the well-being others. Where does your compassion cease? Is it when you think of “Islamofascist terrorists” or national political figures or someone you see every day? Compassion is not always gentle. Compassion is literally with passion, arising from faith rather than fear. Passionate, forceful, engaged, non-violent action has never been more necessary nor more challenging. What an opportunity!