Constancy and Change
What has remained constant with the Living/Dying Project since our last newsletter is our commitment to serving individual clients. The poem “Facing the Wall” and the articles “Reflections of a Volunteer” and “Approaching the Unspeakable” in this issue speak directly to our commitment to bring spiritual support to those with life-threatening illnesses. The Living/Dying Project was the first organization in the United States whose mission was to offer conscious, spiritual support to those with critical illnesses. Even today, over thirty years since our inception, there are only a handful of organizations whose main mission is to offer such support. Such is the depth of the denial of death in Western society.
I deeply feel it is of utmost importance that we continue to offer our living model of nondenominational spiritual support, support in language and tone available to anyone reaching out for this support, not just those who meditate or study Eastern religions or study New Age thought. As we can clearly see, our political system, our financial system, and the environment all are out of balance as a result of misplaced priorities. It is crucial that we as a society pursue collective healing that addresses as directly as possible the root cause of these imbalances. If we truly know deep in our belly that we are going to die but we don’t know when, if we truly know how precious life is, can we then still act in ways that are based in greed rather than compassion? Our individual and collective denial of death and our fear of death is the root cause of our collective inability to act with compassion.
What has changed with the Project since our last newsletter is a significant increase in our educational outreach. As you may remember from previous newsletter articles, I experienced a personal financial crisis almost two years ago. What I had learned in a lifetime of seeking Truth before this crisis was valid, yet only after being pushed to the edge of the abyss was I forced to put into moment-to-moment practice that wisdom I had been blessed with from intensive practice of meditation, from my many years at the bedsides of those who were dying, and from all the psychological and bodily-based disciplines I had explored. My fear of annihilation was gradually transformed, sometimes painfully and sometimes gracefully, as I surrendered into that Presence that is the Ground of Being of each of us. I am not saying that this process is complete, but I have been compelled to confront the emotional and energetic blocks to this surrender. Many times I have wished that there were an alternative, but gratefully there was none. Left with no choice, I was driven to find a healing model that worked even for my neurotic mind. Along with this happy discovery came the inspiration to share it with anyone wishing to heal, to awaken, whether they feel they are living or are dying.
The ongoing small groups that I facilitate called Healing at the Edge have brought support and transformation to many of the group members. Facilitating these groups has inspired me to use my mind to make more accessible and workable my model for the path to wholeness and to use my heart to love more consistently each group member. Maharaji said “Love is the best medicine” while the Dalai Lama on his third visit to America said “I am just beginning to understand, Americans don’t like themselves.” How can someone who doesn’t like her or himself dis-identify with ego structure and dissolve into this best medicine, love? Most contemplative traditions were developed 1500 to 3000 years ago by and for people who liked themselves and their parents, were grounded on this earth, were centered in their bodies, and were basically un-neurotic. How many people like that do you know? How likely are confusion, stagnation, or blockage, when someone who doesn’t fundamentally like her or himself attempts to dis-identify from ego structure and surrender into the spaciousness of Presence, of Love?
In these groups we create a stable foundation from which to embrace with mercy and compassion that which blocks the free expression of our hearts and, from there, to rest in our True Nature. We begin with Motivation, asking the questions How alive are you willing to be? What really is the primary goal in your life. We move to Invocation – From the depth of the yearning in your heart, invoke that which you trust. From your body, invoke that which it trusts, groundedness, resting on this earth. Then become centered in your belly, firm as a mountain, so when the sky-like heart of compassion opens, supported by a full belly, the open heart is stable, unaffected by each passing emotion. Compassion – The spacious and selfless heart then supporting the wisdom mind that sees all as an expression of the One. This is what we explore together in these groups, though the true gift of these groups is the vulnerability, love, and caring that has grown for all of us over the months.
Another important change is that our website has been greatly expanded. A generous grant we received from the Lloyd Symington Foundation brought us about half way to our goal of having the go-to website for people with life-threatening illnesses who are pursuing deep healing and who seek spiritual support. We have added transcripts of guided meditations by Stephen Levine that are available nowhere else on the Internet, audio files of guided meditations by me, audio files of a talk by me to the Berkeley Chaplaincy Institute, a talk given with Annie Lamott, and several transcripts of wonderful meditative practices by Joan Halifax. Stephen has also agreed to post some of his new poetry our site. We are beginning forums that will create supportive online communities for those engaged in caregiving, healing, working with life-threatening illness, or for general discussion. There is a new section of our site describing the Dying Center in Santa Fe that as part of the Project was the first residential center dedicated to dying consciously in America. A description of the Healing at the Edge groups mentioned above can be seen at the Events and Groups link of our website. There are groups in Berkeley, Sebastopol, and Fairfax. For those who do not live in the Bay Area, Skype or telephone counseling is available.
We have added a mailing list link on our site and if you join our digital mailing list and choose not to receive a hard copy of the newsletter in the future, the Project will be able to save money on printing and postage costs as well as not unnecessarily using paper. Please avail yourself of this option if you don’t really need a physical copy of our newsletter.
Is there a joy that transcends happiness and sadness, wellness and illness, even life and death? Hope to meet you there!
With love and blessings,