You Are Dying

Here is something that you might not like to think about; something that we don’t tend to talk about in general, something that we avoid as much as possible: you are dying, right now, and there is nothing you can do about it.  You might be very healthy, eat well, exercise regularly, not smoke or drink alcohol, but you are still dying.  You don’t know when it is going to happen to you (tomorrow? In twenty years?), but you can be sure that it is going to happen.

There is a meditation technique where you imagine your own death.  You imagine your body breathless and lifeless and completely dead.  Most people think it sounds morbid, some people find the very idea of doing this frightening.

I have practised a Tantric technique of meditation where you imagine your body (from your right big toe) being burnt away, dissolving and disappearing, then you imagine the same thing happening to the room around you, to the town in which you live, to the people you know and love, to the world, to the universe.  What does it make you feel to disintegrate like this?  How is it to watch those you love burn into the ether in your imagination?

You need to be a little brave to practise these meditations on death, but they will show you some very interesting things… they will show you what you most identify with (the man who said he could easily imagine dissolving everything away except for his genitals, for example!).  In my own experience, I have no problem with the idea of dissolving away, I feel that I am after all just a bundle of energy and full of life spirit, so my sense of boundaries between the universe and this little bit of it called Sarah are non-existent, but I did realise how attached I am to my voice, more specifically to my words and this made me think about my need to communicate and to be understood and to meditate on that and what it really means to me.

I wonder, in these days where we can buy younger faces, have parts of our bodies that are showing signs of age injected and sanded and smoothed by knives and needles and chemicals, and where people talk of the medical possibility of living forever, if we are missing the point completely.  Surely it is not about the quantity of years, but the quality of life that we put into those years.  Clearly our fear of death is all pervasive, we ignore it, we deny it and we try to beat it.  In addition, we have lost most of our rituals around death, the ways in which previous generations shared the journey of someone from life to death and the ways in which that journey was revered and respected, the way a dead body might be treated in death, might be bathed or sat with overnight.  The way death used to be placed firmly where it should be, as a part of life.

I am no expert on funeral rites, but it seems to me that there is a striking difference between a modern British crematorium where an unseen, coffined body, disappears behind a curtain to be industrially incinerated and the way an Indian body is dressed and perfumed and surrounded by friends and family as it is burnt on a perfumed ghat bedecked with flowers.  The former speaks to me of things hidden and denied, why does it make me feel that we are slightly ashamed of death?  The latter seems to me more about celebration and life and light and releasing a loved one back into the atmosphere, watching their bodies follow their souls into the universe.

Recently I heard Mark Gatiss talk about the death of his mother.  How terribly sad, yet how wonderful it was and how close the family became during the last days of her life.  He described how he and his family sat around her bed, drinking tea and talking and laughing at old family stories.  Sometimes someone would leave to make a plate of sandwiches or another pot of tea, but there they all were, revolving around this woman that they loved, sharing love and laughter with her.  She was unconscious, they did not know if she could hear them, but they hoped that at some level she was aware of their presence and their love.  It sounded very beautiful to me.  It sounded like a wonderful way to die.

I think it is a very interesting practise to imagine that you are about to die.  What might you do differently?  What would you want?  What would you want to say and to whom?  Once you have taken some time to consider this, you could ask yourself what it is that is stopping you doing all of those things right now?

Here is the last poem that Raymond Carver wrote before he died:

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.

It’s very simple isn’t it and what most of us want.  Funny how we go about making it all so complicated and difficult and finding ways of proving ourselves to those that we love or that we want to love us, rather than being brave enough to tell them, or to ask them.

I suppose that if I were dying and would not be here next week I would want to say thank you to my mum and dad; I would want my sister to know that I love her and think she is amazing; I would want to tell my children that they are to me the most precious jewels and wonderful in every way; I would want the people that I love to know about my love and admiration of them, to be sure of it and to know that it does not falter.  I would hope to hear from them that they love me too and to be brave enough to ask those who find it hard to reveal such things, ‘Have you loved me?’  Love, not for what I do, or what I have, or the things I have achieved, but just because I am me and always have been.  I would want to not be so shy, I would want to be braver, write more, talk more, open my heart wider and wider. 

I suppose that if I were dying and would not be here next week, I wouldn’t waste so much time on things that my heart knows don't matter, I wouldn’t procrastinate so often and I wouldn’t do so very much... I would sit in the garden with the sun on my face and lie in the long grass in a field in the rain and I would go to be near the sea; I might consider reading poems instead of novels and spend my time allowing my mind and body absorb all the things I have learnt and read already, without feeling the need to cram more in.

I suppose that if I were dying and would not be here next week, I would hope for peace and acceptance and to be both surrounded by and radiate love.

But when I come to think of it like this, why wait?  These are all the things that I want and am hoping for in my life as well as for my death.  As Ram Dass says, ‘Don’t waste time waiting’, the time is now and we know what is important to us, it only behoves us to put those things at the top of our list and to deal with the real issues of life – love, loving and using our talents to be who we are truly – today, in this moment, which is the only thing we really ever have.

This Is What I Wanted To Sign Off With

You know what I’m
like when I’m sick: I’d sooner
curse than cry.  And people don’t often
know what they’re saying in the end.
Or I could die in my sleep.
So I’ll say it now.  Here it is.
Don’t pay any attention
If I don’t get it right
When it’s for real.  Blame that
On terror and pain
Or the stuff they’re shooting
Into my veins. This is what I wanted to
sign off with.  Bend
closer, listen, I love you.
Alden Nowlan


  1. Live every day as if it were your last...for one day it will be...freewheel all the time! V.


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