Jim, the guy from the Gay Buddhist Fellowship, was a delightful lunch companion at Osha Thai the other day. He is a hypnotherapist. Of course he helps a lot of people quit smoking, etc., but he has also worked with people who are dying and afraid. I asked him what he does with them. Not sure how he does it of course, but he somehow shows them how to separate their consciousness from their body (so that they can see their body from above.) He helps them have an experience of themselves that is different or apart from their bodies. He said they're less afraid after this, or not afraid at all.
My first thought about this was, Oh yeah, convince someone that there is life after death and they lose the anxiety, because they then think that they will keep on living. But there's more to it than that. I think it's more that we have solidified (or in the excellent words of the SF county jail: thingified) things-as-they-are-now to a degree that we are cut off from a different perspective, that there could be some other kind of reality. We can't imagine there is anything outside the box we are sitting in, so we cling to the walls of our box. (A favorite Chinese proverb: The frog in the well cannot speak of the sea...)
The same day Jayacitta (in London) and I talked on the phone about relaxing around the grasping or 'reality'-creating mind. The way she talked about meditation made me feel like we were working with exactly the same things. The main difference is that when I try to know things that can't be known, or cling to some form to which I want to stay affixed, it is way more painful these days than it was before I had cancer. I'm very much trying, and sometimes able, to accept things as they are, and not with resignation but with creativity and love. I referred to this once in a talk I gave as 'the complete embrace.'
I also don't see death as a stopping of everything. Rather, I see it as a big change. To see it as a final end sounds kind of crazy to me. (But then again, who the hell knows?) Since I was a child I have had a strong sense of having been around a long time. I have a sense of having done all the sorts of things that both men and women do, many, many times. And I don't just go around saying that, because many people think you're bonkers when you say it (even other western Buddhists!) or that it's just some fantasy you constructed to quell your fear of the truth. But it doesn't make me feel better. It's not even a belief. Intuitively and deeply, in light of my own experience, it simply seems more plausible to me than other scenarios. As if everything that happens in our brain can't be taken at face value unless science has proved it. My mind has been around, in one form or another, longer than science.
I find it astonishing how not-sad I am lately. It's important that I don't expect that of myself all the time, but damnit I am enjoying it. I also feel very healthy, very much alive. Out with a bang not a whimper I suppose.
Walt Whitman, from Song of the Open Road:
You road I enter upon and look around! I believe you are not all that is here;
I believe that much unseen is also here.
Here the profound lesson of reception, neither preference or denial.