The Fear of Dying and Meditation- A Case-Study

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Ganges in Varanasi

This past weekend I went to Portland to visit my friend Ron and his wife Sharon (not their real names). Ron is nearing his death in this life from lung cancer. Ron was a commercial airline pilot, an accomplished lifelong surfer, successful entrepreneur, yogi and so much more. And he is a great and treasured friend. He was diagnosed with lung cancer 6 years ago (not related to smoking) and has been fighting it heroically using every form of advanced medical and natural methods available. But it is not curable.

Ron had his own meditation practice for decades. And it provided him some degree of support over his life’s journey. But it was not of the depth of support and transformation that is provided by a deep and refined practice such as Neelakantha Meditation. I wanted Ron to have this practice to support him powerfully for the remaining span of his life. For I too have a diagnosis of cancer, while fortunately in remission, is not curable. And I have seen how my own meditation practice has actually freed me from the fear of death. And that is such a precious and liberating gift! Naturally, I wanted Ron, as well as his wife, to have the support of this powerfully supportive practice for themselves.

I was at my home in Cabo (Mexico) when Ron went into home hospice care. So I arranged with another teacher of Neelakantha meditation to meet with them for the formal initiatory instruction in this practice. (Many thanks to my fellow acharya Heather from Portland.) Their initiatory instruction took place over two sessions, just two months ago.

When I arrived for our visit this weekend it was clear that Ron’s cancer was taking its toll. He had lost much weight. Previously robust and muscular, he was now gaunt, sallow and frail of body. And yet, though his eyes were a bit sunken, they sparkled with energy. He spoke with a smile and humor and was 100% engaged. He appeared filled with life.

I asked him how he was doing: How was he feeling about his circumstances now and about his approaching death? And how was his new meditation practice supporting and working for him? Here is what he said:

“Paul, actually I feel totally happy, profoundly happy. I am filled with an abundance of overflowing gratitude that surges up almost all the time. I feel great love and peace and even joy. My life feels fulfilled and meaningful.” He said that when he looks at the span of his life and all that he has accomplished he sees that he has done everything that he has set out to do. He can see now clearly, how he has been supported in an extraordinary way throughout all of his life.”

And he has certainly not given up: Even now he is engaged in the process of selling his remaining businesses so that his beloved wife will not have to deal with that when he is gone. So he is, as ever, so very much alive.

I then asked him about his new Neelakantha Meditation practice. And also about any fears he may have surrounding his death. He said his meditation has been working wonderfully, giving him great repose, peace and upliftment every day. But that it was somewhat difficult for him to sit upright (because of pain); And also difficult to concentrate because of the strong pain medicines. I reassured him that he only needed to be as comfortable as possible for this practice – reclining with elevated head is fine. And this deep form of meditation does not actually require any concentration. As it is completely effortless to do and natural in its operation.

I was very happy, of course, to see how my friend was and that any fear of death was being dissolved. He said there were occasional moments of fearful thoughts – but these seemed to dissolve as fast as they would arise. That has been my own experience as well.

The ancient Indian text, The Yoga Sutras, teach that one of the great “afflictions” or “impediments” in human life (the kleśas) is “abhiniveśaḥ”, defined as “clinging to life” or the fear of dying. It is very interesting that this sutra (II.9) states that, “Even the wise ones are affected by the tendency of clinging to life.” That it is an inherent tendency in all humans. Well this certainly makes sense, because some fear of dying is part of our deep genetic instincts. It is something that helps to protect our lives, unto making wise and safe choices to preserve life.

And yet, the fear of death in the larger scope, vs. dying, is somehow different. When we regularly go into deep meditation, to access the source-place of our highest true being, we come to experience directly, beyond all doubt, that we are of an undying nature; that our Conscious-Self is something eternal, beyond the temporal limited circumstances of this embodied (and yes, wonderful) life. This cannot be conveyed in words. It can only be known in direct experience within. This is a gift of deep meditation: The liberating knowledge of our own true, highest and imperishable Self.

Blue Throat Yoga, the modern expression of deep authentic meditation, has authorized acharyas (teachers) such as my self to offer and teach this meditation practice to those who are at the end-stage of life for free. Those who are under hospice care may request and receive this beautiful supportive practice at no charge from participating acharyas. (Visit www.meditationbend.com or www.bluethroatyoga.com)

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El Arco at Land’s End  Cabo San Lucas

Vinyāsa

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Many of you are yogins (practitioners) that include asana (physical postures) as part of your circle of yogic practices. Some of you are amazing Yoga teachers as well. Namaste!

This morning I was thinking about the Sanskrit word: vinyāsa. It is often used in yoga classes to mean a practice that is a physical flow that connects the movements and postures to the flow of the breath. This is a beautiful and beneficial practice.

But it occurred to me that this word vinyāsa has a much larger meaning in the broadest perspective on yoga. It is a model for how we, as meditating practitioners, brings the coherence and orderly up-liftment into the larger sphere of our daily lives.

 vinyāsa – is a noun. Its meaning comes from the prefix “vi” – out, separated or away from, combined with “nyāsa” – meaning placing or establishing (Such as the tantric practice of “placing” mantras on bodily centers).

Here are some of the various Sanskrit dictionary definitions of vinyāsa:

“An arrangement; a configuration; putting-together; foundation; display; placing-down; exhibition; attitude; a receptacle or holder for placing something; establishment; spreading out; display; assemblage; connecting; movement; collection; order; or a composition.

I find this very interesting and inspiring. Like a carefully composed arrangement of beautiful flowers, we create the ordered arrangement and sequence of our days and how we move through our lives. This is yoga and this is the wonderful fruits, the outwardly expressions of our daily meditation practice. We move from the introversive, closed-eyed practice of deep Neelakantha meditation, which is so effortless and so powerfully uplifting. And from there it flows outward into the open-eyed yoga of our embodied lives, our creativity, our work and all our relationships.

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Bryce Canyon Trail – Utah