Living in Death

Right at the moment, I’m feeling a little surrounded by death. I’m in Boston for an indeterminate period of time accompanying my grandfather on his journey towards death. As I wrote yesterday, Paul Bingman, a friend and amazing person died on Sunday, and I’m having conversations with various folks about planning a memorial service for him (something I know more about than most folks, being involved in several funerals a year in a professional way).

I’m coming to a conclusion. Dying is hard work. I don’t know how hard it is for the one actually doing the dying (though it looks pretty rough, and on the basis of my observations I really wouldn’t recommend it). But for those of us involved in ancillary ways, it takes a toll, both physical and emotional. I know this sounds awfully flip for a post ab out death and dying, but sometimes, humor is all one has to hold things together.

For the past couple of days I’ve been beginning to think about a prayer (or meditation, if you prefer) to be said before entering a space where someone is dying (or in hospice). So far, I’ve gotten this far:

Here I am, prepared to accompany ___________ on their final journey. As I spend time with him/her let me be there for him/her, not for myself. May I answer them in the ways that are best for him/her, not those that are easiest or most comfortable for me. May my presence bring us both peace.

As the task becomes harder, may I remain equal to the task. And when I am not, may I forgive myself, knowing that what I do is hard work, and impossible to do perfectly.

May the time I spend with __________ be as meaningful and enjoyable as it can be for both of us.

It’s not perfect. It’s not exactly what needs to be said. But it’s a start.

May the source of comfort grant peace to all those who seek it.

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Finding the Time for Quiet

In this world we live in, in this day and age, it’s difficult to find time to be quiet and just listen to the world. To take a little time while not “doing” anything, and to let our minds run free, thinking the thoughts we need to think.

Some traditions call this process meditation. Others call it “spacing out.” I used to call it “playing Tetris.” It’s all the same, though. Giving ourselves a little time and space for our minds to process the not quite surface level thoughts. It gives us a chance to raise the not quite conscious thoughts to the level of consciousness. This process gives our brains a chance to solve problems that might stump our conscious minds, or to put together the pieces of our lives in new ways.

I’ve been lax, recently, about carving out time and space for this process. And so, I’m going to try to go back to creating that time, reserving it for quiet reflection about whatever my brain needs to reflect on.

The more suspicious amongst you might suggest that this relates to Eva recently chastising me for bringing up work related questions at bedtime. And there might be a connection. After all, if I don’t do this thinking earlier in the day, my brain does it when I (and Eva) are trying to fall asleep. Whatever the spur, however, it’s a good thing, and an important practice in my life.

Mindfulness and Time

When we think of mindfulness, we usually associate it with meditation. We think of it as a specific type of sitting quietly and paying attention to something specific (often our breathing). Yet this type of mindfulness meditation is intended as a first step. We want to bring this sort of attention to everything we do, whether we are “meditating” or going about our everyday life. One of the most powerful applications of this mindfulness is the impact it has on how one spends time.

If I am paying attention to everything I do, I am less likely to do things that I would consider a waste of time. If I am “mindfully” playing a computer game I use for procrastination, I am unlikely to feel good about doing so for more than a few minutes. If I am “mindfully” watching TV, and discover that the show isn’t holding my attention, I’m likely to decide to do something else, something that will make me feel better about myself.

I have the feeling I need to introduce more mindfulness into my life right now. I need to pay attention, not just to my breathing, but to how I spend my time. I need to pay attention to where I am, and why I’m there.

Routine, to a large degree, obviates the need for mindfulness. A routine (such as going to CubeSpace every day) works to keep one on track. Lack of structure requires far more attention to what one is doing, what one needs to be doing, and how to get there. And when I say “one”, in this case, I really mean “I”.

Mindfulness meditation is one step I can take towards focusing myself. Another is heading out of the house to get work done (I’m in a coffee shop as I write this). A third step is setting up rituals around work (such as writing a blog post as I begin work each day at a coffee shop).

Mindfulness is about spirituality, but it’s also about getting work done better and more efficiently.

Mindfulness Through Pain

Back when I was meditating regularly, when I was experiencing pain, even fairly intense pain, I found that if I concentrated upon the pain I was able to better tolerate it. When I really tried to focus upon the pain itself, to really feel where it was located and how it felt, it turned out that in any given moment, the pain itself wasn’t so bad. It was the ongoing nature of the pain, the sense that the pain was present and was going to continue to be present for who knows how long, that made bearing the pain difficult. I don’t know if this is a common experience for those who meditate or not (or if I’m the only one strange enough to look at pain as a potential focus for mindfulness meditation), but it was certainly my experience.

This came to mind recently, as I’ve been thinking about mindfulness and pain in a somewhat different context. Yesterday morning, getting out of the shower, I reached for my towel. Somehow in the process of grabbing my towel, I managed to do something unpleasant to the muscles around my neck. As long as I keep my neck vertical and still, everything is good. Bend my neck down or up, or twist my neck side to side, and it hurts. The pain can be anything from a gentle stretching ache to a sharp shooting pain. The obvious answer is to keep my neck fairly still. Which is where my musings on mindfulness and pain come in.

I am being forced to be mindful about how I hold my neck because otherwise I experience pain. Overall, I am not necessarily finding this a particularly spiritually satisfying form of mindfulness, but it is pushing me to think back to other forms. When it first happened, I had high hopes. After all, I’d profitably combined mindfulness and pain before, perhaps it would work well, this way also.

Not so much. Part of the issue, I suspect, is that mindfulness is largely about being mindful for it’s own sake, rather than for the sake of avoiding pain. There seems to be something a little odd about seeking mindfulness in order to limit pain. The other part of the issue is that I haven’t been meditating consistently recently. I think knitting has largely taken the place of the meditation in my life, and while it fulfills many of the same functions (relaxation, clarity of mind, peace of spirit), it does not provide the sharpness of mental focus that mindfulness meditation provided me.

I’m beginning to think (continuing to think) that I need to make time in my life for meditation again. The trick, as with all of life, is doing it.