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Embracing Death & Dying:
Cultivating Presence, Compassion, and Acceptance


Recently, a dear friend passed away after living with cancer for several years. It took three months, but she finally let go of her physical pain and suffering and left her body. She was ready. She felt complete. And yet until the very end she dreamed of a miraculous recovery. Not because she was afraid to die. But because she truly enjoyed the gift of life and the art of living.

We are grateful to Emilia, not only for her friendship and guidance, but for her loving, graceful reminder of how to live well. To love with all your heart. To say what needs to be said and not hold back. To do what your heart guides you to. And in the end, to say with honesty and passion "I've done all I can and now I'm ready for my ticket upstairs!" In her honor, we offer the following precepts on death and dying.

Embrace the experience – don't push it away. To meet someone's pain – and yours – with resistance is to suffer. To meet it with love is to open to the compassion that softens and joins our hearts as one. We are alive for only a moment. This moment. And at the end of life, this precept becomes literal, and we can choose to open to the preciousness of life in the only moments we have left together.

Be present and aware. Being present with someone who is dying is a unique opportunity for cultivating deep, intimate connection. But this requires a conscious commitment and willingness to show up and be present with things as they are. We invite you to stay present, even under difficult circumstances. To embrace physical, mental, and spiritual pain as opportunities to expand your awareness of your humanness. And to cultivate compassion for yourself as well as for others.

Don't hold back – listen to your heart. Death and the dying process provides a fresh perspective on what is important. Each time you sit with a dying person, or learn of someone's death, listen to your heart. Say what you need to say. Do what has meaning for you. The gift is to be current, congruent, and complete. This requires letting go of your expectations, and making a commitment to speaking truth, and receiving truth, in the moment.

Take care of yourself. During this process, it's important to take care of your health, and to find a place of peace and calm amid the chaos and change surrounding you. We invite you to embrace the process with a relaxed body, an open heart, and a peaceful mind. This inner peace is always available to you, in every moment of your life, regardless of external circumstances.

Accept the unknown. Feel your way along, moment to moment, during the death and dying process. Cultivate what Buddhist's call "beginner's mind," where you accept and surrender to not knowing, to not having all the answers. We invite you to approach every experience as an opportunity for awakening and opening to compassion and insight, and to your wholeness.

These are precepts for daily living, not just for the dying process. You can live each moment, each hour, each day, as if it were your last. You can choose to face death, your own or another's, with presence, acceptance, and compassion… and allow that courageous act to open your eyes and heart to what it means to truly be alive. May you enter into every moment with peaceful awareness, aliveness, and joy.

By Marilynne Chophel

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