Maneesha’s travel notes…
Inquiring into death
There is a lot of media focus these days on the care of the elderly in their last years – especially those in a ‘care facility’. As a nurse many moons ago I worked briefly in what was then known as a nursing home, and in later years was to visit an aged relative in one. Hers was in fact considered pretty up market, being in a ‘posh’ suburb of Perth and in what had been once a private home (now heritage-listed) looking onto the Indian Ocean.
She had been a vivacious and strikingly lovely looking woman, and I was saddened to see where life – specifically, her children – had placed her. To get to her private bedroom (at least that afforded her a modicum of dignity) one walked down a corridor lined with inmates. Perhaps one or two nodded at my passing by but most of them were either staring vacantly out the window or so shriveled up in their chairs, heads tucked into their hunched shoulders, that they were forced, for hours at a time, to contemplate the floor.
The idea of joining them, in my ‘declining years’ horrified me. It was in fact part of the motivation for my wanting to create a hospice for sannyasins. As I am nearing death I’d like to be cared for by fellow meditators, and I imagined other sannyasins might feel the same. However, once I looked into the practicalities of setting up such a place I realised it was untenable: Not only expensive to rent or buy, hospices are massively expensive to maintain. In addition, people prefer to die at home (though, according to UK and US stats. only a small percentage manage that), so the idea of a meditation-based training in supporting others in their illness or dying seemed an intelligent alternative.
Fast forward a couple of years and the first Sammasati Support-Person training is now halfway through its ‘maiden voyage.’ It seems a good point at which to take stock, to ask: “Okay, so how are we doing? Is the training delivering what it is designed to? Are participants engaged and stimulated?”
I had anticipated that some participants would be drawn to the training not only or not chiefly to learn how to support others but to look at their own issues around dying and for their own self growth, generally.
The real man grows to the very end. Even while he is dying, he is growing. Even the last moment of his life will still be an inquiry, a search, a learning. He will still be inquiring – now inquiring into death. He will be fascinated: death is such an unknown phenomenon, such a mystery, far more mysterious than life itself – how can an intelligent man be afraid? If in life he has not been afraid to go into the uncharted and the unknown, at the moment of death he will be thrilled, ecstatic. Now the last moment has come: he will be entering into the darkness, the dark tunnel of death. This is the greatest adventure one can ever go on; he will be learning.”
Osho, The Book of Wisdom
Several of them have endorsed the value of the training in providing just that. Sidika springs to mind; for her it’s a ‘huge journey’ in her process and one through which she’s had some really fundamental insights. “Pre–training I’d thought ‘Death will be the great transformation’…. Now I feel ‘Yes, it may well be, but actually I can transform my life at any point’,” she says.
Much of the training’s impact lies in the fact that it is not just a bunch of seminars; it’s experiential. Not only that, the subject we’re confronting is highly emotionally charged – for everyone. Ostensibly, as would–be support people we are focused on ‘the other’: the other who is very sick; the other who might recover but who needs support through this health crisis; the other who is dying before our eyes. We want to know: How best to support them? What might they be going through? Once we’ve identified the issues they’re grappling with, how can we respond? Is counselling called for? Will meditation alone do the trick? A combination?
Yet we are all going to be in just the same situation as those we propose supporting. It’s not that taking on the mantle of ‘support person’ gives us immunity to death (“No, Death; there’s got to be a mistake: You can’t possibly want to take me. I’ve still got lots of people to help!”)
Koorvita expresses it thus: “We have a lot of conversations about how to address the dying person’s issues, such as grief, and how to use the meditative approach to those close to dying. These blend in very well together – the meditation and the addressing of issues. And at the same time through the training one is always confronting one’s own issues around death, or grief or the death of beloved ones.
“I find that from one module to another my particular personal history around grief is getting very triggered and also worked upon. That is really a plus. It is not addressed directly but it happens.”
Living with the inescapable
In past workshops on dying that I facilitated the hallmark of their success, to me, was not that at its conclusion participants were declaring, ‘Oh, I’m just sooo dying to die now!’ but that their appreciation for life – their determination to live more fully and to be more present to each moment – was far stronger.
The same phenomenon is evident now, and to an even greater degree: because the training delves so deeply into dying we access increasingly profound layers of what it is to be alive. With the felt experience of death’s presence, we have the impetus to face our issues about living in a way that we might have managed to side step up till now. All that surfaces when we confront death – notably fear, anxiety and grief, sadness and depression – are also present in our lives. Participants have, of course, one great advantage over those who are facing imminent death, in that they are in good health and have emotional resilience.
“The Training is not just about looking for answers and about death in general,’ explains another trainee,” but about each of us, the participants, in our lives today”. Then there’s Priya, who sees the training as providing the possibility of “a big breakthrough for me and in my understanding of life”. For her the first module was already “sobering me, grounding me more, and bringing my understanding closer to basics facts in life about this body, this life, this human nature.
“While I would have thought that abandoning so many old dreams, fantasies and beliefs would create a sort of desperation and vacuum, interestingly enough, this process has not made me sad. Quite the opposite; in practical terms in my daily life it is making me bolder in that I am asking for what I want/need, very well knowing that this is the time (and no other in a future to come), that there might not be other chances, that there is no space for stupid fears or polite limitations.”
A special part of the mix
Each participant who allows the process to go deep clearly has the courage to look at their own stuff eye to eye. In addition, I sense a lot of trust between the participants. From the very first module they bonded quickly and deeply, and that connection has only grown over time, both in the workshop structure and also outside it: participants are constantly connecting through our network, sending each other related articles, suggested reading, a DVD or youtube clip, and so on.
The feedback has included appreciation from participants for the ‘loving energy throughout the workshop’. That has been gratifying to receive: especially in such a training, which could be dominated by fear. One of my priorities was to create an ambience of ease, of acceptance and love. Opening to ourselves and others, venturing into otherwise–unapproachable territory is so much easier when we feel safely ‘held’; when we can trust that we are contained by an allowing, loving milieu.
While certainly there are profound and intense discussions, our sessions are laced with dancing and singing, and there is always a healthy degree of laughter too. I so appreciate Osho’s pointing out how laughter can defuse the most fraught situation; how it can defuse the fear that might otherwise paralyse and demoralise us. And I feel it for myself: when I can joke about death, I rise above it.
Of course central to the whole process is our frequently meditating together: our day starts, ends, and is interspersed throughout, with meditation.
The source as resource
Not surprisingly, with our focus being on living and dying consciously, meditation is the very foundation of the training. It has a general role in creating the kind of inner and outer environment that promotes our capacity for an intense self-exploration. It’s great to have such a wide range of Osho meditation techniques to choose from, and we’re discovering what a versatile tool they are for confronting the different issues that surface when we confront death.
Ritama enthuses about the techniques we practice, explaining “I find that each time I leave at the end of the workshop it’s incredibly exciting because I go away with all these tools…and very often they include meditation techniques that I haven’t known before. I feel that I’m on the journey, and part of the journey is being given all these amazing techniques to experiment and play with. Once I play with them for myself, then – when I know how they affect me – perhaps they can help and inspire other people who need some way of healing themselves.”
I see the process as having a wavelike pattern. A wave has a unique form, an individuality that makes it look distinct from the ocean. So the ‘wave’ aspect of the work is focusing on ourselves (and those we might support), as individuals with the issues that are part of the personality package.
For example, there may be the fear of not being in control, the pain of being disconnected from the everyday life of health, or the attempt to make meaning of constant suffering. As trainees we’re assailed with many questions for which, in spite of our discussions and shared experiences, there are sometimes no easy answers.
In the oceanic aspect of the process we move into meditation – relaxing into a space beyond the mind, that state of ‘not-knowing’. Meeting the silence and stillness inside, our sense of self, with all its questions, can dissolve. When we re-emerge, we are awash with sammasati, the ‘right remembering’ of our innate oceanic-ness. Inevitably that’s accompanied by a new perspective, a new understanding. So meditation becomes an invaluable resource, for us as trainees and also for those we are supporting.
Our Sammasati Support-Person Training is taking off again next year, first in February in Pune for the Experiential Enquiry module (under the name of ‘Doing Dying Differently)’ and then starting in March in the UK for the full training.
Maneesha, Osho News23be