52 little practices for a year of big change.
“The day I realized it wasn’t my mind or my pain, but just the nature of the mind and the pain itself, was an initiation that changed my relationship to pain forever. When it’s “the pain”, it has the whole universe to float in; when it’s “my” pain, I’m standing alone in it.” - Stephen Levine, A year to Live: how to live this year as if it were your last.
This practice is borrowed from both Stephen Levine and his book “A year to live” and Thich nhat hanh and his book (I think) “The Miracle of Mindfulness.” I highly recommend both these books.
Living in fear is living as a hostage and a slave to the fear. You can't smell the roses when you are running. A person who lives in fear isn't always obvious. It can look like healthy habits. It can look like strong convictions. Do you strive for financial success because you strive for financial freedom? Freedom from what? What fears, what loss, are you striving to break away from? Do you eat “healthy” to avoid pain, illness, death? Or do you eat well to enjoy the current moment of your life with as much vitality and joy as possible? Do you treat people well to avoid punishment or rejection? Or do you treat people well because you love them and it brings you joy?
You and I can’t avoid pain, discomfort, illness, or death. It’s going to happen to us all, no matter what choices we make. Running away from pain is running away from life. Running away from death - whether it be the death of a relationship, the death of an experience, the death of a belief, or the death of our bodies - is running away from life. It cheats you of the full potential of your life.
It’s my experience that softening into pain, discomfort and death is liberating and even joy making.
It’s such a RELIEF not to fight life and/or death. I'm not advocating for giving up on life. I'm advocating for living without fear. For embracing life, which means embracing death. Life and death come hand in hand. Just as pain and pleasure. Joy and Sadness. Each depends on the other. What is order, without disorder? Do you ever feel exhausted with the battle to “be ok”? You can let go and stop struggling. You are ok. Even when you are not ok, you are ok.
The first time I did this practice I was sick in bed. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun lit my room brilliantly with warmth and light. The birds outside my window celebrated the freshness of the air, the light, and the awakening which comes with spring. And I felt miserable. My body heavy. My head aching. Alone, on the beautiful spring day, while the world outside my window rejoiced, I lay hiding under my covers and thought to myself, “what a perfect time to practice dying.”
And it was a perfect day to practice. I don’t want to share my experience because I don’t want to shape yours. I will say it was transformational. It left me giddy with joy and excited about life, even the life of that day, which was uncomfortable and glorious all at once.
There are two ways that I practice dying. During one I stay with my soul after body death. During the other I stay with my body after body death. Each practice has its unique gifts. When I stay with my body I typically imagine myself in a meadow and witness my decay and absorption into the meadow soil and meadow life. This practice is incredibly peaceful and grounding. During the other practice I follow my soul's energy and experience whatever and wherever it takes me. This practice usually leaves me radiating wonder, joy and gratitude. When I practice following my soul I include in my practice the re-unification of my soul with my body by inviting, following and welcoming my self my back into my living body. This is when gratitude and wonder typically flood every cell of my being.
The practice I am going to share is the practice of staying with your soul. I encourage you, when it calls to you, to also practice staying with your body.
This is a practice in imagination. During the entirety of this practice I encourage you to breathe with welcoming, acceptance, and surrender. Do not ever stop breathing. Holding or suppressing your breath will block the process. Allow your living physical body to support and hold your energetic body while you explore this process of letting go.
Pick a day/time when you feel some physical discomfort, whether it be from illness or other. Put aside at least 30 minutes for your practice. Start by closing your eyes and noticing your breath. Invite death into your awareness. Imagine that you are in your last minutes of living in your current body. Hear the sounds around you. Feel the air on your skin and in your breath. Notice the sensations of your physical body. Begin to slow your breathing, knowing (imagining) your last breath is impending. At some point, when you feel ready, choose to take your last breath (imagining yourself as taking your last breath) and let go of your physical being. Take it, gently. Welcome what comes next.
When you are ready, invite yourself back into your body. Feel yourself coming back into your flesh, your heart, your hands, your feet, your mind, your entire physical being. Welcome yourself back into life. You are here living. What are you going to do with it? Don’t wait. Do it now.