I sit with people who are dying. I'm one of those unusual types that enjoys being with someone when they're dying because I know I am going to be in the presence of Truth. In our Western culture, although death has come out of the closet, it is still not openly experienced or discussed. Allowing dying to be so intensely present enriches both the preciousness of each moment and our detachment from it.
My dear friend Deborah was dying at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She was a member of the New York Zen Center, and every evening her friends from the center came to her hospital room to meditate. Doctors entering this hospital room were surprised to find it lit by candles and filled with the fragrance of incense and the deep peace of people in meditation. In this busy big-city hospital, this group of people meditating had redefined the metaphor for dying. You can create your universe anywhere you are. A hospital is merely a collective of beings who share a certain model about what it's all about. Each night her doctors entered the room more gently.
Curing a disease of the body is not always an option, but healing from the soul level is always possible. In working with those who are dying, I offer another human being a spacious environment with my mind in which they can die as they need to die. I have no right to define how another person should die. I'm just there to help them transition, however they need to do it. My role is just to be a loving rock at the bedside.
Working with the dying is like being a midwife for this great rite of passage of death. Just as a midwife helps a being take their first breath, you help a being take their last breath. To be there fully requires being deeply grounded in compassion and love. Compassion, in this instance, is just both of you becoming who you are together--like the right hand taking care of the left hand.
When you are with someone who is dying, be there with them. All you have to give is your own being. Be honest. Meditate and become aware that the pain or confusion is, and here we are, in quiet equanimity. We all have limits of tolerance. Stay as clear and conscious as possible as someone nears death. Open to the unexpected. Open and stay centered. If you remain centered, your calm presence helps to free all those around you. Go inside yourself to that quiet place where you are wisdom. Wisdom has in it compassion. Compassion understands about life and death. The answer to dying is to be present in the moment. To learn to die is to learn how to live. And the way you do that is by living each moment--this one, now this one--just being here now.
The moment when the soul leaves the body is palpable and deeply profound. To share consciousness with a person who is dying, to be with them and help them die consciously, is one of the most exquisite manifestations of service. It is one role you may want to try out.
EXCERPTED FROM Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart (http://tinyurl.com/lrtrek6) by Ram Dass. Copyright © 2013 by the Love Serve Remember Foundation. Published by Sounds True.
Ram Dass means "Servant of God." Born Richard Alpert, Ram Dass is the founder of the Love Serve Remember Project and co-founder of the Seva Foundation and the Prison Ashram Project. He is the author of the worldwide spiritual classic Be Here Now (Crown, 1971), and his new book, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart (Sounds True, August 2013), among many others. For more information, visit ramdass.org.