06/16/2010 10:58 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living So as Not to Fear Death

Two weeks ago I passed out. Fainted. Me, a health food nut, someone who fast-walks three miles a day, gardens and meditates -- all to no avail. I passed out. Granted, it was over 90 degrees and I had been doing strenuous work outside. I had come in shortly before noon, showered, and had sat down with a client. After chatting a few minutes, I was explaining something and suddenly I was no longer here. My client, who happens also to be a friend, thought I had died when my head pitched forward and I became motionless. She called 911. The blackout lasted only 10 to 15 seconds and in a few minutes the ambulance came. I was still weak, sweaty, nauseous and shaken by the experience, so I decided to go along with the care and find out what was wrong.

After 24 hours and an overnight in an excellent hospital, I was discharged with a clean bill of health. I had aced all the tests, including two stress, one sonic, numerous blood pressure
readings and blood enzyme work. Diagnosis: low blood pressure plus dehydration plus vasovagal response equals brief shutdown. Go thou and sin no more, i.e. next time drink a lot of water before and after heavy work in the heat.

All of the above got me to thinking particularly of the folks out there who don't have a clean bill of health and whose life expectancy might be quite short. We are all going to go some day, but this knowledge doesn't translate into a peaceful state when we are acutely facing our demise as in an experience such as mine.

If we are "believers," we can read the different religious works and convince ourselves of the "life hereafter," but my hunch is that when faced with death these beliefs may be of little help to calm us. I had always been in this group but in the past few years, I have found another way of viewing my life and death that brings me more solace and removes a lot of the fear surrounding dying. Fundamentalists often talk of dying and going to a promised heaven or hell based simply on their belief, but the wisdom I encountered gives me a new and intriguing way of how I look at myself, my life, my death and the purpose of it all. The following passage from a Sufi saint lays it out.

God has not set apart a place called heaven and another place called hell. Both heaven and hell exist within us -- right and wrong are also within us. Life and death are both within us. All these pairs of opposites already exist within us. God created these pairs of opposites and also created fate and destiny. But he created them in such a way that what happens will be the result of man's own actions. He gave man the ability to change what is good or evil. The destiny that each man receives is what he reaps from his own intentions, speech and actions. That is the word of God.*

Back to the fear of death. What brings the fear is the unknown and that is the area in which the mind proliferates. It brings up all the questions, doubts, guilt and forebodings that exist. The secret and the truth is that the mind is the villain, the perpetrator. The remedy is simple, although difficult: Gradually cut away the mind, loosen its hold, its strength, and then we will begin to feel peace.

This cannot be done by thought control. It is done through practicing good qualities and good works. As we practice patience, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion and the like we literally become these qualities. As they expand in our heart they force out the negative qualities such as fault finding backbiting, cruelty, resentment anger and fear. The end results are a being full of kindness and understanding, a life of good and valuable service. And fear cannot exist there -- there is no room.

This process takes time. When we first start the ego resists mightily. Remember it is always darkest before the dawn. In that murky time we can only see dimly by the light of the moon and objects appear dark and distorted. Movements and sounds startle us as we can't see clearly. But, as soon as the early morning light appears on the horizon, things begin to change and as the sunlight appears the moonlight and shadows disappear. Doubts and fears disappear. We are in a state of light, of peace.

The inner journey is like this. Each time there is a situation which demands a choice between understanding and compassion on one side and anger and resentment on the other, and we choose the good side, the cup becomes more full of that grace. When it eventually is full to the brim there is no room for doubt or fear. The grace is abundant, and we have reached our goal, that of light and peace . The peace that passeth understanding and the kingdom of heaven within." The road that leads there is simple, but requires faith, certitude and determination.

*M.R.Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Questions and Answers, Book 1