Our pod started with an orientation call, where strangers from 24 countries came together to reflect upon "An encounter with death or impermanence that has connected us more deeply to life."
With each story shared on the call, we found ourselves a little more connected to each others' loss; and saw our hearts opening a little more to the beauty and sacredness of life in each moment.
Among many other gems, Molly overflowed our hearts with her story of writing music with people who were dying and then having young people to come together to sing those songs. Nipun and Maki, speakers from our Death and Dying series at Awakin Talks, also shared some opening reflections on the power of a like-hearted community to strengthen our inner practices.
As we closed our orientation call with a collage of "A one-line message you'd want to leave behind in the world?" tears streamed down many a faces, as we all deeply felt the grace of being in a community of such powerful and sacred intentions.
Daily Prompts: Head, Heart and Hands
Form and Flow
We began our week-long head-heart-&-hands reflection journey, with the spectrum of form and flow. Are we clinging too tightly to the forms, or can we see the subtle flow underneath all existence? What experiences have expanded or shifted our sense of identity? What experiences have taught us to embrace difficult transitions?
Whether it was the story of Zach Sobiech or the story of impermanent cities, it reminded us of the expansive possibility to deeply embrace impermanence not as a "bug", but as a "feature." As we do that, we find new eyes to see our our individual and collective lives as a blessing to be held gently.
Each day, we learned from the pod content, but it was the lived stories, experiences and insights of our podmates ("the living curriculum") which brought those learnings closer, further expanded our horizons, and further opened our hearts to each other and beyond.
Stephanie shared: "My sister's death shifted my identity. She was 31. I was 34. The night before she was sent home with hospice, we shared her hospital room together. We laughed and cried and shared silly stories the whole night. Two days later she suffered a gran mal seizure and would never laugh with me again. After her death, not immediately however, I transitioned from graphic design work (which I loved and still love) to healthcare ministry. Becoming a chaplain has been one of the greatest gifts of my working life. When words failed me, I found I didn't need words. I could simply be present and match my breathing to the one whose breath was so tenderly quieting amongst moments of disquietedness."
Alfred reflected on his long-drawn process of coming out as a gay man, "chronically depressed, facing the end of a loveless marriage and the potential loss of my children. In the midst of this I had a series of recurring dreams. In the first dream, I saw myself as the old man I was becoming; joyless, embittered, wizzened, friendless, a man who had never lived his life. In the second, I saw that my soul was dying, that I was in danger of becoming a living husk, and this might be my last opportunity to change."
Sacred Work of Sorrow
Then, we dove into the territory of grief. As one of the readings poignantly pointed"No one escapes suffering in this life. None of us is exempt from loss, pain, illness and death. Yet, how is it that we have so little understanding of these essential experiences? How is it we have attempted to keep grief separated from our lives and only begrudgingly acknowledge its presence in the most obvious of times?" We explored the prevalent models on grief, while leaning into a deeper inquiry"Instead of breaking us down into sharp fragments, how can we allow sorrow to "break-open" our hearts into the tender "largeness of life"?
A podmate shared "Don't ask me why, but I allow myself to embrace loss. As my marriage came to an end, friends invited me out on having drinks to distract me. I liked a glass of wine here and there, but as soon as the end of my marriage got real I decided consciously not to numb myself. I never numbed myself, so why start now? I had an immense trust that if I embrace my feelings I will go through life stronger, even if it takes me forever - that I will be able to fully heal this loss and grow with it. I succeeded and it has expanded my ability to live a more compassionate life."
And Chirag shared "Grieving for my loss brought me up to be present to the suffering of all beings. If I am able to be compassionate for others who are grieving, it makes my grief holy. When I lost my daughter suddenly 10 years back, I felt that there is no security in things or in money or in power. I felt nothing is in my control. Why to run for acquiring things? rather i tried to become kind and loving."
Looking at the last moments of great spiritual teachers, filled us with reverence and wonder. Like this moment from Gandhi's life -- "I wish I might face the assassin's bullets while lying on your lap and repeating the name of Rama [God] with a smile on my face." said Mahatma Gandhi to Manubehn, a close follower, shortly before he died. As he moved through a crowd where he was to speak one January morning in 1948, a man brusquely pushed his way past Manubehn and fired three shots at the Mahatma. "Hey Ram. Hey Ram." Gandhi said, as he tumbled to the ground.
As this funeral scene from Attenborough's film powerfully captured decades later, here was "A man who died as he always lived."
Between the paradox of a "good death" and "seeing the deep integrity, meaning, and even mystery in each death," we reflected what inner and outer systems may nourish our strength and simplicity to embrace the unknown, and allow "whatever is most right" to emerge.
And again, simply witnessing the wealth of our collective stories grounded us in deeper trust in the unpredictable unfoldings of life.
As Song shared, "A graceful exit is like my father's. A deeply devoted man of very few words during his life, the few he spoke before his death were, "love each other." He then went to sleep and didn't wake for 7 days with the exception of 1 moment. He simply stopped breathing and died quietly as was his way.
His waking once during those 7 days is almost unbelievable. A few months before my dad died, my sons came with me to say their goodbyes. My dad had been losing his memory over the years so it was not shocking (but it was sad) when he didn't remember who my middle son was. He kept asking me, "who is this?" My middle son was sad also but made sense of being unremembered, unlike his two other brothers, because he hadn't made much of an effort at a deep relationship during his life.
So on day 5 of my dad's sleep/coma, there was one brief moment when he opened his eyes wide and reached his arms out to my middle son who had come that day. He didn't speak but the expression on his face was an urgent, beseeching look as if he were saying, "how could I not have remembered my beloved grandson? I love you. You matter to me. Will you please forgive me?"
Dad went back to his sleep and never woke up again. My middle son told me that the pain he had in his heart that he wasn't worth being remembered, was eased by my dad coming back to consciousness for that moment as his last act of devotion and service. This son, who had been harboring pain in our family for YEARS as the "least" of the sons (his story) has now softened into love as inherited my dad's dying gift. My dad left not one of his loved ones without the peace of knowing deep love, impacting the one who needed it with a special gift of a miracle."
Serving The Dying
Every month, over 100 million people type into Google: "What do you do when someone dies?" Yet, we know that answers will not come so simply from accumulating the content, but from our lived experience of letting go and giving ourselves to the subtle context in presence of a dying person, in each moment. As the prompt implored "Accompanying someone to their end of life can be like taking a walk in the fog -- we are viscerally forced to decelerate, look deeply at what is right in front of us, and move together at their pace."
So how can we serve the dying more meaningfully, with the awareness that we all are just walking each other home?
["Walking Each Other Home" sung by Threshold Choir. Lyrics by Ram Dass. Music by Kate Munger.]
Our responses to "Share a moment when you were consoled during a challenging time. What about that encounter helped revive your spirit?" filled us with gratitude for the unexpected acts of kindness and understanding that came our way. And our stories and lessons on "Recall a time when you were supporting someone on their deathbed or a difficult transition. Today, how might you meet the moment with more compassion?" filled our eyes with tears and our hearts with a shared resolve to listen more and to love more.
Monica shared "My grandmother was bed-ridden for a year or more before she mercifully passed. She had developed bedsores, had a broken hip that was beyond surgery, and was just bare bones. It was painful to see her in so much pain. Before that, while she still had the ability to sit, she would ask me to be with her. I was a busy student at the time, so sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn't. My grandmother was rather a drama queen and attention-seeker in her earlier days of health so I did not always believe her issues were genuine. That made me unkind and inconsiderate. She visits my dreams many times, and she is always hale and hearty in them. I believe I have a regret in my heart for how I treated her. I wish I could have been more compassionate. If I got a chance to go back to that time, I would sit by her, ask her about her life, listen to her stories, and make her tea the way she liked it."
And Karen wrote, "I was with my mother during her final 24 hours. In the very end I was dozing on the couch & I heard her call me. She didn’t really call out loud but I heard her. I held her hand and told her we were all okay and she could go when she wanted. My Dad left the room & my brother left the house. She let go then.
Today I would be more supportive & compassionate to both of them. My brother did not know how to be with her & had great fear. My father seemed to be in shock & not very verbal. I would pray for guidance & know that God would show me the way be of comfort to them. "
Our shared learning on the spirit of surrender, of giving into fully, to life and to death, shone through, as also beautifully reflected in this anecdote from "Learning to Die" by Brother David --
Here again we are not playing off give against take, but learning to balance the two in a genuine response to living as well as to dying.
I remember a story told me by a young woman whose mother was close to death.
She once asked her: “Mother, are you afraid of dying?” and her mother answered, “I am not afraid, but I don’t know how to do it.”
The daughter, startled by that reply, lay down on the couch and wondered how she herself would do it if she had to; and she came back with the answer: “Mother, I think you have to give yourself to it.”
Her mother didn’t say anything then but later she said, “Fix me a cup of tea and make it just the way I like it, with lots of cream and sugar, because it will be my last cup of tea. I know now how to die.”
Near Death, Near Life
Having explored the various nuances of death, we finally arrived at the question: What lesson is death offering us for life?
Raymond Moody, a pioneering researcher of near-death experiences says, "Every single person who has returned from death has told me that they faced this one question: How have you learned to love?"
When we choose death as an ally to remind us of the preciousness of life, and the universe as our home to remind us our inter-relatedness, a tender luminosity of love infuses even the most mundane of our moments. Each interaction becomes an invitation to serve and rejoice in our shared humanity. Like a bird, we learn to fly without a trace.
Like a doll of salt, standing at the shores of life and death, how might we give into the sea fully? What might we do differently, if we were fully convinced that we were going to die?
Someone wrote, "From the depth of the well of grief and joy that I was born into, great love has emerged. From a young age, I was aware of the preciousness of life. In many ways I have gone barefoot through life, loving the feel of the earth beneath me and feeling the expanse and miracle of life, over and and over again. It's also a raw experience, flesh and bones taking in my losses and trauma and the losses and traumas of the world and pehaps trying to flee and resist the pain while simultaneously missing opportunities to see the love in front of me. When I was three years and barefoot, I stepped outside into the gateway of the adventure of the neighborhood where I lived. As I did so, I stepped onto glass from a broken milk bottle, cutting the bottom of my foot, causing blood to flow readily as a shard was left in foot. My mother who didn't know how to drive, instantly tried to put me in a stroller to bring me to the doctor's office which was only a few blocks away. I was crying and running and she ran to catch me. Every time she did, I wiggled my way out of her grip. Finally, she got me in the stroller, and after a few minutes, I jumped out and ran again. I can still remember the feel of the pavement and how my desire to escape the unknown of the doctor's office, transcended my pain. The image now of my frantic running with the shard in my foot and my mother's love chasing me has emerged. I opening myself with curiosity to learn all I can about this may be intimately realated to how I learned to love. As I ran, the shard of glass embedded deeper in my foot, leaving a greater wound. I feel great gratitude for the glass that Dr. O so gently removed and the love that that saw me there. Dr. O held up the glass for me to see. It was rather large for my tiny foot. I also remember being amazed by it and relieved it was out of my foot. The shards of grief that life has brought have felt larger than me. I need to be more present for them and to be amazed by the slivers that exit and the ones that remain. I need to honor all that grief has brought to my life and the many ways it has grown compassion and caused me to choose a career and life of serving others. I do not want my desire to escape to trancsend and numb my pain. My narrative is changing. I had never thought about my mother's chasing me as love. There is so much more to explore and shift. I was lucky enough to be born into the chaos and shards of grief and the profound love that accompanies it. All that is left is love."
Our collective responses on "How have you learned to love?" left us deeply inspired, awed and humbled.
I have learned to love by living life, by making mistakes and receiving kindness, by being hurt and being loved, by experiencing loss and receiving compassion, by learning to open to what is, by being taught that everyone matters. - Marilyn
I feel that I don't know how I have learned to love. I even not sure whether or not I have loved. I don't know what even love is. Unassured, I tell myself, just stay open. Stay open and hold that blankness as long as I can. - Juan
I learn by doing. I am taking responsibility for practicing love and living. This week's reflections have brought to light how simple life is. How much love I have, and that sense of not doing enough or being enough does not have the power that it once had over me. - Wendy
Forgive more and judge less (myself included). Dance more, worry less about looking ridiculous. I am feeling the best place to be in is here and now, the present moment, and nothing else is any longer wanted, needed, desired or longer for. - Shaila
Just look at the beauty that surrounds us in nature and in good people. How can you not have a positive attitude to life? Knowing you have limited time. It is hard juxtaposed to the horrible destruction caused by fellow humans, but you cannot deny the beauty that exists and in your own little world, try to be beautiful too. - Renato
Show up. Be present. Listen. Keep perspective in mind; you don't know what may be going through. Forgive. It doesn't have to be big things to show love; small things can show love in big ways. See through all of the forms to the one behind them. - Marcus
The last thing on my important chart was Love. I felt like, this makes sense, because really, what else does? It really is all about Love. That's what Harriet, a former 95 year old client of mine told me. It's all about Love. - Carla
In the past year, I've learned to love more deeply and with less judgment now that I'm faced with my own death. I've learned to overlook the little irritations that in the past would have really bothered me. I don't leave anyone without a hug - you never know if it's going to be the last one. - Laura
My response would be I'm still learning to love. And i feel i am learning to love by experiencing the so many ways to love from my loved, near and dear ones... How each one of them is unique and may not be something i understand yet it is love. And hence this quote comes to heart: "The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one two things: either love, or a call for love." I feel that sometimes I'm able to see behaviour which is love however to see the call for love is difficult and confusing and it makes me feel that I'm not able to be present for those who are acting the way they as a call for love. And yet the journey i still need to deep dive into is to love myself and be able to be gentle and kind to myself first. - Preeti
This one took me a long time to learn. I took care of everyone else and myself last. I have learned though that just like on an airplane one must put on their oxygen mask first before attempting to put the mask on others, I now practice self care and self love so that I have my tank filled up and I am able to give to others. I have learned self talk - to talk to myself with the compassion and love that I would to my very best friends and not be as hard on myself and I used to be. I learned- that I am Enough! I am worth loving! I am loveable! - Tina
By loving and getting rejected, lied to & dissapointed. I have tried again and again, now seeing that love does not always come in the package I want but in the package someone can give. I accept and love and what comes back is peace and love. I am still learning to look & listen thru my heart not my talking head. I have much to do in the area. - Karen
I have learned to love, by letting people and things go. Accepting and allowing them to be who they are, to find their own way. Too often my way of "love" did not do this, I am sad to say. Both for myself and for other people. Even my dog! I am learning and growing in this regard. - Tamara
How have I learned to love? I don't know that I have. Maybe what's happened is that over this lifetime I've softened and ripened and opened up, peeling away more and more of those layers of protection so that the love that has always been there, that is the essence of who I am, can ooze out to meet the love that is always there in you. - Alfred
This question is a wonderful companion and wellspring of inspiration. A core theme in this phase of my life is embracing an open-hearted, full-bodied belief that "love is in the air" everywhere. My joy in inter-being buzzes in my ears, dazzles my eyes and makes me want to dance. - Susan Clark
I've learned to be generous and tender with myself and others; to strive for loving connection every day; and to feel gratitude for this glorious earth and all beings contained within. - Josie
I learned to love through my daughter. The first years were terribly difficult with depression and lonliness and trying to be part of her life. Then I spent 5 or 6 years just showing up and waiting, hoping to be part of her life. Over the past 15 years or so, we have become great friends and have a very strong, loving and fun mother daughter bond. It is completely different from what I knew with my mother. Having no real example of how to do this, I now know that God was keeping me steady through all the difficult years and because I kept showing up, even when it didn't feel like there was any love at all, I learned to love and to be loved. There were many many days when my prayer was, "I have no idea how to be a mother today and have never had any idea how to do this since the day she was born. Please make me into the best mother for K." Little by little, over many days, months and years, through every imaginable circumstance, God has answered my prayers. - Deb
I have learned to love by seeing divinity everywhere - sometimes. I would try to pass on the harvest of my life to others. - Mansur
Through the journey of life . . . looking inside, seeing vulnerability, finding compassion, contemplating death and dying . . . and there is a sense I don't need to learn to love . . . . Love is there . . . everywhere . . . everything . . . I am love . . . everything is love . . . - Chris
I always thought, the greater the love, the greater the loss. But I now realise the greater the loss, the greater our ablility to expand into love. - Sallyann
Love is something very innate to us at our core. Love is an eternal stream buried under the layers of our consciousness. Every action that brings a moment of stillness creates little room for the stream of love to flow. The process of purifying myself (my transformation) is the process of learning to love. - Parag
Collective Wisdom Book
Over the week, the profound wisdom shared by each of us inspired some invisible heARTists to turn our words into beautiful quote cards.
Oftentimes, we quote historical elders, famous celebrities, or visionaries across the ages. Yet, as we delved through this our journey together, we realized that we were swimming in the sea of extraordinary deep wisdom in the most unsuspecting and ordinary moments and experiences of our lives. Here's a small sampling of the precious wealth of wisdom from our incredible 977 pages of co-created living textbook.
Closing Call: Our Last Song
After journeying the powerful prompts, we gathered for our closing call. We reflected on the shifts around living and dying, we experienced through the week.
The shared wisdom during the pod experience gave Susan an insight of moving from "my grief" to "thegrief," which in turn helped her tune into the cosmic melody.
And a podmate recalled a powerful experience Chirag had shared, reminding us of the infinite strength of the latent seeds of compassion to transform the grief:
"It was 7th Feb 2012. When I got the news that my 8-year-old daughter was not responding to medical treatment after her accident, I literally ran to the hospital barefoot -- only to discover that she was no more. As per the procedure, we went to the place where the post-mortem happens. It was a cold night. I was waiting outside for post-mortem formalities to complete, with a lot of my relatives and friends. I was wearing a light t-shirt and track pants and not wearing any shoes or slippers. It was around 1 AM and I was in deep grief inside and shivering outside and that time one of my friends, Dr. Yagnesh, came up to me and silently put his slippers on my feet. He did not speak anything. I was so touched by his gesture at that time. It felt like someone is feeling my pain, that I am not alone. I can never forget that moment."
As we all felt overwhelmed with gratitude for our week-long pilgrimage, we asked ourselves -- "If this is my last song, if this is my final day, if tomorrow I'll be gone, What do I want to say?" And we closed our time together with our closing epitaphs, which one again, left us all teary-eyed.
I am love. You are love. We are love. -Caroline
She loved all she could. -Buffy
A beloved who loved much. -Gigi
A dear friend -Parag
Doing yoga. Corpse pose. -Kiran
Hakuna Matata -Shaila
Love You. -Carla
The world was better for his presence. -Mansur
BE GENTLE. -Sunita
JUST ONE MORE THING -Laura
Peace - that I sought it, tried to live it, made it my aim. -Tamara
Life is everywhere! -Gulshan
Make a cup of tea. Have a sit - for all manner of things will be well -Anne
My body is gone but I am not dead -Lakshmi
Off to her next adventure. -Tesa
Kathleen embraced life in all its simplicity, wonder, and mystery. People called her a pied piper-here one moment, gone the next..leaving behind a glow, an AHA that each person was seen and heard. -Kathleen
Her love for the precious You and this precious Earth knew no bounds. -Betsy
I was kind woman and loving mom. -haia
She was kind, wise and gave of herself on her exciting journey home. -Karen
Her files were in order. -Poke
She cared about all beings, and the needs of all living things mattered to her.
Light and Freedom -Andrea
Puppies, sunsets and wigs ...Jen loved all that brought joy and smiles. She gave as many joyous moments to others as possible & relished in the beauty of life. Joy Heals. -Jennifer
A spontanious reflexion -Lucas
She balanced her checkbook with meticulous precision and never missed a day of work-missed a lot of sunsets, missed a lot of love, missed a lot of risk, missed a lot-but her money was in order.... -Lisa
If I have helped even one person in my life, then I have not lived in vain. -Trisha
We are one -heartsong
He lived his life as best he could; these ashes, spread by the wind in all directions, are all that remain. -Alfred
Susan helped us hear the hidden harmonies and claim our individual and collective songs in the glorious cosmic chorus. -Susan
She lived well, left a legacy, and never forgot to play. -Mary
Infinity - Eternity -Preeti
Through love and listening, she made the world a better place with her gifts, and she was a kind and grateful soul. -Gayle
She lived with curiosity. -Stephanie
Everything is illusion, but I am confident that all is well. -Jeff
Mandi was someone who: loved and appreciated nature, humanity, and all animal life; had compassion for others thrived seeing others transform and grow; loved her family and friends; connected easily with others; was curious and a seeker of knowledge; loved and respected philosophy, sciences, and sociology; trusted her inner knowing; and someone who made others feel heard. -Mandi
Please no Epitaph. -Steve
Look into each other's eyes -- see the divine spark in everyone. -Sandy
Be kind to yourself, to others, to the earth. -Josie
I'm going home -Janet
SHE CARED! -tina
Tried his best -Chirag
As. It. Is. -Pauli
Ok, I gotta go now... -Yvonne
She seemed in the view of the foolish to be dead...but she is in peace! -Sister
She has lived her own life. She has not be held back to anyone -Maki
It could be worse, I could be dead! -Lynda
She who lives well and always shines for others -Tien
Grateful for life and to those who journeyed with her. -Valerie
She shared her light and radiance with the world, doing so with creativity, intelligence, love, and joy, helping to make the world—and people in particular—a little more connected, a little more playful, a little more wise. -Valerie
Good enough -Holly
I was a good and committed father to my children, who did his best to care and provide for his family -Jose
Seen. Felt. loved. -Monica
Be the beauty, sing love into action -Molly
She rode the waves -Anne
She finally let go -Claudia
She tread widely and softly, with love. -tamsin
She was grateful for the days she was given. -Anne