Death is for the birds and this being a human being thing can be unbearable at times. A young couple in Boulder died this week as they were sitting in a car at a stoplight, and many of my dear friends knew them. A close friend’s dog of 18 years was put down yesterday, and as I sat with my friend, he looked at me, with eyes full of tears, and said, “I don’t know how to do this.” How do we do this thing called life when death is ever-present?
Before this tender week of losses, I watched the movie The Book Thief. It is narrated by Death. The author of the novel of the same name, Markus Zusak, said that in this movie, “Death is weary, he’s fatigued, and he’s haunted by what he sees humans do to each other because he’s on hand for all of our great miseries.”
Death drops the floor out from under us. We may feel panic or confusion, anger or deep sorrow – sometimes all at once or in circular, rather than linear, motion. Time is altered. We may miss appointments (either on purpose or by accident) or put our mobile phone in the refrigerator and wonder what we did with it. The grief sneaks up at inopportune times or we cry about 100 times harder during a sad movie. There is little comfort other than in those who share our sorrow, but largely we make the journey of grief alone.
Death is a brutal old fart and I’m angry at him, but until it’s my time to face him, I realize how the cold, damp air of him brushing past nudges me to open my heart to others in pain more readily, to see the cherry blossoms more acutely, to cup lilacs in my hand, bury my face in them and breathe deeply their sweet smell – the taunting smell of life I would not be able to bear in the end.
Death’s gift is life lived fully.
But What if Being Present Hurts too Much?
What if life is cause for great pain and suffering? In my practice, people tell me that in their worst moments they invite death. And, fortunately, often he does not listen. But it causes me to wonder: What if I teach mindfulness and the last thing on the planet anyone wants is to be present?
I’ve learned from great masters that it is the ego voice or inner critic that invites death. Meditation counteracts by helping to get underneath that nasty voice to the essential self that knows how to help you heal. (My current mentor would say that it is the essential self who knows that death is an illusion. But, don’t tell Death and ego voice that; it pisses them off. They love to be real.) In the meantime, some understanding of why the ego/critic is so firmly in control as a protector can be helpful.
Louis Cozolino, PhD explains, “We’re not capable of random behavior. If people behave in ways that are consistent and irrational, it’s not random; there is some internal logic built in to this vital half second that’s guiding them to create reality in that way.”
Our Perception of Reality and the “Vital Half Second”
Cozolino goes on to say that, actually, we can never be present. Our perception of “reality” is always delayed by half a second, infused with association and assumptions based on interactions that go all the way back to birth.
This material is from his book Why Therapy Works, and he also emphasizes that the only way out of pain is to recognize, first, that what we perceive as objective reality is actually an illusion based on, and steeped in, past experience, and, secondly, that the only way we see around this is by “experimentation, reflection or introspection.”
Brainspotting is a way of accessing the midbrain to provide the container not only to stimulate memories that are not triggered via language centers, but also to process feelings that have been held in the body and are creating a physiological reaction in the body that is no longer serving clients.
Death comes in his own bittersweet time, and Life is precious – especially when we feel free and joyful. It is a great blessing that there are healing modalities, like Brainspotting, other than straight talk therapy (which can work for less traumatized individuals) to help people change what is occurring in the vital half second so that they can find peace and liberty in the present moment. That our brains are repairable and moldable is a miracle.
Here’s to joy and freedom and human connection, and to friends when life is hardest.