A Healing Journey into Death
by Sw Nirava Hafiz
eath is one of the great moments in life. It needs preparation; otherwise an opportunity for growth and transformation is lost.
My mother died of breast cancer on December 16, 1996. I accompanied her through her last year. I lived with her and my father; I did the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the nursing at times. I introduced my mother to meditation. I was there in a caretaker role but also a sharing role. I felt an inner commitment to be there during that time with my parents. It seemed to me that if I could share anything of myself, of Osho, of meditation this was the time. It was real; it was concrete; it mattered.
A long slow disease like cancer is both blessing and curse. A curse for the pain, the failing of bodily functions, the anxiety; a blessing because one of the greatest gifts of life is to be able to prepare for death consciously. Over the year my mother was able to turn to the essential. She understood there was no future. The moment became more and more precious to her. I know we did everything possible to prepare. Meditation is the greatest preparation the practice of being here and now, residing in our own being.
Meditation connects us to our centre, which is connected to the whole of the life stream. The methods or techniques are not meditation per se, but ways of entry into that state. Stopping each day, waiting, being in, slowly a knack or a taste and a tangible connection with ones centre grows. Throughout the days of her dying I kept reminding my mother that she was the clear light, to remember to go into the light, and to collect all of the treasures of her life the wonderful love she had shared as a gentle, cheerful, concerned mother and friend. I think my mother was possibly the most genuinely cheerful and encouraging being Ive ever encountered. This was one of mums remarkable gifts that she shared with those in her life.
A few years ago I went through a crisis which enabled me to clear a lot of things with my parents and allowed me to engage with my mother on a very different level than would have been possible earlier. So when I got back from Pune in 1995 and learned that her breast cancer had returned after a five-and-a-half-year remission, I made a conscious decision to stay with her. We didnt know how long she had or whether there would be another remission. We talked about meditation and started to work with it. Something that I said made sense to her; she was willing to experiment, to explore.
Over the year we tried a number of processes. She found it difficult to move with the traditional techniques, so I made her a five-part guided meditation tape. I included a process Id learned from Gopal in Pune called Treasures of the Superconscious. Its becoming conscious of the treasures that we already have our experiences of meditation or beauty or joy or love. Whatever you give attention to expands. Attention is food. So if you give attention to these experiences that you already have, youre giving them a chance to grow. I think that we have tremendous treasures, tremendous experiences. But unless we consciously gather them, we often dont realize they are there.
My mother gathered her treasures. As she went on it was clear that she was connecting with herself. I didnt see the healing as necessarily about her getting physically better. It became clear to me that the body might go but the healing could still happen. It was about that inward connecting with the treasures of her life experience, of her being.
I could see her going through a whole mourning process for her own dying. She was very attached to certain things; she wanted to see her grandchildren grow up. It was a deep struggle for her to let go. But as her body slowly deteriorated and living in it became more and more a hell, she realized she was going. She had fought to heal and not to despair; now it was time to allow and accept that she was passing, and to share with those close to her to say goodbye.
During her last months at home mum and I meditated together every day, using a gentle breath meditation tape prepared by a friend. In the hospital, a week before she died, I did the Osho Bardo Meditation with her. The term Bardo has to do with stages of living and dying in the Tibetan Tradition. Its a preparation for leaving the body and what happens afterwards. The Osho Bardo Meditation is a guided process based on the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying prepared by Sw Veetman. Its about three hours long. It takes you through all the stages of the Bardo right through possible points of liberation from the moment of actually leaving your body to rebirth if thats what you choose.
So its like a road map. The Bardo stresses that the great light we may encounter after our so-called dying, or release from the body, is actually the emanation of our own being. If you can be present and remember that you are the clear light of being, if youre able to face the light and be with it and remain in it then liberation is possible.
We did the Bardo meditation with a palliative care nurse who was tremendously touched by the experience. Theres a sense in meditation of going in, of connecting with ones source, of stillness. We reached this and Im sure that my mother did too. Mum felt she had slept during part of the process, but in my experience this kind of sleep is qualitatively different, more of a disappearing into a deep receptivity within.
A week later she went into respiratory distress and told her nurses that it was time for her to die. Over that afternoon, she became less and less able to speak; then she started to lose the capacity to open her eyes and look outwards.
A doctor friend explained to me that in cases when the lungs cannot take in sufficient oxygen, and more carbon dioxide is produced, brain centres governing speech and sight begin to shut down. For some reason hearing remains until the last. When I spoke I had the distinct impression that my mother could hear me. So I kept reminding her to remember her treasures, to remain present and aware, to remember that she was the clear light of being itself.
I saw her last clearly coherent response to an external situation during a visit with my brother and his family. When the two children, aged three and nine years old, said good-bye to their grandmother, she opened her eyes ever so slightly with a hint of a smile on her lips.
That night the most difficult time for me and my family began. Mum moaned constantly, as if some deep pain were being released in her. The palliative care nurses didnt think that she was physically suffering, but explained that the body does certain things automatically during the process of closing down. It seemed to be an unconscious releasing of the whole preceding year of agony and was very hard to listen to. Around midnight she grew quieter. We stayed with her through the next day.
At four oclock the following morning her breathing changed, becoming more erratic. When I spoke to her, I had the distinct impression that she was responding with her voice, that she could hear me. At ten in the morning I went out for a few minutes. A palliative care nurse had mentioned that people often go when someone steps out of the room. When I returned, she was taking her last breaths. Shed take in a wisp of air and exhale almost imperceptibly and then another thirty seconds later, another breath. I put my shaking hand on her head, reminding her again that she was ever so much loved, to gather her love, to remember she was the clear light, to go joyfully into the light. Then she stopped breathing altogether. I felt her heart beating but after a minute or so it slowed down and then stopped, total stillness in this body that carried this beautiful being I knew as my mother.
I had a sense over the next days of her being there and also journeying at the same time. Im not sure that things are linear on that plane; they all happen simultaneously. And death is just death of the body. So in some ways I dont really think of her as dead. Oshos leaving the body has helped me tremendously to understand this. I mean: Osho is here. To the extent that I am open I am able to feel him. When I am silent Osho is with me.
So I know that the healing is an ongoing journey; its not just about being in the body. Certainly with my mother there was a great sense of spirit healing, the gathering of treasures, the gathering of love. I know that my mother realized what she had. Its beautiful to realize that life has been a great gift.