Finding Beauty In Impermanence

In the immortal words of Axl Rose, “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain.”

I’m fairly certain he was referring to romantic relationships in that song but here I want to talk about my relationship with my Self. I’ve been meditating on death for years after having a glimpse of what that surrender can do to my perspective during my near death experience in 2008. I didn’t have any sort of format for this, and really the focus has always been on my own death and served as a brief, daily reminder that I am going to die. I don’t like to be caught off guard by this idea. There are times when my vigilance slips and I temporarily forget how very temporary I am and when I remember, it causes a teensy bit of panic. Aside from avoiding this mini mental breakdown, the benefits of death mindfulness for me include being better equipped to quickly put the “little things” in perspective and having a clear focus on what matters to me in my life, which is giving love and being of service whenever and wherever possible.

Recently, I discovered (via remembering that I can Google things) that there is actually guidance on how to do this:

Maraṇasati is a Buddhist meditation practice of remembering that death can strike at anytime, and we should practice assiduously appamada and with urgency in every moment, even in the time it takes to draw one breath. Not being diligent every moment, is called negligence by the Buddha. (Wikipedia)

Now, if you’re reading this and you are not a Buddhist, guess what? Neither am I. And practicing this meditation will not make you a Buddhist. I promise. It does, however, offer an effective outline on how to be mindful of death and dying. There are different approaches to this and I’ll offer some links at the end if you want to research on your own but I’m just going to tell you how I’m doing it.

Eleventh century Buddhist scholar, Atisha, gave us a nine point set of contemplations on death. I am doing each one for two weeks, during meditation before morning yoga. I will write about each one separately because as I work through this, each point deserves its own conversation.

1. Death is inevitable.

We know this but do we like, know know it? Everyone dies. As an abstract thought, it’s fine, right? The transformation of thought comes from more specific consideration. So I sit and breathe and list historic figures, pop culture icons, and finally family and friends that have died. For those I don’t know personally and/or who have been long dead, I hold in my mind (briefly) what I know of them. For family and friends, I consider a memory of them. As I do so, I think [Name of person] died. So it goes like this:

George Washington died. Abraham Lincoln died. John F. Kennedy died. Prince died. George Michael died. Grandpa Leonard died. Grandma Lola died. Grandpa Pat died. Digger died. Grandma Nell died. Eric died. Mary died. Kate’s dad died. My dad died.

As I wrap up two weeks of beginning my days with this meditation, I find it not only a reminder of our impermanence but also of the importance of honoring the memories of those we’ve loved and lost on the regular.

Give it a try. I double dare you.

Further reading: The surprising benefits of contemplating your death. (Vox). The Nine Point Meditation On Death (The Daily Enlightenment)

Let’s Talk About Death, Baby

I know, I know. I had to.

But seriously, how much time do we spend thinking about how we want to die? Most people I know have an answer to this question. More often than not, it involves old age and being asleep. Or maybe during a favorite activity like drowning if you love water or a heart attack during sex? Many of us also can readily say how we definitely do not want to die. We imagine the most painful scenarios or deepest fears.

First, let me say that I hope anyone reading this gets to have their perfect death scenario. Second, it’s probably not what you think it is.

Until recently, I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what a “good death” meant to me. I’ve spent an absurd amount of time contemplating and discussing what I would like to happen to my remains once I’m dead. My favorite is still that I’ll be mummified and my organs placed in canopic jars painted with the characters from Dexter’s Laboratory. I’ve had advanced directives and power of attorneys in place since 2009 and when it comes to things like, do I want to be on life support, I think many of us can say with some confidence what we want to happen there. Whether anyone who matters knows that answer is a topic for another day. But, what does a “good death” really mean to you?

The reality is that we may have little or no control over what takes place during our dying time. But what if you do have some say in that? What do you want it to look like? Really. If you have the option of dying at home, is that where you want to be? In your last hour or moments, what do you want to smell? Do you want to hear music, and if so, what is it? Do you want someone to read to you from your favorite book or a sacred text? Which one? Maybe there’s a favorite movie you’d like to have playing, or a home video. If you can choose who you want to be by your side when you take your last breaths, who will it be?

Recently I sat down (I was on an airplane so I was forced to sit still for a bit) and wrote out what my “good death” looks like. I included a few notes about post-death items for fun. I then shared it with a few of my closest people and I’m going to share it with you:

🤍 I want leaving this body to be an expression of gratitude for the love and the joy I’ve had the privilege of experiencing in this lifetime.

I really like hospital rooms and so I don’t really care if I’m there or at home.

If possible, I would like to have present my love, my children, Kate/Zack and Colin, and my siblings. No grandchildren. I do not want children to see me dying or close to death. I also don’t want anyone to be present who isn’t comfortable with it. Like, if you don’t want to watch me die, I get it.

I want to smell jasmine.

I want to hear my BestStuffEver Spotify playlist. No easy listening nonsense. I’m serious.

I do not want a living funeral. Just hang out. Talk to me, talk to each other. Listen to my awesome music.

I do not, under any circumstances, want to be cremated. Embalming is aOk. Bury me in a coffin with my Franklin School shirt. If I haven’t taken care of it already by the time I die, I want my epitaph to just say my name, YOB-YOD, and “Remember what the dormouse said…”

I hope to god I’m living in New Orleans when it happens but if I’m not, please have my body sent there to be buried. Have a memorial service wherever but I have to be buried in New Orleans.

For the memorial service, I ask that there be no eulogies. I would like a slideshow of all of the photos of me in my Franklin School shirt to be played on loop along with my Funerals Spotify playlist. I promise it will be awesome. 🤍

Are we having fun yet?

Really though, I encourage you to give it some thought and I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

In love and peace – Rhiannon