Dying and Dinner Parties

by Michael W. Taft

In the long run, meditation is about creating a better life for yourself and for everyone else. Mindfulness has been used for twenty-five centuries because practicing it reliably leads to a deeper, richer, less anxious or depressed experience of being alive. Paradoxically, meditation does this because it is embedded in a clear understanding of the reality of death. Obviously, we are all going to die someday, but this is a stark fact that almost all people spend most of their time ignoring, suppressing, or reacting to. Rarely do we simply encounter it as a bare fact which we must encounter squarely in order to live our lives more fully. Mindfulness meditation is about doing just that: allowing the reality of our fragile lives to touch us directly, so that we can open up to living fully here and now.

I was reminded of this today while watching the following video clip. I cannot introduce it better than did the excellent Maria Popova at Brain Pickings:

Lessons for the Living is a poignant documentary by Lily Henderson exploring the unique subculture of hospice volunteers as they contemplate their own philosophies of life and death. This grounding excerpt from the film follows Kathleen, who is both a hospice volunteer and a hospice patient. She has been preparing for her own death for over a decade, but has managed to master that art of living from sheer presence — a powerful lesson, indeed, for the rest of us.

Check it out:

Dying and Dinner Parties from ThinPlace Pictures on Vimeo.

Notice that Kathleen is not stoic, shut down, or tight—she is not making her way through her dying experience by hunkering down. Neither is she lost in some hopeless fantasy of curing herself or the supposed wonders of some afterlife. She is looking her situation in the eye, and yet is relaxed and fluid. Her apparent attitude of openness to the moment and spaciousness with the reality of her life is the essence of mindfulness. We do not all currently have a death sentence, but we all do have difficult, painful, and unbearable aspects of our lives which we can face up to, cope with, and move past in order to truly live, and help others to truly live. This is what the practice of meditation can foster in you.

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