I had intended to write about matters of health today… have begun to consult a homeopath and to do my best not to resort to medicines when discomforts arise, but rather to look to energy practices like Qi Gong. Although I can tell almost immediately what has an adverse effect on focus and energy levels (sugar, for instance, but also things like mindless TV), and what cultivates greater liveliness and awareness (sitting practice, walking, singing, mantras), I still distribute energy unwisely… so I aspire to do better.
But – Instead of going further into that, out of a conversation I had this morning, I want to write about birth and death.
A dear friend is letting go of a treasured loved one. She is on the boundaries, floating in and out of lucidity, sharp then quickly sleepy. He too, is on this boundary with her, back and forth. They are in transition.
(as I write this, the first dove since I’ve lived in this apartment, has landed on a branch outside, singing)
The word “transition” is particular to another context as well, that of childbirth. I’m reminded of the stark choices presented upon news that my first child was on her way, that I would either: go the medical route of hospital with medications, or the natural route: home and without. Thanks to a lucky conversation and decent insurance, I was able to find a pretty good middle scenario in which midwives helped through natural birth in a hospital that didn’t treat the whole situation like a “procedure.” Though near ideal, it was nonetheless frightening…
Giving birth is not as daunting as facing death. One thinks that they know more about what is on the other side. But nearly all parents will tell you that they couldn’t have imagined the transformation that took place in themselves and their lives, upon having a child. I can attest: it is more different than night and day, blows away categories like better or worse, and obliterates previous concepts of love. There is a false sense of preparing for such a thing as becoming a parent: you buy things, read books, talk to people and go to classes. All around, you think you see other people doing what you are about to do.
During the “transition”phase of labor, when birth pangs are not as distinguishable as the waves that preceded them, none of the seeming preparation really matters; you find yourself at the complete mercy of a mystery. At some point in the throes of labor I even changed my mind and decided not to have a baby: I tried to stand up, leave the room. It was then that the midwives were most helpful: their guidance, reaching me as through a long tunnel outside of my perception, held my attention.
I imagine death, when not abrupt, to be somewhat like this too… a moving back and forth between inwardness and outwardness, situating for the process of giving up into a great mystery. It likely really matters that others are around, and that they are supportive, but ultimately one probably looks for a kind of teacher in the distance.
I respect the desire that we have in our modern age, to help humans in different kinds of transitions achieve maximum comfort through medications, and I can’t say I would be enthusiastic to have a natural death without pain medication if disease was ravishing my body… but I do wonder whether consciousness at the end of life is something we should still be attentive toward preserving as much as possible… treating death as a beautiful, sorrowful, but still mysterious and confusing process. The end result as helping someone lets go with as much ease, and as fully, as possible.
“I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different.”
~ T. S. Eliot