If you stand back and consider the course of our human incarnation, you might consider life to be a journey to death. It may be a fun, light-filled journey, but it is still a journey to death. In other words, “no one gets out alive!” I think we need a new understanding of what healing is that includes the relationship of our body to our essential Spirit. Perhaps true healing is connecting back to our Spirit, and realizing that we are not just the body?
According to the Yoga teachings, our body is a limited vehicle for our Spirit. Attachment to the body is one of the main obstacles to our enlightenment – Abhinivesah. This clinging to the body can be overcome by removing the veil of ignorance that has shrouded our understanding. We don’t push the fear of death aside. Instead, we focus on connecting to Spirit and as we do that we feel an expansive joy that lifts us above the limitations of that fear.
The experiences I’ve had of my friends and students deaths have shown me that there can be healing at the time of death through this brilliant expansion. Stephen Levine wrote a beautiful book about this called, “Healing into Life and Death.” In that book he included a letter written by one of his clients, Bill, who was going through the process of consciously dying. Here’s Bill’s letter:
Six or seven months ago I lay in a hospital convinced I was going to die. AIDS, cancer, and pneumonia all seemed to be fighting to claim my life. At that time I felt very terrified that I would die and go to hell or just not go on at all. But my time had not come. The time since then has been a precious gift in which a great healing has occurred. After months of medical treatment, followed by months of holistic treatment and months of spiritual work on myself, I am free.
My lover’s remarkable support, a spiritual guide, a meditation partner, several meditation retreats, support from wonderful friends; and a lot of work within my own heart has left me at peace.
For many months, my idea of healing was that of curing my body. I have it my very best shot and I am proud of that fact. I was even given several months of relative health and energy. At that time I often expressed my certainty that I could heal my own body with my own powers. I still believe these healing powers exist, but as my physical health reached a point where optimism about my health would have had to become self-denial, I realized the need to accept my own impending death.
I also realized that self-compassion meant feeling in my heart that even physical death was not a sign of weakness and failure. This seems to be the ultimate act of self-acceptance. I thank God for it.
One other think that I have learned is that any time you know absolutely you are right, you can be sure you’re not. Rightness is just our trying to prove that someone else is wrong. But we often confuse being right with truth.
So in these past six months I have started my own production company which produced a calendar of my own photography. I have worked in the community to heighten awareness of this disease. I have grown closer than ever to my lover, family, and friends. I am very proud and thankful for these things. Most importantly I have come to accept myself exactly as I am. This is the greatest gift of all.
And so my healing has occurred. Soon my body will drop away from me like a cocoon and my spirit will fly like a butterfly – beautiful and perfect. I don’t claim to know exactly where it is that I am going, but my heart tells me it is filled with light and love.
An open heart is a much greater blessing than death is a tragedy. Let us all take comfort in this knowledge.
I love this letter. What an amazing experience of true healing Bill shares here, and in such a generous way. Bill gives us an understanding of many subtle aspects of healing, even though they seem contradictory. We need to have faith that we can be healed, that we have that power ourselves, yet at the same time accept the fact that our body will eventually get sick and die. This contradiction begins to make sense if we identify with the Spirit and not with the body.
My prayer is that we can all be healed like Bill. When the time comes for us to leave our body we can fly free like a butterfly escaping its cocoon.