I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the Open Death Conversation on Wednesday evening. I commend you all for your thoughtful and open-hearted comments and the careful listening you gave each other. I really hope you all found the experience beneficial. Some of you obviously found it useful enough that you wanted to continue the conversation and suggested a monthly online conversation. I think that’s great. I am not planning on continuing because I want to devote my time to developing and teaching the online course on Lovingkindness and Compassion (primarily for the reason given below) as well as the online sitting group.
There are two things I want to say related to the aftermath of the Open Death Conversation. Consider how you engage in future conversations: I am not a grief counselor and the past ODC and future ones shouldn’t be considered to take the place of grief counseling. However, people can be enormously supportive for each other when they are going through various stages of grief. I wish I had such a support group when my parents died. I recommend you follow the “step forward, step backward” advice: If you are comfortable speaking in groups, make space for others to share and if you are a bit shy or reserved, push yourself to share. Always make sure everyone feels safe.
The second thing is: there is a thin line between sharing your ideas with friends and getting overly absorbed in your story. I saw this happen at the Community Dharma Leaders teacher training at Spirit Rock that I did for two years: people got caught over and over in their personal suffering, forgetting that it is precisely our suffering, grief, and fear makes us human and bind us all together. It really isn’t personal. Our “ah-ha” moment comes when we drop (just temporarily) the “me and mine” storyline and embrace our fellows with openheartedness. Please remember to LISTEN to each other. Listen to your body, too.
And that’s why I ask you to commit yourself to your meditation practice as a follow-up to this Death Conversation. Meditation builds compassion as it allows us to open up to our own and other people’s suffering without being overwhelmed. A highly effective technique is the practice of lovingkindness and compassion. Insight and Metta practices have been shown to be of enormous help to caregivers in end-of-life facilities. I am trying to offer more meditation practice to caregivers up here in Michigan but it’s been very difficult to get a foot-hold. Still, I remain convinced it’s important to offer this transformative teaching.
The class that I am teaching in October is going to emphasize practice: I’m recommending you spend at least 15 minutes a day doing a metta/compassion practice for the full 6 weeks. There you have it: I’m ending this with a shameless plug urging you to take my course!