Dying As A Spiritual Event

While many see the dying process as a medical event, its spiritual aspects can be a great source of comfort to both the dying person and his or her loved ones.

By Kathleen Dowling Singh, Ph.D.

Although we have filled our years with a thousand distractions, we have always known that death awaits us as the natural end of the precious gift of life. Most of us have done very little to prepare ourselves emotionally and psychologically and spiritually for our own deaths.

The day we receive a terminal prognosis we enter completely unknown territory. None of us wants to die. To know that we are to die soon is to choicelessly confront our doubts, our fears, our deep attachments, and our own powerlessness.

The task placed before us, with terminal illness, is the challenge of finding the courage to face death’s mystery. The challenge is the challenge of finding the inner strength that will support us in living while dying, rather than dying while we are yet alive. The life remaining demands a new urgency and a far more piercingly honest search for meaning.

I have been with hundreds of people as they neared death and as they died and have come to see the value of a spiritual practice during this time. Find a way of prayer or relaxation or meditation. It can help through the brutal roller coaster of medical and emotional crises, much as focusing on each breath helps a mother center in the turbulence of childbirth. A spiritual practice offers a quiet still point in the midst of dying’s sweeping, lonely, and often frightening course of changes. It offers access to our own courage and strength, our own innate wisdom.

For most people, at first, all will be chaos as we twist and turn and attempt to come to terms with the end of our own lives. With an intensity and magnitude we cannot imagine beforehand, we will reexamine what we thought our life was about and who we thought ourselves to be. Dying itself softens us, opens us. In the course of living with terminal illness, our inner experience begins to change in nature. As our grasp loosens, we may begin to experience a more spontaneous forgiveness, a deepening love, and a pervasive sense of gratitude for the experience of life.

Dying reveals itself as a profound process of spiritual transformation. As we near death, our mind will begin to empty and our heart begin to open. We will discover that not only is dying a medical event, it is a spiritual event of enormous import. Our attention begins to wander, quite naturally, away from the distractions at the surface, and turn inward, toward the greater depth and greater peace at the center. As so many of the dying people with whom I’ve worked have told me, sooner or later in the course of dying we will each find our own spiritual grounding. And, they have said, there is inexpressible comfort in that experience.

Kathleen Dowling Singh, Ph.D. is a former hospice worker, a transpersonal psychologist, and the author of The Grace in Dying: How We Are Transformed Spiritually As We Die. She lectures frequently on the spiritual dimensions of dying.

Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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