Q: How does one be with the process of death in such a way that it can be celebrated?
ET: Death is a great opportunity because death is one way in which the formless dimension comes into this life. It’s precisely at the moment of the fading of the form, that the formless comes into this life. But if that is not accepted, and the fading of form is denied, then it’s a missed opportunity.
As people around you pass away, you become increasingly aware of your own mortality. The body will dissolve. Many people still, in our civilization, they deny death. They don’t want to think about it, don’t want to give it any attention. There is enormous potential there for spiritual flowering. Even in people who, up to the point of the beginning of the fading of the form, were completely identified with the form.
It’s your last chance in this incarnation, as your body begins to fade — or you are becoming aware of this limited lifespan. It’s your last chance to go beyond identification with form. This is true whether it’s to do with your body, or somebody else’s body. In the proximity of death, there is always that grace hiding underneath the seemingly negative event.
Death in our civilization is seen as entirely negative, as if it shouldn’t be happening. Because it’s denied, people are so shocked when somebody dies — as if it’s not possible. We don’t live with the familiarity of death, as some more ancient cultures still do. The familiarity of death isn’t there. Everything is hidden, the dead body is hidden.
In India you can see the dead bodies being carried through the streets, and being burned in public. To the Westerners, it’s terrible. As the consciousness is changing, I feel that more and more death will become an important part of the evolutionary process, the process of the arising consciousness on our planet.
At any age, the form can dissolve. Even if you’re very young, you may encounter death close to you. At any age, it is extremely helpful to become familiar with, or comfortable with, the impermanence of the physical form. I recommend to everybody, to occasionally visit the cemetery.
If it’s a nice cemetery, that makes it more pleasant. Some cemeteries are like beautiful parks, you can walk around and feel extremely peaceful. But even if it’s not nice, spiritually it is just as helpful to walk around the cemetery and contemplate the fact of death. I still do that, quite often, whenever I have a chance.
In Europe, in the villages and so on, you have a cemetery next to the church very often. I love walking around there. My favorite thing is reading the names on the gravestones. Sometimes if the gravestones are very old, you’ll see that the name is not there anymore — it got eroded by the weather.
It’s the contemplation of death and the acceptance of the impermanent nature of the human form that opens up, if you accept it. Don’t intellectualize it. Don’t come to some kind of conclusion about it. Just stay with the simple isness of the fact of the impermanence of the human form, and accept that for what it is without going any further.
If you go further, you get into comforting beliefs, that’s very nice too. But what I am driving at is something deeper than comforting beliefs — instead of going to some kind of conclusion, stay with the fact of the impermanence of the human form, and contemplate this fact.
With the contemplation of the impermanence of the human form, something very deep and peaceful opens up inside you. That’s why I enjoy going to cemeteries.
When you accept the impermanence, out of that comes an opening within, which is beyond form. That which is not touched by death, the formless, comes forward as you completely accept the impermanence of all forms. That’s why it is so deeply peaceful to contemplate death.
If someone close to you dies, then there is an added dimension. You may find there is deep sadness. The form also was precious, although what you loved in the form was the formless. And yet, you weep because of the fading form. There too, you come to an acceptance — especially if you are already familiar with death, you already know that everything dies — then you can accept it more easily when it happens to somebody close to you.
There is still deep sadness, but then you can have the two dimensions simultaneously — the outer you weeps, the inner and most essential is deeply at peace. It comes forward almost as if it were saying “there is no death.” It’s peace.
The supreme art of living is to embody simultaneously the relative and the absolute in yourself. That is why you’re here on this planet: to live this state of perfection where heaven and earth come together. To embody that is your practice.
~ Eckhart Tolle. www.tolleteachings.com