the process of death and dying

The Process Of Living A Happy Death

the process of death and dying
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Everyday I wake up I think about living and what’s next to do.

I stress and dream and push and relax and excite and dip down under my soul and…go through the myriad of emotions we all go through in this human-being-cycle of existence.

But it’s quite possible I might not live much longer, just as it’s possible as it is I’ll live to 80 or 90.

I just don’t know, and really it’s quite boring to think about how long I’ll live and when I’ll die, then to live right now, while feeling that sense of death and impermanence pervade me.

My favorite member of the iconic rap group, The Beastie Boys, died today.

His name was Adam Yauch and he went by “MCA”. He had a smooth, yet deep scratchy voice that had a lot of power and soul.

From what I understand, he was an incredibly kind man, and certainly he was a great talent, now lost.

When I awoke this morning I certainly didn’t plan to write this post, and tie in the death of an entertainer into the contemplation of life and death, but alas this is the being I’ve evolved into I suppose.

MCA had hope. Or so it appeared.

He had hope to overcome the cancer in his neck, and in the video below, he was talking about his cancer as just a setback, that it was easily curable, as that was his doctor’s prognosis.

He definitely had the right attitude to beat it from both a healing standpoint, and also from a quality of life standpoint. Unfortunately, it turned out that it wasn’t easy to beat and he’s gone.

Another one in the name of love, as Bono eloquently sings in “Pride”.

While there is sadness and a sense of loss for me with MCAs passing, there’s also acknowledgement of the reality of death as a part of living vitally.

Sound weird. Maybe.

But I’ll tell you why.

With my mother’s death last year involving Lou Gehrig’s disease, I watched her go from hope to despair on a daily basis, as did we all in my family.

We tried all kinds of alternative therapies to help her, but to no avail. I can only barely scratch the surface of imagining what she felt like, and I imagine MCA and his family and friends went through the same roller coaster of emotions.

If you’ve found this post you and your loved ones might be going through the same, and I feel for you as the suffering can be great, but I hope the words I write will inspire you to think in a different way through the pain.

Though MCA’s prognosis was much more hopeful with his cancer than that of my mother’s diagnosis, I can’t help but think about circumstances vs. perspective in this dance of life and death.

What is our underlying attitude from which we live everyday concerning life and death? I believe we all have a choice.

We can believe, shift or let go of virtually any story we like in the process of death and dying.

What story do you want to live from when it comes to life and death?

That life is good, and death is bad?

That you must do everything to avoid death?

Most likely, it’s a mixture of the two, and certainly living to avoid dying, isn’t really living, at least to me.

There are times in my life when I don’t think about death and dying, but lately it’s been crossing my mind a great deal. It just has.

As I sit here and write this on an absolutely beautiful Colorado day, with a clear baby blue sky, blazing bright white sun, and emerald green leaves on tree branches waving in the wind, everything so alive, yet impermanent and transient.

There is an intensity in the aliveness of it all, and also the deep understanding that I die, you die, my cats die, stars die, and that we all die in this impermanent universe we live in.

Yet we were born, and we get to live right now. And infinite things are born and die in the universe.

Existence is actually weirder than non-existence if you think about it. It’s and uber-strange and wonderful feeling, it’s a deeper sense of conscious existence that we can learn to live from whether we are meditating, drinking a glass of water, or itching our butts.

If you haven’t heard of Alan Watts, then I highly recommend you explore his amazing, deep, silly wisdom-spewing soliloquies.

Alan is a self-proclaimed “spiritual entertainer” and not only knows all of the major spiritual traditions, but he has deeply contemplated them along with existence (and non-existence) itself.

When I first heard his talk “Happy Death” about the general Western view of death, is one of the most enlightening things I’ve ever heard.

Along with this attitude of “don’t bring me down”, there can often be this total sense of gloom and doom story in Western culture when people are in the process of dying.

It’s long faces, lots of tears, anger and frustration and sadness. Yes, it’s OK for all that to happen.

But why the focus on it? Why does that seem to be the mainstay of the death process in Western culture?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I now get what the Buddhists mean by attachment to impermanence creating suffering.

Those dang Buddhists…talk about masters of cognitive therapy!

But let’s get into the lightness of death, shall we? Alan’s basic attitude was this:

Why all the seriousness? Don’t you have a big celebration for it? You’re gonna die here and you’re moving on from this world, so let’s party!

Death is not sickness, it is a natural process. Life and death are intertwined. Congratulations, you’re going to die! Liberation! No more worrying about bills and such.

In this talk below, “Happy Death”, Alan explains this celebratory perspective on death.

My favorite illustration of the “down on death” perspective so prevalent in a fundamentally Westernized belief system is the story Alan tells of the dinner party.

Sir Roderick is asked what he thinks about death.

He replies “Oh! I’m perfectly certainly I go to heaven, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy everlasting bliss.

But I wish you wouldn’t indulge in such a depression conversation!”

Can you see and feel the fundamentally different perspective here? Maybe you were lucky enough to grow up with this wider perspective that Alan talks about, I certainly wasn’t.

Of course I’m not nearly as eloquent as Alan was, and he says much, much more in his talks. All I can say is there’s an ease, a softness, jubilation and ultimately a weird feeling combined in one when I ponder my existence.

I can feel the oneness of life and death in the same space with his words.

Now of course Alan speaks mindblowingly on many topics, but listening to his frank words in these talks forever changed me and my perspective on life AND death.

Act as if death doesn’t exist, deny it, repress it, chase the feel good only life…I say that ain’t really living, my friend.

Here’s some more Alan to finish off this little essay, because I think he’s a bad-ass of consciousness.

If you’d like to contribute to the conversation, just leave a comment below this article.


2 responses to “The Process Of Living A Happy Death”

  1. This is a great, profound post on living and dying. The story that I want to live from is that each moment is precious. I don’t know whether I’ll have another. And so I may as well live like it’s my last. :)

    1. David Hamilton

      Thanks Jody. Love that story, we all could use that approach I think, I’m with you on it!

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