Sunday, August 24, 2008

being with dying

"Being with Dying" is a phrase that aptly describes the human condition. We may be unique among species in being aware of our mortality. Although the capacity to contemplate death is an essential human trait, most people actively eschew thinking about how their life might end.

While the dominant orientation of Western culture toward death is avoidance, for over 2500 years Buddhists have studied the question of how one can best live in the presence of death. In a sense, a life-threatening injury or disease makes Buddhists of us all, waking us from the illusion of immortality, suddenly and from that time forth...

Life-threatening illness calls us to a place - metaphorically a desert or mountain peak - where, as we sit, the hard wind of reality strips away all the trappings of life. We are left naked, only "me" with my in-breath and out-breath in this moment, here and now. Illness reveals that at every moment of every day we are - and have always been - merely a heartbeat away from death. This incontrovertible fact need not be depressing. Instead, as Roshi Joan Halifax eloquently conveys in this remarkable book, our readiness to die can inform and enliven how we live and how we relate to one another.

Ira Byock, in the Foreword of the book "Being with Dying" by Joan Halifax

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