This week we continue with the conclusion of Dr. Matthew Wilburn King's story about learning from death and illness as a teacher. "Death and disease are not enemies; both can be great friends on our journey through life. We should embrace them." We publish this with gratitude for Matthew, and for all the caregivers serving those walking with death. If you missed Part 1, you'll find it here.
How a Visit from Death Saved My Life - Part 2, by Dr. Matthew Wilburn King
The lessons ensued. Death told me:
The temporal nature of life and the existential anxiety that accompanies it remain when people do not open the door to my teachings. I am liberation. I am freedom. And, I will always be your friend and teacher, but you cannot live in fear of that which you do not know.
As I opened up, death showed me the limits of Western medicine and took me on a journey east. The portal led me to deepen my meditation and yoga practices, while introducing me to Reiki, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and a range of alternative health practices. I began to realize that I did not need to choose between east or west, but that I needed to integrate the value of both.
Death asked again; “Are you living?”
“More than before,” I replied.
And Death responded:
Those who deny me, fight or resist me, succumb to me. Those who open themselves up to me, and then sit with me, will allow the unknown to become known, the invisible to become visible, and for the materially irrelevant to vanish so that one can live more fully. Live or die, it’s up to you.
The final night of my guru’s lessons, he put on his cloak, picked up his scythe and then reached out his hand.
“Shall we,” he asked?
I responded, “no, but thank you.”
He departed by giving me the gift of life.
His final words: “This gift can be taken away at anytime; to keep it; you must live fully each day.” I accepted the gift as tears streamed down my cheeks. My heart infinitely expanded in love for what he had taught.
After all of my years in school and struggling through life’s experiences, it was death that taught me how to live. Death is the most liberating and freeing force in life, if we take the time to learn its lessons.
I no longer live to meet the world’s incessant neediness, or the ego’s relentless desire to attach to ideas or realities that only offer the illusion of certainty or control.
I now know, deeply, that the only thing that is certain is the unknown. Life, like death remains unknown.
“No man can step into the same river twice.” ~ Heraclitus
I no longer view death as taboo, and instead honor it in life. One does not exist without the other.
Since death’s visit, I have let of go relationships that do not serve my life. If friends, acquaintances, colleagues or clients do not see me or accept me for who I am, I let go. I do not try and convince them of who I am nor do I try to make them see me. I simply let go. Space opens for others who do see me, so that the empty spaces in my life are filled with the light of unconditional love.
Yet, I still struggle.
I continue to let go of old career goals and ideas, acquaintances, outdated friendships and the antiquated constructs that prevent me from being the best version of myself. I make choices from a more open and honest place that originates in the heart and soul.
I’ve learned to quiet the ego-mind, and open more space for spirit. I have no desire to waste a moment or to allow others to waste my time. I make an effort to show up as the best version of myself in each moment, and always give life my fullest by standing in gratitude with the most insignificant moments so that they might be imbued with new significance. We create our meaning.
I maintain a deep and undying respect for both cancer and death. And, I will always remember to embrace the temporal nature of existence and the impermanence of life as a core truth, while always leaving a seat at the table for death and its teachings.
The next time you’re with a family member or friend who is suffering the pains of disease or death, suggest that they invite these things into their life as a teacher and guru. Death and disease are not enemies; both can be great friends on our journey through life. We should embrace them.
Some people may resist the idea or suggestion at first, but once they open themselves to learning from death and disease—wise elders who come with life—people can begin to heal and live transcendently in heart, spirit and truth—even when it may be their last moment.
So, here’s to death, and to a vivid and unimaginable life well lived.
Source: Elephant Journal
The trainings at the Conscious Dying Institute offer the possibility of facing our own fears of death and gaining skills to be really present and helpful to others and their families as they pass through their last days. This is a healing path, the sacred work of being an End of Life Doula. Trainings offered in Boulder, Vancouver, Asheville, Gainesville.