Art of Dying Art of Dying_Volume III_joomag | Page 79
is its mystery.
When one of my oldest friends, John, was dying, he
had a conversation with someone I could not see. I
said, "Who are you talking to, John?" He said, "I'm
talking to my mom.” I said, "Alice?" He said, "No, my
mom.” I said, "Alice was your mom." He said, "No,
Alice was my stepmom. My mom died in childbirth.
She's telling me that she's waiting for me."
Who's to say that John’s conversation was not real?
I would never for a moment think that it was an
illusion. One can call it dementia. One can call it a
hallucination. But this experience transcends medical
terms. It's something very sacred and mysterious.
In Buddhism, from the day we're born we're preparing
to die. Suzuki Roshi said that in his meditation
practice of following the breath, he spent an extra
moment on the out breath. That was his preparation
for death. We will all die on the out breath.
Death’s one universal thread is its mystery. Whether
we believe there's an afterlife, whether we don't
believe there is an afterlife; I have a theology, I
don't have a theology; I'm Buddhist, I'm Christian—
however we do it, it's still a mystery in that moment.
I hope that after all the work I do in meditation
and witnessing beautiful peaceful deaths that a
beautiful, peaceful death will be my experience. But
it may not be. I’ve seen people who die very angry
or die in pain. That could be my karma. I like to think
that I will be unafraid. Who knows?
From a conversation with John Wadsworth
SENSEI ROBERT CHODO CAMPBELL co-founded the New York Zen Center for
Contemplative Care, which delivers contemplative approaches to care through education, direct service,
and meditation practice. He is part of the core faculty for the Buddhist Track in the Master in Pastoral Care
and Counseling at NYZCCC’s education partner, New York Theological Seminary, and teaches in the
University of Arizona Medical School’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship.
His passion lies in bereavement counseling and advocating for change in the way our healthcare
institutions work with the dying; his public programs have introduced thousands to the practices of
mindful and compassionate care of the living and dying.
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