In this podcast, titled “The Good Death”, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk about death and dying with Helen Tworkov, the founder of Tricycle Magazine. In the hands of a skilled interviewer like Helen, my book, “Preparing to Die: Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition,” really comes to life, so to speak.
Helen begins the interview by saying that the book is something “I simply wouldn’t travel without . . . because of the “What If.” What if suddenly I was dying or someone I knew was dying and found myself in a situation where I could be of help. This book really spells it all out.” It was gratifying to hear that because in writing the book I set out to provide a comprehensive guide for both the spiritual and practical preparations we need — for ourselves and for others.
One of the central themes I try to convey in this book is that if we can establish a healthy relationship to these otherwise unwanted stations in life, we really can transform what is arguably the greatest obstacle in life — the end of it — into the greatest opportunity — spiritual realization. One of the big discoveries of my extensive study of death and dying is that if we can relate to old age, sickness, and death properly, it really gives us something to look forward to.
Having a proper view of death is like installing a psychic GPS that guides you through the dying process. Studying this material installs that GPS. It can then pop up in just the moments when you need it. Helen and I talk about how spiritual practice, like the various forms of Buddhist meditation, are really preparing you for death. In many ways, the spiritual path is death in slow motion. Meditation gives you an opportunity to become familiar with your own mind. This is important, because at death, mind becomes reality. There’s nothing else. Know your deepest mind now, and you will recognize it then. And as the Tibetans say, “Recognition and liberation are simultaneous.”
The podcast has the provocative title “A Good Death.” Helen and I spend some time talking about this, and how it has recently come up in the media as a result of the conscious dying movement. As I cover in the book, such a notion can backfire. It is important to study and prepare, just like preparing for a trip. You fill up the gas, study the map, and get your vehicle ready. But when the trip starts you put all that behind you and enjoy the ride. Otherwise you will come with too many expectations, and as Sogyal Rinpoche says, “Expectation is premeditated disappointment.” When death comes, you really have to let go of everything and just relax. The essence of spiritual practice, especially at the highest levels, is proper relaxation — which is another topic Helen and I discuss.
I hope you will find a nice spot to relax and listen to this podcast, “The Good Death”. Armed with the proper view, there is a lot we can look forward to when we die.