Friends, congratulations! We have made it to the end of our retreat together, our intense time of spiritual reflection, of learning and trying new practices and delving courageously into the depths of our hearts – toward perpetual evolution, authentic transformation. How did you do?

We have focused so much this past week on transformation through approaching our challenges head on, by facing our fears about life and death and suffering, forgiveness and solitude – now it is time to taste the first fruits of our labors together.

Our last teaching and practice for Winter Retreat 2015 is a meditation on impermanence through two simple exercises:

A Living Will

A “living will” is a legal document that represents your last wishes if, and when, you pass away from this earth. Have you ever thought much about this? Have you shared with your loved ones about not only the legal aspects of dying (yes, in our culture this supersedes so much common sense!) but your spiritual, emotional and familial needs at the last moments? MY-LIVING-WILL

Contemplating impermanence is simply a way of recognizing that our lives are so fragile, so precious. I suppose if we lived forever we wouldn’t worry about enjoying it! Everyone’s time will come, and there is no knowing when or where or how. An excellent book to read now, and to have nearby at all times is the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. In this book he presents a down-to-earth and extremely compassionate way of understanding death. While Sogyal Rinpoche comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in his book he presents non-denominational practices for familiarizing ourselves with the process of dying, and with simple meditations that we can use ourselves if we are called upon to comfort those in the process of dying, and to remember when our time comes, too.

Whether or not you already have a living will or intend to write one soon, today’s first practice is to make a “rough draft.”

This first draft will have less to do with estate planning and designating power of attorney – and more with your spiritual care. How would you like your loved one’s to help you die with peace and dignity? Would you be more comfortable with a religious person from a specific tradition, do you want to have special music playing? Would you prefer to die at home surrounded by your loved ones? Have you thought about the possibility of hospice care? I have profound admiration and respect for all hospice caregivers, their wisdom is more real than some of the most eloquent eulogies. (If you have seven minutes to spare, here is an incredible and inspiring story of how a lifetime hospice nurse “wanted to lead as many people as possible to face death more honestly, communicate about it more openly, accept it more willingly as a natural and inevitable stage of living” while facing her own mortality after a long struggle with ovarian cancer.)

If you can’t speak directly to your loved ones, what would you want your last words or bit of advice to be?

Take out a pen and paper, and jot down your thoughts:

  1. When I think about my last hours, what does the room look like? Where am I? Who is present? What is happening?
  2. What support or encouragement will I need when I am not able to get up, move around or communicate? A spiritual guide? A special book or friend? Would a certain kind of music help me maintain a peaceful and calm state of mind?
  3. What do I adamantly not want around me when I am most fragile and vulnerable? For example, I would prefer for my family to not quarrel, or to keep the television turned off, no visitors, etc.
  4. If I was somehow unable to communicate with my siblings, children, parents and friends, how would I share my last thoughts with them? Perhaps you can think of two or three of your closest loved ones and write a short letter, “Dear son, I am sorry that I wasn’t able to be there for your graduation. I hope that you will live generously and always be very kind. Don’t forget to eat your broccoli.” or something like that…

The Bucket List

Now that you have taken the final, courageous, expressive step along our journey of profound transformation from the inside out, this is really the fun part. Everyone’s got a bucket list, the top 10 things that you gotta do before you die. See Paris? Go scuba diving? Learn how to bake sourdough bread from scratch? Well, as Joseph Campbell told us at the beginning of our retreat: “Get it done!” There is no time like the present to figure out what you really want out of this life and to take proactive steps in living every day to the fullest extent possible for the benefit of all living beings. 

(Anyone have “get enlightened” on their bucket list?)

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