I find myself seated in my favorite comfortable chair looking out at the winter landscape of ice and snow. The fire in the stove warms my cozy cabin. I light a candle on the side table and drop into my practice. Slowly and surely I make my journey into the wildest place I know. This journey is not for the faint of heart. I think it requires devotion to get there. The long journey into self.
We have an inherent human need to go home. This biological yearning can be anything from a dull nudge to a full-panic alarm at different phases of our lives. So often we hear of folks who moved back to their childhood or ancestral area in later in life. Do we really go home to die? The instinct is documented by poets, filmmakers, psychologists, and spiritual teachers. The defining characteristics of home are different to each person. Yet, some common themes appear:
- A place of belonging
- A place of unconditional love
- A place of rest or recovery
- A place where you can collect your thoughts and create a new plan of action
- A place of nonjudgement, forgiveness, and compassion
- A place of joy and happiness
- Landscapes we recognize and feel a deep connection to
Have you heard these sayings before: As within, so without; or microcosm equals macrocosm; or even as above so below? Well, seeker, if you cannot find these characteristics within your own self, you will not be able to find them out in your world either. Home is within. Your true sense of belonging is anchored deeply within you.
So going home doesn’t require a long drive over the mountains. It requires you to sit still. Breathe deeply into your own body and physical sensations. Some call it meditation. Some say it’s a spiritual practice. I definitely agree it’s something to practice.
This place of stillness asks me to listen only to my own words. Not to replay scenes from the past or entertain (or terrorize) myself with thoughts of the future. It begs me to surrender all my normal patterns and processes and just sit still. In this surrender I feel my heart. I feel my body, my own vitality and that which fans my creativity.
We let down our guards, barriers, and our burdens to just feel into the expansion of self. Meditation teachers often say “Let down your burdens and surrender to the flight.” This expansion of ease and delight has been well documented to increase health and wellness. In many cultures the stillness, surrender, release, expansion practice really is practice for the BIG RELEASE at the end of life.
I have always found it to be helpful to practice before a test or performance. Why would death be any different? Practice walking that long journey into self and taking comfort in the cozy receptivity of your inner home. Play with surrendering of body, thought, patterns, and responses so that you might explore expansion. Repeat this journey often enough to make a clear path out of it. A well-traveled path free of impingements so that when the final walk down that path comes, it is smooth and well-practiced enough to be a dance. Journey well, seeker.
Ashley T. Benem is the founder of the non-profit A Sacred Passing: Death Midwifery Service and the creator of the Art of Death Conference. She is an advocate for palliative and end-of-life care issues, empowering and supporting families to reclaim their right to die in congruence with their lives. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.