Free From Views (Part Two)
Such listening is never more powerful than when we sit face to face with the mystery of death. When we sit with those who are dying, the only way to be helpful is to come with no agenda. Sometimes dying people weep and grieve. Sometimes they are filled with love. Sometimes they struggle. Those around the dying can also be caught in anger, grief, fear or blame. As companions to those dying, we are most helpful if we can maintain an open mind and heart, “bowing to their experience, without any judgment. And often, when the whole a person’s experience is allowed, everyone present relaxes into the luminous mystery. In Buddhist psychology we are trained to sit with the dying, to talk and listen, even when outwardly it appears the patient is not responding. Along with Stephen and Ondrea Levine, pioneers in working with the dying, I have found that even when people are apparently lost in a coma, they are listening. It is true.
Arnold Mindell is a Jungian psychiatrist and the author of COMA. He describes how he sits and breathes in unison with his patients as a way to connect his consciousness with theirs. Often remarkable connections will happen. He tells about visiting an old man in a V.A. hospital.
“John had been lying in a coma for six months, rasping and making lots of noise and waking up all the other patients. I went to see him and made noises with him while gently squeezing his hand. After about ten minutes, he opened his eyes and said, ‘You saw that too?’ I said, ‘I did see it. What do you see?’ ‘A big white ship is a-comin’ for John!’ ‘Are you going to take it?’ I asked. ‘Not me,” he yelled. “I’m not getting’ on that ship.’ ‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘That ship’s goin’ on vacation, it’s a cruise ship. I gotta get up in the morning and go to work.’
John had worked hard all his life and was now in his 80’s. His cancer had reduced him to a bag of bones. He was stuck at the end of life because he couldn’t allow himself to go on vacation. So I told him, ‘Well, getting up in the morning and going to work sounds good to me. But before we do it, let’s check the ship out. Take a look inside and see who’s driving that ship.’ So he went down into the ship and said with great excitement, ‘Whew! There’s angels down there driving that ship.’ ‘Do you want to find out where it’s going?’ I asked. He went inside again and turned his eyes to the right, apparently listening to something. ‘That ship is a-goin’ to Bermuda.’ ‘Well, what’s it cost?’ I said, knowing he was a practical guy. After a minute he said, ‘It don’t cost nothin’.’ ‘Think about it,’ I said. ‘Ever have a vacation?’ ‘I never had a vacation. Never. I’ve been workin’ and workin’ and workin’.’ ‘Well, think about it. Make your choice.’ Finally, he said, ‘I’m goin’ on vacation. It don’t cost nothin’, and it’s goin’ to Bermuda.’ I said, ‘Chances are, if you don’t like it, maybe it’ll turn around and come back.’ ‘Yeah, I can always get off that ship.’ ‘You do what you want,’ I said. ‘I’ll trust your judgment. I’m busy and have to go see somebody else now.’ So he closed his eyes and that was it. When we came back 30 minutes later he had died. He’d gone to Bermuda.”
This excerpt is taken from the book, “The Wise Heart”