Spirituality and “Death and Dying”

“Spirituality” can be such a misunderstood, oft bandied about, never fully understood, utterly pointless (at times) word. I mean really… what does “spiritual” even mean?

There are some fairly easily googled definitions of dubious merit ranging from defining matters of spirit and soul as opposed to the physical and material to defining spirituality in relation to the Church. Hmmmm, no.

Spirituality is deeply personal; if you came to me to ask me what spirituality is I would sit with you and ask you what you love? What inspires you? Where do you go to renew your vitality? What restores you to health? Or simply what IS for you in this moment, right now?

Anyone talking about divorcing spirituality from matters of the body, the material world and physical things I would challenge… all these “things” are as spiritual as they are material depending on the lens through which you look.

In fact, “spirituality” is a lens in and of itself. It is a way of perceiving life (and death). It concerns the things we cannot know, cannot prove and cannot pin down. But the effects of its application are measurable.

So often, spirituality is confused with superstition “if I have the right icons, the right candle, the right incense, if I meditate, if I pray, if I have gurus, if I am veggie, if I dress in white, purple or the colours of the rainbow, if I get the parking space I hope for, if I make a vision board, if I go on retreat” then I am spiritual. And by “spiritual” in these cases, the ego means “superior” and the superstitious believe these measures will prevent hardship and suffering.

Suffering is universal and is inherent in the human condition. Seeking to transcend it is not “spiritual” it is “bypassing”. The healthier pursuit is surely to integrate, to process, to embody and to become whole. To be with suffering rather than in denial of it.

So what does the world look like through this spiritual lens? Well, again, that is a deeply personal experience. Some of the common view might include: a sense of meaning and purpose beyond the individual self, a feeling and experience of being connected to all things, an expanded sense of the possibilities of what we can know and an acceptance that we cannot know everything, a sense of deep intuition (inner tuition) such that we know what to do, how to be and where to go without having to be told so. A sense of perspective on life, distance between the stimulus and the reaction (responsibility – for self and for our impact on the world), a strong sense of identity (“I am”) without undue attachment to it, a feeling of being guided and held, unexplained feelings of peace and serenity, the ability to live with paradox, a humble relinquishing of our version of the truth, a desire for purpose and meaning that comes from service, a deep and abiding gratitude for life itself.

Also… bringing our life into focus through the spiritual lens also brings great inner conflict and dissatisfaction, a feeling of being limited by circumstances and a suffering as a result of incongruence between our spirituality and the world in which we live. With spirituality comes more sensitivity, vulnerability and empathy – which without good boundaries will lead to increased suffering. If anyone tries to tell you that you will feel better for being more spiritual they are probably trying to sell you something.

The spiritual path is steep and the more conscious you become; the more it can hurt. This is one of those paradoxes that we have to embrace: the more you know the more you can know so therefore, the less you know. Truly “spiritual” people have their feet squarely on the ground, earn money, pay their bills and suffer like the rest of us; the most “enlightened” among us still have dark nights of the soul and still doubt themselves.

Think of the yin and the yang – each with the dot of the other within them – spirituality is all of all things. In every joy there is suffering and in suffering there is joy. At the core of life itself is the dot of death and in death, at its centre is Life.

What does it mean to bring that lens of spirituality towards Death and Dying? Again, this needs to be explored by each individual to be truly grasped what it means for you. And yet, in my opinion, it would include a surrender to the extraordinary pain of grief and really feeling it, allowing it to carve out the inner cavern of potential within us with it’s pain; also an acceptance of the inevitability of death and thus working with it rather than denying it (so in practical terms bringing death into common consciousness, talking about it, experiencing death as a community event), dedicating oneself to self care and self healing such that we are able to go beyond our stories and self in order to simply be with people who are dying or bereaved, abstaining from “fixing”, fussing or trying to impose our will on the situation but just finding peace and stillness even in the face of great suffering; experiencing Love, receiving love, giving love and remembering the presence of Love in all things. Remembering that Death is sacred (the root of the word sharing its meaning with “holy”, whole, complete, One) and thus part of the cycles and seasons of life itself; to be honoured and revered.

By expressing spirituality in these terms I trust that anyone with an open mind and heart can find meaning according to your own faith and belief. Whether staunchly atheist, agnostic, religious or spiritual in your own way; death is the great leveller… and being able to approach death as something to be honoured, held as sacred, given space and time and infused with love… should ring true to us all.

If you want to explore more your own spirituality and death, or to listen and learn from others in circle; grappling with the challenges of self care, boundaries, being with suffering, living with uncertainty… while at the same time also experiencing the love, connection and peace that comes from being in community, in fellowship, in circle and calling by our intention the very presence of that Love that holds and guides those drawn to work in deep service of the dying, dead and bereaved then Awen and I will be holding workshops entitled “Developing Spirituality around Death and Dying” starting with Erasmus Darwin House, Lichfield on 15th October with dates for 2018 to follow. For more information follow us on facebook “Red Tent End of Life Doula Preparation” or have a look around this website.






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