What Can the Dying Teach Us if We Are Willing to Listen?
“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Once again I have so much to be grateful for in what my sons teach me. This time, I am grateful for both of them pushing me to explore the wonders of podcasts. Of course I have listened to podcasts, I’ve even been interviewed on several, but it’s been a half-hearted effort. On their last trip home, they downloaded a podcast app and steered me to several podcasts they enjoyed. Since then, I have been playing podcasts on every trip in my car. I’m hooked! Mind you, as most of you know, I’m an addict at heart—so everything I do, I often overdo! But at this point, I’m loving it and it doesn’t seem to be doing me any harm.
The first podcast that my sons turned me on to was an interview with Frank Ostaseski, a leader in the field of hospice and end-of-life care, on a podcast called Waking Up with Sam Harris. But actually Tara Brach is much more my style, so I then listened to her interview with Ostaseski on her podcast, Tara Talks. I was so affected that I bought Ostaseski’s book, The Five Invitations.
I explored this concept, learning about life by listening to the dying, in my latest article on Thrive Global. The message in the book has five invitations to us based on what Ostaseski has learned from people who are dying:
- Don’t Wait.
- Welcome Everything; Push Away Nothing
- Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience
- Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things
- Cultivate “Don’t Know” Mind
Don’t Wait. The idea of the first invitation seems obvious. If you are dying, you can’t wait to do things; there is an immediacy to everything. But this has a message to all of us:
“This idea can both frighten and inspire us. Yet, embracing the truth of life’s precariousness helps us to appreciate its preciousness. We stop wasting our lives on meaningless activities. We learn to not hold our opinions, our desires, and even our own identities so tightly. Instead of pinning our hopes on a better future, we focus on the present and being grateful for what we have in front of us right now. We say, ‘I love you’ more often. We become kinder, more compassionate and more forgiving.”
Push Away Nothing. When I think about the second invitation, that feels very hard. My logical mind says, but what about the horrible stuff? I don’t want to welcome the bad stuff. Ostaseski explains, though:
“In welcoming everything, we don’t have to like what’s arising or necessarily agree with it, but we need to be willing to meet it, to learn from it. The word welcome confronts us; it asks us to temporarily suspend our usual rush to judgment and to be open, to what is showing up at our front door. To receive it in the spirit of hospitality. At the deepest level, this invitation is asking us to cultivate a kind of fearless receptivity.”
Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience is a good invitation for me. I often hold back, thinking I have nothing to offer here or I don’t know how to deal with this. I believe if I can’t contribute some kind of knowledge to something, then I should not contribute. I know this is from ego, that I want to look good if I’m going to contribute. But Ostaseski explains gently:
“We all like to look good. We long to be seen as capable, strong, intelligent, sensitive, spiritual, or at least well-adjusted. Few of us want to be known for our helplessness, fear, anger, or ignorance. Yet more than once I have found an ‘undesirable’ aspect of myself—one about which I previously had felt ashamed—to be the very quality that allowed me to meet another person’s suffering with compassion instead of fear or pity.”
Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things. The fourth invitation is a wonderful reminder for all of us, I think. After listening to the podcast with Tara Brach, I downloaded another app to help remind me to find a place of rest in the middle of a busy time. The app, Insight Timer, has meditations on my phone to remind me and aid me in resting.
Cultivate “Don’t Know” Mind. The fifth invitation is a Zen flavored-invite, one that describes a mind that’s open and receptive, one that is not limited by agendas, roles, and expectations.
“It is free to discover. When we are filled with knowing, when our mind is made up, it narrows our vision and limits our capacity to act. We only see what our knowing allows us to see. We don’t abandon our knowledge – it’s always there in the background should we need it – but we let go of fixed ideas. We let go of control.”
These five invitations are a gift to all of us, supportive in our life. They invite us to continue to explore and understand what it means to be alive now; not just to cope with death, but to live.
And I whole heartedly agree with Ostaseski, they are relevant guides to living with integrity. We need to live these invitations: to be truly understood, they need to be lived and realized through action. They indeed are “five invitations for you to be fully present for every aspect of your life.”
If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to watch the conversation between Tara Brach and Frank Ostaseski. It is enlightening and inspiring!