Helping The Dying
For those who have advanced illness and are dying but are still conscious there are a number of simple meditation techniques or visualisations that can be very helpful.
For those who are anxious or fearful of dying, teaching them relaxation or guiding them through a simple relaxation technique can be very beneficial. I will usually leave them a relaxation tape that they can use any time of day or night, whenever the need arises. When appropriate, touch, massage, reflexology and similar techniques can also be very soothing and stress-relieving, especially as the person may be somewhat starved of touch due to the fears and awkwardness of people who visit them.
A simple meditation technique that is very effective is awareness of the breath. The person becomes aware of the movement of the breath inwards and outwards at the level of the nostrils, breathing naturally and easily, not forcing or exaggerating the breath. At the same time, any thoughts that arise are let go of, constantly bringing the mind back to the breath. This technique, although simple, can generate very calm states of mind and relieve anxiety. Click Here for a Guided Relaxation Meditation
When the awareness of breath is then combined with the recitation of certain words or mantras or prayer it becomes very powerful. Just to say “Let…go…let…go…” in time with the in and out breaths can be soothing and relaxing. A person with a spiritual belief can use a prayer or mantra with the breath. For example, one lady whom I was visiting who was an ex-Catholic nun chose the prayer “not mine, Lord, but thy will be done”. She shortened this by reciting “Not my will” on the in-breath and “but yours” on the out-breath, repeating this over and over again.
The beauty of this technique is that 1) it can be done for short periods of time and requires little concentration, which is often reduced by the effects of disease and medication, 2) it helps to calm the mind and reduce anxiety, 3) it utilizes and strengthens the person’s spiritual refuge, 4) it does not require anything other than the breath.
For both a religious and a non-religious person a white light ‘healing’ meditation can bring a lot of comfort and benefit. The person visualizes a brilliant ball of white light above their head, with the light streaming down through their bodies, removing sickness, pain, fear, anxiety and filling the body with blissful healing light energy. Depending on the person’s belief system, they can see the light as being in the nature of Jesus, or Buddha or some other spiritual figure, or they can just visualise it as a source of universal healing energy. This meditation combines very well with the breath awareness technique and is also good to have on tape to leave with the person, to be used whenever needed day or night. When a person is close to death they can also be encouraged to let go into the light, into the heart of Jesus or Buddha seated above their head, whatever is appropriate for that person.
The use of guided imagery or gentle music can also be soothing and relaxing and help the person to have a calm and peaceful mind as they approach death.
A person in pain can also be guided through a pain meditation, a technique whereby the pain is explored in detail, often leading to a reduction or eradication of the pain. A very profound meditative technique is to actually use the illness or pain as a way of developing compassion. For those who can use this technique the results can be very great. The person is encouraged to think that “by me experiencing this cancer/AIDS/pain etc, may all other beings in the world be free of this, and may they have good health, happiness and long life”. The person uses their sickness or pain as a way of opening their heart to others who are in a similar situation. People who have used this technique have often gone from being totally caught up in their own misery to a state of open-heartedness and peace.
An even more advanced technique is the meditation on “taking and giving on the breath” as described in the Tibetan Buddhist scriptures. In this meditation, one visualises taking on the suffering of all other living beings (or this could be restricted to those with cancer or AIDS etc) in the form of black smoke, which is taken in on the in-breath. Then on the out-breath all of our health and happiness and all positive qualities are sent out to other living beings in the form of white light, and we visualise them receiving everything that they want. At our heart we visualise a black rock of selfishness, and as the black smoke is inhaled we visualise it hitting the black rock and smashing it completely, thus eradicating all trace of selfishness from our minds.
This meditation is a profound method for developing compassion quickly but there will only be a minority of patients who will be able to use this method. The usual way to progress in these meditations is to start with small problems such as a headache or tiredness etc, then gradually train our minds to transform bigger and bigger problems.
The aim of all these methods is to help the dying person die with a calm, happy and positive mind. Anything that we can do to achieve this will benefit the person, whether that be good nursing care and pain relief, massage, the presence of a loving family, or whatever. It is said that the best thing we can bring to a dying person is our own quiet and peaceful mind.
In this way we will help the dying person make the transition from this life to the next as smooth and as meaningful as possible, recognising the vital spiritual importance of this transition.