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Archive for the ‘death and dying’ Category

I recently went to practice meditation for a weekend at Deer Park–a monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. In this tradition, everything from eating to working to walking is a chance to connect with your breath and practice mindfulness. There are also teachings called “Dharma Talks.”

One of the talks consisted of a video of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching about different types of consciousness, specifically “mind consciousness” versus “store consciousness.” Mind consciousness is described as our conscious thoughts, those that occupy us as we’re thinking about the past, worrying, and planning. Store consciousness, on the other hand, is the body of information a person has taken in and stored away. One’s store consciousness is often accessed unconsciously. It’s the part of your consciousness that gets you home when you’re driving but distracted in your thinking instead of focusing on the road.

Later that night, I sat up rereading Hanh’s book “For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.” The mindfulness trainings are guidelines of sorts for living according to Buddhist principles. The fifth mindfulness training emphasizes the importance of mindful consumption–not just the things we put into our body, but also the things we put into our mind (our “store”), including the kinds of books we read, movies we watch, and conversations we engage in.

At one point in the book, Hanh begins talking about how to be with someone who is dying. He recalls visiting a friend who was dying and in a lot of pain. His friend’s pain eased when his visitors helped him recall happy memories. Hanh explained that he massaged his friend’s feet because often when people are dying they can’t feel parts of their bodies and that massage can be very comforting.

I had read this book in November of last year, the last time I spent a weekend at Deer Park. When I got the word that my Grandma Aimee was dying, I did not remember reading this passage. However, as soon as I heard she was dying, I felt compelled to get to her and–granting that I made it in time–massage her feet. On my way to airport, I stopped and bought a bottle of jojoba oil and a bottle of orange essential oil with the description “cheering” written on it. I did make it before she died and gave her a foot massage that night.

She lived for another day and a half and during this time visitors streamed in and out of her room and she received them all graciously. I saw that Grandma Aimee was consoled by the happy memories her loved ones shared with her and comforted by the traditional Catholic prayers said at her bedside. Several times I pulled out the orange essential oil and just let her smell it or rubbed some on her shoulders and she would light up, smiling at the familiar, happy scent.

As I reread Hanh’s words about comforting the dying after her death, I was struck by how I did not remember reading this and yet as soon as I heard that my grandma was dying, I knew what to do. I’m so grateful this information was in my “store.” xoxo

P.S. Here’s a link to the eulogy I wrote for Aimee.

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