August 16, 2003 - Sages Way: The Gift That Death Can Offer Us By Nepal RPCV Ed Rubenstein, Ph.D

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nepal: Peace Corps Nepal : The Peace Corps in Nepal: August 16, 2003 - Sages Way: The Gift That Death Can Offer Us By Nepal RPCV Ed Rubenstein, Ph.D

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The Gift That Death Can Offer Us By Nepal RPCV Ed Rubenstein, Ph.D

The Gift That Death Can Offer Us By Nepal RPCV Ed Rubenstein, Ph.D

The Gift That Death Can Offer Us

By Ed Rubenstein, Ph.D.

My first experience with death was as a teenager. I watched my father die of a heart attack in the driveway. He took his last breath as I gave him CPR. I was alone with him staring at the shell he left behind. The body, which I had believed was my father, was lifeless. As I stared into the eyes of this corpse, his blank and empty look was so vastly different from the piercing eyes I had feared on so many occasions.

I had no one with whom to process this death experience. I hid it in a closet till many years later and never imagined that I would receive a priceless education from the process of healing the relationship with my father, even though he was dead.

After getting a BA in 1975, I was not ready for a nine- to-five job, and I was burned out on college. At this time in my life I had already discovered meditation and spirituality. Consequently, I was on a personal journey at the same time I was accepted into the Peace Corps. I was thrilled to discover I was offered a posting in Nepal. At twenty- two years of age, I was in the Himalayas building water supply systems in villages where fifty percent of the babies died by the age of five due to dehydration from unclean water. I worked in Western Nepal where tourists were not issued visas. I had to walk four to five days to get to my posting. The nearest other Peace Corps worker was a day and a half walk away. It was a fascinating experience to be the first westerner to set foot in this remote village.

I had the opportunity to witness death in a completely different culture. During monsoon I lived outside of Katmandu in a place called Pashupatinat. Daily, I walked along the river to my favorite place of meditation. This sacred place was populated with hundreds of wild monkeys. There was a cremation ghat along the river and often bodies were burning there. I made believe it wasn’t happening as I walked by, but one day my inner self called me back to the cremation ghat. I choose to join the family and share in their experience. They welcomed me. The body of a middle aged man was wrapped in white silk and placed on top of a stack of wood about two feet wide, six feet long and three to four feet high. The fire was lit, and the silk burned away exposing the body. I was able to see the discarded body char as boils on the skin erupted from the scorching heat. The smell of burning flesh is distinct.

Hours went by as we stared into the fire. I sat with the family in silence as we gazed into the flames watching the body of their loved-one disintegrate to ash. When the cremation process was complete, the ashes were swept into the river. The family believed their loved one came from the river of life, and now his remains were symbolically being returned to that river.

I remember walking away and noticing that everything around me was vibrating with an awesome aliveness which I had never before experienced. Issues that I had been dealing with came to mind and I was amazed at how they seemed so irrelevant in regards to the larger plan. I realized that by facing death, time becomes precious. It was as if I had awoken from a trance that had led me to believe that I will always have tomorrow. Tomorrows are limited, but what I do have is each moment as it unfolds before me.

Now I realized, the most important questions are “What do I choose to do with my consciousness in every moment? What do I choose to create in each moment as it unfolds before me?” This trance comes and goes in my life and serves as a great teacher to remind me of the responsibility to take heed of the moment.

In my role as a psychologist, I have had the privilege to facilitate the dying process of individuals. I say a privilege because I believe that our fellow humans that leave this plane are offering us the opportunity to embrace the sacred gift of life; to wake up to our deeper meaning and soul’s purpose. As I write to you in this moment, a dear friend in Asheville, Irma, is getting ready for her transition. Most likely, Irma has two or three days left on earth. She knows her time to pass on is here, and as a spiritual warrior she is gracefully embracing the dying process. Of course, a sadness accompanies this event and there is a sense of helplessness in observing her physical discomfort. But, just as her life has been a gift, her dying is also a great gift of healing for those sharing in her death.

Irma has offered me the precious gift and blessing of allowing me to spend time with her at the end of this last portion of her journey. I can clearly feel the vibration of the heavens in her room. And soon we will caste her ashes into the river and the wind. Irma provides us a gentle reminder to live and fully embrace that which truly matters in life. Jokingly, she recently said “When I meet God I have an important question to ask. Why do men have nipples?” I wonder what God will say.

? 2000 Ed Rubenstein, Ph.D.

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Story Source: Sages Way

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Nepal; Death



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