Teacher? Yes, Death could be your Greatest Teacher.

I have been a cremationist for over a year now, a hospice volunteer for many more and each day I am grateful for all death is teaching me about real life – it is a wonderful and humbling experience all at once.  The surprise of the past twelve months is I have taken a new teacher.

I had been looking for ‘my’ teacher since early adulthood.  I found many and after the prerequisite honeymoon became totally disheartened by their hidden yet painfully obvious humanness.  A humanness that ultimately and always leaked through that spiritual glow designed to entrap us truth seekers.

This is not to say my experience with them was void of learning, in fact I learned much over the decades mostly when the teacher/student marriage came to an abrupt end.  And yes, before you mention it, I take full responsibility for putting each of them up on that darn pedestal and then watching with deep sadness as they fell back to earth with a thump.

Most of my early teachers came in the form of authors, poets, and philosophers – they came in the form of books.  The list is long and includes names link Dan Milman, Carlos Castaneda, Lao Tzu, Leonard Cohen, Stephen Levine, Gandhi and JJ Krishnamurti.  In the late eighties and well into the 21st century I stepped fully into the world of personal spiritual development – the land of shaman, guru and the slippery slope of student-teacher relationships.

Each teacher I took had lots to offer and always seemed, at least at the outset, much like some sort of demi-god incarnate.  Brilliant in some ways, charismatic in others, always though ahead of me, above me, somehow closer to God or the Truth than me.  I never seemed to be quite enough to ‘get it’. It wasn’t until their humanness showed up as it invariably did that the wakeup light went on.  The spiritual bubble always burst and I was always left flabbergasted, in a stunned state of disbelief.

The first time it happened back in 1989, I wrote it off to my lack of experience in picking the ‘right’ teacher.  So I picked again, and again, and again.  Each time the pattern was similar; the disappointment predictable; and the ending a certainty.   I thought initially it was I, then as I broadened my perspective and listened to other seekers, I discovered my experience was not unique.  In fact many folks had similar stories to share about betrayals they experienced at the hands of a so-called guru.

It mattered not what realm the teacher claimed to be ‘enlightened’ in, money, sex, relationships, sales, book writing, or finding God.  Each one of them, under the test of time, fell from their throne right into the depths of their humanness.  Each one fell prey to money, sex, or power abuse – each and every one of them.  Human ego always prevailed proving time and time again to be the ‘teachers’ undoing.   It was predictable, 100%!

I recognized my part in it, after years of experience, and take responsibility for putting them up.  They in their own right, each of them, were also responsible for accepting the elevated status and believing their own press clippings, thinking that they were it.  My last experience was so heart breaking it burned out of me the need to have a ‘teacher’.  It helped me understand that the teacher student relationship as I had structured it needed to change.

I changed it and stopped taking on teachers.  I understood myself to be both student and teacher and the roles switched often throughout the day so the same must be true for the teacher.  I also was now clearly able to distinguish between the teachings and the teacher.  A teacher may have skill in a particular area of life and be totally stupid in other realms of living – the skill is not necessarily transferable, and this is where I often made mistakes.  I assumed awakening in one area applied to all areas of a teacher’s life.  Entirely not true!

I also grew to understand that I was no more or no less powerful than any of my teachers, we were each of equivalent power.  Than means the teacher is not more powerful than me.

So at the end of the day I was clear no more ‘gurus’ for me.  That moment of clarity was empowering for me and I put myself back on a level spiritual playing field.  I was now approaching my growth without a feeling of lack.  This new terrain brought me face to face with a teacher I had forgotten to notice, to be aware of, and to listen to with a fully open heart.

That teacher is Death.

Death has no preferences or aversions.  Death visits all ages, all cultures, all sexual preferences, all religions, all political persuasions, all income levels – all living beings including all animals, mammals, fish, foul, plant life and even bacteria.  Death is a top priority in the cycle of life so much so that life could not exist without it.

Paying attention to death and those going through it, along with those close to it will inform your life if you listen, learn and love death as a teacher.


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You Can Trust Death!

I have been noticing over the past several years all the signs and signals that generally we tend to be death adverse.  A recent television advertisement that carries the statement Make Death Wait reminded me of our tendency to take death as a foe, something we need to delay at the minimum and usually fight against vigorously with all manner of ‘weapons’.

As I look around at the world and see all that we do to avoid ageing – plastic surgery, a shot of botox, a pinch here and a lift there – we seem to be demonstrating that we think we have some degree of mastery or power over one of life’s certain yet mysterious events – death.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love life and value it deeply.  I am not interested in rushing my death at all.  I whole-heartedly agree with good nutrition, good exercise, good spiritual practice and taking good care of ourselves so we can enjoy life and be able to give ourselves fully to family and friends, to our chosen work, and to our hobbies.  When illness comes my way I do take the steps necessary to return to good health as quickly as possible.

However, I have noticed some things about death especially in our North American culture as I pursue a new career in the business of death, both has a volunteer hospice visitor and as a cremationist.  I can distill all the activity that pops up around death to one simple sentence – don’t trust death.

First notice all that often goes on when some one you know gets the prognosis that she or he has only months or days to live.  Most people opt for one or more of the following solutions:

  • Aggressive allopathic treatments
  • Extensive naturopathic processes
  • Wild and crazy off-the-wall healers
  • Radical life style changes
  • Tremendous drug regimes
  • Spiritual Gurus and associated mantras

When death comes knocking our culture, our health care, and alternative care services kick into overdrive!  All this activity around death is telling me something.

And yes, you should all know that I have faced the loss of loved ones to death, my sister died in 1988, my father died in 2004, my brother faced and is still facing cancer to this day.  My aunt faced a 2 in 10 chance of surviving open-heart surgery, friends, close friends have lost loved ones to suicide so I have first-hand experience with this issue.  I understand treatment and pain management.  I know what I am dealing with here so my understanding comes from very personal and direct experience.

Here is what I have come to understand.

All this activity around ageing and death is saying to me that we do not trust death.  Somehow death is wrong.  We mortals must be able to control it, to manage it to suit our own personal needs and agenda.  We ought to be able to master death with all of our technology and knowledge.

What happens if death is right?

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Noah Spence Authentic Jersey

Practice Dying? – Lots of Different Deaths to Explore

We need to re-train ourselves to live with death and the process of death in deeper and healthier ways that include all the hidden opportunities death affords. This is hard to practice when dying only comes around occasionally in our families. However, there are other times that occur regularly in life that we can use to practice dealing with the inevitable loss of a loved one and for that matter our own future death.

Here are some other types of ‘death’ that we can practice with in order to learn some closure skills that will stand us in good stead.

Fired from a job                                    End of a relationship

Completion of a project                        End of a day

Depletion of your bank account            Sale of a car

Death of a dream                                    Death of an age or era

Loss of mobility                                    Loss of a faculty (sight, hearing etc)

When thinking of death we tend to focus on a person’s death or loss of the body.  Agreed, this is the big one, and yet we can prepare for this by understanding that these other ‘deaths’ are similar experiences.  Something existed and now it no longer does.  Lets take a look at some of the other ‘deaths’ listed above and see how we can use them to practice acceptance, closure, and letting go.

Death or the ending of a relationship is a great comparison as many if not all of us have ended a loving relationship at one time or another.  If you were the one who was left it can feel devastating for quite a time after.  The roller coaster ride of emotions can be very similar to the emotional ride death of a loved one brings.  This is particularly true of relationships that have been long standing.

You will notice immediately after the breakup, that your emotions can get easily triggered when you see your ex-partner, or when you visit the home of a friend that was once a friend of the couple.  You may notice the loss when you walk by a favorite restaurant or a special occasion comes and goes.  You may notice also the bargain basement feelings of trying to get him or her back, perhaps even denial – “Oh they’ll come to their senses and we’ll get back together.”  This mini-death mimics quite closely those emotion we feel around a loved one dying.

We can use the ending of an important relationship to practice the skills of acknowledging the loss, accepting the benefits, saying good-bye well, and being real with our deepest feelings.  We can also practice the use of ceremony or ritual to mark in a healthy way the end of this important piece of our lives.  Notice how you reacted when ending a relationship.  What did you do well?  What could you improve upon?  What skills, tools and techniques did you learn that you could use when facing the death of a loved one or other life endings?  When you practice this process you will build yourself a death toolbox that you can draw on when needed.

Death, or the ending of a job can be equally tough on people especially when the job loss was unexpected or sudden.  Many of the same emotions as crop up when ending a relationship will come up as you move through the process of job loss or job change.  You will feel denial, bargaining, and anger, sadness, and often confusion occurring regularly and sometimes forcefully as you move from employed to unemployed.  Even if the job change was planned as in the case of retirement, there will still be a journey through grief as you adjust to the changes, the different environment, the loss of personal worth, and your business relationships.

You may notice that even when you find another job you are still carrying mental and emotional baggage from the exit of your previous job.  You may find yourself wishing you were back in your old position and remembering enviously times of ‘better’ days.  On the other side of the coin you may carry the emotional and mental baggage with relief, “whew glad that’s over” yet you are still lugging it along as you compare one job to the other.

At some point it’s done and you are in your new position with no hangover from the previous one.  So again notice how you approach this death.  What did you do well that supported that change? What did you do that didn’t really work that well?  What pitfalls did you fall into and get stuck in for a while?  Add the tools that worked for you to your Death Toolbox and do some research on where you may have gotten stuck or lost.

Here is a really simple one!

Each day is born as we awaken to the new morning.  Each day dies into the darkness of night as we fall asleep.  Death and rebirth each and every day!  A time to say good-bye to what is no longer and a time to greet that, which is new.  What a wonderful practice!  Do you have a way to begin each day aside from simply getting out of bed?  Do you have a way to close each day so it doesn’t unwillingly force itself into tomorrow?  Do you have tools to notice what you did well that day and celebrate those wins?  Do you have ways to let go of what you didn’t do so well and forgive yourself?

Add these simple easy-to-practice skills and tools to your Death Toolbox and help yourself prepare for the unavoidable deaths that will come your way in life.

Look at all the different types of death that remain on the list and discover how you can ‘practice’ with these deaths all of the skills that you can then transfer and use when the death of a loved one comes knocking on your door.

Hey, even in sex there is birth and death! Birth of sexual play begins with the urge, the horny feeling.  It comes alive and blossoms into lovemaking and at the end of the sexual encounter there is a “petit mort” (little death) in the form of an orgasm.  The sexual play has died.

So, notice in your life these opportunities to let go appreciatively of things that have ended and embrace those which are new.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Vincent Trocheck Womens Jersey