Love and Compassion:
A Sacred Path of Healing for the Living and Dying
According to an old Hindu legend, there was a time when all men were gods, but they so abused their divinity that Brahma, the Chief God, decided to take man’s divinity away from him and hide it where they would never again find it. Where to hide it became the big question.
When the lesser gods were called into council to consider this question, they said, “We will bury man’s divinity deep in the earth.” But Brahma said, “No that will not do, for man will dig deep into the earth and find it.” Then the lesser gods said , “Well, we will sink his divinity into the deepest ocean.” But again Brahma replied, “No, not there for man will learn to dive into the deepest waters, will search out the ocean bed and will find it.”
Then the lesser gods said, “We will take it to the top of the highest mountain and there hide it.” But again Brahma replied, “No, for man will eventually climb every high mountain on earth. He will be sure to some day find it and take it up again for himself.” Then the lesser gods gave up and concluded, “We do not know where to hide it, for it seems that there is no place on the earth or in the sea that man will not eventually reach.” Then Brahma said, “Here is what we will do with man’s divinity. We will hide man’s divinity deep down inside man himself, for he will never think to look for it there.” Ever since then, the legend concludes, man has been going up and down the earth, climbing, digging, diving, exploring, searching for something that is already within himself.
The path of love and compassion is an exploration into this divinity that is deep down within us. Thus, for some seekers, their search for truth has led them to the practice of meditation. Others have found truth through explorations in outer space. The same divinity that lives inside of us is present in grand abundance in the world around us, as all things are created from that same source of love. Nature, animals, and babies, are very clear teachers of unconditional love. The innate process of homeostasis is constantly bringing all living organisms back to a place of balance. No one is exempt, as all living things are governed by the same natural organic cycles of ebb and flow.
Webster’s dictionary tells us that “to heal is to return to a natural state of wholeness.” In our natural state we are relaxed, and we know that we are connected to love. I believe that love is the most abundant force in the universe.
Hawayo Takata, one of the Grand Masters of Reiki, refers to a paradox in life, and what can happen when our focus moves away from our divine nature.
“Conflict arises only when individuals are out of harmony with divine nature. It is a paradox: all are joined as one being within the creator itself, yet each particle of that one being must find its own way in its own time.”
It is a challenge and a privilege to write on the subject of love and compassion as it relates to spirituality and palliative care. There are as many approaches to and myths about spirituality as there are people. One of the fundamental myths is the idea that some people are spiritual and some are not. The major principle of free will in our lives allows people to choose to not engage with that aspect of themselves. However, this does not change the existence of spirit. Everyone is made of an equal portion of spirit.
Some people perceive that they are human beings having the occasional spiritual experience, and for others they are spirits embarking on a human adventure. It is all a question of perspective, and where one places his focus. Is the glass half full, or half empty? I quite enjoy my son Avi’s response to this, “it depends on whether you are filling the glass or drinking from it.” When we are afraid we feel limited and struggle to survive. When we trust we feel love and enjoy the abundance and celebration of life.
Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, shares with us an interaction that Joseph Campbell had with one of his workshop participants.
“Where is your deepest sense of harmony and bliss?”
“I don’t know, I am not sure”, was the reply.
“Find it”, Campbell sang back, “and then, follow it.”
Dr. Bolen goes on to say that,
“Campbell has often been quoted and sometimes criticized for saying, “Follow your bliss,” by people who did not understand what it might mean to do so. Far from irresponsibly moving from one hedonistic pleasure to another, it was advice ideally leading to a lifetime’s commitment – as it did for Joseph Campbell when he followed his love of mythology.”
Healthy living comes when we welcome love into our daily lives by participating in activities that are inspiring and illicit a joyous response. Life affirming activities mobilize the immune system, and increase the flow of vital life energy in our body and our cells, thus enhancing and extending life.
Caring for the terminally ill has become a way of “following my bliss.” There is something so authentic when sharing with those that are living with terminal illness. The false pretenses that can be so much a part of our socialized world seem to drop away when faced with the real issues of living and dying. There is tremendous guidance available when we open our hearts to another, bringing love and deep relaxation through our compassionate presence.
At a lecture in Berkeley California, Dr. Bernie Siegel, was sharing with those gathered about his experience of caring for people who are dying. He witnessed many things while holding the hands of dying patients. While watching the wasting away of the human form, he said, “before the time of death I feel as if I a sitting with a Great Saint.”
For some, terminal illness is a spiritual path. Dr. Bernie Siegel witnessed a metamorphosis occurring for the dying patients that he befriended, as they found their way to accept their circumstances and yield to their journey of dying. He watched the spirit of these people rise to the surface of their being, and greet him in a place of love and acceptance.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of caring for Uma, a friend and yoga instructor. Uma choose a path of conscious dying in response to the terminal cancer that was growing in her belly. She gathered together a group of friends from her healing community because she wanted and needed support. She did not want to die alone.
When I first began giving Uma Reiki treatments, I shared with her the above thoughts of Dr. Bernie Siegel and what he had experienced. When Uma heard this story she looked at me in total disbelief. Ten months later, on the eve of Uma’s death I again related Dr. Siegel’s story. After living the process of preparing for her own dying, Uma understood the wisdom of the story. She had experienced this same metamorphosis.
Uma found her ultimate yoga posture. She lay her body down into her death, for her this process became her spiritual path of love and acceptance.
Through Reiki, I have been blessed with the opportunity to partner with many people who have died from terminal illness. Many of the folks that I have cared for have reported that they are grateful for their disease. Their gratitude comes from the many blessings and opportunities for healing that they have experienced as a result of learning to co-habit with terminal illness. Many report having being healed, even as the disease process took over and shut down the functioning of their organs and their vital life energy.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross assures us that situations in our daily living will always bring us opportunities to open our hearts and experience love directly.
“You do not need special gurus or babas to grow. Teachers come in all forms and disguises, children, the terminally ill, a cleaning woman. All the theories and science in the world could not help anyone as much as one human unafraid to open his heart to another.”
I have heard, felt and witnessed this same revelation again and again as I open myself and see love not as something that we posses but rather, a divine gift that is abundantly available through our essence in every moment.
Several years ago, one of my Reiki clients came to me for regular Reiki treatments. Every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Dan Price would climb the stairs into the treatment room and onto the Reiki table.
After the first treatment we talked at some length about AIDS, death, healing, sexuality and spirituality. We felt that the greatest gift for any person (living or dying) would be the peace that comes from love and acceptance of self.
Below is a paragraph taken from an essay written by Dan Price. In the essay he shares about his experience of receiving Reiki Treatments.
“As treatments progressed I stopped expecting outcomes and trying to preordain what was being healed. Each treatment was its own reward with the Rei accomplishing its quiet work of releasing, restoring, energising, purifying, loving and empowering me. I have felt such tenderness from my treatments, more tenderness than I have known all the days of my life … the Rei is a most loving force.”
We talked about various spiritual paths, and noticed that in the foundation of all practices, was a fundamental understanding of the importance of love and acceptance. We began to greet one another from a place of no disease. We did not resist the HIV virus, but rather approached it as one of the many vibrations in the body. It was in this way that Dan could learn how to co-habit with it. Through daily spiritual practice we can find compassion for ourselves and others. The journey of living with a terminal illness offers that same opportunity.
In her book, Lessons of Love, Melody Beatte includes an account of Joseph Campbell’s ideas about loving God, and loving one another.
…”that evening we watched Joseph Campbell on Television. He talks about God, about loving God. He says that when we are open to loving a person, whether that person is a spouse, friend, or child, we open our hearts to loving God. He say’s, when we let someone love us, we’re opening our hearts to God’s love. He says the acts are the same.”
In caring for Uma and Dan, I witnessed the transformative powers of love. We greeted one another with unconditional acceptance and were blessed with many gifts of peace. During Reiki treatments we shared sacred touch, and felt nourished by the presence of the beloved in ourselves and each other.
“There are no guarantees in life, except that everyone faces struggles. It is how we learn. Some face struggle from the moment they are born. They are the most special of all people, requiring the most care and compassion and reminding us that love is the sole purpose of life.”
There is an ideology about healing that suggests that healing is about getting rid of things, solving things, and fixing things. Reiki has taught me that, we begin to heal when we allow things to be exactly the way that there are. When there is pain, there is an indication that an aspect of ourselves is hurting and requires our care. When we understand that pain is a gift, then, when we are hurting it becomes more possible to find ways to be more accepting and compassionate towards ourselves. When we accept things the way that they are with no resistance, we are creating the perfect internal atmosphere in which healing can occur. A natural outcome of acceptance is release.
Unconditional love is easy in theory yet challenging in practice. As a mental exercise it is easy enough to think that unconditional loves means, to love without any conditions. To love unconditionally is to love under all conditions. Love is unconditional when it is given freely, and not dependent on the circumstances, or the outcome achieved.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said,
“The only thing that I know that heals people is unconditional love.”
There are some conditions in life that can be very difficult to embrace. For some, it is a huge challenge to love someone that is disfigured, as with tumors or severe damage through accident or injury, or when people are born with developmental deformities. As well, it can be especially challenging to love unconditionally when the choices of another go against our personal ethics, such as, religious differences, gender preferences, or advanced directives.
Many years ago while caring for my son as he recovered from an extreme accident with two dogs, I had an encounter with the blessings of unconditional love. Each day my son asked me to kiss his wounds and blow on them as he found this action very soothing. Bringing my face close to his wounds I felt guided to recognize that I could love his body whole by approaching his healthy flesh and his wounds as precious and allowing for the restorative powers of love.
A few years ago I was called to care for a man that was dying of throat cancer. Russ had many large tumors that left him quite disfigured. When I first went to his home I was unaware of his physical condition. After I recovered from the initial impact of seeing his tumors, I felt an ease and a beautiful softening in my heart. Within about ten minutes I found such beauty and grace in this man, that I could embrace the tumors and enter a deep place of love and relaxation with him. Russ was always grateful for the care that I gave him, and the authenticity of love and acceptance that we shared so freely.
There is a beauty in being authentic that acknowledges the presence of grace. This guides us on the journey of allowing unconditional love to show us the divine in all things. These experiences encourage us to greet another, knowing that they are indeed a personification of the beloved.
Whether we are healing to live more fully, or healing to die more completely, I believe, love is the healer. Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, shares her experience of visiting Mother Teresa’s Hospice for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta, India.
“They had been brought to the Hospice so that once before they died, they could experience total and unconditional love, not through someone who knew them personally, but through the heart, soul, touch, and eyes of the sisters and volunteers who saw the beauty of their souls, even despite the wretched condition of their bodies and often their lives. They were lying on their pallets, and in the very air of serenity, they breathed in something ineffable and soul comforting. I wonder, might this be a glimpse of what we come here to experience in this human life? Unconditional love that warms the heart and soul, love that is divine and yet humanly given and received? A deep peace that comes from being held in invisible arms, a feeling of being beloved that is initiated by loving human touch? At the threshold of death, to trust and not be fearful?”
It is through this experience of grace that we are called upon to be messengers for love. We learn to surrender our personal self so that we may receive and extend the gifts of love and compassion to ourselves and to others.
Often our human struggles are related to love in some way. Melody Beattie puts it very clearly by saying that,
“Love will never keep us from our destiny; it will lead us into it.”
From her relationships with animals, Susan McElroy encourages us to be compassionate with ourselves as we journey on the path of peace and healing.
“Another element of peace I have learned from compassionate thinkers like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Rabbi Kushner, and Stephen Levine is that one need not be perfect to achieve some measure of peace. These modern day sages reflect an acceptance of their own inner frustrations that inspired me to be a bit more accepting of my own. For example Kubler-Ross, a tireless worker on behalf of the terminally ill and dying, feels helpless to stop her chain smoking habit. Rabbi Kushner admits to being angry and sad at the unfairness of life even though he has written a best selling book about coming to terms with “Why Bad things Happen To Good People.” Conversely, the Dali Lama has achieved a sense of inner peace in the face of world suffering, but admits that he gets very upset and uses “harsh words” when staff members flub up on the job. Stephen Levine who has been meditating for decades on loving kindness still gets angry and frustrated over the cruelty in the world. There are innumerable roads to peace, and we need not be flawless in our travel on any of them! Honest and vulnerable these wise people show us that peace is a journey, a welcoming oasis, but rarely a permanent daily residence for most of us.”
Susan McElroy helps us to realize that peace, love, and harmony are not static stagnant states. It is a myth to think that one day when you have struggled hard enough, done all of the right things, had the right thoughts, only then will you have earned the right to experience bliss. Quite the contrary, love and bliss are our birthright and each moment is a new opportunity to feel the presence of love through the years. Love is indeed a journey not a destination. Love and compassion are a way of life, a state of being, not an ultimate graduation. It is through our commitment to being honest withourselves especially when we’re vulnerable, that we can accept when we are out of balance and open to the total healing powers of love.
Dr. Pamela Kircher, speaks very strongly about a time of awakening to love for humanity and the gifts that will come as a result of this awakening, as she states,
“When we are no longer hoarding skills and resources for ourselves, there will be enough to go around. When we understand that we are here to learn to be more loving, we will require fewer physical objects and will prefer life enhancing activities to expensive entertainment that keeps us from being present with ourselves. Our greatest joy will be in being fully present with ourselves and with other people. Our own interests will no longer be more paramount to us than the interests of our neighbors. We will then have returned to the garden of Eden, and it will be a garden of spirit who’s main crop is love.”
Some people feel that they have come to earth to seed the planet with unconditional love so that the earth may return to her natural state, being one of a lush beauty that was once the Garden Of Eden. Through exchanges with the terminally ill, Kubler-Ross and Bolen are quite emphatic about their recognition of the healing powers of unconditional love. This seems to be a common thread amongst those of us who feel called upon to care for the dying. There is grace in death, and it can be found through the gifts of unconditional love. Through dying, many people have learned to be more present and fully alive in their living.
Kubler-Ross agrees with Bolen in that, love is the strongest medicine. Many caregivers and writers are reporting the same thing. It seems that, the peace that is available through unconditional love and acceptance towards self and others, has started to become common knowledge in our collective consciousness. Many people have experienced the healing power of love.
Campbell says, “follow your bliss”. Dr. Kubler-Ross says, “Do what you love”, Dr. Bolen says, “I think we came here to learn about unconditional love. Melody Beatte says, Love will never keep you from your destiny, it will lead you to it.”
I have watched people find their way into death through the grace of spiritual love, and through unconditional love received from their soul, their care givers, and their families. I have watched people create a mandala for their dying, while entering into their own inner life review as they lay in bed, and allow their disease process to take them into their individual heavenly sojourn.
I take this opportunity to honor the life and immense contribution of a woman who has been a pioneer in the field of palliative care, and a companion on the path of love and acceptance, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
“All of us, when we were born from the source, which I call God, were endowed with a facet of divinity. That is what gives us knowledge of our immortality.
You should live until your die. No one dies alone.
Everyone is loved beyond comprehension.
Everyone is blessed and guided.
It is very important that you do only what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may live in a shabby place, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days, you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do. The hardest lesson to learn is unconditional love.
Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived.
Death is but a transition from this life to another existence where there is no more pain and anguish.
Everything is bearable when there is love.
My wish is that you try to give more people more love.
The only thing that lives forever is love.”