We are all going to die, great leader or homeless person, from natural causes, outside forces, or your own hand. The tragic deaths of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and L’Wren Scott, which have been rattling around in my brain, spring forward. The reasons leading up to their deaths may be complex but I wonder if one's preparation for death could lead to something beautiful.
I think about Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, who was a spiritual seeker throughout his life. He searched and searched for enlightenment but could not find it. He spent three years of his life in a Buddhist monastery practicing asceticism – a lifestyle of extreme abstinence from worldly pleasures. In frustration, and no closer to enlightenment after three years, he went to his Zen master for help. He was told it might be time to experience death. Disappointed he prepared himself for death by going to the mountains to fast and die. After nearly three weeks he had a vision that was so strong he went unconscious. When he awoke he felt refreshed, unlike he had ever felt before. This was the enlightenment he had so long been searching for and returned from the mountain to share his knowledge.
Could the difference between Philip Hoffman and Mikao Usui, between death and life, have anything to do with how each was prepared for death? It seems to me that Philip Hoffman, a drug addict, lived a life of fear. People often start using drugs to help them manage life challenges rather than facing the fears and solving the problem. So his death was likely more about escaping what may have seemed a desperate situation.
Mikao Usui, on the other hand, lived a life searching for the purpose and meaning of life. He studied things like religion, psychology and fortune telling coming to the conclusion that the answer was to attain a state of complete peace of mind. When that didn’t happen in the monastery – and what better place to practice – he took the advice of his Zen master literally. He prepared to face his challenge of death, and I expect his fear, with what he knew best – seclusion and fasting. The result was one of life instead of death at that moment.
Mikao Usui lived the rest of his life in service to others who needed healing through his Reiki practice. His life was full and rich not because he was prepared to die, but in getting his mind, body and spiritual affairs in order as if he were going to die, he actually found the peace he had been missing. And he didn’t have to die to find this peace. He asserted that the mind needed healing first and gave those who practice Reiki the five principles to live by and guide their lives.
And then we have Elizabeth Gilbert who, in her book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143038419/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0143038419&linkCode=as2&tag=beingabund06-20">Eat, Pray, Love,</a> describes what happened when she reached the point of ‘hopeless and life-threatening despair.’ She let go. She prayed to a God that she did not believe in or understand but she was so desperate that she relinquished all the control she thought she had, and prayed anyway. She let go of her preconceived notions. It was when she heard her own voice, coming to her in a stillness and silence she had never experienced before, that she listened. She also listened because that voice was ‘wise, calm and compassionate.’
I believe that a quiet, calm, compassionate inner voice is a key to finding peace. Couple that with practical principles that guide your daily interactions then you will have the answer that comes with love and pierces all the fear. We will never know how Philip Hoffman felt in his last moments but I believe that we must prepare for death everyday. And you don't need to be in a monastery to do it either! Learn to hear your inner voice, to feel the calm within despite the storm of life around you. Believe that there is a magnificent and loving force in you, around you, and supporting you. It is a journey only you can take and with many paths to get there.