Learn how Treya Wilber’s spiritual practice helped her transcend fear and die consciously as told in Ken Wilber’s book Grace and Grit.
In this episode I share a powerful and heartfelt interview with Ken Wilber where we discuss the subject of “Conscious Dying” and how the life and death of his wife Treya so beautifully teach us to live and die consciously, as told in the book Grace and Grit.
Whether or not death and dying are issues that concern you at this time in your life, you will find value in listening to Ken’s discussion of this important subject. Each of us must come to terms with our mortality in the physical realm and be prepared for an unknown future. Each of us also must face losing those we deeply love, and caring for them through illness and adversity.
We can learn from Ken and Treya’s experiences how to love totally and consciously during our lifetimes – and how to let go of that love and life itself when that time arrives for us.
This interview will cover:
The meaning of “conscious dying” from a spiritual perspective
Ken’s caregiver journey and how it became his spiritual path
How Ken and Treya “carried one another’s pain” during the course of her illness and dying process
The Buddhist practice of tonglen and why it was important to Treya
How the term “passionate equanimity” describes Treya’s approach to living and dying
Ken Wilber is a philosopher, sage, author and integral theorist who has been called “the Einstein of Consciousness.” He is:
The most translated writer on consciousness studies in the United States
Author of 22 books on spirituality and science –
A Theory of Everything
A Brief History of Everything
Sex, Ecology and Spirituality
The Integral Vision
Creator of Integral Theory – a model for organizing different perspectives of life and consciousness
His book Grace and Grit chronicles the life and death of his second wife Treya Killam Wilber.
Learn how to awaken to higher consciousness NOW so that you can experience conscious dying at the end of your life.
In this episode I share the secret behind the 3-part tagline I use on the EOL University website and at the end of every podcast. (If you listen regularly you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!) I discuss the wisdom behind the phrases I repeat each week and how they represent keys to our ongoing spiritual evolution!
My long-awaited trip to Italy begins tomorrow, the day after the original airing of this podcast! You can follow my journey on Instagramand Facebook as I hike, bike, eat, drink, pray, and write my way through the country–all in search of the perfect stories for my new book on grief! I’ve pre-recorded enough podcast episodes to last until I return in one month–“see” you then!
I would like to send a HUGE THANK YOU to my latest supporter on Patreon.com/eolu: Rich Hayes, who is a hospice chaplain. Check out his website at www.richhayes.com and his book God Made Simple. If you would like to join the list of patrons go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more and chip in $1 or $2 per month to support this podcast and the EOLU Interview Series. You’ll receive a thank-you on this podcast and I’ll also promote your end-of-life related book, website, cause or business. PLUS you’ll receive the monthly Hospice Happy Hour Q&A recordings!
3 Keys to Living & Dying Consciously
(Be sure to tune in to upcoming podcast episode #112 when I will feature an interview with philosopher and sage Ken Wilber about conscious dying and the death of his wife Treya. If you are interested in conscious dying you won’t want to miss it!)
In order to die consciously you must first begin to LIVE consciously right now. Here are my 3 tips for awakening to higher consciousness–they have been hiding all along in the simple tagline I use at the end of every podcast! Now you’ll find out what I mean when I remind you of them every week!
Face Your Fear
You must go through your fear in order to rise above it; the more you hide and run away from your fear of death (which is the ultimate fear) you run away from joy, as well. So begin to accept that Death is inevitable–everything in the Universe dies–and life is full of difficulties. Once you embrace that fact you can begin to work specifically on your fear of death and turn it into acceptance.
Think about death every day. Include contemplation of death as part of your daily practice; get used to the idea that life is fleeting and you don’t know when it will come to an end.
Read about death. Find books (e.g. What Really Matters) and stories that portray death and dying in a meaningful way to help you see that it is not necessarily something to fear. The dying process can be a beautiful time of healing for patients and families.
Write about death. Use your journal to record your thoughts and emotions about death. Observe how they change over time as you continue this practice of increasing death-awareness. (The book The Tao of Death with its companion journal can be a helpful tool for reading and writing about death.)
Learn about death. The more information you have about the end of life, the more your fears will lessen. Knowledge is one of the most powerful antidotes to fear. Tune in to the interviews on End-of-Life University for an ongoing education about all aspects of the end of life.
Work with death. Consider volunteering for hospice to learn how to sit with death and witness the dying process. Hospitals and nursing homes are also good places to volunteer to get closer to death and overcome your fear.
There is no substitute for preparation, no matter what you might face in the future. Once your fear has decreased begin to plan ahead for the end of life and imagine how you would like that experience to unfold. Here are some steps to help you get ready:
Know what really matters to you. Spend some time thinking about what in your life is most important and prioritize those items. You need to know what you value in order to make tough decisions in the future.
Make choices for what you want at the end of life. Use a tool like the Conversation Project Starter Kit to help you decide what type of healthcare you would like to receive in your last days.
Complete your paperwork. You need to appoint a healthcare proxy and fill out an advance directive form in order to give your wishes some legal clout. But you also need to talk to your loved ones and your doctors about your wishes so they will know how to care for you if you can’t speak for yourself.
Tend to your relationships. Learn how to forgive NOW so that you won’t be rushing to complete this important task while on your deathbed. Remember to say “I love you” to those who matter to you whenever you have an opportunity.
Learn to BE in the present moment. Let go of ruminating about the past and worrying about the future–love and joy exist right here, right now in this present moment.
Love Your Life
Once you have learned to manage fear and to BE ready for anything that comes your way, you can begin to learn to love your life just as it is, even if you are surrounded by tragedy and pain. Here are some steps to consider:
Live according to what really matters to you. Let you values guide your choices each day and put your time and energy into the things that are most important.
Practice gratitude each day. Keep a journal and begin by writing down one thing you are grateful for each night before you go to sleep. Even in the worst of times you will be able to think of one thing to be thankful for–you just have to shift your mindset to a more positive focus.
Learn to find love in every situation. After you have developed a gratitude practice you will begin to notice that love is actually present everywhere, in everything that happens. Start focusing on the love and you will find it more and more frequently.
Allow love to fill you. You can become a channel for love to the rest of the world by simply letting love into your life in every possible way. Fill yourself with love so you can share it with others.
Life is an ongoing learning process! No lesson comes easily or without a certain amount of pain, but it’s worth it. If you begin conscious now and begin to live a life of love, then you will remain conscious when it becomes your time to die. You will continue to radiate beauty and joy to those around you–I’ve seen it happen over and over again!
Here are two books to help your learning process and your practice of death awareness:
This is a special episode on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and in recognition of the recent natural disasters, hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the wildfires that rage throughout the Western United States.
In this brief episode I share an essay I wrote on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that is still relevant today. Join me in sending prayers of light and love to all who have been affected by the tragedy of 9/11, by the recent natural disasters around the planet and by war and famine wherever they occur.
Blessings to all the first responders who risk their own lives to provide safety for others during times of tragedy.
My trip to Italy is just around the corner! Check out my travel plans on Pinterest or follow my journey on Instagram and Facebook! I’ll be doing research for a new book on grief – you can read my latest blogs (on grief and other subjects) at eoluniversityblog.com!
The following is an essay I wrote in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:
Where Was God On 9/11?
by Karen Wyatt MD
As we look back to that fateful September day a decade ago that changed our world forever, each of us is able to recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when the tragedy unfolded. Indelibly etched upon our souls is the memory of the Twin Towers crashing to the ground while we were experiencing within us the disintegration of the twin beliefs behind our quintessential American swagger, that this country is infallible and invincible.
In the days following that Tuesday morning, as I attended to my patients at an urgent care clinic in the resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado, nearly every visit focused in some way on the horrific scenes of 9/11. Many patients were visitors to our area, many were suffering with symptoms of anxiety and stress, and nearly all of them had some personal connection to the tragedy, whether through a friend, relative, co-worker or acquaintance.
During those visits the same questions seemed to arise over and over again, “Where was God on 9/11?” and “How could God let this happen to us?” A few people told stories they had heard of miraculous rescues that had taken place or of some fortunate individual who had dodged fate by missing the bus or calling in sick to work that day. Those few were able to see the hand of God in these miracles and felt their faith bolstered by them. But many of my patients were disheartened and lost in doubt as the God they had believed in and trusted had utterly failed them.
The destruction that took place on 9/11 was unprecedented in the history of our young nation, unlike the many developed civilizations of the world that have survived brutal and devastating wars, fires, plagues, invasions and attacks throughout their long existences. Our country, with youthful idealism, has been founded upon the principle of religious freedom and has, until 9/11, enjoyed the illusion of a special contract with God, declared in writing on even the currency we spend.
“In God we trusted,” is now the slogan that describes the attitude of the disillusioned. God let US down: the special ones who established a new country to ensure that God could be freely worshipped by all and who believed that God, in return, would favor us over every other society. But 9/11 proved to us that we’re not really special or favored at all. In fact we are subject to the same laws of nature and the universe and mankind that govern all of creation.
What we actually lost on 9/11 was our illusion of a god who would choose one group of children over another, who would control the unfolding of history to ensure that we would always get what we want, or who would magically empower one society to hold dominion over others. We lost our childish and immature notion that God would swoop down and shield us from harm because we somehow deserve protection more than any other society on the planet.
However the tragic events of 9/11 and the difficult decade that has followed can serve as an initiation of sorts, an opportunity for our society to awaken into a more mature relationship with God, the Creator of All. In this post-traumatic state of heightened awareness we can now relate to the suffering of all of mankind with less swagger and more sensitivity, less entitlement and more empathy. While we can still celebrate our freedom we will do so now with the solemn knowledge that the expression of true liberty requires responsibility toward others and the planet; we can no longer think or feel or act as if we matter more than everything else.
And so, the question remains, where was God on 9/11? God was … in every ash and cinder, in every teardrop, in every piece of twisted metal, in every broken heart, in every outstretched hand, in every final breath, in every lit candle, in every moment of stunned silence, in every desperate prayer, in every word of doubt and disbelief, in every shout of anger, in every act of bravery, in every cry of fear. On that day, as on every other day, God the Creator permeated everything, held the fragile strands of our existence and wove them gently into the unseen, yet perfect, tapestry of the Universe.
Remember that in the midst of tragedy we cannot see the tapestry that we are part of – we cannot perceive the design or the beauty into which our lives have been woven. Stay strong and know that you are surrounded by light and love!
In this episode I’ll share my own “supernatural” dreams that occurred while I was caring for hospice patients. It’s time to come forward and talk more openly about these experiences to help shed light on the dying process and the after-death realms.
Register now for “An Evening with Ira Byock MD” which will take place on Monday August 21st at 6 pm Pacific/9 pm Eastern. We will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of his groundbreaking book Dying Well. Dr. Byock and I will discuss the changes in palliative and hospice care that have taken place over the past 20 years and what changes still must occur to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to “die well.”
Click here to learn more and register (it’s free and you’ll receive the replay if you can’t attend live.) You’ll also receive the Dying Well Readers Discussion Guide – a very helpful resource for leading a book group or workshop on Dying Well.
This podcast is supported by generous donations to my page at Patreon.com/eolu. A HUGE “Thank you” goes out to my latest donor: Jane Duncan Rogers of BeforeIGoSolutions.com – a non-profit located in Scotland. And thanks as well to all of the other supporters who are chipping in a few $ per month to help keep the podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series on the air! Learn more or become a patron at Patreon.com/eolu.
I am currently planning an Autumn trip to Italy where I will be eating amazing food, viewing sacred sites, cycling, and researching a new book on grief. You can view my Pinterest board if you are interested in seeing all the locations on my “wish-list” for the trip. Feel free to make suggestions if you have a favorite spot in Italy that I shouldn’t miss! I’ll be sharing photos on Instagram and Facebook once the trip begins.
This week I attended a meeting at the IANDS 2017 Conference in Denver (International Association for Near Death Studies.) I sat together in a small circle with individuals from all around the country who have had near-death experiences and also with end-of-life caregivers who have had unusual “supernatural” experiences while working with the dying.
I was impressed by the courage of the group members who were willing to share their stories and risk being labelled as “flakey” or even crazy. And that’s what inspired me to record this podcast episode.
During my work with hospice patients on multiple occasions I experienced vivid dreams where I saw my patients in “soul form” (or a disembodied state) before they had actually died. These dreams brought me much comfort and also eased my fear of death. On some occasions I was able to share the dreams with family members who were comforted, as well, by the visions I had seen.
I have never shared these dreams publicly out of a fear of being ostracized by the medical profession. But the time for secrecy has long passed and we need transparency and truth in all matters surrounding death and dying. So I’m telling these stories in hopes that others might be inspired to talk openly about their experiences as well. If you have a story to tell but no one to share it with I hope you will email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and describe your experience – let’s support one another!
Tune in next week for another new episode. Until then remember ….
Next week I’ll be celebrating the 100th episode of this podcast! I’ll have a special guest on the show so stay tuned!
Upcoming events include:
Friday July 21st: Hospice Happy Hour Hangout for all of my supporters on Patreon.com/eolu
Sunday July 23rd: Virtual Death Cafe – 3 pm Pacific/6 pm Eastern (everyone welcome to join the conversation! Read more here.)
Tuesday August 8th isDying to Know Day and I’ll be hosting a Virtual Death Cafe at 5 pm Pacific/8 pm Eastern. (More information at eoluniversity.com)
“An Evening With Ira Byock MD” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking book Dying Well!
Monday August 21st
6 pm Pacific/9 pm Eastern
Registration information available soon. (Save the Date for now!)
Here are the benefits I’ve received from my daily spiritual practice of death contemplation:
Gratitude for every moment of life
Taking responsibility for my life
Looking within myself for answers
Finding joy in being alive
Being prepared for anything!
You can use the book The Tao of Death as a guide for a daily practice of death contemplation. Simply read one verse each day, spend some time thinking about what it means for you, then write in your companion journal (available for free download here) about the question that accompanies the verse. When you finish the book you will be well on your way to a daily death contemplation practice that you can continue for years.
I hope you find that his practice enriches your life as much as it has mine! Send me a message and let me know how it’s going for you (email email@example.com or Tweet me @spiritualmd.)
Find out how a psychiatrist is successfully helping veterans with unhealed trauma by using alternative practices.
In this episode I am featuring an interview from the Death & Afterlife Summit with Dr. Jeff Black, a psychiatrist who uses unconventional methods to successfully treat trauma in veterans. A few clips of this interview were featured in the Suicide Series and I wanted to share the entire interview with you.
As a follow-up to the Suicide SeriesI want to further address the issue of suicide in veterans: at this time 22 veterans take their own lives every day. This statistic is a heartbreaking tragedy and it’s time we work hard to help heal the emotional and spiritual burden that veterans bring home from war. Dr. Black and others describe the aftermath of trauma as “soul loss” and he uses shamanic rituals to help his patients recover the pieces of their souls that have been taken away by war.
In Episode 92 I performed a Fire Ceremony for my father to heal his wounds and to release my grief. This was recommended to me by Dr. Black and during the ceremony I felt the power of ritual to transform our losses into grace. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Jeff Black.
Tune in every Monday for a new episode! Until the next time …
You can help support this podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series by making a small monthly donation at www.Patreon.com/eolu. To thank you for your donation I’ll promote your end-of-life related website, business, or organization on this podcast. Thank you to all of our current patrons – you make this podcast possible!
SPIRITUAL CARE FOR NON-SPIRITUAL PATIENTS:
This episode was inspired by my recent attendance at the Accompanying the Dying Residential Retreat hosted by Deanna Cochran of Quality of Life Careand led by Kirsten DeLeo and Dr. Ann Allegre of the Spiritual Care Program. This retreat provided a deep dive into the task of providing spiritual care to our patients at the end of life and offered an amazing opportunity to explore our own depths of spiritual practice and presence.
In my work in hospice I have long thought about those patients who refuse all spiritual care because they are “not religious” or just not interested. But everyone has a spiritual aspect, whether or not they are aware of it or develop that part of themselves. And every dying patient is entitled to receive the presence and compassion of a spiritual care provider. But how can this care be offered without offending or intruding upon the patient’s own beliefs?
Theologian Paul Tillich has defined spirituality as one’s “ultimate concern” meaning that whatever really matters to a person at the very end of life is the expression of that person’s spiritual nature. So for some individuals the ultimate concern might be a religion or a particular practice, but for others it could be anything … even baseball.
In this episode I tell the story of a hospice patient whose “ultimate concern” was baseball and how we eventually recognized that instead of trying to get him to talk about the meaning of life or his regrets, we just needed to let him talk about baseball. Listening to his stories about his favorite team was the path that ultimately helped him heal some of old regrets and unfinished business.
This story illustrates the need for the following conditions whenever we provide spiritual care to a patient who doesn’t identify as having spiritual needs:
Listen. The importance of allowing the patient to talk about the topics of his or her choice cannot be over emphasized. Deep listening with a compassionate heart is essential for honoring the perspective of the patient.
Discover the “ultimate concern.” When patients are allowed to guide the conversation they will naturally reveal what really matters to them.
Honor the patient’s wisdom and experience. Listen with reverence as the patient talks about his or her values and priorities. Recognize what is sacred to the patient even if it seems ordinary to you.
Connect patients to their own feelings of peace and joy. The “ultimate concern” is usually the source of positive feelings and experiences for patients. Help them recall those moments of being connected with something greater by listening to stories or guiding them to re-imagine a previous happy occasion.
In the podcast you will hear how Warren’s story came to a close as an example of finding a path to healing by going through the ultimate concern of baseball. Enjoy listening!
Remember to tune in every Monday for a new episode. Until then: