His liver collapsed in May or June of last year, out of the blue. He was acutely ill for about two months. He stabilized but never recovered. He was not in pain but as the toxins built up in his body, he grew weaker and weaker. The bilirubin caused his skin to itch. Nothing relieved the itching which only grew worse as the days and weeks passed. He died three months ago, on February 22.
My brother meditated for thirty years, every day or almost every day, an hour in the morning, an hour at night. One time, when I was visiting him, about two months before he died, I tried to get him to meditate because I thought it would help stabilize his mind, help him to accept what was happening to his body. My gentle pressure--just five minutes, Rick--caused him so much distress--I can't, he said, I can't--he was almost whimpering--that I never asked again.
Later he he said, "an advanced student would be able to meditate through this. I guess I'm not an advanced student."
But those years on the cushion were not wasted. Rick was frequently sweet. He smiled a lot. He was grateful for every small kindness. And when his grief, anger and disappointed overwhelmed him and came flooding out, he self-corrected quickly, found his balance.
Death comes to us all. It does not care about your plans or aspirations. It is a violent, often painful disruption of bodily integrity, of familial, and social bonds. It can be resisted, never defeated. And nothing can help you except a steadfast spiritual practice. Not your good diet, exercise, hard work, success, family or friends. Only practice. So pick a practice and never stop. And if you find that you have lapsed, start again, and vow to never stop.
Abbot, Tallgrass Zen Center
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