February 22 (2/22/22)-March 2, 2022
“Good for him.” -Ti
Please don’t read this blog if you are uncomfortable with the fact of death. Seriously. What follows is not meant to be “touchy-feely” or “feel good” kind of stuff. Just real and in some cases, brutally frank and aiming at being helpful. Don’t read it if you don’t want to read it. Seriously.
OK. Now the disclaimer is out of the way. If you are still reading, I assume you are up for it.
Backstory: In my last blog, I wrote:
My wife Nikki told me the news the day he (Thich Nhat Hanh) died, knowing that he was a special teacher in my life. I said, “Good for him,” which is my standard response when I get the news that someone died.
That’s my internal response—almost always—but will only come out as words when appropriate. More on that probably in the next or later blog. And it is good for him; he lived a long, productive and deep life; living true to himself from a very young age and realizing the deepest part of “himself,” or “the highest Truths of Life” in that time. He shared himself fully and inspired many people to “be mindful,” to look deeply, to transform painful inner experiences before they could come out and harm others. His teachings were simple but no less profound. The world is a better place because he had been on it. Is there anything more we could hope from our life?
The woman who helps me with editing these blogs said she liked that one and would love to hear more about my “practice of saying, ‘Good for him/her’ when someone transitions.” It had been on my mind to write about death for some time even before she said that, but she was my motivation, and I was doubly inspired by a morning class on 2/22/22 which had some conversation around death.
First, I would not say that it is my “practice” of saying that. It’s more of a spontaneous uprising. It started many years ago as just a spontaneous response to the news of someone’s death. In the years since, though, it’s become my standard response when Nikki tells me someone died—she generally finds out before I do since she’s more connected to the news of the world than I am. It feels like a spontaneous thing, not something I say just because “that’s what I say.” It means something to me.
My helper had also told me after her request for more information on this topic, “A friend’s brother passed yesterday while she sat by his bedside in hospice. She was sobbing and I couldn’t imagine saying that to her (or anyone who loses a family member or friend).” It’s important to know that I only use that statement with Nikki or with others who will be able to hear it and understand, which you can easily imagine, are very few.
In many cases, to say it to a “normal” grieving human would simply exhibit a lack of compassion. In almost any human interaction, it’s important to know your audience. (Writing a blog, I don’t know my audience! Hence the disclaimer at the beginning.)
In reflecting on this statement and knowing that its audience is extremely limited (usually just Nikki), part of the statement’s purpose for me is to flip the usual way of viewing death in our culture. As a society, we largely view death as a failure and as a tragedy instead of—more intelligently and actually more compassionately—as a completely expected and natural part of life. Or, as a wonderfully liberating “changing of clothes” for a soul whose body was—in most cases—suffering, maybe even tortured. We, the “left behind,” only get to experience our own suffering, the expected and completely natural result of our own attachment, and thus we often forget, or miss out on, a potential cause of celebration. We are, after all, in the world of duality, and nothing is all tragic or all good.
“Good for him or her.” That suffering soul is now liberated and off to the next thing according to the teachings I have received and that seem most plausible to me. Those teachings have come first and foremost from people who talk about and who I believe actually have the vision to see beyond the veil of this life.
This teaching also came from a dear brother on the Path who nearly died seven times and did in fact flatline once in his current body(!), and he says it’s wonderful. He does, though, admit that “for a smallish minority, [near death and death experiences] are decidedly unpleasant.” (I want to know what all those people have in common. Maybe they are the ones who think that death is the end?) These teachings have also been corroborated by Western science researchers into such things.
Our culture obviously has primarily unhelpful ways of viewing and dealing with death. Among other obvious things, you’re allowed to grieve only for a short time and then you should be over it when, in reality, I would expect healthy grieving, depending on the case, can take years! Also, part of the dominant cultural belief is that the deceased, or the medical system, or both, failed. Meaning death itself is a failure! It’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous thought.
Many also believe that this shouldn’t have happened, when obviously it should have happened—because it did. In my understanding, if it’s “your time,” it’s your time and there’s no getting out of it. As the Buddha said, “The time of death is unpredictable.” But the fact of death is very predictable! Its cause is birth, plain and simple, according to the Yogic scriptures. It would be a different world if on the death certificate, it said, “Cause of death: Birth.” (And then the Yogis would add, “Cause of Birth: Death.”)
Our common view is also that it’s a sad occurrence, which it might be if it weren’t so expected and predictable. It’s sad for us, the left behind, and that’s OK. That pain is fine and completely natural too, but the event of death, I’ll argue is not sad except in very few exceptional cases, which do happen and which I’ll write more about below.
We feel sad, but the event is not sad. The event has many possible perspectives on it, and in and of itself, it’s just an event in Life. It’s more empowering to own our sadness than to project it onto this natural event. Any negative projection on our part will no doubt reach and negatively affect the deceased, possibly by binding them more strongly to this plane of existence, as some of my teachers have said. Better to just send the departed our love and keep our grief to ourselves.
According to Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, the last of the five kleshas, or afflictions, that we have as human beings is “abhinivesha,” (pronounced “uh-beaney-vesha”) fear of death. Aren’t we afflicted (meaning “pained,” “suffering,” “distressed”) by fear of death? Even if we have done our work and aren’t afraid of death, this klesha is hard-wired in there, as you can see if, for example, a car is seen suddenly speeding directly toward you.
“Good for her/him” is also to help me loosen that affliction. Yes, of course, fight for your life if you are facing some health challenge and that is what your heart is directing you to do, but this klesha, this affliction, will obviously make clearly hearing the directive of the heart more difficult.
Over the many years that “good for her/him” has been “my thing,” one notable time that I did not say it was when a very good friend—the first one I made after moving here in 1995—killed himself a few years back. He was a spiritual seeker, musician and healer who had developed a lot of inner skills and strength over many years. He had also made a large community around him that loved him. He had chosen not to use either of these resources, and in his case, I said, “That’s too bad.”
I still pray for him when I remember him, since the teachings on what happens after suicide are that the difficulties don’t actually magically disappear with the physical death and very likely worsen. So if you are ever feeling suicidal, reach out to someone. There are also suicide hotlines with trained people on the other end. I care and I’m sure many others do, too.
There have also been what I would call “tragic” stories: new mom’s dying, or dad’s dying right before or after the baby is born, school shootings or any deaths by violent crime or war, for example. The deaths of young babies or children is also sometimes hard to receive or integrate and may seem “tragic,” but the teachings I’ve received about these occurrences are that that short amount of time is all that soul needed in a body to attain enlightenment.
Whether it’s “true” or not doesn’t really matter. Any thoughts or stories we tell ourselves about death aren’t necessarily any more “true” just because they are more painful. In this case, it can only send the most positive thoughts and vibrations to that soul wherever they are.
Some thoughts are more painful than others, as we know, though not necessarily more true than other less painful ones. We seem to want to gravitate toward and cling to the more painful thoughts, especially around death, convincing ourselves that they are more “right,” or “true.” The truth is simply that we are in pain. Period. Any story we add onto that is coming from that pain and will probably only increase and deepen it.
Still, death is natural and, for the one leaving—probably even in these “tragic” deaths—it’s “good for them.” I wouldn’t necessarily choose to say that or think it as much as simply sending compassion and love to all concerned, the deceased and the living. For the ones left behind, these scenarios are much harder to deal with than in more natural death circumstances, either being more mentally and emotionally painful or more challenging on the worldly-demands level.
To summarize (in advance of “Part Two” in the next blog), if the statement or any of the above resonates with you, or you feel interested to just “try it out” sometime, please do. Generally, you’ll keep it to yourself unless you are with someone you know and who will understand or feel it is helpful. The statement is really for you, if you use it, to help you maintain a more clear, peaceful, positive and accurate state of mind around the concept of death.