by Lily Iona MacKenzie
I’ve been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, intrigued with a section on meditation that seems important to me just now: The art of dying begins with preparation for death. As for any journey, there are innumerable preparations one can make. Known in Tibet as The Book of Natural Liberation, the book suggests at least five main types of preparation while still living: informational, imaginational, ethical, meditational, and intellectual. (52)
I think my interest in taking up a more focused spiritual practice again is to experience some of these things listed as preparations for death and the wisdom texts can help with that need. I don’t want to be like the ostrich with its head in the sand; I believe in preparing for life’s various stages, being knowledgeable, being ready.
Meditation as an active practice attracts me again. I did it daily for many years when I was living alone before my husband and I met. The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a good section that gives an overview of the various meditations one can do, from the basic calming meditation of one-pointed attention, to using ordinary daily activities as opportunities for contemplation: This involves using sleep as a time for practice.
As the authors say, “You can convert the process of falling asleep into a rehearsal of the death dissolutions, imagining yourself as sinking away from ordinary waking consciousness down through the eight stages into deep-sleep clear-light transparency. And you can convert the dream state into a practice of the between-state, priming yourself to recognize yourself as dreaming when in the dream…. It is very important, for if you can become self-aware in the dream state by the practice of lucid dreaming, you have a much better chance of recognizing your situation in the between after death.” (57)
I have had numerous lucid dreams over the years, but I hadn’t thought of them as vehicles for preparing for death! I feel I’ve had fewer since I’ve stopped practicing meditation regularly, as I did for so many years when I lived alone. It’s harder to make time for it in a relationship and while raising a family if your partner isn’t interested. Now that my husband’s son and daughter from a previous marriage are no longer living with us, I can pursue this practice again.
I’m using OM MANI PADME HUM as a meditation, especially when I awaken in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. I found it in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I like the idea that it evokes a universal good in all things, which can prevail even in times of misfortune. Of course, you need to believe that there is a universal good in all things for this mantra to be effective. I want to believe that.
Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, essays, and memoir in over 145 venues. Fling, one of her novels, will be published in July 2015 by Pen-L Publishing. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2016. Her poetry collection, All This, was published in 2011. She teaches writing at the University of San Francisco.