Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge.
Today my guests are Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush. Ram Dass is an American spiritual teacher, former academic and clinical psychologist, and the author of the seminal spiritual book, Be Here Now. Born as Richard Alpert, he traveled to India in 1967, where he met his guru Neem Karoli Baba Maharaj-ji, which is when everything changed for him. Twenty years ago, Ram Dass had a massive stroke that left him with aphasia, and yet he still functions as a guiding teacher for millions of people along the spiritual journey.
Mirabai Bush is the founder and director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, and she was also one of the creators of the Search Inside Yourself program at Google.
With Sounds True, Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush have written a new beautiful book, called Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying. It explores what it means to live and die consciously, remembering who we really are, and illuminating the path that we all walk together.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Ram Dass and Mirabai and I talked about learning to release the fears we have about dying, and also our accumulated regrets. We talked about Ram Dass’s wishes for how his body is to be treated after his death, so that it becomes a teaching on dying.
We talked about what it means to identify with the soul for what Ram Dass calls “loving awareness.” And Mirabai Bush also led us in a body scan practice that’s specifically designed for releasing attachments and starting to know ourselves as loving awareness. And finally, we talked about how grieving can be a sign of our love, and how we need each other both to grieve, and to walk each other home. Here’s my conversation with Mirabai Bush and Ram Dass.
Now to begin, Mirabai, can you tell our listeners a bit about this collaboration between you and Ram Dass, and how the two of you decided to write, together, Walking Each Other Home?
Mirabai Bush: Sure. Well, Ram Dass and I have known each other since 1970, when we met in a meditation course with the Burmese teacher Goenka in Bodh Gaya, the first meditation course that was taught for Westerners. We met there, and we also then spent a year or two with Neem Karoli Baba, who Ram Dass has written about in Be Here Now. And then we came home at the same time, and over the years did many things together. We talked together often, and we wrote another book together called Compassion in Action during the time when we were founders, and then working with Seva Foundation for many years.
And so now, it’s another time. Twenty years ago, Ram Dass had a massive stroke, and although he’s recovered more than anyone ever dreamed he would, he does have aphasia, and so he can’t talk in that lucid, full-paragraph way that he did when he was younger. He can’t write the same kind of books that he wrote before. We wanted to put together Ram Dass’s wisdom on dying, because he’s 87 now, and many people who we know are in their 60s and 70s and 80s, and we thought it would be very good to put his teachings on dying together, so people would have them in one place.
And we started doing that, but what we realized was that there’s a way in which Ram Dass—although the words aren’t so different—there’s a way in which he knows these truths and holds them that is different from the way he wrote about them when he was younger. It’s almost all there in Be Here Now. It’s quite amazing. But he, of course, after a lifetime of experience, reflection, being with great teachers, and suffering, he knows a lot more about … He knows it in a different way, about what it means that we live and we die. It’s that “What’s the relationship between dying and loving?” and “How we can learn about this mystery?” which none of us … No one here on our planet has experienced in this body.
So we thought that since we’ve had many talks about these things together, and Ram Dass is realizing that it is easier for him now with aphasia to express what he knows in conversation, we decided we’d just do it together. And we decided that we would … We did it all in his room. We’d go to his room, and we’d kind of leave everything behind. We would just share with each other what it is we actually, really know—what we have been thinking about death and dying. [We’d] try not to say things that we’ve said before—although some of it, of course, we’ve said before—but just try, in that moment, to say what is it I really know, or think, or believe at this moment. And that’s what we did. And we did many meetings. I just took my little iPhone with me and turned on record, and then after that, I edited it and gave it some narrative flow.
TS: Mirabai, I’m curious how you were changed, if you were, by the process of having these dialogues with Ram Dass and writing the book.
MB: I definitely was. I guess I knew that would happen, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the depth of it. But of course what happened was, my own fears about death—my own preconceptions, my own misconceptions about the whole realm of living, dying, loving, being with those we love who are dying, and so on—in these talks, of course a lot of that rose up. The talks are really like meditations, and just like in meditation, as you’re inquiring into your mind, you see what you’re holding in there.
And I didn’t have that many regrets or real misconceptions. It was subtle, but there was stuff there. And I just let it kind of fall away. I just notice that now, it’s not like there’s anything I can say that I know that we didn’t know before. But I feel much easier with the idea of my own dying and the death of loved ones. I feel like I can hold it with more ease than I did before.
TS: Now you mentioned something interesting: regrets. How did the process of working with Ram Dass and creating Walking Each Other Home help you release regrets that you might have had?
MB: I think that just being together, and just renewing each time the importance of letting go ideas, desires—wishing it had been different, wishing there were things in my life I had done differently, when in fact, there’s nothing I can do about it now—and instead, just accepting that’s the way it happened, that we were doing our best at the moment. Although if we were to do the same thing now, we might do it differently.
Just the process of accepting it, because in fact, we can’t change it. And by doing that, being able to—I’m about to say “be here now”—more fully, and more honestly than before. I asked Ram Dass if he had any regrets, and I thought that he’d say, “Oh no, I don’t have regrets,” because he’s always telling people, “Let go of regrets.” But the first thing he said was, “I regret that it’s going to make people who love me sad when I die.”
And he very rarely acknowledges the importance in the depth of that kind of emotion. He’d be more likely, usually, to say, “There’s no reason to be sad.” But he said that; it was really touching. Then he said, “And I think I regret that I won’t any longer be a vehicle for Maharaj-ji’s teachings,” … Neem Karoli Baba’s teachings. And that touched me, also.
TS: In the very beginning of the book, you write the following sentence that Ram Dass communicated to you, that: “With this book, I want to help readers get rid of their fear of death, so they can be identified with their spiritual selves, and be ready to die.” And you could say really, the whole first section of the book is about this coming close to whatever fears we might have about dying—knowing those fears, and releasing them—learning to release them.
As I was reading, I was going through my own contemplation. How afraid of death am I, really? I don’t even know if I know. How, Mirabai, do you think someone even knows how afraid are we really, and how do we get closer to that fear?
MB: It is because death is medically considered a failure, and in general, in the culture, is still really hidden and considered in some ways a failure of the life force. And we don’t talk about it very much; we don’t have vehicles for doing that, although some are coming up. But just as I tell you about writing the book, people have also told me, then, in reading the book … It brings it up. Then you look and say, “Am I? Am I afraid of dying?” I think, in various ways, we all have fears about that. And I think it’s partly because we haven’t had the forum to investigate those fears.
But you know that always, with any attachment, in seeing it you’re halfway there, to letting go of it. So Ram Dass talks about bringing the fears close, coming in close to them, and just investigating them and looking at it. Why am I afraid of death? Everybody dies; I’m going to die, too. That fear of death kind of conditions and colors the way we are in our lives, and if I could let go of that, I could be more present and more loving.
We talked a lot about the relationship of fear and love. And I think we all know this from just—not even from unconditional love experiences—but just conditional love. Inasmuch as you’re afraid of another person, there’s not much space for love. And inasmuch as you can fully be there and loving toward another person, fear is irrelevant in that moment. So yeah, it’s important, and we give a lot of time to it. And also, Ram Dass is more … I’ve done some, but he’s done a lot of sitting with people who are dying, and that is one of the ways that we learn about dying. We don’t have many ways to learn about this mystery.
Being with someone who’s dying, partly what happens is, as you’re sitting there, your own fears and your own ideas about it all start arising. And you see them, and then can let go of them.
TS: I want to bring Ram Dass into our conversation, Mirabai. You and I had a previous conversation where I had the chance to ask Ram Dass a few questions. And one of the things I asked him about was sitting at the bedside of people who are dying.
MB: Oh, good.
TS: And he talks about this idea of being a loving rock. So we’re going to hear Ram Dass talking about this in just a moment. But to prepare our listeners, you mentioned that Ram Dass has aphasia since the stroke that he had two decades ago. So his intellectual functioning has not changed. It’s simply the articulation.
MB: That’s right. It doesn’t affect the brain, but—I mean the part of the brain that intellectually functions—but it makes it hard to express it. In the book, Ram Dass talks about how he sometimes thinks of his vocabulary as a clothes closet. He gets the idea in his mind, and then he goes in there to look for the best outfit, for the idea, and sometimes it takes quite a while.
TS: Okay. Let’s listen to Ram Dass talking about how one of the best ways to prepare to die is to companion people through the dying process.
Ram Dass: The loving rock: you love yourself, you love the person who is dying, and you don’t fear. That will be the loving rock. You don’t ever have a model of dying when you’re bedside.
TS: So this metaphor, a loving rock, it’s so beautiful. Tell us more about that.
MB: I know. I love it, too. It’s so that the person who’s dying can just lean into you. And you’re there, steady, not questioning the rightness of the dying, not trying to keep the person alive. Just being there for them, not trying to introduce your idea of what happens after death, unless of course the person asks you. But just being there, being in the moment, expecting nothing, being ready for anything.
So that there’s a kind presence, and that presence should feel accompanied by, as they go through whatever stages they need to go through. And Ram Dass recommends looking as much as you can, before sitting with the person, to look at and let go of your own fears, or your own need to want to try to keep that person alive because you love them, or whatever else would keep you from just simply being there … a loving presence for them to feel secure with.
TS: I thought it was interesting that he said, “You don’t bring a model” to the situation. Because I think sometimes people think, “I don’t know if I can sit with this dying person, because I’m not sure what’s happening. I don’t have competence in what’s happening.” But in fact you don’t need to know that …
TS: … this is what the afterlife will or won’t be like.
MB: Yes. And this is assuming that there are people taking care of the physical plane stuff: the medical things, and the pain management, and so on. This is you as the friend sitting there, just being present.
TS: You have some guidelines for being a loving rock for the dying in the book. I’m just going to read some of them. I really like them. “Don’t talk about the afterlife unless you’re asked.” I think that was probably my favorite. Then, “Your offered gentle, light touch communicates love.” I thought that was very beautiful. “Let go of your own fears.” “Have confidence in the dying process. Trust in the unfolding.” “Don’t lose your sense of humor. Be yourself.” I think that’s really key, too. Be yourself. I think there’s this idea, “I don’t want to be inappropriate, so I’m not going to be myself.”
Tell me more about that. And Mirabai, maybe share some of your own experiences of companioning people through dying and what you learned about being a loving rock from that.
MB: Well, I was with my oldest sister when she was dying. She died of liver cancer, and she also had dementia. She had many regrets, and she couldn’t rationally let them go because she had dementia. So she would say things like, “I wasn’t a good mother.” And she had had three children and brought them up and she had been a good mother. And there must have been in her, of course anyone who’s mothered a child … There were some thoughts that she could have done better. But she couldn’t control that then, so we would just say, “You were a wonderful mother. You have wonderful children, and they’re happy, and they’re this and that.” And then we sometimes just encouraged her to relax into her pillow, and just imagine herself floating as if in a blue sky, as if she were a cloud in a blue sky.
Maybe that doesn’t go together, clouds and blue sky, but that’s what we said. And “Just relax and know that you’re loved, and know that your children love you, and that we love you, and that you are loved. It’s all completely safe, and everything is happening just as it should.” We’d say some of that, and then just be there with her. And she would, little by little, just … I could see her sinking into the pillow. And sometimes a little half-smile came across her face.
That was a little more verbal than sometimes the loving rock is, but it was basically being there, and just letting her know that everything was fine. And really, it all comes down to love.
TS: Now one of the interesting things I learned when I was reading Walking Each Other Home is that Ram Dass has some plans for his own after-death experience, in terms of what will happen to his body. I’d never heard this before reading the book. Tell our listeners what Ram Dass has planned.
MB: This was something that was a little hard for me to go through, and for him, too. He thought he was cool, but all that he went through, he moved closer to acceptance by going through it. And you know, everyone, when it gets closer—even when it’s not so close—should go through these decisions.
So we asked him where he wanted to die: in his bed. Who he wanted to be with him close to the time: he wanted beloved friends, but as it got really close, he wanted to be alone with a picture of Maharaj-ji, and so on. And where he wanted his ashes to go: to Hanuman Temple in Taos, and some to go into the ocean in Maui. Well, first we asked if he wanted to be buried or cremated, and he said cremated. He has a friend in Maui, who has a green burial cremation center. So he wanted to have Bodhi, his friend, take care of all of that. So we kind of knew that ahead of time, and so hearing it, just saying it out loud, was just … We had to accept it at another level. But we still kind of knew.
Then I went away, and I came back a month later for our next conversations. And Ram Dass said, “You know, we tried to get a permit for a glass window in the crematorium, so that people can watch the dead person being burned, cremated.” And Ram Dass likes this idea because, in India, people are burned on open fires and it is, of course, a practice to watch this person you love being burned and just dissolving into ash.
You have to keep giving up, and acknowledging that this person really is no longer here in the body, and so on. So he liked this idea of a window, looking in on the crematorium. But he said, “We couldn’t get a permit for that, but,” he said, “the health department in Maui gave us a permit for outdoor cremation on an open fire.” There’s only one other state in the country that does that; it’s Colorado. And in fact, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was cremated that way. But Ram Dass said, “So we’re going to do it here, and I’m going to be the first one.”
And I have to say, in that moment, I just thought that I was ready for it all. But the idea of standing there while Ram Dass was burning in an open fire was really difficult. I said, “No, Ram Dass, don’t make us do that.” He said, “No, it’ll be very good. It’ll be spiritual practice.” I went, “You bet it will be.” It will be a fierce practice. But that’s what he wants.
TS: Again, let’s go to Ram Dass, and hear his comments about this.
RD: In the East, this is something … Death is so evident in life. I mean, from the person’s home to these burning ghats, they put the body on a rickshaw. We are black cars only, and our culture hides death. And in the East, they don’t hide death. The grandmothers, the grandfathers are part of the family. The children, they can … We can’t watch anything about death. And now, I want it to be the East infiltrating the West in the fire ceremony. I sat in many funeral [inaudible 00:30:16] in India, and I saw that this is good for my sadhana.
My open-air burning is … I’m inviting all the people around me to be at the fire, so they can watch the burning of the body. And it’s really for them; it’s not for me. It’s a teaching method. In my classes in California in the past decade, I used to have my class go into the rooms for the medical school … for cutting up the bodies. And all of this is the transition from body and psychology to soul.
TS: Wow. So Ram Dass really wants his funeral to be a teaching for people. Yet the teacher is still teaching. An open-air funeral in Maui. There could be thousands of people there, Mirabai, at an open-air funeral. Wow.
MB: It will be in Hawaii, so that will limit, to some extent, the people who can get there.
TS: Now what do you think would be required for death to come out of the closet, so to speak? I mean, here’s Ram Dass talking about how, instead of in an open rickshaw, we’re in a black hearse. And we know that we hide death in our culture; we medicalize it, and we cover it cosmetically. What would be the kind of cultural changes that would be required for us to be more open about dying and the dying process?
MB: Well, some good things are happening already there. Groups that get together around having tea together, just to talk about death. And I think it really needs to be a shift in, really, acceptance, in education, really, from early on, from children on. Just last year, our beloved dog died. And my granddaughter and children of other friends all came over, and we had a little funeral for the dog. It was beautiful. They put flowers, they wrote a little song and they sang it, they put flowers on her, and we buried her. But they asked a lot of questions about, “Where did she go?” And we had a really wonderful talk with them all about what it means to die.
They were different ages, so they could absorb it at different levels. But I can see that we need to start early, just so that we begin accepting that it’s just a natural part of life, instead of this dreaded thing that happens at the end that we don’t want to think about. I remember when my mother was dying—this was about twenty-some years ago, but … She had cancer, too. But she and her friends wouldn’t even say the word “cancer.” They called it the C-word, because then, and often now, it meant that you were going to die. And they wouldn’t say the word. I guess you could say it was a form of superstition—that by saying it, it would bring it on.
So it’s complicated. We have lots of biases against welcoming death into our conversations and into our education. But I think that there could be a lot we could do to make it more a part of what we know this life journey to be about, so that the endings are more graceful. As you know, from the beginning of the hospice movement, and to the really kind of awakened trainings that are going on now—the Metta Institute that Frank Ostaseski runs in the San Francisco area, and there are a number of others, too.
People are really learning how to be with the dying in a different way. So I think that we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot to do.
TS: Okay. Now I have a question for you that’s, I don’t know, a little challenging, in a way. In terms of Eastern views and incorporating them into our approach towards death, when it comes to having death out in the open, I fully get it. That makes sense to me. But there’s this idea that the moment of death—this is a traditional Eastern spiritual view—will actually determine your next incarnation. That what happens, what’s in your consciousness, whatever is going on at the moment of death … This is so, so, so, so important. This is why we train in dying well, because this will determine your next birth. And I noticed I had this question of like, “Really? Is that really true?”
I mean, you have a whole life where you have so many decisions to make about being an honorable person, and a generous person, and let’s say at the moment of your death, you’re just not having a good moment. Is that really going to be so important that it wipes away all these other good acts?
MB: Well, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s just … They do talk about the moment of death, but I think it’s who you are at that moment when you die. In the understanding of karma and multiple births, that who you are when you die will determine what karma you have to work off in your next lifetime. You know, even the … I grew up Catholic, and in Catholicism that last moment is really important, also. I remember that they would say that … you know the priest comes, and he gives what’s called the last rites, and if you’ve done anything … This is related to regrets. But if you’ve sinned in your life you can, in that last moment, confess it and he can absolve you of those sins. So that you are now going into heaven rather than hell.
I don’t know which of these understandings is the closest to the truth, but many traditions have this focus on these last moments before you die. Though I think just to prepare as well as possible, and then in those last moments try to be as loving and peaceful and open as possible so that you can pass into the next stage, whatever that is, in a peaceful way.
TS: Why do you think those last moments are so important? What’s your own, sort of, guess at that?
MB: You know, I used to think … In Catholicism, it was an appreciation of a human life, that even into the last moments of your life, you can still turn it around. If you express sorrow or forgiveness or whatever, even then, you can still let go of things that you’re holding. And even it seems to be, in the Tibetan tradition, they’re very focused. And Hinduism also, they’re very focused on that end. I don’t know everything, but I think in some way, it is a real honoring of the human condition that even in the last moments, you still have this incredible power to renew by seeing the truth and letting go of whatever you were holding on to.
TS: Now you said, Mirabai, that what matters is who you are. And that reminded me of this section of the book that I found surprising and interesting. You and Ram Dass were working on the writing of the book together, and some friends of yours came to visit from Silicon Valley. And they asked Ram Dass this question: “If you had unlimited resources, Ram Dass, what would you do to make the world a better place?” And I thought, “Oh, great. I love these ambitious entrepreneurs … unlimited resources … what would you do to make the world … great question. I can’t wait to hear Ram Dass’s answer.”
And then you write, “I expected that Ram Dass would talk about experiences with the Seva Foundation, but he doesn’t.” And what Ram Dass actually says: “I’d keep just enough for myself and my family and my obligations and, you know, for old age. And then, I’d give away the rest. Then I’d use the time I had for sadhana, for spiritual practice. Whatever you do, who you are is what will make the difference. Learn to identify with your soul.” I thought that was very beautiful.
MB: I think so too, just listening to you read it. Because he was making an extreme statement, and I don’t think they will give it all away, but he really was trying to make that final part of the statement resonate. Who you are is what you have to offer other people.
TS: Now in terms of identifying with the soul, we’re going to listen to another piece here from Ram Dass that speaks a bit about that.
RD: You shouldn’t fear death. Identify with your soul; the soul doesn’t fear death. So in other words, your identification with ego is transferred into the soul. And this can be done by sadhana. That’s why, when you’re bedside, the dying person looks backwards into their incarnation, and then looks frontwards into spiritual life. You can get their eyes or their expression, and you want to be with them as this is transformation … transformation of ego to soul. And so the ego part: “Doctor, Doctor … save me, save me.” Now let’s put up pictures of the family on the wall, and that’s the backwards thing.
Then the second half: “Wow. Ooh, yeah.” That looks a certain way. And you want to be able to be there for that second part. So you can, in your sadhana, identify with your soul.
TS: Help me understand Mirabai, when Ram Dass says, “identify with your soul.” I think some people maybe think they know what that means, and they might think many different things if they talk to the other people who heard, “Identify with your soul.” They’d all have a different answer to that. So what does that mean to you, to identify with your soul?
MB: I think it’s about identifying with awareness. The awareness, you know when you’re sitting in meditation, and you’re noticing everything that’s arising—thoughts, emotions, sensations in the body, your idea of who you are in this body, in this lifetime. There is behind all that, or wrapped around all that, or apart from all that, an awareness that is not attached to the ego, to the body. It’s just aware of what’s happening. And that is—well, I don’t know if it’s the same—but that’s the aspect or part of you that does not die, that keeps on going.
And if you can rest in that, he would say “loving awareness,” and just know that the rest of it’s conditional, that will help you when you’re dying, because that’s the part that’s going to continue. So in the time before you die, to become familiar with that. Become familiar with resting in awareness. So that when you see your body start going, and you see everything about yourself going … And when he was saying about the pictures of the family, he said “backwards.” I think what he really meant was that’s the past. That’s been the life that you’ve led. But now is the time, when you’re dying, to let go of that and to move into the reality of simply being loving awareness. That help?
TS: Yes, a lot. You know, after I read Walking Each Other Home, I started looking in my life, at all the ways that I’m experiencing something that feels like dying. Almost every day, something—some big change that’s happening, some letting go that I need to do, something that I’m over-invested in that wants to flow through. And I wonder if you can talk some about that, about how we can actually, in our day-to-day life, start examining our resistance to the everyday dying that we’re invited to.
MB: Yes. Well, I sense you’ve said it eloquently—seeing the places where we’re holding on that aren’t wholesome and helpful for us, and letting those go. And of course, doing whatever contemplative practice that each person does. And there are so many of them. But they are designed to help you see the places where you are holding on to ideas, thoughts, people, material stuff. And being able to let it go when it’s not helping you move toward the truth of your life, and the ability to be fully present, the ability to be really fully loving.
Those desires and attachments we have keep us from, often, from being loving, and being there for the people in our life who are important to us, and the work that we need to do in this life. So all of that, those are the little deaths every day. And if we consciously see those as preparation for the big letting-go, I think it’s going to really help.
TS: Now in the book, you refer to a body scan practice for releasing attachments. And I wondered if we could do that practice together. If you could actually lead us in it right now, in real time, as a way, in some ways to bring our whole conversation together, and give our listeners the experience of releasing attachments. Can we do it, Mirabai?
MB: Sure, sure.
MB: So I encourage anyone listening to this to either sit in your chair, or cross-legged, however you are comfortable, or lie down on the floor. This is a practice of scanning your body. And in each case, we’re going to be noticing and letting go. So you can begin.
We’re going to go through the senses. Let’s begin with your eyes closed, I would recommend, although a soft gaze is also fine. Bringing your attention to your eyes, and then silently thinking or saying, “I am not these eyes and what they see. I am loving awareness.” You’re settling into spacious awareness.
“I am not these ears and what they hear. I am loving awareness.” Breathing in and out, and just being.
“I am not this mouth, and what it tastes. I am loving awareness.”
“I am not these hands, and what they touch and feel. I am loving awareness.”
“I am not this nose and what it smells. I am loving awareness.”
Now, noticing in your mind any thoughts that are arising, judgements, memories … “I am not these thoughts. I am loving awareness.”
“I am not these memories. I am loving awareness.”
And then, sensing your whole body, feeling your body from within your body … Enter your whole body, and then just, “I am not this body. I am not this body I have been living in. I am loving awareness.” And just breathing, feeling warm, loving, rest … letting go of everything but resting in awareness.
And then when it feels right, opening your eyes and coming back into the room.
TS: Thank you, Mirabai. Just two final things I want to touch on. One is that, probably the most moving section of the book was the section on grieving, for me. And I think there’s no way to talk about death and dying, in the way we’re talking about it, and letting go of our attachments to the people that we love, and the experiences that we’ve had, without embracing grieving.
You have a quote from the book: “Grieving is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. It takes courage to go through it.” And I think, just like death is becoming more a part of our conversation in the culture, I think we’re starting to view grieving differently, as well. I feel so relieved about that, that it’s okay to be grieving. That grieving can be seen as a sign of our love.
And I’d love for you to talk a little bit about this section of the book, and really, you and Ram Dass grieving together, people from the spiritual community that you’re a part of, who have had major losses, and the kind of support you’ve given each other.
MB: I think, as you said, that the support to just let … Grieving is different for every single person. And it has its own time. We need the support of people who love us to get us through it. And because, often, given the nature of our achieving culture, there is an encouragement to get over it. You’re just self-indulgent by continuing to grieve.
People get impatient, I think partly because they don’t quite know what to do with another person’s suffering. And so they want the grieving person to be finished with it. And as you were speaking, I remembered a time I was teaching a retreat for lawyers and judges, and it was back in 2001 or 2002. And one of the lawyers there said—it was a three or four day silent retreat. We did a lot of practice. And at the end, she started crying, and she said, “You know, I work in a big private law firm, and my brother was killed in 9/11. He was in one of the towers. And I have never told anybody in my office that that happened.”
And she just went right back to work. Because she felt, whether it was true or not, she felt that they wouldn’t honor a period of grieving. And that seems like an extreme example, but there is that kind of strain in the culture. So I think first, allowing ourselves and our friends to go through it in whatever way they need to go through it. Give them support. It’s really being a loving rock again—giving support to others, and just giving love, because people go through it in many different ways, and it’s really hard.
TS: Which brings me to the final question, which is about this gorgeous title, Walking Each Other Home. The title itself just goes right to the heart. Conversations on Loving and Dying. How did that title come about?
MB: You know, I know how we came about it, because Ram Dass has been saying this for a long time. I don’t know where it came from in him originally, but for a long time, he’s been saying that, even when he wasn’t talking specifically about dying. It was just, “What are we doing here?” We’re walking each other home. It evokes the importance of relationship and love and community, and satsang or sangha or fellowship. And so he’s been saying it for a long time, but then when we poked around about a title for this book, it just arose one day.
“Let’s use it. You’ve said it so many times. Let’s use it for the title.” I mean, we went through lots of other titles, but they were all a little grim. This one seemed to evoke what we really want to say about dying.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Mirabai Bush, along with Ram Dass. They have written a gorgeous new book, called Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying. Mirabai, thank you so much. The book is bound to break open hearts in a loving explosion.
MB: Speaking of being bound, I want to say that Sounds True did such a beautiful job producing the book. And the illustrations are so lovely. But I think it really makes the whole subject of dying easier to be with, because the book is so beautiful. Thank you.
TS: All the stars aligned when it came to the creation of this book. I think I mentioned to you that, as I was reading it, my partner walked into the room. And, you know, I hugged her and I kissed her, and she’s like, “Whatever you’re reading, just please keep reading that. Just keep reading that book.” Thank you so much.
MB: Thank you, Tami. Love to you.
TS: SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world. Thanks for listening.