I woke with a start. It was dark in the middle of the night and I was struggling to breathe. My chest was heavy and I had to consciously pull in each breath. It was like an elephant just sat on my chest. “This is it,” I thought, “I’m having a massive heart attack. I’m about to die.” There was complete silence in my head, conditioning had absolutely nothing to say. Odd, because it’s always yammering in the background.
“Well, if I’m about to die, I’m going to be present until the last breath.” Sucking in air, I lay there enjoying each inhalation. My chest seemed to collapse with each exhalation. Breathing was exhausting. All I felt was joy for each breath because I thought it would be my last. There was no pain, only an intense feeling of love, well-being and acceptance. This life was about to be complete. There was no regret or grasping at “would have, should have, or could have.” There was just peace.
After some time it occurred to me that, despite the pressure on my chest, I did not seem to be actively dying. “Maybe this is not the end,” I thought. “Perhaps I can reach the phone and dial 911.” I reached out with my right hand blindly groping in the dark trying to reach the phone. When I shifted to the side, I heard an angry, “Meow!” and my black cat, Max, jumped off my chest and landed with a thud on the floor. With Max off my chest, I could breathe with ease.
I sat up and laughed at my bodhisattva cat. Life had just given me a preview of dying and I was profoundly grateful. I recorded and listened about the experience. My biggest fear was conditioning would hound me to my last breath. It didn’t happen. Ego has even said that it will be with me until the end, pointing out all my mistakes. This is the dreaded “life flashing before your eyes” as you die. It is the experience of conditioning critically reviewing life.
Ego lied. Instead, I practiced and was present for what I thought was my last breath. I never anticipated the feeling of peace, acceptance and gratitude. The experience took the fear out of dying for me. For that I am profoundly grateful to life and my cat, Max.
Life is so helpful. That practice death happened about four years ago and I had all but forgotten the experience. I revisited it recently when my recordings from that night randomly played on my R/L shuffle when I was fretting about death of my loved ones and indirectly about my own death. It was just what I needed to remember. Life kindly played this recording for this moment.
My parents are getting older. Mom is declining due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Death is not an abstract thought but a pending reality for me and my family. Whether it is an email class, or a practice death experience, Life always provides the lessons I need to be present to the reality of living. Life is not above using an overweight black cat to make a point: Death is not to be feared. You can practice until your last breath.