November is a good time to think about books.
The long, dark nights are coming, and there’s just more time to read, reflect and be. So many great books have come my way lately, and there seems to be a groundswell of reading about aging and death. This certainly is a hot topic, and one we can all relate to.
My most favorite recently is Ram Dass’ new book with Mirabai Bush, “Walking Each Other Home.” He has always been one of my teachers so to speak, and this book is no exception. He is 87 now and quite close to death. His experiences of life, the stroke that almost incapacitated him, his many spiritual travels to India and all his crazy and eccentric friends have resulted in wisdom we can all use. He is now ensconced in his ashram in Maui with attendants and visitors from around the world.
What is important for Ram Dass at this time near death is love. He is “retreating, retreating, retreating ... into his deepest point” and feels he is becoming one with the universe, a blend into the cosmos. Some quotes:
“You must live before you can die, but you must also die before you can live,” he says of opening to life and letting go of attachments.“Let go of the regrets and love the past for what it was and is ...”“Death is a moment, and how we spend our lives in each moment is a rehearsal for death.” What a guy! Ram Dass’ previous book, “Still Here,” is another all-time keeper.
Another important book for our times is Frank Ostaseski’s “The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully.” Ostaseski invites us to not wait, welcome everything and push away nothing, bring our whole selves to each experience, find a place of rest in the middle of things and cultivate a don’t-know mind. Good stuff.
“Conscious Living, Conscious Aging” by Ron Pevny (a Durangoan!); “A Year to Live” by Stephen Levine; “Being with Dying” by Joan Halifax; and “Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home” by Natalie Goldberg are all books I refer to again and again. These are books I’d like at my bedside as I die. What are yours?
I’ve recently become interested in the work scientific and medical fields are doing with psychedelics for illness at the end of life, in addition to addiction and depression. This work is not the 1960s drug trip anymore. It has valid, controlled test cases and groundbreaking results. Michael Pollan, in “How to Change Your Mind,” perfectly describes a man who is dying of cancer and how the drugs changed his being into a loving and peaceful state of mind as he approached his death. Fascinating.
Other books I haven’t read that look interesting are:
“Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life,” by Jessica Nutik Zitter.“Dying: A Memoir,” by Cory Taylor.“Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them),” by Sallie Tisdale.“The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying,” by Nina Riggs.“How to Get the Death You Want: A Practical and Moral Guide,” by John Abraham.You can Google any of these to see what they’re about. Enjoy this journey into winter and the great reading and contemplation we get to do.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life, and has written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.