To practice yoga, it’s good to know what yoga is for, and how to guide the mind in a desired direction. To teach yoga, it’s good to know others’ purpose for attending a yoga class and how to bridge our understanding of yoga to others’ goals without losing the root of yoga. No matter if we practice or teach yoga, we need awareness. While the mind struggles with duality, awareness and looking deeply help us acknowledge and accept the impermanence of nature. Mindfulness, which “means awareness and looking deeply,” is the foundation to help us see through the duality of the mind and find tranquility in reality.
In addition to ending the disturbance of the duality of mind, mindfulness provides a solid foundation for bringing peace and joy into life—a life that includes unavoidable dilemmas as well as an inevitable end. After seeing my father suffer while dying, I suddenly realized that a peaceful death cannot be achieved by spiritual practice alone. A peaceful death also requires awareness of reality. The reality is that doctors will prolong life at all costs, regardless of the body’s condition and age.
In 2017, my father was in the hospital, and my sisters and I were taking turns by his bedside for about two weeks before he died. I knew he was dying because of his age and overall health condition. However, what upset me most wasn’t his dying, but the suffering he had to go through before his death. Modern technology didn’t help to relieve his pain; in fact, it was another cause of his suffering. He had infusion tubes in his hands and legs and feeding tubes in his nose. My father could not speak, but every time the feeding tubes were put in, I could see he was in pain, and one time I even saw tears come out of his eyes. The doctors said he was incurable. He should not have had to suffer from all these tubes. He should have been allowed to die a natural death in peace. For me, this type of medical intervention to delay death is a crude interference with natural death and is scarier than death itself.
I have experienced my eldest sister‘s death, who suddenly died due to an accident when she was young, but the direct experience of seeing an elderly person dying in a hospital was a shock. I realized that even if my father were a warrior with a strong will, when the body cannot move and the mouth cannot speak, the powerful will is powerless. His life is in someone else’s hands. Furthermore, even if I can accept death when the time comes, facing reality is another story. Without a deliberate act of self-care and serious, careful planning, the dying process can be totally controlled by someone who just follows a hospital procedure. After my father’s death, I looked for information on end-of-life care and hospice care and was glad to find out that, by making an advance care plan, I can refuse or withdrawal from treatment by appointing a substitute decision maker in advance. Hopefully I won’t be kept alive by using “advanced” tools at the end of my life like an animal in a slaughterhouse, at the mercy of others.
Mindfulness, like the moon that illuminates the dark sky, gives us insight into life. In facing old age and the dying process, I know I need to cultivate an attitude of acceptance through mindfulness. Accept that a lifespan has limits, allowing death to happen without relying on modern medicine to remain viable. A dignified and peaceful death requires ongoing mindfulness practice in life.
The following Warrior II sequence includes three poses: Warrior II, Half Moon, and Peaceful Warrior. It starts and ends with Warrior II, which also occurs between Half Moon and Peaceful Warrior. The practice is to cultivate inner strength, the art of balance and awakening the heart with mindfulness.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness in Awakening of the Heart : Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2012), 117.
- End-of-life Care, https://www.advancecareplanning.ca/
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