My father is dying. We are all dying or rather, hopefully, living. But my dad is now living in his last months; perhaps he will out beat the odds and live more than a year. What I see when I am with him, is a man who is living in this moment, not dying into the next. Death is not a subject that he has shied away from talking about with his five children. We all know how my dad feels and what he thinks, have all heard him say, if not once than a dozen times, “I am not my body. When I die, I simply will be casting off this body for this lifetime.” I think I have heard this for as long as I can remember. For years he has said this, and for many of those early years I think I rolled my eyes inwardly. “I know, Dad. You’ve said that already”, was my thinking. My father follows some eastern philosophy, talks about yoga, and not the kind that means holding awkward poses, but the whole philosophy of living as breath, in truth. He practiced meditation long ago when no one said the word and few in our culture had any idea what it really meant. For me, it would conjure up images of people of a different culture sitting cross-legged, closed eyes and peaceful. My father frustrated me for many years, feeling he just talked at me when he spoke about the topic. I didn’t really learn anything. Or so I thought.
It is true that I did not learn concepts about meditation and yogic philosophy from my father. Until recently we had not had spiritual discourse; more often than not, it was him bestowing information to me, his truth. I have never seen my father sit in meditation; he did it in an area of the house separate from us. I have no visual to go with the idea of my dad meditating. His lifestyle often made me question his authenticity about his beliefs; something seemed incongruous. Because of this perception I could keep what I knew to be his deep beliefs superficial somehow. And other than knowing he has practiced pranayama, a breathing technique, I haven’t a clue if he has ever done down dog.
Here I am today, an instructor of the ancient art of Tai Chi, a moving meditation. I have had the honor of leading classes in sitting meditation as well. My own meditation practice has reached the two-decade mark, and my life has transformed because of it. I do not fear death. I have practiced for it in the many workshops and reflective journeys I have experienced. A main staple of my therapeutic process with clients entails speaking openly about death, helping others to face their fears and open to a sense of wonder about it instead of resisting it wholly. I thrive when learning about life philosophies, when engaging in spiritual discourse. The apple did not fall far from the tree.
Many years ago I attended a Zen retreat weekend. I think that was when my dad realized I was committed to my meditation process. He called me not long after that weekend. Asking me about it, I felt he really wanted to hear from me, that there was genuine interest on his part. He told me he thought it was great, he was proud of me. I hung up the phone, and for the first time, I knew deep down, that my father really was proud of me. Since that phone call there have been more moments like these, when my father looked at me and shared his pride. And with that pride, I have felt his deep love and admiration for me. For years I had imagined mostly indifference in his feelings towards me, therefore these precious interactions have been incredibly healing.
My dad is not an emotionally expressive man. But he is spiritually aware. And he gave all his children that gift of spiritual recognition, knowing we are not solely our body. Rather we understand that the body is a vehicle that carries us about as we live this life as human. And although my relationship with my dad has had its ups and downs, just as all relationships do, it is finishing with quite a bit of grace. This grace comes from consciously attending to him when we are together and noticing that he is more present than ever before, that attention has indeed become reciprocal. He and I can look at one another and see ourselves in each other’s eyes, this father and this daughter that came here for a time to dance with one another in this thing we call life. Thanks Dad for the gift of meditation, and for the gift of knowing I am not only my body. And thanks for being a role model of living consciously into the end of a lifetime. These are incredibly precious gifts, and I honor you for them.