This video from a long time ago brought real joy to my heart. A woman experiences pure ecstasy in the presence of Papaji. It’s so rare that we have one of those head-back laughs, it’s a thrill to watch someone have one:
Whether it be Krishna Das or Girish – or any number of kirtan singers that are easily available on Spotify or YouTube – it can be such a relaxing pleasure to listen to kirtan. And even more beneficial to participate in the chanting of kirtan itself, as this article notes. Here’s an excerpt:
While Kirtan has been around for thousands of years, modern researchers have only recently begun to study its health benefits. A team at the University of West Virginia interested in examining the effects of Kirtan on cognitive impairment found that doing a Kirtan mantra for 12 minutes a day for 12 weeks altered plasma blood levels involved in cellular aging which were associated with improvements in cognitive function, sleep, mood, and quality of life.
Another team at the University of Pennsylvania, who studied the effects of Kirtan on patients with memory loss, found that after eight weeks of Kirtan the brain scans of participants in the study showed significantly increased cerebral blood flow in several areas. Most importantly, their performance on neuropsychological testing showed improved visuospatial memory, increased connectivity, and improved verbal memory. Others researchers have found that Kirtan can reduce symptoms of depression and improve chronic pain.
From an emotional perspective, Kirtan is beneficial because you are engaged in an activity that distracts you from thinking. This is particularly beneficial if you are caught up in a spiral of negative thinking and would like to use meditation to alleviate the ruminative process. When you stop flooding your brain with fear and worry about the future or resentments from the past, this has a profoundly positive effect of resetting your emotional state to calm and peaceful. Some people who practice Kirtan also report a spiritual benefit, with some saying they feel a sense of bliss, more emotionally open and connected to others.
Following up on my reading of Roshi Joan Halifax’s “Being with Dying,” Chapter 18 digs into the topic of caring for the body of a dying person after death. Since our society “protects” us from seeing dead bodies, most of us have very little experience in this area. Here are a few of the things I learned:
1. Familiarize yourself with the faith and beliefs of the dying, ask specifically what they want you to do with the body after death
2. Ask “what guides and supports you in your life? what do you have faith in? what really matters to you?”
3. Many traditions believe that the spirit or consciousness remains present for a time; so you need to show respect after death
4. Immediately after death, try to keep the atmosphere around the body simple and quiet. If possible, don’t disturb or touch the body.
5. Since rigor mortis doesn’t set in for about two hours, you have plenty of time to bathe and dress the body
6. When you do bathe the body, plain water might not work well as the dying person often will defecate, urinate, vomit or sweat. You may need to gently bathe with a small amount of alcohol to close the pores and some mild aromatic tea
7. If the body will be viewed at home, you may want to brush teeth, place a condom or cotton to close holes in case their is leakage
8. You might want to close the eyes and tape them shut. And use a scarf around the head to close the mouth. Once rigor mortis sets in, you can remove the tape and scarf.
9. Choose light-fitting clothing and don’t cover the body. Open windows to get air circulating. But there is nothing inherently dangerous about a dead body for a short while.
10. It is usually easiest to attend to the body before contacting a doctor to administer a death certificate. The same with contacting a burial home – they will often come right away and you’ll loose your opportunity to do something with your beloved that might feel like a vital connection to the life cycle.
Following up on my reading of Roshi Joan Halifax’s “Being with Dying,” I learned that it was important to let the dying take the lead in their own death. Try to ascertain what is best, but don’t medicate someone who is dying if they don’t want it. Don’t medicate them just because you’re uncomfortable with their level of anger. Ofr grief. Or any one of a multitude of emotions that they may need to process as a way towards feeling fulfilled. Our mental faculties tend to unbind before the body releases itself.
Letting these emotional experiences happen are part of accepting death as the ultimate moment in life. The low-tide experiences, the chaos, may be necessary as part of the process…
Continuing on with my lessons learned from Roshi Joan Halifax’s “Being with Dying, I learned that grief is natural and that the experience of grieving can open up compassion in our lives. That grief is so connected to our body. So much like fear.
Fear and suffering can’t be transformed by someone else telling us how to do it. Others might be able to help us, but only those going through grief can pull ourselves all the way through to the other side. So even though accepting impermanence may seem like the Buddhist way to handle grief, it may well be best to scour the heart with honest sorrow instead.
Not getting thrown aside by shame but instead staying present with sadness is one way to give no fear to grief. And eventually heading towards a place where personal loss might be transformed into tenderness towards everyone who has ever suffered.