Befriending Small Deaths-Big Deaths: A Conversation with Dominie Cappadonna

.By Travis Newbill

Dominie Cappadonna will be leading  Befriending Small Deaths – Big Deaths, along with Joshua Mulder, May 9-11

Dominie Cappadonna

Dominie Cappadonna

There may be no more sure-fire way of waking up to the preciousness of life than facing the reality of death. But, how can we do that? Sometimes it happens in an unavoidable way–we have a near death experience, or we see someone die. Every once in a while, a big death moment happens.

Also though, as we know, impermanence marks every passing moment. It is the ever-present truth, which we seem to be quite in the habit of ignoring. Every breath is a death. Every meal, relationship, day and night, have their ends. Perhaps if we could wake up to impermanence in a more consistent and profound way, we could live and appreciate our lives more fully and go through our end-of-life “big” deaths more gracefully.

Dominie Cappadonna is a wonderful teacher who focuses on helping us do just that. In May, she’ll be leading a weekend program here at Shambhala Mountain Center called: Befriending Small Deaths, Big Deaths. And we’ve recently had the good fortune of having some discussion with her around these ever-mystifying topics.

You may listen to and/or download an audio recording of the interview by following this link (click here), or scroll down to read the transcription.

SMC: Besides having a near-death experience, which I don’t feel inclined to manufacture, how can I wake up to the reality that I am actually going to die?

Dominie Cappadonna: What a beautiful and profound question. It brings us right up to the edge of our knowledge–of our know-ledge, where we’re prompted to leap off the cliff into the unknown. Now, it seems that the question you’re asking can be asked more boldly than before–particularly within our human family, in our technological societies. Before, death was not spoken of as freely. I might just set a little ground here, in terms of the field, and begin to weave in response to your question. Is that okay?

Yes, please.

I really find that the question you’ve asked is being asked more these days because there’s a generalized resurgence in focus on death and dying . We’re living longer and yet feeling our mortality earlier. I feel that’s due to the cascade of crisis world-wide being so nakedly exposed–climate change, extinction of species, the dying off of our natural environment, wars, diseases, suicides, on and on.

So, here, now in the US, there is a movement called the Silver Tsunami, which refers to young elders and Boomers waking up to daily dying in small and big ways, of time passing and of preparation for a conscious passing at the end of life.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo by Greg Smith

Our small deaths are actually practice moments for the big death at the end of life. Practice moments include taking in the breath in our meditation practice–the inhale, the abiding, and then the ceasing of our breath. Letting go into the reality that that breath may be our last one is one way to wake up to the reality of our death.

Small deaths also include so-called larger transitions–divorce, loss of work, loss of physical vigor, illnesses, menopause, a loss of ego identity through our spiritual practices and more.

Your question about how to wake up is often answered in the startle of these practice moments of larger thresholds and transformations in our life.

Can you think of one you’ve had where you’ve had this sense of waking up to the reality that you are going to die?

A really intense break-up comes to mind. There was a simultaneous experience of not wanting it to happen and also knowing that it had to happen.

Exactly, yeah. And that total resistance to it brings us right to the edge, doesn’t it? Because in a sense there is nowhere to go. That resistance absolutely stops us on that edge where we either sprout wings and learn how to fly or we don’t. We don’t face the reality of our dying until we actually are in our active death phase. Yet, if we can be sprouting wings before the end of life, so that we’re practicing lifting off, practicing coming to that edge, facing the reality through our small deaths, then we’re less fearful and less resistant.

It seems to me that every once in a while there is a situation that is impossible to ignore. But, all the time, there are smaller deaths that are quite easy for me to ignore–like having a cup of tea. The cup of tea ends. Most of the time I’m not really feeling impermanence in those moments.

Yes. And yet, with mindfulness, as Trungpa Rinpoche said, we cut speed. With presence we cut speed. With attention, we cut speed. In such a way, we can take the smallest moments as a practice moment for facing our death. So, it could be as innocuous as your favorite pen running our of ink, the market being out of our favorite chocolate, fasting from sex or sweets or something we love, being turned down for a date, giving up gossiping, uncluttering a house. And, I say, “so-called” small deaths because big and small are very subjective, as you would know. Your breakup, at the time, may have hit you as a big death.

So, for example,  uncluttering a workspace, dying to what was on their desk, may be a small death for someone else and a big death for another. It’s highly subjective in terms of our practice moments. Yet, moment to moment, with every breath, we have this opportunity to be so present to impermanence. So, it’s a practice.

Is there any short instruction you could offer that we could apply throughout this very day to help us appreciate life and impermanence?

What about your life and your being have you not fully accepted and bowed into, surrendered into, died into the reality of? As the reality itself. As being what is so. Often we appear to feel that we’re farther along on our path, or in our work, in our relationship, than we actually are and we haven’t accepted exactly what is so. We haven’t yet died into that in a profoundly lively, vivid way–landing into the direct reality of exactly what is so. So that might be one question to consider. And a subset of that might be: What needs to be accepted in our lives to live fully, love deeply, and die consciously?

Another question to consider is: In what ways might awareness of daily small deaths really help us to live our life with more presence and fearlessness, and promote living our lives more authentically.

I love inquiry questions because I feel it enhances our curiosity to be with ourselves and be present with what–in an embodied, deep way–is really coming up from our belly. To be present with that from which we cannot turn.

Like you question: How can I wake up to the reality that I am going to die? How can we turn from that question once we’ve asked it? It tends to permeate us in a profound way that helps us to learn and to be more aware.

Parts of the retreat you’ll be leading at Shambhala Mountain Center will be taking place in the Great Stupa. Would you like to say anything about your connection with the Stupa.

It’s a rare privilege to meet within the Great Stupa. It’s a world peace center, and it creates a resonant field of such profound wisdom, fearlessness, joy, and compassion. That’s our vessel for learning and being. We’re so held within the walls. And the actual walls of the Stupa are packed with millions of prayers. We’re held in a prayer field. That automatically transforms the work that we do. It automatically lifts us in to a higher degree of awareness and so to be with death and dying, and to practice within the Stupa, is actually sublime.

What else would you like to say about the retreat?

We’ll be exploring the actual stages of dying, including the subtle inner states that accompany our process. So, we’ll actually go through our dying as a way to have a dress rehearsal. We’ll go out on the land to see what nature teaches us about impermanence, and also have experience in the charnel grounds. We’ll die and come back to life and have discussion about how we want to approach the life that we have left. And then finally, we’ll go down from the Stupa into the village so that we can feel ourselves moving from the past into the conscious future, asking ourselves “How now shall we live?” And, we walk into our possible future, and begin to live forth in a way that feel more relaxed and more courageous.

Dominie Cappadonna will be leading  Befriending Small Deaths – Big Deaths, along with Joshua Mulder, May 9-11. To learn more and to register, please click here.

To listen to/download the full interview, please click here.

Befriending Small Deaths-Big Deaths: A Conversation with Dominie Cappadonna

 

Dominie Cappadonna will be leading Befriending Small Deaths-Big Deaths along with Joshua Mulder, May 9-11

Dominie Cappadonna

Dominie Cappadonna

Approaching death with curiosity, courage, and spiritual skills allows for fearlessness in facing the unknown. The small deaths of broken-heartedness, sickness, aging, loss of work and more, offer us practice moments for the big death at the end of life. By relating in a profound way with our small deaths, we build resilience and positive qualities to strengthen our encounter with dying moments as they arise.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

Facing Death, Finding Joy: A Conversation with Elysabeth Williamson

By Travis Newbill

Elysabeth Williamson will be leading Savasana: Exploring our Death to Liberate our Lives, along with Margery McSweeney, March 7-9

Elysabeth Williamson says: “To live in moment to moment, day to day relationship with our death is maybe the most powerful practice we can do. Most people don’t want to think or talk about death and dying. And yet, just the willingness to do so, to openly face into it…the result is joy. Isn’t that kind of wild?”

Hear more of what Elysabesth has to say by checking out our recent conversation with her below. Watch the video or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

 

 

Traveling Light

by Andrew Holecek

empty shoesOne of the biggest problems in death, as in life, is looking back, or being held back by unhealthy attachments. By cutting our attachments and lightening our load now (by writing wills and other advance directives), we can free ourselves to move forward.

Dealing with all the emotional, medical, legal, and endless practical details that surround death is overwhelming at the time of death, so it behooves us to prepare in advance. The single best thing you can do to have a good death is to relax, and the best way to relax is to have all your affairs in order. These practical preparations have spiritual implications. When we die, we want to travel light into the after-life, what the Tibetans call “bardo” or “gap, transitional process.”  Traveling light allows our consciousness to move forward to our next destination.

This is actually a form of “phowa,” which means “transference, or ejection,” and refers to the movement of consciousness after death.  There are esoteric and exoteric forms of phowa, and getting all our affairs in order now is a form of exoteric phowa. It’s a spiritual practice.

Advance directives help everyone. They help your caretakers follow your wishes; they help your loved ones by removing all the hassles of sorting out your wishes and implementing them; and they help you by lightening the load on your mind and allowing you to move forward.

What are you waiting for? Since death comes without warning, this means you want to prepare now.

Andrew Holecek

Andrew Holecek will offer a class on preparing to die (advance directives, signs of impending death, hospice, grief, funeral issues, and medical and legal challenges) in Boulder, Colorado on the 1st and 2nd of November. He regularly offers seminars internationally on meditation, dream yoga, and death.  He is the author of The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy, Preparing to Die: Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist Perspective, and the audio learning course, “Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid Dreaming”.  His work has appeared in the Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma, Light of Consciousness, Utne Reader, and other periodicals.

Rest in Peace, Tiger

 

Tiger the cat

Tiger was a feral tom cat when he first appeared at Shambhala Mountain Center. For the first several years, he allowed himself to be fed but not touched. Then one day Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche saw him lurking about Sacred Studies Hall and told him to “trust the humans here, they will take care of you.”

Gradually, his feral ways were (for the most part) pacified and he came to embody qualities that many a guest to SMC remembers to this day. Melissa Martin Powell called Tiger, “the epitome of the present moment.” Molly McCowan says, “I so enjoyed sitting with him on my visits. He had such serene energy, and was always willing to share his food with the magpies.”

Jeff Stone remembers a more unusual and light-hearted inspiration that Tiger contributed to the practice container at SMC. “At my seminary we were goofing around and came up with a chant called ‘four-pawed mahakitty’ which sang the praises of our wrathful tabby protector. Great cat. He will be missed.”

But Tiger was still a cat and in an instant he could turn from tranquil to wrathful. Gabriel O’Hare once witnessed Tiger dismember and devour an entire rabbit, just after he had an interview with the Sakyong. “[I was] blown away twice in quick succession.”

The novelist David Mitchell once wrote, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” And in the past few weeks our little post about Tiger’s passing has been shared far and wide around the internet. It has been humbling to see how many lives were affected by a tom cat. Olie McCafferty expressed her gratitude thusly, “Thank you Tiger for keeping me company late at night when I was sitting outside and watching the moon and the stars… You made my Cancer Camp a very special and purrrrrrrfect time.”

Kris Loerwald spent about four days up at SMC in February, 2013. He remembers that “it snowed and snowed and snowed all the time[…]I would sit down on the bench from the dining hall, seek Tiger out, make sure his water dish was full and clean and then for about 10 minutes after every meal we would just sit there, him in my lap gazing off into the gray hazy abyss of the sky and listening to the wind whisper through the trees.

I can’t really say that I knew how much those moments really meant to me until looking back on it now in the summer when the snow is melted. But I know in those moments that Tiger and I spent together in complete and utter calm and stillness and appreciation of just that moment well… Those were some of the most profound times spent there at SMC.

Thank you Tiger for your company your willingness to listen to my unspoken dialogue and for everything else I hope safe travels to [where]ever it is you go from here.”

Many of you have expressed wishes for his positive rebirth or peaceful final rest, so we want you all to know that here at SMC we had a ceremony for Tiger that was very well attended.

The poet Gregory Orr once wrote:

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

And so it was with Tiger, who sat through snow storms, rain, wind, intense summer heat, and simply practiced keeping company.