January 27, 2022 – – –
Transitioning to a helping profession by coaching and playing therapeutic music at hospitals and palliative care centers has been a demanding but enriching experience. It has been said in Buddhism that Siddhartha Gautama’s realization of suffering came as a result from seeing aging, disease, and death. Shouldn’t I, as a healthy young man, try at all cost to resist till the very last moment the recognition that such is going to be my fate?
Those who get close exposure to death do not take life lightly when knowing they have a second chance. Just like Confucius said, “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” Playing music for the dying was a voluntary step I took to understand the reality of being mortal (I guess I have been fortunate not to be confronted with the death of a loved one yet). Of course, I know rationally that we will eventually die… everyone knows it. But there is nothing that replaces the experience of being face to face with someone who is one step from death. You leave the room with an embodied understanding of the fragility of being.
Music in such context is an invitation. An invitation for patients to put aside the burden of their condition for a few minutes. This is a labor of caring despite witnessing the truth of impermanence. It is a labor of connecting on the grounds of the tragic reality that we as physical entities start to decay sooner than later. Healing, surrendering, and peace can grow from that space.
I am trying to learn not to identify myself with the “helper.” The beauty of this work is that there is no clear distinction between the one who gives and the one who takes—It is all one dynamic flow. Those who are actively dying become mentors on how to live. I am not giving them more than what they are giving me.
As I write these words, I recognize that some days such valuable imprint of the finitude of life gets erased from my mind. I get caught up in all the dramas that could not matter less in the long run. This is the motivation why having a coaching conversation and playing therapeutic music matter; both instruct me how to be conscious and compassionate in the present moment with another’s suffering or struggle. Both remind me that there cannot be a conversation about how to live fully without mentioning, without dread nor resistance, the actuality of death.
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