Don’t Freak Out About Dying

I first met Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in 1972 at the Lama Foundation near Taos, New Mexico. I was there with my ex-wife and son and Zalman also had a young son. The two boys ran around the compound and had a lot of fun. Alan Ginsberg was also there I think with Bhagwan Das. It was a fun time.

rabbi Zalman

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi with Sara Davidson

I saw it as an opportunity to connect with another aspect of Judaism that a I knew little about with Zalman. We became friends and were in close contact for a while. He sent me many xeroxed papers of his brand of New Age Judaism – Jewish Renewal and the stack was overwhelming. I loved the man for his ability to experience joy in worshiping the God of my fathers. I could get there on some occasions, but there was also still the pain of rejection from my own congregation.

Later that year, when we were all in the Bay Area, Zalman introduced me to Dr. Claudio Naranjo and Kathy Speeth. Claudio was on a complete high, having just completed the 40 day Arica training with Oscar Ichazo.

About  five years later Zalman officiated at my Jewish divorce ceremony from my ex-wife, called a Get. The next time I heard from him was to learn that he too suffered from Bladder Cancer.

OK, so enough of my rantings. What does Zalman have to say about death and dying. For one thing, he says, “Don’t freak out about dying.” This comes from his two years of meeting with author Sara Davidson also of Boulder, Colorado. They spent time together working on the December Project which has become a new book. It is about what Zalman calls, “the December of his years.” After all, he is 89 years old!

Zalman wanted to have a rehearsal of death so as not to freak out about dying. So he had his body washed and placed in a coffin. The ceremony was to enable him to prepare mindfully about dying.

There are exercises in the book that help you prepare for death. One of them is to breathe out as if it were your last breath while you are in bed, trying to go to sleep. Zalman says about this exercise, “To be able to be at peace with that. I do this almost every night.”

Another exercise is the practice of forgiveness – forgiveness of yourself and others. Zalman thinks this is especially important at the end of life.

What are the practices that you do so that you don’t freak out about dying?

The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life's Greatest Mystery

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