I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Timothy Nickel’s reflection on dancing with God and each other as hospice chaplain.
Silence and Space
God is the silence behind all sound,
ever present if we listen.
God is the empty space amidst all objects,
ever present if we behold.
These truths inform us …
we are always in God’s presence.
Indeed we are God’s presence!
If we listen for the silence behind all sound,
there is God.
If we behold the empty space amidst all objects,
there is God.
With sound or without,
With space or without,
God is no more or less present.
God is the very emptiness from which all else flows.
All sound comes out of God’s silence.
All objects reside in the midst of God’s space.
We live and “die” encased in God’s very being!
My employment is that of a hospice chaplain, a contemplative “monk” dancing daily with death. In the legal field, there is a phrase, “in contemplation of death,” which pertains to the giving of a gift when someone knows or expects to die in the near future. The giving of the gift is motivated strictly by the understanding and belief that death is quickly approaching. My daily dancing with death, my awareness that death is interwoven into our living, is typically a contemplative, meditative dance often of silence and equally as often, of verbal reflection with the one who is dying or with vigilant family members.
In my daily contemplation of death, I have the opportunity to gift others as well as to be gifted by others. Though this monk prefers to dance alone, there are always the occasions of dancing with others. Sometimes we dance at arm’s length, not even touching, as we move about the room, metaphorically, assessing each other, me for their needs, and they for my trustworthiness. Sometimes we dance much closer as the relationship evolves over time or when circumstances dictate a fast forwarding, when the dance floor is suddenly titled, like the developing tragedy on the Titantic, and we find ourselves in each other’s arms, not necessarily because of our own choosing, but because life has given both of us an invitation into a depth of relationship that has now opened up to us. And sometimes, we dance with the greatest of intimacy, as tears flow, prayers are spoken, stories are told, laughter is shared and we sit in the embrace of sacred silence, witnessing with awe the changing breathing patterns of a beloved exiting this world.
Death invites us into the deepest of contemplative stances which some have called Innocence or a state of Not-knowing. The author of the Cloud of Unknowing writes of it. Death educator, Stephen Levine, speaks to the issue, particularly in his book, “Who Dies?” It is those moments of being fully present to what is occurring. It means bringing to a situation, to a crisis, a mind that clings to nothing. It is when we can empty ourselves of ourselves so we can be filled with Something Else and we are able to hold the Something Else in a sacred container for everyone in our presence. In these moments, we step closer to laying claim to the mind of Christ, Christ consciousness. We exist with clarity and compassion, our egos and sense of “I” dissolve for a time. We are graced with stepping through that liminal veil that seemingly separates the physical/material world from that which exists as pure spirit.
Cultivating this openness to the Unknown is typically a developmental process, a maturation in the spirit, where Love slowly overtakes us and it becomes easier to say what God is not, than it is to tell someone exactly what God is. For me it has been a journey that started as a young man caring for the aged and has evolved into me soon becoming one of those aged ones myself. I am experiencing a slowly opening appreciation of the archetypal Jokester and Trickster, having moved through a number of other archetypal stages along the way, i.e. Warrior, Seeker and Magician.
My daily discipline is now a hodge-podge of what I am able to do rather than what I would like to do. Walking the dog first thing in the morning introduces me to the Zen life of my dog, Satori, who simply eats when she is hungry and sleeps when she is tired and provides me with unconditional positive regard by licking my bald head. My daily devotions consist of reading, writing and relationships with some meditation thrown in when I able to remain awake. I believe God is working in me, however, even when I drift off to sleep. I integrate my day through writing about my visits with dying patients and grieving family members in brief 100 word narratives, capturing the essence of any visit I might make. Poetry comes to me as a desire and in that desire, it usually finds its own expression. My role is to not force it. When “I” become involved, the poem usually grinds to a halt, I recognize this and toss it aside. Kahlil Gibran in his book, “The Prophet”, speaks of the Wander, the seeker of the lonelier way, the one who walks upon the mountaintops, and loves the unreachable heights, striving to attain that which is most unattainable. For me, that is a rather good description of this Dancing Monk.
I began with a poem, allow me to conclude with a poem:
And We Dance
Happy we come in to the world as infants.
Emotionally balanced with memories of from where we came.
Slowly we awake to this new world,
Engaging with it with stuttering steps and a new found language.
We breathe in the Life Energy offered to us.
The world from which we came soon dissolves in our memories.
There is a forgetting.
Age advances and there is a call to grow and evolve … transform and transcend.
We are invited to seek and search for ancient truths that lead to progressive change.
For some, there is an opening, a discovering of who I am, of who I can be.
Harnessing the secrets that seem to be locked away, secrets forgotten by most.
We heal in body, mind and spirit.
Reaching out to others with our healing so they might live in the world free of pain.
In moments of quietness, the extraordinary is revealed in the ordinary.
Sobering joy descends upon us.
Our True Nature is revealed.
The realization of who we are, from whence we came and the fullness of our life
adventures is seen and appreciated.
We realign ourselves with the imagination of our spiritually mature
childhoods of innocence and wonder.
Our hearts sing.
And we dance.
Timothy has been a hospice chaplain for the past six years. Previously, he was a Pastoral Thanatologist at a continuing care retirement community where he has worked for 35 years. His education in the realm of religion, spirituality and psychology. His early influence was Thomas Merton and now is immersed in Evolutionary Spirituality.
Timothy, thank you so much for sharing your poems and the reflection in between. I too believe “that death is interwoven into our living.” However, in our modern, technologically heavy society that is a concept foreign to most. Both in my professional (I’m a surgical nurse) and personal life, I see evidence of people clinging to “life”. My mantra is ” just because we can (intervene surgically or medically), doesn’t mean we should. But even with my aged parents in failing health, I have trouble conveying this message.
I thank you for the important work you do. Please keep writing and sharing. Do you have anything published or a blog to follow?
Timothy, I read your words while waiting for Costco to open. Instead of tapping my foot, I became completely drawn into a deep well of calmness and only looked up when the door opened – to realize I had been transported to a calmer world. I think you are in the right place, helping the dying and their families. The peace and deep love you have written about here must serve as such an anchor for them during what could be a chaotic time. Bless you for sharing this.