Dying in Each Moment

November 20, 2012 § 42 Comments

“To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

As the cancer consumed my father, he disappeared a bit at a time.  First he lost the capacity to walk, then to read, to eat, to speak, and finally a coma-like existence.  And then the shell that remained ended too.

This all happened many years ago.  Yet in my memory, it is as fresh as yesterday.

In his final months a peace came upon my father.  I do not know where it came from.   He practiced no religion, held no faith in the transcendent.  Most of his life he seemed at war with his very existence, deeply unhappy with himself and the life he felt trapped within.

But as he wasted away, my father changed.  His resistance melted, acceptance emerged.  Not just acceptance of his coming death- acceptance of the people around him and of life itself.  He projected a warm and natural love.  My father seemed ready to die, unafraid and open.

I cannot know the source of my father’s peace.  But I now believe that somehow, some way, my father understood at the end what I know now.

We each die a little at a time, moment to moment.

I am not thinking here about the simple awareness of mortality.  Something else.

The peace my father embodied comes to us only when we exist in the fullest sense.  “No illusions in our mind, no resistances in our body,” as the Tao teaches.  But this way of being cannot be separated from non-being.   This communion with life itself is to embrace death itself.  To understand finally that life and death are one.

Those final months my father gave me a great gift- a model of how life might be lived- and death embraced.  A gift that took years for me to unwrap but which is mine now.

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§ 42 Responses to Dying in Each Moment

  • Poignant and insightful. Just reading this, I related to my step father’s melting and disappearing. Acceptance is a great gift and tool. I like the quote about no mental illusions or physical resistance. Thanks, Brad

  • Yes…to understand that life and death are one. Because there is no beginning and no end, just moment to moment growing closer to that which is…

    Wonderful, sorry you lost your dad to cancer, happy he found his peace.


  • fgassette says:

    I am glad you found the peace your father died with. Some people never receive this kind of peace. It is a gift. Thanks for sharing.


  • julienmatei says:

    Unless we learn to die Now, – moment by moment – we have no inkling as to what True Living is about.

    Alas, these are words too…as the immediate grasping of this process has nothing to do with word. It is the ultimate and most pure loneliness – the greatest menace of the ego – it is something to be directly experienced.

    And this very experience is something that very few venture “into”…

  • Dear Tom,
    I read this post several times after it was published. And thought about it a whole lot more. I find myself doing that when I read your work. It stirs up thoughts which calls for introspection and deliberate pause.

    The witnessing of a life born and a life passing into another realm beyond must surely be one of the most powerful and significant moments in life. It is I believe to glimpse into the world of the matrix. Beyond even an awareness as you wrote. Something infinitely more.

    I must admit for a long time, the subject of life and death in particular was a difficult one for me. The attachment to the physical realm is strong – perhaps only because the fear of the unknown is just as strong. And yet to come to that place of dying to self every moment as you quoted, is the only way to live. It is the only freedom. It is to live to our truest nature.

    And that is the luminosity of peace which your father had towards the end of his life. As the body ebbs, the true self shines forth. William Saroyan says about death that when we leave our bodies we become perfect again. And that is joy indeed.

    Thank you so much for the incredible depth and mastery in presenting a difficult subject matter so effortlessly. It guided me.
    With deep gratitude,

    • Thomas Ross says:


      As you can see, I’ve not posted for a while- just the crush of life- but in the last day or two, I have felt those familiar negative feelings rising up- what’s the point? will you walk away, again? and so on. But reading your message brought me back, helped me know again that this is what I am meant to do, who I am.

      Soon I’ll post again and in the meantime, I know that you are there. Of course, not just you, also the other gracious, thoughtful, and kind people with whom I’ve connected in these recent months.

      Still, your message here has meant something special to me. It reflects your insight, your gift for words, and your gentle affection.

      Thank you, Sharon.


  • eof737 says:

    Poignant…inspiring. {{{HUGS}}}

  • smithdavid says:

    another great post tom. keep them coming. dave

  • Beautifully written. You have a gentle reflection in your words that reaches out from the page. So many people are afraid of death, for their beliefs tell them they will be punished. My heart goes out to them in hopes that they will be able to find the peace your father found during his physical dying process.

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Yes, the idea that we are to be “punished” at death for our “failings” in life is a terrible thing. Forgiveness, starting with yourself, is the way. I imagine that self-forgiveness was the foundation of those final peaceful months of my father’s life.

      Thank you for the great kindness of taking the time to read and to reply.


  • Jude says:

    A lovely post Tom. My father died many years ago. He (through my eyes as a child) fought many things in life. Close to the end he said to the doctor: ‘Put me out of my misery’. He was born in a different era – 1904 and maybe never had the chance to delve into wonderful subjects like Buddhism. I suppose he saw death as an escape to peace. I guess he was on the right track.

    Theoretically I understand the concept of life and death being one, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to push death away for a long long time … maybe because I enjoy life so much and I want to grab more! I guess I’m very ‘attached’ to life. Hmmm – attachment. I guess that’s another subject.

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I know, I struggle in this way too. But more and more, I understand that to be “ready for death” is about how we live fully and presently in each moment. In this way, we occupy each moment with strength and awareness. Ready for death, no illusions, no resistance. Anyhow, that’s what I seek- often falling short but I find peace in the very thought.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.


  • Life is a gift. It needs to be nurtured and cherished everyday. Your fathers got that in his remaining days. It ‘s something we all should be more i tune with but we lack the foresight into our mortality. It something I work at everyday. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I succeed. 🙂

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Life is a great gift. We each lose sight of that truth, I know. But more and more, I am able to hold that understanding and be in the way I truly desire to be.

      Sending you my best wishes this holiday. Peace.


  • SprinklinThoughts says:

    Good post…
    illusions and resistances wink out…

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Yes, those pesky illusions and resistances. Let them come and let them go. And then feel the great release and peace that comes with their departure. Hold on to that feeling.



  • chrisbkm says:

    A powerful and beautiful post Tom. Thank you for this.

    It reminds me of my own experience of watching my father’s life slip away over a period of three years. Slowly losing all the things he enjoyed. “It comes with the territory” is what he always said, smiling warmly and drawing oxogen through plastic tubes in his nose.

    The things we learn.


    • Thomas Ross says:


      “The things we learn.”

      I was a learned man, I thought. But all the things I thought I learned as a young man I now understand to be illusory or useless. What I am learning here and now- in my own work and in reading the work of others- is something else- priceless, timeless truths. Not so much knowledge as a way of being in the world.



      • eof737 says:

        Powerful thoughts for the mind. 🙂
        ¸.•*¨*•.♪♫♫♪Have an inspired, grace filled week! .♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♥
        ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜” 🙂

  • Anne says:

    Great post Tom, thank you for sharing. It is lovely to hear that your dad found peace with himself and with the world in his final days. I am so pleased that you have finally accepted the gift your father left you, and managing to embrace it now in your own life. Life is fragile and indeed, all we have is this moment.



    • Thomas Ross says:


      Thank you.

      I am thinking if you this holiday, such a faithful and loving part of this new community of writers and friends, and sending the strongest possible thoughts of gratitude and best wishes.

      All blessings.


  • Andrew says:

    Nice post. Bruce Lee, the Taoist that started me on my path said “free your ambitious mind by learning the art of dying”

    Death is an illusion in my opinion, the change of life’s energy from one form to another. A person is nothing more than a temporarily recurring pattern, like a ripple on a pond, and no more real than that. Death is the ebbing away of that ripple back to stillness, back to it’s natural state. More ripples will come when splashes occur, and none is realer or more valuable than any other.

    In the end, we are all present in all ripples. Ripples exist only to the watcher. Really it is all just water, there is no separate ripple/water, or to phrase it another way, there is no ‘we’ or ‘me’ or ‘you’, just energy/spirit/life in my opinion.

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Thank you so much for the read and the thoughtful reply.

      I’ll confess that I struggle with the sense of death as an “illusion.” It felt so real as I watched it take my father.

      But I do feel a sense of unity, of the one. And if so, why not feel that death and life are all part of the one, interwoven with the flowing tide of existence?


  • Robyn Lee says:

    Exquisitely expressed Tom. Your Dad has taught, by the clarity of his fine example, the true essence of letting go – and letting live. Life and Death ~ seem so much opposite -but aren’t they really 2 parts of the whole? And to be able to recall this lesson, his gift – in our living moments – to be able to live life, and release resistance in each moment we encounter it (as we will always encounter it)… just a blessing. Thank you for sharing dear friend ~ With Love , Robyn

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I’m sitting here in the kitchen- the busyness of the holiday prep and arrival of family just ahead. But in this moment of quiet, I really do think of my blessings. And I think of the people here who read my work and express their support- and whose own work lights up my life. I think of you.

      Hope you and your family enjoy the holiday with peace and gratitude.


  • brendamarroy says:

    What a beautiful lesson to learn. Thank you for sharing this story about your father’s transformation….or perhaps I should say unfolding into his essence. I just finished reading a book about dying in each moment. It is true. We are all on the path to dying so it certainly behooves us to live each moment as fully as possible. Great story, Tom.

  • Thank you for sharing this Thomas. Very profound thoughts that can be applied to the everyday. Why is it that we only realize these things when we are at or close to the end?

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I do feel that embracing mortality is essential to coming into these understandings. But we don’t need to wait “to the end” if we can understand that each moment is “the end.”

      Thanks and best wishes for the holiday.


  • Thank you for this, Thomas.

  • Julianna says:

    Another beautiful peace. And wow – what a wonderful thing for you, and for him. Beautiful.

  • beautiful reflection on the yin and yang of life and death–I have been trying to find a way to articulate it in its relationship to nature. Thank you for doing it so beautifully with humans/relationships.

  • aawwa says:

    Something to ponder…

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