I met Paulus Berensohn when I was 16 years old. Knowing him changed the course of my life. I am far from the only person who can say that.
After a recent stroke and transition to hospice, I flew to North Carolina to be of service. The next ten days were some of the most profound of my life.
A letter (slightly adapted) written from those of us who were supporting him to the Penland community:
At the time of Paulus’ leaving for the next chapter, as per his wishes, his body will be returned to his home at Penland for a 72 hour period of laying in stillness and presence. Much of the ritual that will take place comes from the Buddhist tradition.
In this tradition, the understanding is that consciousness often leaves the body in stages — one stage being at the moment of the last breath. Often the body requires some time to accomplish this passage in peace and the transition can be greatly aided by the attention of those who love him. Ruth Ostrenga, of The Center for End of Life Transitions, and Caverly Morgan, will be facilitating this transition process. The community is welcomed to participate, and, for those who might be new to this process, we wanted to share more about the intention of this time.
It is not a public viewing. The house will be a holding space, a vessel. A space for listening and for being present to the work that Paulus will be doing as he completes his transition. Visitors to the house are asked to come in service of supporting his transition by offering presence. Guests will be invited to join for meditation.
That said, do not feel discouraged to participate if you do not have a formal meditation practice. Paulus has never had a formal meditation practice! Come to sit quietly, to listen, to be still, and/or to engage in the contemplative practice of your choice. (The body is preserved with dry ice during this period.)
Each day of the in-state transition period at Paulus’ house, anyone who would like to accompany Paulus on this stage of the journey is invited to come to sit with him. When the consciousness has been fully released from the body, the body will be taken to the green burial site that Paulus chose — The Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, where he'll be carried to the grave.
The Transition Team
And here is what I read at Paulus's graveside:
Paulus offered us many things during his life — through what he taught, and, through lived example. Some lesson themes: slow and savor. Listen. Be curious. Wonder and explore with an open heart. Dance with life. These weren't merely philosophical beliefs. For Paulus, such lessons were his direct lived experience. And he offered that experience freely to others. Touching countless beings.
I, along with many others, had the great honor and privilege to be with Paulus intimately during the last week of his life. I thought others would appreciate knowing that he moved towards death just as he moved through life. Truly, miraculously so.
During Paulus's transition he couldn't speak, yet was not only completely aware, he freely shared his exploration with all who entered the room. Blessing us.
For days, in countless moments, his left arm danced through the air. Rising and falling with grace and specificity. A visual melody. Tracing the choreography of his journey. Was it Qigong? Was it dance? Communication with ancestors? We knew not. But we didn't need to know. It was purposeful, communicative, and deeply lovely.
I will forever be moved by the lack of resistance he displayed as he explored various realms of consciousness with ease and grace. He taught us, even from his death bed, without words. He taught us about patience. About acceptance. Paulus taught us about love.
When moving through life, Paulus left no stone unturned — bringing curiosity and inquiry to his experience was his way. As he moved towards death, it continued to be so. He took his time. He listened. He opened towards, rather than shirked away.
Since Paulus's last breath, my sense is that as he continues to explore, he's delighting in the opportunity to be in more than one place at a time. No longer limited to the body, he's free to be here — and everywhere. This grand opening allows him to continue reaching, teaching and serving others, shining in his direct experience of being inseparable from all of life.
And that is yet another gift from Paulus -- the teaching that we are here and everywhere. We simply forget that because we identify so strongly with our perception of the body.
Form, no different from emptiness. Emptiness, no different from form. All of it, consciousness.
Of course we will all miss the colors of Paulus. His particular, special, form. His vessel. Now, colorless, formless, he is still here however. We can find him in our hearts, which is where he's been all along.
Besides, Paulus knew that every great pot was made in celebration of life — with the ultimate purpose to return to the earth. To die. To rest in the ground from which we all spring. The fertile ground -- the soil for love that has yet to take form.
Paulus, thank you. Thank you for being Love! May all beings benefit!
Paulus wanted his end-of-life story to be shared and for people to know about conscious and alternative ways of approaching death, in particular, green burials. Learn more about the Center for End of Life Transitions.
PAULUS'S END-OF-LIFE PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAN BAILEY
[Second photo by Caverly Morgan; third photo by Marthanna Yater]