Paulus Berensohn: Life And Death In Love

Paulus Berensohn: Life And Death In Love

Paulus Berensohn: Life And Death In Love

by Caverly Morgan

Photographs: Marthanna Yater

Photographs: Marthanna Yater

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:

Dear Friends,

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. 

With Love,
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.



[Second photo by Caverly Morgan; third photo by Marthanna Yater]


Photograph: Marthanna Yater

Photograph: Marthanna Yater

Photograph: Marthanna Yatter

Photograph: Marthanna Yatter

Photograph: Marthanna Yatter

Photograph: Marthanna Yatter

Bringing the World into the Heart

Bringing the World into the Heart

"We have the opportunity to allow our perception of the world – as something apparently outside ourselves – to rest in the heart of Awareness."

These are divided times. At least, it’s easy for it to appear that way. We have no shortage of conflict. No shortage of judgment. No shortage of fear.

For those of us practicing peace, for those of us dedicated to liberation, we’ve been offered a grand opportunity to accept what we haven’t be willing to accept. To give what we haven’t been able to give. To love what we haven’t been willing to love.

We are being invited to bring the world, during such divided times, into the heart of acceptance rather than perpetuating resistance. Rather than fighting. Rather than rejecting. Rather than fearing.

While we practice this, while we practice releasing the conditioned barriers that further the divide – internally and externally – we have another glowing opportunity in front of us.

We have the opportunity to allow our perception of the world – as something apparently outside ourselves – to rest in the heart of Awareness.

This is the larger task. This is what our freedom hinges upon.

It is one thing to practice forgiving someone you’ve deemed an opponent. It’s another to allow your mistaken perception of an “other” to rest in the recognition of oneness. To see the world as arising out of consciousness, rather than filled with individuals who are becoming more conscious.

It is one thing to embrace something that you’ve historically rejected. It’s another to recognize yourself as the embrace of Awareness itself. Awareness that has no capacity to exclude. No ability to reject. No capacity to hold apart.

This is not a mental exercise. This is our glowing invitation. This is the doorway to lasting peace.

Caverly will be offering a by-donation, live, online class on this topic on Sunday May 7th from 11am-12:30pm PST through Worldwide Insight. Register here. 

Returning Home: Every Face the Face of God

Returning Home: Every Face the Face of God

"Tenderness is the byproduct of the recognition of our oneness. Tenderness follows the direct experience that there is no other. We can’t force the experience of love. We can’t make it happen. We can only allow it to be the residual effect of recognizing and knowing the intimacy of our shared being."

Text by Caverly Morgan. Photos by Vineet Teames.

The silence is profoundly silent.

Perhaps it’s simply because I trained at a silent Zen monastery for eight years that silence is the context in which stillness feels most easily accessible to me. That’s not the case for my husband. He grew up in a large family and lived and practiced at a colorful ashram in which devotion is vividly expressed – often loudly – from the perspective of an ex-monk.

He can sleep anywhere and doesn’t flinch at the thought of meditating in the midst of bhajans over loud speakers and lots of movement. I watched him sleep in an Indian rickshaw that was dodging traffic so severely that I found myself holding on for survival. Apparently the grasping wasn’t needed. We both came out of the trip fine – only one of us was more rested.

For me, silence opens space for a wordless conversation with life that can be more difficult to access in the midst of noise.

And now here I am. Beloved dogs at my sides. Husband still in California. Silence abounds. Enveloped in stillness. Held.

It’s a particularly loud silence given the contrast of where we’ve been. While in India, not only did I grow accustomed to not having silence around me, I grew used to not having physical space. To be in this home – that I can’t, in good conscious, call ‘mine’ – for in this moment the concept of ownership seems absurd, is like being on an island. Not because I feel removed from the world, but because there’s nothing but space and silence extending in all directions. And because the house feels enormous, though by Western standards it is not.

In the stillness, tenderness arises. Tenderness for this body – I returned home ill. Tenderness for the love in the reunion with my four legged friends. Tenderness for the lives who have touched mine and who now, physically, are far away.

In the heart, they couldn’t be closer. These lives – lives that, may not even know that they’ve made such an impression – are swimming through me. Arising. Dancing. Dissolving.

It’s not that they are merely a memory now. It’s clear that it’s a fallacy to think that simply because we can no longer see something, we can no longer be present to it. Presence would be narrow if it could only attend to what is seen. Much more is possible.

Awareness does not exist as a single point in time and space.

It overwhelms the ego, the small illusory self, that awareness isn’t ‘mine.’ That it doesn’t belong to ‘me.’ (Me being this body/mind.) In fact, the ego can’t grasp that and spends its (apparent) existence fighting that truth. From the perspective that awareness is ‘mine,’ I can attend to what is in front of ‘me.’ (Again, ‘me’ in this context being this body/mind). It’s the perfect subject/object relationship. It’s controllable. Manageable. Tangible. Right?

For the ego, it is. For the heart, it’s absurd.

In the heart, all these lives that I’ve made reference to arise in this larger Me – this open, vast field of Awareness. These impressions, these experiences, they all appear and disappear in Me.

The honking horns of busy streets. The chickens in cages by the butcher’s block. Cows on concrete. Women in colorful silk saries hovering above dirt and shit. The laughter of children in school uniforms. The tears of a girl who has just met her new husband – about whom she had no choice.

Sweet little Sakshi and her family who took us in –- the first foreigners in their neighborhood –- and treated us like royalty. The frail old ladies wearing earmuffs because the temperature has dropped to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. All of this arises in Me. All of this is known by Me.

In this intimacy of knowing comes understanding. A deep tenderness for all that is You – this vast open field of Awareness. Of which nothing is excluded. From this recognition, acceptance of what is, is not a practice – it is the reality of the nature of Awareness itself.

The intimacy of our communal being is love. With love comes tenderness. Tenderness for the shop-keeper who works hard all day while her husband drinks. Tenderness for the man who has traveled for days from Delhi to have one timeless moment in his guru's embrace.

Tenderness for the twelve-year-old girl who wears a red band around her arm because her parents say it wards off evil. Though it is mere superstition to her, when asked about it she says, “It is my duty to please my parents and if this pleases them, I am happy.”

Tenderness is the byproduct of the recognition of our oneness. Tenderness follows the direct experience that there is no other. We can’t force the experience of love. We can’t make it happen. We can only allow it to be the residual effect of recognizing and knowing the intimacy of our shared being.

And so here, this morning, in silence, I bow to the shining and brilliant souls who have reminded me of this shared being. All who have opened the door to the remembrance of our oneness through their generous spirits and open hearts. You, beautiful beings of a continent now far away, couldn’t be closer to me in the stillness of the heart.

Thank you for your love. Thank you for your being. I see each of your faces so clearly in Me. Every face, the face of God.