She passed away quietly at 3 AM PST.
Her body will rest in state in the Zendo at Dhamma Dena Retreat Center in Joshua Tree until until 8 PM February 26.
Prior letters can be found at www.ruthdenison.com.
Yours in the Dharma
Dear Beloveds of Ruth
Ruth’s decline has accelerated.
We are coming to the end of the tenth day without food or water. This is not unheard of but is approaching the expected duration.
Her breathing is labored and her pulse is high.
The only medication which she is taking at this time is one that decreases secretions so she does not have so much phlegm in her throat.
She is experiencing Cheyne–Stokes respiration. She breathes hard and fast for a while, then experiences apnea, an apparent complete stopping of breathing for a while then repeats. It is impossible to predict the time of her passing but it will likely not be long now.
The community of care which is surrounding Ruth is most unusual. The hospice people are struck by how calm everyone is, and how thorough her care is. We are finding a peaceful and cooperative way to create community that is loving and accepting. Ruth would be very proud of us.
When she dies we will call the hospice. They will call the coroner for a death declaration. We will also call the mortuary and request pickup at a time 24 hours or so in the future. We will then bathe her and prepare her for transport to the Zendo. Seimi has created a palanquin our of metal rods and a door on which she will be carried. She will lie in state in the Zendo for a day while we meditate, chant and co-create a ritual fitting of this most creative and amazing pioneer woman Dharma teacher. The greater community will be welcome to attend at that time.
As soon as we get it figured out we will send out an invitation to the memorial service that will happen within a couple of weeks.
I will keep you informed of her progress on the journey
“We Say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon,
this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.”
Dear Beloveds of Ruth
4 AM PST.
Ruth is very quiet this morning.
Her eyes are slightly open though I don’t think she is seeing.
She does not respond to sounds
Her left leg bends from time to time
Her mala rests quietly in her left hand
The mystery of the breath continues.
Hearts around the planet are awake to her presence among us
As her eyes close again into sleep.
Leaving this awareness ad the whirrrrrr…thump of the Oxygen generator.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Wednesday February 25
Joshua Tree CA
Dear Beloveds of Ruth
Ruth breathes in and breathes out. Life persists. The mala remains in her left hand. A few moments ago she again lifted the mala so that the beads hung below her hand. Her eyes are open but there is no noticeable response to speech.
There are a million stars in the desert sky. It is cold this morning as the cloudless sky allows the Earth to radiate heat into the vastness of the universe. Cycles, day/night. warm/cold, sleep/wake, birth/death…as the universe manifests itself in polarities.
Each time I make my way from my trailer a few feet from the house to Ruth’s room there is the wondering: “Is she still here. Will I find that she has passed away?” There is no longer any fear. Also no urgency to get there, just in case. A rich acceptance has displaced the fear. There will be a moment in the not distant future when a lifetime of breathing in and breathing out will stop. It will be an ordinary moment. It will simply be a ceasing. With the exception that there will not be an eventual inhale it will appear exactly like the tens of thousands of times Ruth has had a gap in her breathing with sleep apnea.
I have observed as the desire to be present for her “last breath” has subsided. I realized that there was some subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, clinging in that desire. I turn inward and observe that this breath in what I call “my body” also comes and goes. Every breath has a beginning and an ending. Each arises our of nothingness and then disappears.
I am touched by the ordinariness of this dying. As Ruth said so many times:, “Everything is anicca. Everything is change.”
One thing is clear. The person we know as Ruth Denison is dissolving away and soon will vanish from the Earth.
I find the following paragraph by Matt Flickstein clear and comforting.
Everything that arises, disappears; whatever is born, dies. Nothing escapes the cycle of birth and death. It is important for us to directly and experientially realize that there is never a point in time when something “exists” and is not in the process of becoming something other than it was just a moment before. All suffering comes from attachment – trying to hold on to that which is perpetually changing – and all attachment comes from delusion. We need to learn to live in the clarity and space of non-attachment, neither grasping nor pushing anything away. The key is to just be present with what arises from moment to moment, without holding or resisting. At the same time, it is essential not to fall into the trap of denying the relative existence of our psychophysical organism and the world of experience it presents.
It is now 6:20 and the sun in brilliant, blinding orange is rising. Another day of life among he 10,000 things has begun.
PS: When Ruth passes away her body will remain here at Dhamma Dena for a day. She will be moved to the dharma hall. Visitors may come at that time. There will be a ceremony in Yucca Valley within a couple of weeks following her passing. I will provide details as they clarify.
Dear Beloveds of Ruth
The Hospice nurse was here this morning and said that while it is impossible to say for sure, Ruth could be with us for quite some days yet.
Her responsiveness was diminished this morning but is returned somewhat this afternoon.
She remains free of pain and emotional distress. She holds her mala and sometimes works the beads with her functional left hand.
One of my students, a surgeon, once gave me some great advice. “If there is not a blocked airway or spurting blood there is not an emergency”.
What is happening here is not at all an emergency. It is the natural and inevitable cost of birth. The precious newborn that was to become Ruth Denison has followed the usual course and is now preparing to vanish back into the mystery.
Part of the lesson I am taking from this time with Ruth is a refreshed commitment to live life fully. Ruth is a consummate model of living fully. From a pretty girl in Prussia prior to WW2 to a world renowned Dharma teacher she had a pretty remarkable ride of a lifetime. As she continues to this moment she has practiced the dharma. She has also dived deeply into love, relationship, dance, and creativity in every action.
I will keep you posted.
With love and gratitude.
February 23, 2015
Joshua Tree CA
Dear Beloveds of Ruth
There has been a large change in the weather. Heavy rain. Cold wind.
Ruth continues much as she has been for he last day, slowly working her mala and breathing. I am convinced that she is clearly conscious and aware. She is practicing!
I cannot find words for the inspiration that this gives me concerning the Dharma. We say that Dharma practice is intended to help us “live well and die well.” The former has been obvious to me for a long time. Now I have a better sense of how important it is to have a stable and aware mind at the time of death. During these last days Ruth has clearly relied upon her practice. She is rooted in her practice.
This reminds me of the weeks and months following her last hip surgery. In the middle of the night I would find her walking back and forth with her walker. Her purpose was to learn to walk again, but also to be aware of “Lifting, moving , placing”, developing concentration and mindfulness
Breathing is the focus here in the room. Breathing is life. This is no idle opinion or fantasy. When breathing stops life stops. No wonder the Buddha placed so much emphasis upon in-breathing and out-breathing. It is the first meditation object. It is the foundation of mindfulness practice.
From the Satipatthana Suttra: “Breathing in long,s/he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long,s/he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ She trains herself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily formations.’ She trains herself”
The whirr of the Oxygen compressor is punctuated by a rhythmic thump every fifteen seconds or so. I am experiencing a complete peace and ease here in this middle of the night cocoon with Ruth. There is nothing left unsaid. The channels of love are wide open. There is no sense of emergency, or tragedy or of there being anything to change or fix. Ruth is coming to the natural ending of a long and most amazing life. From post WW1 Prussia to master Dharma teacher passing away in her desert home while surrounded by loving and devoted students and as the focus of a world wide network of persons holding her lovingly in their hearts. Ruth’s is a life well lived.
Her small care team is a model of how to live cooperatively with one another. Each evening we have dinner together and have a check in. There has been much vulnerability and sweet caring. Of course, conflicts have arisen. This is a situation that can sometimes become stressful. In a most remarkable way we have addressed these issues of difference and found our way to mutual agreements and hearts that feel safe enough to open further.
There is clearly no way to predict how long Ruth will be with us. What is predictable is that we will remain here in close loving support to take are of her every need.
It is an honor and incomparable privilege to be here at Ruth’s bedside. I know that I am changing, growing evolving fast in this context. Just as the caterpillar cannot imagine what will emerge from the cocoon, so it is here. Something of great importance is happening. In the world’s sacred literature it is common to say that “the world shook”, or some other great event of nature occurred when the master died. While I am not a believer in the literal meaning of such phenomena it is clear that the world of those who love the passing master is often profoundly shaken. Clearly that is happening for many who are not here in this room. Ruth continues to leave her indelible mark upon our hearts and is helping us to awaken.
Ruth is sleeping again. She seems to be deeply at ease. She is still not receiving any medication other than the one to thin secretions.
With love and gratitude for all your support.
.Beloveds of Ruth
It is 12:30 Pacific Time
Our vigil continues. We sit in a semicircle around Ruth’s bed.
Ruth is hearing the Requiem Mass in C Major by Charles Gounoud. Ruth was Catholic as a little girl and loved the music. She and Henry used to listen to this. It was played for holiness in his dying. I used to play it for us every time I came to visit. Tears would grace her cheeks.
Now her breathing is less strong. She continues to hold the mama and touch the beads.
The love in this room is palpable. We know many many of you are joining us and we are grateful
A Burmese teacher Rina Sircar who taught in San Francisco used to say “When we see how difficult life is, how can we be anything but loving”
Dear Beloveds of Ruth
Ruth made a kind of transition late last night. The hospice worker said that this is the start of the final phase of her dying.
She is very peaceful. clearly not in pain, and at least to some degree lucid of mind.
She is holding a mala in her left hand and very very slowly working the beads. From time to time she lifts the mala into her range of view.
We are playing chanting by the monks of Abhayagiri monastery and it seems to soothe her.
There are four or five people in the room all sitting silently.
There is a beautiful loving and peaceful and awake energy in the room.
I find this mind thinking that Ruth is “completely safe”. What could possibly be wrong about her dissolving back into the mystery?
I will email within half an hour when she passes away.
The plan when she passes away is that she will stay here at home for a day. Then she will be taken to a mortuary in Yucca Valley.
In about two weeks there will be a funeral including a viewing of her body, the ceremony and then driving a few miles to the east to the crematorium. Following that there will be a catered reception at Dhamma Dena.
More about this will be forthcoming as dates are clear.
We are aware of your prayers and loving energies and are supported by them.
With much love