Our Weekly Tip: Stop Estate Planning Procrastination Before It Starts

Fear and procrastination go hand-in-hand; learn how to prevent both
Someone tapping a pencil on a blank paper while estate planning

Credit: Rennett Stowe

Our Tip of the Week: If you’re prone to procrastinating on projects, especially ones that don’t seem urgent, it can make a simple task take months or even years longer than it should. When you want to draft your own living will or advanced directive, sometimes the hardest part is to start the first sentence. Oftentimes, our procrastination on these tasks stems from being afraid. Death is still an uncomfortable idea for many people, and writing about our own deaths is especially uncomfortable. When you learn how to ease this fear and overcome procrastination, you will gain both an essential estate planning document as well as the peace of mind knowing that your needs are being met.

How-to Suggestion: Use anti-procrastination techniques to overcome your fear. First, acknowledge the reason why you are procrastinating. Is it really because you don’t have enough time in your schedule, or is it because you are afraid? Prioritize other tasks on your schedule so that you have room to complete your advanced directive, then confront your fear head-on. Ask yourself whether it is more important to avoid this fear, or if it would serve you better to simply sit down and finish the document. Next, break your estate planning into reachable, small steps. Start with just one aspect of the document today. If you feel inspired, finish a few more tasks on your broken-down list. Try to get at least one task done every day until it is finished. Lastly, give yourself the comfort and space you need to do this task well. Writing your advanced directive is personal, so trying to get it done at work during your lunch break is not likely the best environment. Instead, pick a place that is both comforting and feels productive.

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How Can Yoga Help Us Confront Death? An Interview with Camella Nair, Part 2

A yoga teacher and swami discusses impermanence

Today, SevenPonds speaks with Camella Nair, (read part one of our interview here) a yoga teacher and swami born in England and based in California, about her spiritual journey through yoga over the past 30 years. Camella is certified in death midwifery and certified as an Ayurvedic health educator and an Ayurvedic yoga teacher. Camella shares her insights on the yogic path and accepting impermanence.

Yoga teacher and swami Camella Nair

Credit: Camella Nair

Ellary: Will you talk about the Death Insight and Conversation deck of cards you created?

Camella: I developed the Death Insight and Conversation Cards after my training in home funerals with Jerrigrace Lyons in Sebastopol, California. Her organization is called Final Passages, and she’s done a marvelous job training people in home funerals, something that we used to do for thousands of years before all of a sudden we start to get a distaste for caring for our dead. Now it’s become an institution that takes care of our beloveds and we become even more detached from the process of death and dying. We have to pay to see them when we have funerals and things like that. Those cards came very, very quickly as I was finishing my training.

Ellary: It’s a deck of cards, right?

Camella: Yeah, a deck. You use them probably the same way that you would use a tarot deck or something like that. You can either play it when a group of people come together or you can just shuffle them and pick a card whenever you want to, every day or once a week, and just see what comes up for you. It’s like a soul collage. You put yourself in the picture with whatever symbols are there; you actually put yourself in the picture and see what comes up. It’s a fascinating process, actually. Last Thanksgiving, I cooked for my boys and one of their girlfriends, and after dinner I got the deck out and I said, “I’d like to play with this deck with you if that’s OK.” And they said, “Ooh, hmm. Well, alright then, mom.” And the insight that they had was fantastic. It was amazing. We’re always worried about our children, that we’ve got to shelter them, and hide them from things. I mean, my boys are 19 and 22 now, so they’re not young, but I think we always have the desire to shelter our kids from things. They can just offer so much wisdom and clarity about things that our parents can feel really fearful of and become really emotional about. But the time to talk about it is before calamity sets, because we know that the onset of death can tear families apart.

Ellary: Especially if there’s been no preparation for it, emotional or logistical.

Camella: Exactly. You know you’ve got to deal with the grieving process of losing somebody. At the same time you’ve got to figure out, “What do they want, and have I done the right thing?” and then go through all of that logistical stuff. And it’s wasted energy that we could use to help people transition. I think because of the way that we’ve been taught and institutionalized by religion, we think that there’s gonna be some punishment, some penance to pay when we die. So I think one of the greatest things that we can do to help anybody is to remind them of their good deeds. If we’re knee deep in trying to get funeral arrangements and sort out the payments and what’s going on in their lives on the logistical side, we’re not helping them on a spiritual level, on a deeper level helping them transition and find peace. And we can help them. We can expend our energy helping them transition to the next phase of their immortality and not have to deal with all the logistics of paperwork and other family members who might not agree with what we think. You can get all sorts of family arguments going on.

Ellary: Yeah if some of that is sorted beforehand then you have the energy to emotionally and spiritually support people. Going back to the Death Insight and Conversation Cards, what makes them death insight cards?

Camella: Well the mind doesn’t speak in English or Spanish or French or Sanskrit or Chinese or anything; it speaks in symbols. So the cards are all collages and pose questions that come out of our subconscious mind. They create discussion and insight about specific subjects. Some of the cards, I don’t know how they came about, it’s just one of those things. You open up to something and you don’t take credit for it necessarily. It just sort of evolves. It comes out of somewhere out of the universe. The process started by just gathering magazine cuttings and things, ripping them out and piecing them together until they form some picture, some image that speaks to us on some level. And so there are cards that represent death of a marriage, cards that represent death of our food chain. It’s not just about death and dying. There’s a fun card with women in flamboyant clothing, bright yellow clothing. It begs the question, “Would it be OK for you to wear colorful clothing, and invite your guests to a party for your funeral, or do you think it has to be somber just because that’s the way that your family has done it for generations, or that’s the way that you think society shows that you’re showing respect for that person?” So there are lots of different subjects that are covered, not just about death or dying, but with regards to how rigid we are. We all are. We’ve all got this personality, you know where we’re all stuck with our prejudices and our likes and our dislikes, stuff like that. It defines us, I think.

Camella Nair contemplating death and dying

Credit: Camella Nair

Ellary: Do you officiate many funerals?

Camella: Sadly not. I’m very busy and I think it’s important to specialize, have some focus. I did officiate a friend’s mother’s funeral some years ago, and that was before I did my home funeral training. I went to see the lady, and she’d been embalmed. When you see a dead body, its obvious that someone’s not in the building anymore. But then there’s the question of putting chemicals in them, you know it’s another of those processes. I think, “What are we doing it for? To try to make it more acceptable to view a dead body?” We can actually preserve bodies for quite some time, for a few days at least, on dry ice. And if we know the person, we know how they’re going to wear their makeup and their hair, what clothes they’re going to wear. I think that something that’s missing in our society is ritual and ceremony and that should be part of the sacred ritual and ceremony for family members that want to do it, of course. Not everyone’s going to want to do it. But a lot of people don’t know that they can do it, that they can have a home funeral, that they can dress the body, that they can bathe it at home and have a vigil, and come to terms with their loss that way. They don’t have to go to the crematorium and pay to have a viewing and a funeral and so forth, where bodies magically disappear behind the curtain. We’ve just outsourced that part of our life. And I don’t think people realize that they can actually have a home funeral.

Yoga Pose to Help Confront Grief

Credit: Camella Nair

Ellary: Is death something you talk about in your yoga classes?

Camella: Sometimes, yeah.

Ellary: How do people respond to it, generally?

Camella: Surprisingly well, actually. Now I’m teaching a lot of restorative classes, which I really love. You actually don’t teach much. You create an environment where people can just go deeply into a sense of letting go and deep relaxation. When people come and they’re in chronic pain, it’s helpful. We’re all so caught up in doing stuff; even in yoga, we’re caught up with being strong, being bendy. What we’re really doing in yoga is getting rid of stuff, and no more so than in restorative yoga. The people that come to those kind of classes tend to be people in some sort of rehab, or they’re older and they don’t necessarily want to do all the rest of it; they want to have a nice relaxation. They’re usually open to any suggestion of talking about finality or the changes in seasons, the circadian rhythms and things.

Ellary: I’ve heard that one of the ways that asanas (physical yoga poses) can train us is by preparing us to endure other uncomfortable situations. By breathing through the discomfort of a particular pose, you are sort of training and preparing yourself for future hardships, both emotional and physical.

Camella: Yeah, you see people who have injured themselves and are having an operation and don’t want to take medication, just want to breathe through it and use all the skills they learned in yoga, and I suppose that does have an effect, definitely. I teach prenatal yoga as well and what I’m teaching the girls is to focus a lot on the exhale and just letting go, because so much emphasis in the past has just been to screw your face up and make it look like you’re pushing really hard. We don’t train women to prepare for an active childbirth at all. Even in the yoga world, we’re teaching poses for the first, second and third trimester rather than focusing on this whole process of life-changing experience that can actually be rather like the outer fringes of samadhi. When you get to that second phase, that transitory phase when things are really happening, it is like an out of body experience. Sadly, most women are really not prepared, other than talking about kegels and things like that and what medications they’re going to go on and how quick the baby’s going to come out. People don’t treat the whole experience as something positive, you know? They still use the word pain for labor, instead of choosing a word without a negative association, like intensity or something like that.

Ellary: Yes, it’s important to pay attention to the charge of certain words and the shifting our experience just based on how we name it. It must be really rewarding to work with pregnant women.

Camella: Oh, it is. Yeah, there was a girl in the training this weekend that was six months pregnant. It’s such a no-brainer when you think about it, because her body’s growing, and the baby’s in a water environment. All of our bodies are in a water environment, and then you take your yoga practice into a swimming pool, and it’s just fantastic.

Ellary: Have there been any books in particular around death and dying, or any yoga books related to loss and grieving and clinging and attachment that have been particular poignant and impactful for you?

Camella: Studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has really helped me. Honestly for me it was studying the Yoga Sutras and really getting that we’re supposed to come to terms with our temporality in the physical body and the fact that we’re immortal and we never die. I liked what Goswami Kriyananda had to say. He actually left his body earlier this year. I always thought that maybe I’d get to see him again before he died, but didn’t, unfortunately. I was talking to some students shortly afterwards, and they asked what Kriyananda was doing now, and I told them that he’d left his body. They said they were sorry and I said, “You know what? I have to be really strong because I remember him saying years ago, ‘Don’t grieve my death, otherwise you defame my teaching, and you haven’t listened to anything I’ve told you about the temporality of the physical body, and the fact that we’re immortal.'” It helped, because it’s like a losing a grandfather and a grandfather’s spiritual teachings.

You think you’re never going to see them again, but of course you are. Even this weekend when I was teaching and I was talking — obviously when you’ve been with someone for so long, listening to them, you find yourself saying words and it’s like they’re saying them, you know what I mean? And so he was there. It was like he was there. It’s the same when we lose a family member or a friend. We’ll say something or do something or look at something and it’ll bring back a memory, and they’re with us. Those whose hearts and minds are one are never apart. I find him and anyone that I’ve lost over the years in meditation, contemplation, staring at a lovely sunset or something. You know, they’re always with us. Like thoughts.

Ellary: Thank you so much, Camella, for taking the time to speak with us. It was a privilege hearing your insight.

Camella: Thank you!

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“At my age, I do what Mark Twain did. I get my daily paper, look at the obituaries page, and if I’m not there, I carry on as usual.”

- Patrick Moore
Businessman Reading Newspaper reflecting about life

Credit: zoomnews.com

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Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

This fictional tale delves into the pain of losing close friends

Book cover for Colorless Tsukuru TazakiIn high school, a man named Tsukuru Tazaki was once part of a loving group of five friends; suddenly, he lost them all without explanation.

What follows in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage is an exploration into the psychological havoc that such an intense and sudden loss can have on a person’s identity. Throughout the novel, the main character considers himself merely a shell of a person. He explains that he and his friends had a precious, almost holy, connection to one another; they created a separate, living, breathing organism when they were in the same room.

Tsukuru Tazaki is left to grieve his friends for more than 16 years, unable to get the closure he needs. Without revealing too much of the book’s ethereal plot, Tazaki is forced to overcome his ostracization, guilt and, eventually, a death. Like many Murakami novels, the book is less driven by plot, and more driven by the internal struggle of his characters.

The sharp pain that the main character feels, and the numbness that overwhelms him later, exactly mirrors real life loss.

Although this book is very much in the Kafkaesque realm of surrealism, it can serve as an important companion piece for anyone who has been ripped apart by sudden loss. The sharp pain that the main character feels, and the numbness that overwhelms him later, exactly mirrors real life loss. Murakami has a way of describing the seemingly indescribable. In Murakami’s hands, Tazaki’s pain becomes not only tangible, but relatable.

Haruki Murakami

Credit: wikipedia.org

By far the most important aspect of the book comes through Tazaki’s sometimes-flawed sense of self. Murakami establishes Tazaki as a sort of unreliable narrator, but what makes him unreliable is the same thing that nearly everyone struggles with at one point in their lives. It’s the idea that Tazaki has a fatal flaw in his personality, and that no one could possibly love him or want to be with him for long as a result of this undiscovered flaw. The audience never perceives a major flaw in his character, yet Tazaki is convinced of its existence.

When a loved one commits suicide, those left behind often feel that if their personalities had been just a bit more perfect, their loved one would never have wanted to commit suicide.

This is a common feeling to have in general, and it becomes more common among those who have experienced loss, especially from suicide. Guilt is wrapped up in the loss. When a loved one commits suicide, those left behind often feel that if their personalities had been just a bit more perfect, their loved one would never have wanted to commit suicide. Of course, this idea is false, but it is one that plagues the minds of many people overcoming such a loss.

Murakami’s novel teaches us that we will not always get the answers we seek in life. Sometimes, horrifying things happen to us and the people around us, without any observable cause. Rather than wallowing in the mystery, Murakami makes a case for facing that void head-on, accepting its presence and learning to live again. Ironically, a fictional novel can teach us more about accepting the realities of life than some of the most well-meaning self-help books.

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On This Thanksgiving Day, We Offer Thanks to All Our Wonderful Followers

"He who thanks but with the lips thanks but in part; The full, the true Thanksgiving comes from the heart." - J.A. Shedd
Thanksgiving flower pumpkins in honor of a loved one

Credit: aftradition.com

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The Ars Moriendi, or “The Art of Dying”

A Medieval manual for death and dying
 Temptation or lack of faith, one of the five temptations of the Ars moriendi, engraving circa 1450

Temptation or lack of faith, one of the five temptations of the Ars moriendi, engraving circa 1450
(Credit: en.wikipedia.org)

The Ars Moriendi (“The Art of Dying”) are two Latin texts dating back to 1415 and 1450, written to guide Christians through the process of “dying well,” according to Christian tenets of the late Middle Ages. The books inform the dying about what to expect as they transition, and offers prayers and prescribes mental attitudes and consolations. It also outlines deathbed etiquette for the family members and friends of the dying person. It is the first guide to death and dying in the Western literary tradition of such guides. 

To fill the deficit, “paper-priests”–pamphlets containing prayers and penances — were distributed, circulating through households all over Europe.

In the aftermath of the Black Death, there was a shortage of priests, who typically performed the “last rites” which ensured salvation. To fill the deficit, “paper-priests”–pamphlets containing prayers and penances — were distributed, circulating through households all over Europe. The development of Gutenberg’s printing press allowed the pamphlets and the Ars Moriendi to fill the gaps left by the thinned-out clergy.

The Ars Moriendi seeks to assuage spiritual anxiety rather than amplify it, by highlighting the efficacy of repentance in winning salvation rather than focusing on Hell and eternal torment, as much earlier medieval Christian literature did. It offers a manual that organizes the dying process into an intricate systematic structure, which serves as a container that reduces some of the fear around the unknown. It breaks death and dying down into a series of specific, manageable steps in a highly ordered procedure that helps focus the energy of the dying person and allows him or her to feel some agency over his or her own death.

Gutenberg press that printed the Ars Moriendi

The invention of the Gutenberg printing press allowed the first version latin text on Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) to be distributed after the Black Death
(Credit: flickr.com)

The original “long version” of the Ars Moriendi was written in 1415 Germany by an anonymous Dominican friar. It includes six chapters:

1.  Chapter one consoles the dying person, explaining that death is not something to be afraid of, and that there are some positive aspects to death.

2. Chapter two lists the five temptations faced by dying people and how to resist them. The five temptations listed are lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice.

3.  Chapter three outlines seven questions to present to the dying person. These questions revolve around commitment to orthodox faith, fear of the Lord, genuine contrition, commitment to living piously, forgiveness of enemies, restoration of ill-gotten goods to others and belief that Christ died for their sins.

4.  Chapter four expresses the importance of emulating Christ, offering examples of the five things Christ did on the cross. These five were: 1) prayers, 2) inward calls to God, 3) external weeping, 4) committing his soul to God, and 5) dying willingly

5) Chapter five addresses family and friends of the dying person, prescribing etiquette at the deathbed.

6) Chapter six consists of prayers to be said for the dying person.

Each pair consists of one picture of the devil presenting one of the five temptations and the other picture showing the antidote to that temptation.

Ars Moriendi book about death

Credit: pinterest.com

The “short version” of the Ars Moriendi is from the Netherlands and dates back to 1450. The “short version” is comprised of eleven woodcut pictures. The images are instructive and can be easily explained and memorized. The appearance of the “short version” of the Ars Moriendi just precedes the introduction of block books in the 1460s. The first five woodcuts are divided into five pairs. Each pair consists of one picture of the devil presenting one of the five temptations and the other picture showing the antidote to that temptation. The last woodcut is of a man, having successfully avoided succumbing to temptations, being welcomed into heaven and the confused devils scurrying back to Hell.

Because the Roman Catholic clergy was hit particularly hard by the Black Death, the dearth of priests to attend to dying people required an innovative solution. The Ars Moriendi was one solution. Thus, the Ars Moriendi begins the Western literary tradition of manuals to prepare for death and dying, on what it meant to die a good death, and protocols for dying well.

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