The following guided meditation includes a simplified body scan, shared breathing with emphasis on the out-breath, concluding with a guided visualization. The most important aspect in this practice is the relationship of trust between the dying person and the caregiver. This practice was developed by Patricia Shelton and Richard Boerstler with further adaption by Joan Halifax.
When participating in this practice it is important to have an additional person present to take care of any needs or issues that arise during the process.
Make sure that the environment is conducive to allow for a period of quiet and attunement. Assure the area is private, secure, safe, quiet, comfortable temperature and that there will be no interruptions for the duration and for period of time after. Assist the dying person find a comfortable position that he/she will be able to sustain for up to an hour.
Explain the process. For example, “This is a way that we can meditate together. This process involves several relaxation exercises and a guided visualization. I hope that you will be able to feel comfortable enough to relax, let go and let unfold what may arise and be helped by this process.” This practice is focused to the needs of the dying person. The lights should be low, the room at a comfortable temperature and the dying patient completely comfortable. The practice can be done lying down or sitting in a comfortable posture.
The caregiver then does a simple version of the body scan with the dying person, beginning with the head to assure comfort. Let’s begin:
Let your body relax and soften. Bring your attention to your breath. Breathe deeply into your belly. Feel your whole body begin to settle.
Breathing deeply, bring your awareness to the top part of your head, to your skull and scalp. Breathe into your scalp. As thoughts arise, just let them be, allowing them to float in and float out of your awareness. Be aware of any tension in your scalp. On your next inhalation, give space to whatever you experience.
Move your attention to your forehead. Be aware of your forehead, accepting whatever tensions might be there. Breathe into your temples. Accept any tension or pain in your temples. As you breathe out, accept whatever you are experiencing.
If you can, put your hand over your eyes as you breathe into them. Be aware of how your eyes feel. See if you can soften your eyes as you breathe in. As you breathe out, let go of all the hardness in and around your eyes.
Breathe in through your nose. Feel air passing in and out of your nostrils. On your next inhalation bring your awareness to the feeling of cool air entering. Feel the warm air on exhalation passing out of your nostrils.
Gently move your awareness to your throat and neck. Breathe into this area, accepting whatever tightness you might feel. As you exhale, continue to relax and rest lightly with the experience.
Shift your awareness as you breathe into your shoulders. Be aware of any sense of heaviness. On your in-breath give your shoulders space. On your out-breath drop continue to drop them down easily.
Let your awareness be in your arms, inhaling and exhaling into them. How do they feel? Be aware of any tightness. There is nothing that you need to hold on to. Touch your hands with awareness. Let them open, palms facing upward. Breathe into the palms of your hands.
Your awareness is now in your spine. Breathe into your spine, letting it stretch with your in-breath, aware of your rib cage expanding. As you exhale, feel your spine lengthen.
Bring your attention now to your chest and lungs. Breathe as deeply into your lungs as you are able, and fill them so that your chest rises after your belly des. Give your chest space in which to breathe deeply. Breathing in, feel your chest opening, your lungs expanding. Be aware of any tightness or feelings of loss and sorrow. Continue with a few more very deep breaths.
Now breathe into your heart. Be aware of openness or tightness in and around your heart. Bring your attention to your diaphragm. Does your diaphragm open as you breathe in deeply? Breathing in, feel your diaphragm, giving your heart and lungs space in which to expand. Be aware of your whole torso as you exhale.
Bring your attention to your stomach. As you inhale, feel your intestines expanding with the in-breath. On your out-breath be aware of any tension in your digestive system. Be aware of the function of your intestines including your bowels and bladder. Breathing in, consider and appreciate your reproductive organs. Exhaling, give the entire pelvic area a feeling of space and ease.
Be aware of your legs and knees. Breathe into your thighs as you settle your attention into them. Breathing out, let your thighs soften, on your inhalation feel gratitude for the support of your legs. Breathing out, appreciate your legs which have carried you so far in this life. Breathe into your knees. On the out-breath be aware of the small muscles around your knees. Breathe in healing energy to them, breathe out any tension and pain.
Breathe into your feet, bringing all your attention to your feet. On your out-breath, be aware of any tension. Imagine on your in-breath that you are breathing all the way through your body into your feet.
To complete this process, slowly and smoothly bring your awareness from your feet to your legs; to your stomach and pelvic area; to your chest, heart and lungs; to your spine; to your shoulders, arms and hands; to your neck; to your face; to the top of your head. Breathe in and out smoothly as your awareness travels up and through your body.
When you have reached the top of your head, return your awareness to your breath, then let it gently spread to your whole body. Stay this way for some minutes. Take a few moments to relax with an open and quiet mind.
When the dying person is ready, the caregiver breaths gently and quietly with the dying person. When appropriate, the caregiver can begin to quietly say “ah” on the out-breath of the dying person. The caregiver does this for 5-10 minutes with the dying person so the one who is dying can really bring his or her attention to the out-breath. If the dying person wishes, he or she may also say “ah” on the out-breath. The sound should be soft, almost like a yawn; the feeling of surrender, letting go.
When the dying person is completely relaxed, the caregiver softly suggests a short period of silence. The caregiver may offer a favorite prayer or any further visualization that will further the dying person’s stillness.
The session can finish with an acknowledgement of effort, deep gratitude for allowing participation or simply a quiet period for further meditation.
Excerpt from Joan Halifax, Being with Dying