Stephen Levine


American Author, Poet and Teacher best known for work on death and dying as well as works on Theravada Buddhism

Author Quotes

Most people live with one foot in the womb, hopping around the world, never quite coming out. Completing our birth is a process of becoming grounded, putting both feet on the ground. It is taking responsibility for being born, but not responsibility as blame. People say they are responsible for their illness. We are not responsible for our illness, we are responsible to our illness. We are not responsible for our incarnation, we are responsible to our incarnation.

Near-death experiences, where we see that we are not the body, and that death draws us to a center of love, are great wisdom teachings. They also show that the ignorance we pick up during life doesn't go away easily.

Relationships do not end when a person dies. Some other aspect of it deepens and begins. Your relationship isn't over, it is just no longer externalized. The pain involved is the consequence of love. That's what love costs.

The way we respond to pain is the way we respond to life. When things aren't the way we want them to be, what do we do? Do we close down, or do we open up to get more of a sense of what's needed in the moment? Our conditioning is to close down -- aversion, rejection, put it away, denial. Nothing heals. That is the very basis on which unfinished business accumulates, putting it away -- I'm right, they're wrong; no quality of forgiveness. We know many people who are working on sending forgiveness into their tumors, into their AIDS, into their degenerative heart disease. It sounds so bizarre, because our conditioning is to send anger into it, fear into it. Where can there be healing in that?

The word surrender is so funny, because most people, particularly in the case of illness, equate surrender with defeat. But surrender is letting go of resistance. Most of what we call pain is the resistance that clenches down on the unpleasant. In fact, a really dynamic, practical sense of that is that a lot of the people we work with, if they're going to take medicine, they'll look at it. They won't just swallow it automatically. They're not trying to take healing from outside. They're not giving up control to healing. They're participating in it, they're taking responsibility for it -- responsibility being the ability to respond, instead of the necessity to react. They look at the pills, and as they take them in, they guide them with loving-kindness into the area, because they've put so much attention into the area they know the inside, the multiple molecular variation of sensation within, the moment-to-momentness of that area. They direct it into that area, and they find, for instance with pain medication, that once the resistance has been gone through, that they can decrease the medication. Because I think a lot of medications get used up by the resistance before they ever get to the place that they're being taken to.

There is no place where forgiveness is inappropriate, although it may take time.ÿ

When the mind sinks into the heart, and vice versa, there's healing. When we become one with ourselves, there's healing.

Aversion to pain is the greatest decreaser of life experience. When you always turn away from difficulties, you're not going to go far. Anyone who has done genuine, long-range spiritual practice knows there are periods that are very difficult. Letting go of our suffering is the hardest work we do.

Human beings, when not stressed, are utterly beautiful. It is only when we are confused that our hearts shrivel and our minds figure crafty ways out of situations. The rational mind is a completely amoral, problem-solving device. When we relate to life from our minds, we take our feet off the ground. It's like not wanting to touch the floor, fearing that we will be burned.

Life has difficulties in it, but the power we have to deal with life, which might never be called on if life weren't difficult at times, is miraculous. Facing life responsibly gives you confidence. The enormous power of the heart, and the power we have to receive the healing we took birth for, is within us all. If life's difficulties weren't jiggling us, we wouldn't spread our legs enough to get our balance.

Love is the only rational act of a lifetime.

That which is impermanent attracts compassion. That which is not provides wisdom.

The process of growth is, it seems, the art of falling down.. Growth is measured by the gentleness and awareness with which we once again pick ourselves up, the lightness with which we dust ourselves off, the openness with which we continue and take the next unknown step, beyond our edge, beyond our holding, into the remarkable mystery of being.

The saddest part about being human is not paying attention. Presence is the gift of life.

I have seen many die, surrounded by loved ones, and their last words were ‘I love you.’ There were some who could no longer speak yet with their eyes and soft smile left behind that same healing message. I have been in rooms where those who were dying made it feel like sacred ground.

There is nothing noble about suffering except the love and forgiveness with which we meet it. Many believe that if they are suffering they are closer to God, but I have met very few who could keep their heart open to their suffering enough for that to be true.

If our only spiritual practice were to live as though we were already dead, relating to all we meet, to all we do, as though it were our final moments in the world, what time would there be for old games or falsehoods or posturing? If we lived our life as though we were already dead, as though our children were already dead, how much time would there be for self-protection and the re-creation of ancient mirages? Only love would be appropriate, only the truth.

There is nothing to do but be.

If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment and dismay.

Those who insist they've got their 'shit together' are usually standing in it at the time.

If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?

Until we find out who was born this time around, it seems irrelevant to seek earlier identities. I have heard many people speak of who they believe they were in previous incarnations, but they seem to have very little idea of who they are in this one. . . . Let’s take one life at a time. Perhaps the best way to do that is to live as though there were no afterlife or reincarnation. To live as though this moment was all that was allotted.

In Chinese, the word for heart and mind is the same -- Hsin. For when the heart is open and the mind is clear they are of one substance, of one essence.

We are motivated more by aversion to the unpleasant than by a will toward truth, freedom, or healing. We are constantly attempting to escape our life, to avoid rather than enter our pain we, and we wonder why it is so difficult to be fully alive.

It is not for the concept, but for the experience, that we use the term the Beloved. The experience of this enormity we falteringly label divine is unconditioned love. Absolute openness, unbounded mercy and compassion. We use this concept, not to name the unnameable vastness of being-- our greatest joy-- but to acknowledge and claim as our birthright the wonders and healings within.

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American Author, Poet and Teacher best known for work on death and dying as well as works on Theravada Buddhism