Stream of Consciousness

Facing Death - Part I

Facing Death - Part II

Passive Resistance - Part I

Passive Resistance - Part II

Workshop Reports - August 2004

Facing Death, Part II

Shintaido in the life and death of a man with AIDS

Published in Body Dialogue #6, 1997

Monday, May 13 1996, around 4:40 pm, Bill Peterson died in my arms.

It was around 4:30 pm when I arrived at his apartment in San Francisco. His mother, Catherine, his lifetime best friend, Jon, and one of his first friends in San Francisco, Ron, were there. They seemed completely exhausted by giving the around the clock vigil they had been keeping at Bill's bedside over the past few days. Bill was in the final stages of AIDS and drifted in and out of consciousness. Most of his internal system had ceased to function. Jon was holding Bill in his arms and trying to help him breathe. To me, it was obvious that Bill was ready to go.

After visiting briefly with his mother, I walked into Bill's bedroom where Jon and I greeted each other me to me de or 'eye to eye'. I had never met Jon before, but I felt as if I had known him for a long time. It seemed to me that Jon's mind was in conflict, struggling with not wanting to lose Bill, but also not wanting him to continue to suffer. He told me that the hospice nurse was due to arrive at any moment.

A moment of struggle came to my mind, too. Should I help him? How? I am not trained as a hospice nurse.

Shall I keep watching them without offering any of my knowledge? No! Bill needs me right now!! Jon needs to take a break, too. Then, it was very natural for me to take over Jon's position and I started holding Bill in my arms.

As soon as I held him in my arms, I immediately began to talk to him in my mind. "Bill!" I said, "let's do a meditation together. Relax your shoulders and release the tension from your neck. I know that your 'true' self realizes that your life is infinite. I think you are ready to go back to where you came from. Do not be afraid of leaving your body. Let yourself go! Let yourself go!! Let yourself go!!" After I repeated this the third time, I felt that Bill was doing his final Um of Tenshingoso in this life.

According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, when a man dies, his soul is supposed to return to where he originally came from. However, he sometimes gets stopped along the way by many types of temptation caused by the karma of his past life. Sometimes it takes 49 days for his soul to make its mind up where to go, and if he makes a wrong decision and gets stuck by one of those temptations, he will never go back to where he came from.

I was not sure how much Bill had studied this text when he was alive. Simply I hoped that Bill's spirit would not get involved in any trouble At that time, I was simply happy to know that Bill had enough practice of the forms of Tenshingoso and Eiko. I started whispering to him again: "Bill! You have just finished Tenshingoso Dai. OK!! It is time to do Eiko Dai. Gently start opening yourself and stretch out. Set your eye focus to far front. Do not get disturbed by any distractions around you. Keep looking at the horizon where you can find a strong, clear, bright light. Are you ready? Hajime! Run and run!! Faster and faster!! Keep kaishoken and stretching your arms!! Your shoko is tenso, and your tenso is shoko!"

When the hospice nurse arrived around 5:00 pm, I stopped my meditation with Bill. It was obvious that my job was over. I was not sad at all. Actually I was feeling good. It was exactly like a moment right after a great keiko. I was happy that Bill was not suffering any more. A few minutes later Lou Meyer, Debra Buddie, and their son Griffin arrived. Jon and Lou helped the nurse. They cleaned Bill's body and put his new clothes on him. Lou and Debra asked me to lead Tenshingoso, so I did it again, but this time with Lou and Debra, I left Bill's apartment around 5:30 pm.

Bill Peterson practiced Shintaido between 1988 and 1992. At one period, he was a major driving force in Bay Area Shintaido and managed the dojo on Dolores Street with the highest intention. The readers of the Shintaido of America newsletter may remember his article about his sensei-care experience at the Pacific '90 retreat.

Bill was a very direct and stubborn person. When he was happy, he showed it by becoming very generous. Almost too generous. As a result, he felt that everyone was taking advantage of him and he got angry. And when he got angry, he got nasty. He could get very nasty, if he wanted. It was obvious that he was looking for some trouble in order to express his frustration. To me he was like a grown-up Dennis the Menace! In any case, I had always enjoyed his character which reminded me of an old European artist who lived in the middle ages and whose art works had never been appreciated enough.

Bill had a frame shop called the Framing Dragon in Mill Valley. I believe that it took quite a while for Bill to develop his business in this town of middle-class Americans. But the customers who once found his talent hidden behind his odd character stayed with him for a long time. It was very convenient for them to have a good 'old' artisan in their town.

I often popped into his shop on the way back from my 'power spot' on Mt. Tamalpais. It was always my pleasure to give him a surprise visit, especially when I was with my out-of-town guests. These visits kept us in good contact even after he stopped practicing Shintaido.

1995 went very fast for me. I made four trips to Japan, three trips to Canada, and two trips to Europe for Shintaido and other business. Besides teaching Shintaido, my new hobbies kept me busy too. In fact, my new hobbies, diving and golfing, kept me away from my customary meditation at Mt. Tam and visits to the Framing Dragon.

At the beginning of the year, I got the bad news that Bill Peterson had contracted AIDS and that his health was failing rapidly. In April, I received a surprise telephone call from Lee Ordeman who is presently living in Tokyo and practicing Shintaido at the Japanese HQ. At first, I thought that he was calling me from Japan. Soon I realized that he was in town and came to see Bill. He said that he was planning to come back to San Francisco for the International Gasshuku, but Bill might not be on this planet by then. Lee made a special short-trip from Japan to SF.

Bill had planned a garage sale of his personal things for Saturday, April 6th. Luckily, I was in the United States at the time. When I arrived at the Framing Dragon around 11:00 am, a bunch of Shintaido folks were already there surrounding Bill. I was afraid to hear his first comment to me since I had not seen him for the last 14 months. Fortunately he was in a good mood. More than a good mood, he was continually smiling and not angry. He seemed very mild and more mature. His face looked much better than a few years before, when he was healthy! I would say that he had matured mentally and spiritually even though he was suffering physically. No more grown-up Dennis the Menace, but instead a nice looking man who had done enough practice in his life was there. He was a new Bill.

For a long time I wanted him to reach this stage through Shintaido. It was obvious that he had pain in his body but not in his heart anymore.

This was a new 'Bill' who could listen to people, but did not need to be listened to. He could love people, but was not desperate to be loved. He was soft and open so that he was able to forgive. For a long time, I wanted him to reach this stage through Shintaido. It was obvious that he had pain in his body but not in his heart anymore. If I were allowed, I would say I almost appreciate what infected his body. God gave him what he really needed by letting him go through this horrible sickness.


In 1992, Brighton, England, at the last keiko of the Shintaido Forum, we prayed for one of our favorite Shintaido friends in France who died of cancer. When I was asked to give my gorei for instructors, I simply arranged Shintaido's shouting exercise in an image similar to a scene in Kurosawa's movie, Red Beard. I separated all instructors into two groups facing each other. I asked one group to shout "Marion!" the name of our friend, while the other group shouted Genki! ("Healthy!")

At that moment, we were not sure if Marion was still alive or had passed away already. In any case, I just wanted her spirit to know that we were with her beyond space and time. I also asked all instructors to imagine that this name represents anyone in the world who is suffering unreasonably. So by calling her name, I wanted them to send their encouragement to all people who were in a difficult condition.

Since we lost Marion four years ago, I started studying "death": how we die, or how to help people to die gracefully. It became my focus since I started to teach Shintaido meditation to care-givers in California. I was anxious to come up with my own understanding of how to manage dying. I had seen off several people in my life, but I had never thought of using Tenshingoso and Eiko exactly at the moment of death. Bill! Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to share that moment with you. From now on, to me, Tenshingoso and Eiko will be my Sutra. Wasn't it a nice kumite we had! You gave me a good hint for a Shintaido funeral: Celebration of departure to Ten. A nice framework, man!

Shin Shin Datsu Raku, Ten Ga Ichi Nyo!

Shin Shin Datsu Raku, Ten Ga Ichi Nyo!j

As body and mind are completely relaxed and released, you are in Ten (God) and Ten (God) is in you!

Dear Bill! You did good shugyo on this planet. Sleep well! Or are you in trouble again, doing sensei-care for Jesus and Buddha? Which one are you going to serve first?


On June 30,1996, the 49th day after Bill Peterson passed from this planet, a small party of friends gathered to scatter Bill's ashes on Mt. Tamalpais. It was the day of a full moon and a blue moon. I began the ceremony by ringing a Tibetan bell and reading Panaparamita-sutra. Then I led the group in Tenshingoso. We scattered Bill's ashes into the wind and said our good-byes.


Terms used in this article, "Facing Death II", in the order of their appearance:

Um - vocalization for the beginning and ending of the cyclical form of Tenshingoso

Tenshingoso (dai) - literally it means 5 manifestations of cosmic truth; a basic Shintaido form indicating the cycle of life.

Eiko (dai) literally it means glory; a basic Shintaido form indicating running to the infinite horizon

Hajime - begin

Kaishoken - Shintaido's completely open-hand position

Kumite - partner exercise based on the Shintaido philosophy of 'life-exchange'

Shoko - literally it means witnessing light; a form indicating focus on an infinite horizon

Tenso - literally it means heavenly phenomenon; a form indicating focus on the highest point

Keiko - Shintaido practice

Gorei - conducting or leading a Shintaido practice

Genki - health, healthy

Sutra - literally it means thread; sacred Buddhist texts

Ten - heaven, cosmos, God