“Where do you find hope and inspiration when confronting your own or this planet's mortality?*
Confronted by such an immense question, humbled and stupefied by its immensity, I really only feel fit to walk into the kitchen, set coffee, take a moment to give heart spirit thought quiet free reign.
Adrift in thoughts. Swelling in waves. Each wave resonates. The waves play upon each other, continue and continue. Not simply growing, but moving in every direction, form, related, unrelated, above, below, deeper taller higher, swirling, waves interwoven logically, waves in counterpoint, waves without clear relationships. Ballet of waves, small symphony of waves.
And by now, coffee, ready, delicious, pulling me back to shore.
Mortality. Grandparents die, parents die, childhood friends die, school friends die, media seek easy profit by titillating us with shocking news of celebrity deaths. Tragic dramatic deaths. Anonymous innocents buried in rubble and numbers. Outside our kitchen window, Elm tree leaves turn from lush end-summer greens to autumn yellows. A man gets a jumpstart for his car’s dead battery. The news is not good. More die.
Take my father: worked hard, got cancer, died young, I spent six years wondering, “What was the sense of that?...” I kept a Death Journal, filled it with obituary clippings, glimpses of peoples’ lives and ends, to try to reconcile myself to death.
To paraphrase Joanna Macy, “Embrace what you know is real and it will set you free to experience in full.”
I’m grateful I had the time, means and opportunity to dwell on death: I feel it liberated me.
Over time I came to a vastly fuller and gratifying sense of wonder at the diversity of lives well-lived, and how death is present in every moment. Because I saw death as ubiquitous, impossible to avoid, I stopped fearing or avoiding it. I no longer saw death as some deviant punctuating the smooth Status Quo fabric of life, nor as a remote abstract icon causing panic, fear, confusion, adrenaline. But rather Death as full and profoundly-present partner and friend in Life’s Journey.
I know: hard to swallow. Western clichés are so life-biased; Western clichés view death as a morbid obsession. There’s strong Western taboe against dwelling on death. Or being positive about death. Openness to death isolates.
A self-perpetuating spiral escalates to isolate us.In the West, death is the Elephant in the Living Room.
The cards are stacked against that changing. Start with practicalities: time. Most people find it hard to find sufficient time to live. Who has time to confront death, let alone to befriend death? We tend to believe we’ll have plenty of time for death when we’re dead. For better or worse, we turn a blind eye to death, push death away at the expense of trying to live. It’s the Western Way.
Our pragmatic, urbanized, shiny conditionally-reinforced mediatized blindness to our connection with the living glory of the universe turns “living mortality” into a stranger. We simplify death as one-dimensional Darth Vader: dark, threatening, faceless, no past, no future, just go away and leave us alone. Strangeness intensifies xenophobia. So we invest in taller stronger antiseptic electric fences to hold the stranger at bay.
Not every life adheres to blindness. My mother loved to garden. Her energy, life, breath, fruits of her labors all flowed from her body into the earth, bringing the bounties of life to loved ones to share her tables, perfumed blossoms, passion for colors, passage of seasons. We recycled and composted endlessly, giving countless generations and rebirth of life from death to life.
After a long life beautifully lived, her body as great-grandmother confided to that same earth, in which she worked and was part of countless cycles of life death rebirth life.
Given her place in that interwoven web of constantly dynamic being, it is impossible for me to not witness her on-going full presence in everything at every moment in all the profound pulsating energy and glory of the sun earth universe. She is here and alive, make no mistake of that. Not as trite physical body, but beautifully incarnate and expansively reflected in the universe that she loved, absorbed, moved in, lived to her fullest, and all which carry on amazingly. As I write I hear wind in the trees, swaying full with her presence.
I love this gorgeous rich sense of being part of the tapestry of this earth, profound joy and gratefulness in this gift of mortality and life interwoven.
O Me! O Life!By Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer.That you are here—that life exists and identity,That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
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