I continue to meditate on death these days. Seems it’s everywhere right now, and so it’s hard not to. The Fall leaves, the Syrian refugees, the destruction of Harbin, Halloween, Women Who Run with the Wolves, and the release of old ways of being. Maybe death has always been everywhere, and till now I’ve never allowed myself to focus on it. But as the meditations deepen, they find unexpectedly powerful outlets. A few weeks ago, for example, I was invited to a play. I had no idea what the play was to be about besides a brief blurb online. It ended up being a tragicomic examination of grief upon losing a loved one. At the end the playwright and sole performer passed out cardboard coffins, blue pens, and yellow legal pads and invited us to write about something we were releasing through our grief–no joke, the universe is so committed to me getting the picture that I am being followed. And what exactly is the picture, the message, the shooting star of insight that is being flung for me?
Death is not that bad, and in fact, has unexpected benefits.
Now, this is not to belittle or dismiss the vein shredding, tooth cracking pain that it brings. I too have cried in the bathroom on my knees in the wee hours. I spent the weekend after breaking up with the love of my life in a darkened apartment, watching the Hallmark Channel, and crying so hard I spilled sweet and sour sauce in my hair. Years earlier I spent twelve months in San Francisco, the city of my first bit of awakening, hiding in my apartment eating burritos after work and cursing the unnatural cold.
But what if, by virtue of practice, soul, and community, we could embrace endings as a part of life? Grieve our losses and settle back into softness? Understand that life has cycles? What would that type of person be like? I don’t know yet, but I intend to find out. Not because I want to be enlightened or give more back to the world (I had half a pizza for dinner tonight and a whole bag of unread student creative writing waiting for me). I intend to do it because I’m fucking tired of fear, fear of anything, and have been on a relentless campaign of ‘understand and repurpose’ these last few years.
And to date, what I understand is that I am afraid of endings, of death, because it feels like I failed. I wasn’t watchful enough, giving enough, creative enough, and so the things I loved ended. And if they end, it only makes sense to me that everything else will follow shortly after in a mea culpa of dominos and I will never be happy again. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, “We have been taught that death is always followed by more death. It is simply not so, death is always in the process of incubating new life, even when one’s existence has been cut down to the bones.”
Whaaaat? Death as the harbinger of life? How can that be? It feels backwards, but many dead things are actually dead before we’re willing to admit it, at least in the beginning of forming this relationship with the Skeleton Woman. Sweet and sour sauce in the hair guy? I stayed for two and a half years when I should have stayed for one and a half. My last school? I stayed for five years when I should have stayed for three, maybe four. As I start to develop a relationship with the life/death/life cycle, and ask it over tea what it would like to say about my past, I see very clearly what is already gone. Now I’m preparing to bury carcasses I’ve been propping up for a while (too long). As I look up from building caskets the contrast between lived life and released death is clear in ways it has never been. The energy spent in lying, grasping, and pretending that life is the same as stasis, can now be spent on seeing. And the intrigue of that is mouth watering. I’m asking questions in a way I have not in years. I’m dreaming in electricity. I’m feeling the truth of what hurts now instead of the gangrene of what hurt years ago.
Are you still scared of death? Well yeah..duh. But it is first date scared and not trip-to-the dentist scared. I’ve started building a series of caskets, one of which is pictured here. After I’m sure they say all that needs saying, I have a place picked out to leave each.