Death is natural


Death is natural and it can feed my life

How can I better come to terms with the fact that death, in particular, my death is natural? I can reluctantly shake my head and say yes of course dying is natural. It’s been happening for all living things from the beginning. I have spent time around dying people. I have buried many pets, watched dead trees be removed and lately have been intently studying more about dying, particularly in America. So, my head is pretty squarely in agreement. Yes you will die and that’s ok. It’s a fact that by now you can start to truly live with and possibly discover joy in.

However, my day to day experience as a mother raising my daughter, a woman deeply attached to family and friends, a vibrant human imagining and planning for the future ships me far out to sea from this sober shore. It’s like I’m living in two distinct time zones, one that is curious about how death can and does feed our lives directly while the other resists, fears and grieves the ultimate transformation/dissolution/ letting go death requires of us. I am sure I am not the only one!

What to do? I think the Buddhists, and the elders of many cultures have it right. I must bring death closer to my living, talk about it more, and cultivate my own heart, which is most certainly vulnerable and present to death. A daily investigation is needed in order to gain familiarity and trust in the fact that I am not in this alone. I am loved and held as I cycle through  my life on earth. I must reconnect and synchronize my heart, mind and attention with death, taking notice of how it cycles through the natural world, gracefully honor my aging body and become deeply in touch with the impermanence that radiates through all of life. 

I remember the first time it may have occurred to me that I wasn’t a solid forever entity. I was maybe around 6 years old and I was taking a bath at my grandmas house and I had a wash cloth that I dipped in the tub water and then put in my mouth to suck on the way a kid would while possibly bored or thinking of what to do next and I had this thought, “what will it be like when I’m not here?” and I knew right then I had never considered that before. There was a very real sense of my present moment, now I’m here, and someday I won’t be. It kind of blew my mind. And guess what? It still does! I suspect others feel a similar derailment from time to time.

Culturally, we have made such  incredible advances and in their midst have become habituated to think that modern science should stamp out death, disease, and even old age. I  love what we can do and I get excited to see what is brewing. However, I can’t escape that gnawing knowing that our human existence is literally a part of this earth for a special amount of time/space. This recognition is being clarified and expressed more lately. Aside from being biologically evident, this realization also serves to ground us in the gift of the present moment. I am eager to express this vulnerability and align more and more with my natural state of being, which, as I thought 40 years ago, is quite finite and mysterious.

I believe there can be joy in this journey of awakening. I’m hopeful for that. This awakening can be bright like a hot summer morning sunrise and have that melancholic flavor of a beautiful winter sunset, a circuitous emergence. I had another light bulb moment right after I turned 39 and was taking a human dissection workshop to better my massage skills.  I look back now and it’s pretty obvious I was trying to better understand death by exploring cadavers in a lab. I thought I signed up in order to better understand human anatomy, how integral each system and layer and part was to other and that hands on lesson was gained, however I had a big surprise the first day of class. I hadn’t had much energy days prior to arriving in San Francisco for the 3 week class and my body had felt much more energized but also sluggish, weird. I had lunch with a classmate that first day and blurted out to her, “I think I’m pregnant!” She said well you should probably get a pregnancy test which I did after class. And sure enough I had a baby growing inside me. What a wild and obvious juxtaposition, spending hours a day unwinding someone’s very form while someone was forming cell by cell inside of me. It was something I just had to feel my way through and it made every day so rich and strange and reflective. Death and life are inextricable even though my mind may build a wall between them. I felt so blanketed by polar opposites of my mind and yet through me there was this inward feel to life and a tactile reminder that death is real. They are a packaged deal. 

  • As I awaken I want to feel more connected to this life, this planet and all living things. I’m told how we live informs how we die and I’m shooting for as conscious an existence as I can get! I want to be seen, heard, known and witnessed. I think stories about who and what we are change when we investigate their telling, when we are watching. We realize life is holding us tenderly as we make our way. I want this kind of intimate, connected, natural continuum to be experienced in my day to day life and it seems death may serve as a vital and very natural guide.

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