“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twainadvertisement - learn more
Heroes seldom die; they rise above adversity and conquer death itself to inspire, thrill and invigorate us. On screen and off it, through trial and triumph, heroes portray the loftiest of human ambitions- immortality. Heroes live forever, and ironically we have death to thank for that! For as a reference point, it is death that validates our hero’s endeavors, death that lends meaning to his/her life, and death that crystallizes a hero in human memory. Our own lives are not all that different.
Personally and interpersonally, this final milestone plays a major part in shaping our attitudes and response to the world around us- here and now. Whether you realize it or not, the act of dying and how we move through it, mirrors the deepest essence of our social and cultural contexts. The final rites and our ‘final judgment’ echo the ideals we yearn to uphold through our time here on Earth. And thus our death is about a lot more than release and goodbyes; through concept and ritual it embodies an index to measure our entire life against.
What History & Tradition Say
The Maasai tribes of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania for instance, believe that we are all temporal beings, and that a warrior lives on through the family he leaves behind. Social constructs are therefore visibly elaborate while death is unassuming and modest. The Maasai body is ordinarily discarded for predators to consume with no elaborate attempts to purify or preserve it, echoing the wisdom of the surrounding wild and landscape.
Yet further north stand the grandest testaments to belief in the afterlife; for the ancient Egyptians both- life and death- were oriented towards a singular moment- judgment in the Halls of Maat. Unlike the Maasai who find immortality here on Earth, the ancient Egyptians found their moment of heroic triumph on the other side of life. On the Egyptian landscape thus, tombs stand much higher than any home or hearth.
Further still, in other traditions death is viewed not just as a singular event at the tail end of our lives, but as an integral aspect of the journey itself. Two sides to the same coin, life and death are celebrated as the polarities that our experiences play out between. The ancient Greeks honoured this continuous cycle of life and death in the myth of Persephone, bowing to the seasons as a movement between the two. Pagan traditions- old and new- see this eternal balance in every moment- drawn out between masculine and feminine aspects. To the Pagan mind both- life and death- are always in co-existence, and therefore rebirth is the natural order of things; immortality here is not a lofty ambition, but an inherent character of the organic.
Scour through pretty much any context and way of life, and its relationship with death and immortality offers keen insight into its way of being. Whether it presents the kernel of immortality within life or beyond it, every system seems to offer a chance at continuity long after we have breathed our last. Is our continuity then, a simple human fantasy or indeed a universal truth that reverberates across space and time?
The Power In First-Hand Experience
As a rule of thumb, I feel we all learn best from first-hand experience. Words and visions inspire, but it is active engagement that gives shape to our ideas, beliefs and Truth. When it comes to questions of life, death and the possibilities beyond it, the answers once again lie in our every day- in the ordinary and the extraordinary it presents.
My every day brought me a steady stream of apparitions, psychic visions and encounters with the unseen- voluntary and involuntary. As a professional intuitive and medium, I could relate one account after another, and argue the evidence it presents. But moving through my every day, I have also come to realize that whether or not one believes or experiences the afterlife, the wisdom on offer is eternally and universally relevant. Why? Because death isn’t just some distant possibility; it is an equal reality in every breath and every moment, in everyday life.
No, the exceptionally chatty spirit of my deceased granny did not come and whisper secrets into my ear, nor did I discover them through a fateful flash of Zeus’ thunderbolt. These insights are held in even the most mundane that plays out right before us; touching the unseen just offered me an opportunity to pause, observe and reflect. Here is a little of what I discovered:
- Death requisites humility. We fear death because we cannot work out how to control it; our mind and ego are at a loss when trying to factor death into our grand ambitions and deftly laid out plans. But this is precisely why we must revere it, weaving an awareness of it into every action and intention. You see, it is the grand mysteries that put our infinite dreams into context, and as a definite unpredictable, death is the grandest of them all! Understanding our quest for continuity and how it can be achieved this side of death or the other, allows us to invest our time more wisely.
- Every moment we are reborn. Every moment holds within it the dual possibilities of both life and death; it is our choice which we focus on and experience. Just like a seed that must die to birth a plant, we too are constantly evolving- part of us dies as another aspect takes birth. You could experience this at a metaphoric level as you reinvent yourself, or physically witness it as your body births new cells and discards the old. Do not turn away from dying; no experience is complete or decision is truly informed without it.
- Death is a frank advisor. The trickiest part of integrating a relationship with death and immortality, into our way of being, is the reality check it brings. Facing up to the possibility of an ending- to our dearest endeavors or to our self- calls for courage and bare honesty. Looking into the face of death we glimpse not just the risk and pain at stake, but our deepest fears and doubts. But this is the moment of the hero, for on the other side of it lies the triumph and immortality we so deeply yearn for. If you really want some frank insight, consider all you seek dying and you shall not only learn much from it, but also find the motivation to choose and act.
- To truly live you must first truly die. Do not fight death ungraciously- not all is lost in endings. Nature and energy moves in cycles, and what was once lost is sure to be discovered again with new vigor and joy. We tend to spend so much of our time holding on to what is, resisting the Reaper’s onslaught, that we slow down the rhythms and pace of our own lives. There is glory in standing up to death, yes; but if you move through it, do so in grace, knowing that continuity is at the core of creation.
Look closely and you will uncover the wisdom of death in all life, and the promise of life in all deaths.
“Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he is capable of abandoning himself to anything. Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he can’t deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent lust for life and for all things of life.” – Don Juan Matus, A Separate Reality
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