In mourning the deaths of a number of people in my life this year, the rise of global crises and natural calamities abound, I have in my own way, been brought face to face with my own mortality. The fleeting existence of all things I hold dear is… absolutely terrifying.
Take It Out On “Them”
In gently confronting the big unavoidable truth that one day, my time will be up, any trace of mistrust I was harboring towards life has been rising to the surface. I can take it out on the politicians, global warming and corporate bullies and blame them for bringing closer, the menacing threat of death into my world.
The committee in my head can sound off things like “If only everyone consumed less, recycled more and tithed to good causes, the planet wouldn’t be in this mess!”.
“If only those big corporations would stop pillaging the earth, then there wouldn’t be these seeming apocalyptic earth changes!”.
Let’s Get Real
Of course indulging those thoughts only further mire me in a sense of powerlessness and victimization and when I’m really honest with myself I recognize that when that final moment comes for me, the only solace I’ll have is …
what I did with my time and resources.
At the end of the day, any amount of reconciliation with the limited time we have and how we’ve been using it, IS the biggest contributor to 2 very critical things.
- Loosening the grip that the fear of death has on us
- Creating a life around choices that our future death-bed-self, will thank us for
Tapping Into The Wisdom Of Our Ancestors
We can ace our self care with working out, drinking water, filling our gratitude journals etc. but there are ancient communal rituals from different parts of the world that were created specifically for navigating loss. They offer the healing balm our society is aching for and help us inch towards acceptance of this vast universal mystery called, death.
Navigating Loss All Over The World
Rituals like the Jewish Shiva, Buddhist Obon, Hindu Pitru Paksha, Korean Chuseok or the Mexican El Dia De Los Muertos are acts of communal self care that help us navigate coming to peace with this big truth, together. As humans we have learned the importance of this peace and that we can’t walk this journey alone, we need each other.
When There Is No Space For Loss, We Must Make It
In our fast paced world there is no room for the profound inner stirrings that loss invokes and this is precisely how these ancient rituals squarely meet this need. They give us a place in time to contain those deeply stirred emotions and be with them. It’s perfect and appropriate that rituals like these are held once a year as those months in between are needed to heal from the inner work of coming to grips with loss and the value of life.
This along with the fact that throughout life there are a myriad of losses we all experience, such as relationships, jobs, homes and dreams. Having a sacred space that we can count on year after year, to help us integrate those losses becomes a haven of respite, catharsis and closure.
Dia De Los Muertos Takes On A Whole New Meaning
I have shared my experience with how I celebrate El Día De Los Muertos here . I’m celebrating it now again with a new fervor having had lost 5 people dear to me this year.
It’s been a sobering 2017 to say the least and this Dia De Los Muertos is unlike any other that has become before. Never have I had to face my mortality to such an extent as I have in the past year and never have I looked forward to this celebration as much as I do now.
In our own mainstream North American society, the hollowness of Halloween and how it’s celebrated doesn’t measure against the utility, depth and communally unifying power of ancient traditions such as these.
5 Ways to Make Space for Navigating Loss and Celebrating Life
Have you recently experienced a loss? Perhaps loss of a relationship, a job, a limb, a home or life as you knew it? We cannot begin to heal and let go from loss until we have completely owned how much it, he or she meant to us. To gain benefit from the wisdom behind the ancient death honoring traditions for this process, do something in solitude or with a loved one that draws from their rituals. Here are five ideas that you can try or take from to craft a ritual that holds meaning for you.
Saying Goodbye to the Intangible Things
- Sometimes there’s things we hold dear that are not as tangible as a job, person or object. These can be a dream or ambition that you wanted with all your heart or the fallout of a friendship.Write it a letter with all you have to say, pour your insides onto the letter. When you feel complete, bury it like you would a loved one and place a stone above it. You can even mark the stone with a symbol or word that means something to you. This may seem too simplistic, but don’t undermine the power of impression on our subconscious. The act of burying and saying goodby is as old as time and our very cells hold this memory. Burying something you love even in concept, gives it it’s rightful place in your heart and honoring its death, is to honor it’s worth for you, moving you towards closure.
Sacred Space for an Offering
2. A thread that runs through many death traditions is that of making an offering. What can you offer to your loved ones that have passed? To offer something first it’s helpful to have a place for that offering so if there’s a gravesite then you can go there but if theres not you can make a temporary altar as a sacred space with pictures of those that have passed and things they held dear. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be as elaborate, simple, somber of festive as you feel appropriate. Some things you can offer are:
1.Anything left unsaid, say your peace, all of it the good, the bad and ugly. Allow yourself to sit with the feelings that come up regarding the life they lived and what they left behind.
2.A token you hold dear that has helped you remember your loved one. It can be anything that was involved in your engaging with them while they were still in the flesh. Share it as a way to say “You remember this? You remember what happened regarding this? “
3.Food is an undeniable way that many of us connect with each other. Offer a food that you remember that loved one liking. From personal experience I know in Dia De Los Muertos and Pitru Paksha a meal can be made and left overnight and cleaned up the next day.
3.f there is no specific person or thing that you have experienced any significant loss over, offer prayers to the world. There are many people that die every day with no commemoration of the sacredness of their life lived. There is no grave or ceremony lovingly made for them. Send a prayer of validating their life as sacred and that they may have peace wherever they are. Pray for those that are passing at this very moment that carry the heaviness of regret of unfinished business, may feel alone or scared for what awaits them on “the other side”, pray for their peace.
4. Invite friends over for dinner and have a releasing ceremony. Explain that your providing a shared space for everyone to share their stories of loss, contribute to a releasing ceremony followed by a celebration of life ceremony. The ceremony goes like this:
- Stories off all kinds on loss are shared over dinner. There is no judgment only listening and all are accepted no matter how big, small, heavy or awkward.
- Write the names of all your losses on a piece of paper. Place them in a burning bowl while you share your gratitude.
- Everyone says goodbye as the papers burn. I have spoken about the power of a burning bowl when needing help to let something go here and here.
- Hold a conversation about how you can all commit to LIVING in the name of that loss
5.Don’t feel comfortable inviting friends over for a dinner on death? visit a Death Cafe and experience for yourself how healing, relieving and enlightening it can be here
Annual Death Check In
Having our own ritual around death helps us to check in with ourselves regarding where we stand with our own major losses in life. After your ritual be as gentle with yourself as if you just survived a major heart surgery . When the sorrow arises from the depths of your heart needing to be released, allow it to pour out of you recognizing the opportunity to release the emotional load before you have to get back to your day to day life.
The gift of experiencing these timeless rituals on a regular basis, is the clarity that comes around how you really want to spend the time you have.
Are you a little closer to reconciling and feeling at peace with your mortality? Do you have ceremonies that have helped you in that process that are different then these? I’d love to hear about them.
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As always thank you for coming to my blog.