For me, walking is meditation. I walk and walk and my mind goes blissfully blank, and then it starts to fill with all kinds of inspiration and ideas. A couple of weeks ago, I was happily walking in the New Forest, a place filled with incredible scenery and ancient energy. Imagine my surprise when I passed a huge dead tree and realised my next post would be about death.
Even after that initial revelation, it hasn’t fallen easily into place. Something was missing, pieces here and there didn’t feel like they fit. Then last weekend, after the death of the American singer Whitney Houston, it felt like the final piece of the puzzle had been revealed. Still I felt resistance - to the subject, perhaps. So many of us do feel resistance to death, and it becomes more obvious every day as new technologies are revealed to fight or even reverse the signs of aging (which of course ends with death…). But like most things, the more I resisted, the more it persisted, so death it is.
All things die, that is a certainty. Not just living beings, but hopes, dreams, relationships - all things have the potential to end, which to our emotional selves is the same as death. It is the finality of it that we strive to resist, the unknown quantity that exists post-death, without the thing that is dying. All the ‘what-ifs’, ‘could-have-beens’and ‘what-might-have-beens’ float around, nagging at us to revisit them, keeping us tied to the non-existent potential that died with the being or dream. Does the thing that has died have the same attachment? No. Their journey is complete. The soul of the creation that has died has done its job and it has gone on to whatever comes next. What it leaves behind are huge gifts, which are different for each person involved, but they are there for us to find and to celebrate.
Take Whitney Houston’s death as an example. The media has spun it as a ‘premature’ death, the tragic too-early demise of a star who had so much more to give. One media station played a clip of a man saying that her friends and family should have intervened (to stop her death). The thing about that is it would be the ultimate in disrespect to remove from her that choice - the choice of when and how to die. If we look at things from a soul level, we are here to learn certain lessons, and by trying to derail another’s life choices, we are dishonouring that. In some ways it’s good that we feel that we want to help - it shows that compassion exists in the human spirit, and that we feel deeply when other people suffer. It is not our choice, though, to steer people from death if that is their choice. If they do not die today, they will find a way to die tomorrow. Once it is their time to make their exit, they will be offered opportunities to do so.
Look instead to the gifts that death offers. In the case of Whitney Houston, she has left a legacy of music to the world that will not soon be forgotten. Many artists and musicians have died young and of course after their deaths, the legacy they left behind was appreciated more widely. Let go of the idea that she had so much more to give, because if she has gone, her job here is done, and her soul is at peace. It was haunting to hear one of her songs played by one media station just after her death, because the words were even more poignant than they had been before. She sang, ‘If I should stay, I would only be in your way, so I’ll go, but I know, I’ll think of you every step of the way…’ (from ‘I Will Always Love You’). She is asking us to let her go.
It’s important here to talk about that concept of legacies. Each and every living being leaves a legacy by virtue of the fact that they spent time on this planet. We might feel like some legacies have more validity than others, but who’s to say that the homeless guy on the corner that you see every day as you walk home is not there to spare someone else from being there. The space he takes up by being where he is means there’s that much less physical and energetic space for someone else to be there. What a gift. In death, he opens up a space that none of us would consciously want to fill, yet when he stood there in life, we might not have appreciated that gift. That’s why stepping back and looking at death from a slightly different perspective can be so powerful. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt -- death and endings hurt -- a lot. It’s more to say that if you can grieve and be open to the possibility that within the separation from your loved one or long-cherished dream lies new perceptions, you will more easily accept death. It is when we fight to let go of our loved ones that we prolong the process of grieving and don’t get the gifts as quickly.
Sometimes death can seem so unnecessary and so damned unfair. If a child dies before it even has the chance to know the world, or if thousands of people are lost all at once in some horrific way, most of us want to scream at the sky and shout, ‘why? why?’ But if we can let go of our egoic attachment to the idea that these beings have missed out on achieving whatever existed in their potential, we can take a step back and thank them for the gift of opening us up to our own potential. We are invited to feel deeply, to experience the world and all it has to offer through every fibre of our being, something which might only come available to us through the process of grieving and the prospect of living when everything dear to us has gone. Take heart in the fact that these souls agreed to every step of their journey, that they have progressed, and that they watch us through our journeys with only love in their hearts. They feel every tear we shed and they celebrate with us our victories. Find the gift, because it IS there, and it is waiting for you to accept it. Applaud the life that was, celebrate the gifts it brought, and release yourself from any attachments to the soul. We are asked not to hold on to the circumstances around the death, which attach us to the sadness (not grief) and the ‘what-might-have-beens.’ In the end, all death is the same, final act of surrender, despite the fact that the circumstances appear different on the outside. Honour that surrender and respect the soul for its courage in choosing whatever method it did for its exit.
Our world is changing, and the sooner we can let go of attachments to the old systems, beliefs and other ties that hold us to the old way of existing, the sooner we can see those changes. We are tied to fear, and the old systems support that tie. Without the fear, what need would there be for the powers that be to protect us from what it is that we fear? The economy is collapsing! The Earth’s resources are running out! Terrorism strikes everywhere, and when you least expect it! Be warned, be afraid! Why should we be afraid? If it’s true that the economy is collapsing, the Earth’s resources are running out and terrorism may strike us at any moment, then why don’t we all just lie down and wait for death to come for us. It doesn’t seem like we have any choice in the matter, anyway. This is what needs to die - this belief that fear is our only choice, when in fact at each moment we can choose how we feel. If we all chose not to accept the fear that is fed to us daily, imagine the possibility that might exist. Instead of clinging to the old ‘what if the economy collapses? What if I lose my job, my home, my family?’ why not let that ‘what- if’ die, because it never really existed except in your (or our communal) imagination anyway. Or even better, as a wise teacher once told me, think of a ’what-if’ that you’d really love to have happen. If you can ’what-if’ one way, then why not the other? And if they don’t even exist, how is it hurting you to try turning the process of ‘what-if’ on its head? What if everything you ever wanted was yours for the having, and all your wildest dreams came true? It’s better to head towards your eventual death with that idea than running fearfully from (life and) death to avoid hurt, pain, terror, or destruction. Embrace it all and love it, and when it is your time to die, know that you have tasted life fully and leave with no regrets.