In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Sogyal Rinpoche identifies a primary problem in western society: a deeply embedded aversion to death. We teach ourselves how to live, he says, but our lessons fail to include dying, which other cultures approach with reverence as part of life. We avoid talk of death until we meet it head-on and at that point, we succumb to fear and panic. We are unprepared. An obvious reflection of this is society’s refusal to accept aging; we cannot allow ourselves to grow old, and even though we can’t fight the chronology, we can go to extremes to mask the physical signs. A leading actress is ‘washed up” at 40. The advertising industry writes us off in our mid 30, catering instead to the more profitable 18-34 year old market. We avoid acknowledging death so rigorously that we create euphemisms to disguise our expiration: we pass away, kick the bucket, go to a better place, is no longer with us. A hilarious example of death avoidance is Monty Python dead parrot sketch: “This parrot is no more!” “This is an ex -parrot.!” (if you haven’t seen it, you can find it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vuW6tQ0218)
Our fear of death is fueled by our quest for eternal youth and our fear of endings. We do not want sit on a ride that ends. Alternatives to death remain impossible, as Buddhists know: the only constant in life is change. Taking a retrospective inventory of our lives, we ‘ll see we have experienced and survived many little endings along the way, each the equivalent of a small death. As we move from one phase to another, one relationship to another, one location to the next, we lay to rest one life and begin anew. Each milestone signals the end of one accomplishment and leads us oin the direction of another. In this way life prods us to gather wisdom and build character; we close one door and open the next and if we fully embrace the moment, we look ahead rather than backward. Even Ecclesiastes addresses living in the now rather than looking backward or forward: “There is no remembrance of people of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them “
Fully experiencing the present invites us to gracefully transition from one stage to the next. There is no next. If we move without stuttering, we magically find ourselves in a new ‘now.’ There is no room for wistfulness or fear. We ascend. Most cultures mark these key stations with rituals commemorating them as rites of passage. In Hindusim, these passages include ceremonies from conception through cremation, honoring such small milestones as the infant’s first venture into sunlight at 4 months, feeding of the first solid food and on to more familiar phrases like commencement of study, graduation, marriage, family. With each transition, our vibration changes because we as we enter new levels of awareness. Judaism and Christianity do the same with naming ceremonies, communion, bar/bat mitzvahs, confirmation.
Accepting Joseph Campbell’s premise that our life is the unfolding of individual mythological stories, we become the heroes of those stories and more easily transition from one phase to another. As we confront and survive the many challenges that position us along a continuum of life: joy, loss, pain, grief, success, fear, strength, frailty, innocence, wisdom. Our challenges become the mythological elements that facilitate transition, a process that can't be delayed no matter how cleverly we rename or resist it. So why not embrace the wizard or the crone and the process that leads us there?
Lisa Shaw is an animal communicator, Reiki Master, writer, and award winning professor who lives in South Florida with her family of animals. Her website is www.reikidogs.com and her e-book, Illumination: Life Lessons from our Animal Companions, is available on Amazon.