Returning To The Earth
Updated: Mar 31
"Dying is a process of freeing ourselves of the limiting constraints of the physical body. It is allowing our bodies to return to the earth as nourishment for new life. If I had known this then, I might have had the courage to celebrate my mother’s transition in a different way, perhaps with less fear and avoidance."
From October 31 - November 2, our Mexican neighbors will celebrate “Dia De Los Muertes", or Day of the Dead. Funky costumes, make-up, poetry, art, parades, song and dance and wonderful food are all part of the gathering that celebrates the lives of those who have died by expressing love and respect. Attitudes and ideas about death in other cultures are often very different from how many Americans learn and come to face this unavoidable fact of life. While mourning and grief are important parts of every loss, other cultures teach us that death is also something to be celebrated and embraced. For one, death is an essential part of the cycle which makes life possible. The loss of one thing is always a beginning for something else. To know that we will live on in the love of those we leave behind when our time comes to pass, allows us to do so without fear. The great Sufi tradition teaches us that death, while sad, is also the time when we return to God, it is a time of union and great spiritual fulfillment. The Rumi poem, "Dying, Laughing" reminds us to see death as a time of release. Release from the meaningful and wonderful work of these physical lives as we allow our souls to be lost in the ecstasy of returning to God. A final step on the journey where laugher is the only sensible response. This is not meant to cheapen our human lives, but only to loosen our grips and allow us to live a little bit lighter. I listened to Danielle speak this week about her experience of facing death in her family and what she has learned. “What I learned while watching my mother die over the course of ten years is how to love and let live. What I know now and didn't know then is that dying is a beautiful process of learning to embrace living. It is the deepest form of love I have known - the final detachment of our energetic soul from our physical bodies. Dying is a process of freeing ourselves of the limiting constraints of the physical body. It is allowing our bodies to return to the earth as nourishment for new life. If I had known this then, I might have had the courage to celebrate my mother’s transition in a different way, perhaps with less fear and avoidance. What I did have, was the courage to give her permission to go. I recognized one day how tired she was of trying to be in this place and then the words just spilled out of me. "Mom, it's ok to go. You are so tired, you don't need to fight so hard, we will be ok, I will be ok." Even when she had nothing left, she felt responsible for taking care of us. And so I take this lesson with me in life. I believe it is the greatest gift of love to give people in our lives permission to be with their spirit so that spirit can be returned to us in a healthier, more loving way.”
Beautifully said, thank you Danielle. An old Native wise-tale, full of insight into the nature of death, is told something like this: There was once a small village where a woman lived to be very old - far older than anyone could remember another person living. Throughout her youth she was revered for her beauty and accumulated great wealth through the gifts and adoration of her fellow villagers. She grew older and her beauty faded, as did the stares of many men and women. Still, she grew old with determination and diligence, refusing to let sickness of impair her. In her home, she proudly displayed her great fortune to those who came to visit and she loved to tell stories of where this or that came from. The village was a poor one and many men and women coveted the old woman’s wealth, not daring to wish bad luck on her because she was greatly respected for her longevity and was thought to possess a special blessing from God. In the quiet stillness of her days, however, the woman suffered greatly. She was horribly lonely. Her husband had long ago died, and her daughters had moved away to the villages of their husbands, as is tradition. With nothing to do and no-one left to care for, the old woman grew bitter in her loneliness, which she fought hard not to reveal. This great pain became part of her refusal to die, as she longed for the days when her family might return to her. Recognizing the great suffering caused by this old woman’s reluctance to embrace life's final stage - that of dying and returning to the earth, God decided to send messengers in the form of great black and brown birds larger than any other in the sky. These birds were unpleasant to look at up close, though quite beautiful when they soared high above the land. Instead of hunting live animals or eating seeds and berries, these birds lived off the decaying carcasses of other animals, which often went to waste and left unpleasant odors in the village and the surrounding lands. The birds found incredible sustenance and nourishment from death, thus teaching the villagers that death is a good thing and it is not to be feared. This is the story of the birds we now know as Vultures. The old woman was wise and understood God’s message clearly. She spoke to her visitors that day of what she learned and in the evening she was helped by her two closest cousins as she climbed the nearby mountain where she watched her final sunset. She closed her eyes and listened to the birdsong and distant laughter of children in the village below. Smiling madly, cold entered her body that night for one final time and the wind lifted her spirit away. The vultures helped return her flesh to new earthly forms. The villagers mourned the loss of their maternal leader. They also lived lighter as her material wealth was dispersed and traded to other villages to help feed many families through what would be a harsh winter. And instead of tending to her needs of food and water, more time was allowed to tending to the needs of the village children. The woman’s wisdom and the lessons she learned from the vultures are celebrated each year to recognize the great nourishment of death. Walking this past Sunday, I admired the nearby fields, which were filled with tired-looking, brown sunflowers hanging down from their black stalks. Backdropped by a wide gray sky and the crisp, cool Fall weather, gloom was evident. The nearby finches and memories of this blazing yellow field of a month ago, reminded me of the incredible gifts these flowers had provided. Seeds dispersed, fuel provided, beauty given, the flowers could now rest easy, knowing the work here was done. Love was rippling out in all directions.