By Sydney Solis
My brother used to always joke, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there.”
The questions about life and death are ever present, reminding us of what we have to release and what we have to take in a new. With spring is now here with it’s tradition of rebirth and spring cleaning, we can ask what are we giving birth to and what needs to be released to allow that birth? What can we turn to guide us and help us answer these lingering questions of life and death?
Mythologist Joseph Campbell said that a mythology and its symbols must serve the people in their present environment and needs to be effective in answering such questions. For this guidance we can turn to myths and stories from the world over to over us insight and explore how they apply to our own current lives to alleviate fear and clinging and reveal new opportunities. We can even make up new myths and stories of our own.
How can we know that there is life after death? Examining our own life, we know that we survived the death of winter, and now the promise of spring and new life is fulfilled. Crocuses and daffodils are blooming, reminding us that these bulbs began to bring about their life in the darkness of the earth during winter. It was the winter darkness and chill that enabled them to bloom come spring. Without this death and dark time, there could be no life.
Easter was the springtime sacrificial festival of the Saxon Goddess Eostre, when she was “pregnant” in this phase of the year, and the ever-fertile rabbit was her sacred moon hare. The moon’s cycle shows us days of darkness, and the return of the moon afterwards. Christ’s resurrection similarly is a promise that there is no death.
` Campbell said that there can be no resurrection without the crucifixion. Death is necessary for life and is one and the same. He gave the example that you have to break a lot of eggs to make an omelet. If we deny one, such as death, our psyche, which is balanced with both opposites, gets confused.
I had the great fortune of spending a week at the Esalen institute and studied with, among other greats, Tai Ji master Chungliang Al Huang. He said there is no ying and yang; there is only yin/yang. That is how everything holds together. There is no separateness. Life and death are one and the same. Release, he continued, is an important part of the process of life. When we can release old habits, old materials, and metaphorically die to something, we are revealing the new. This has been illustrated for millenniums.
Egyptians saw the cycles of life/death/life in the annual flooding of the Nile. In Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to live, and a time to die.” In the Tao Te Ching “All things are born of Being, all Being is born of non-being.” Yoga teacher Aadil Palkivala said that Ayurveda is the science of life and Yoga is the science of death. Shamanistic cultures believe that one’s priorities get straight through an intimacy with death. Plato said one should meditate on death to understand life. The second of the four Buddhist reminders says that death is real, it can happen at any moment. So you’d better be doing what you want to be doing before it’s too late!
Folktales from Mexico to Iceland to Palestine illustrate that intimacy with death can bring a gift, such as a healing herb. Many mythologies, including the Norse and Germanic, have creation stories that begin with the death and dismemberment of a being’s body, which is used to create the world. Many agricultural mythologies, including Polynesian and Indonesian, have food that is created out of the body of another that has died. The bodies of dead animals and plants are what fertilize the earth.
Death and Life gives us questions to ponder this spring and the above mythologies can give us insights and inspirations into our own lives and deepen the understanding of our own personal myth. Write down your dreams, keep a journal, take time to practice yoga and meditate and ponder these mysteries. Reflect on your personal life and past and create stories to bring self-awareness. Gather friends around to share stories and answer the questions as a community.
What do we have to let go of to move on? What in our lives needs to die to make room for the new? What if I died this moment? What regrets or fulfillments would I have?
Just as a snake sheds its skin, we ourselves turn in different cycles, always recreating ourselves anew with every moment. And spring is the joyous promise fulfilled to bring to life that which we have been nurturing all winter.
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