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June 3, 2016

Embracing our Impending Death.

Flickr/Chris Halderman

When I was eleven, I read a poster outside my Religious Education class. It said “the only thing certain in life is death”.

This struck me.

Ever since, niggling away at the back of my mind has been an increasingly elaborate labyrinth where I try to sneak other “certainties” through the back door.

I’ve been trying to find something eternal that will break the mould; moving death around as though it’s a rule rather than the game itself, to make it somehow avoidable like everything else inbetween. Genuine excerpts of conversations in my mind are as follows: “I could live forever after all, there was that machine on Doctor Who which turned people into a piece of stretched out silicon and sent electrons through it, so there is a world—even only in fantasy—where I don’t have to die… Also, if you leave a legacy like Jesus Christ then you live for as long as someone still remembers your name.”

It never really worked. A shaman I met recently says we pay for our choices in three ways: with money, with our tears, or with death. Ayahuasca is also known as Vine of the Dead and it seems to be this thing called death that I keep facing during ceremony. Death in vomit, death in sh*t, death in getting out what was once being kept alive inside my body and now is given back into the earth as neutral—no longer a waste product and not yet fertile matter.

We trekked for half a day through the jungle, from La Selva Segunda, which had some human interference, to La Selva Primera, which had none. Crossing a stream into the Virgin Jungle, the first thing that consciously struck me is how life and death coexist here. They are intimately entwined.

The trees are green and abundant at the top and decaying at the bottom. Lightless brown trunks of collapsed bark immediately disintegrate into soil for plants, with rich aubergine on the underside of their leaves that can be brewed to make tea to heal stomach pain. Bubblegum pink flowers shaped like shrunken balloons, butterfly’s with electric blue wings, red fuzzy-round bugs that spin as they fly and seem to deliver a personal message to whomever they land on. Glittery teeny tiny frogs, bright yellow tribal ones, oil-black ones, all flying and hopping and feeding and growing alongside—and as a result—of this rotting coagulation of life that once was.

I’ve always lived in cities and concrete jungles where life is hung onto; where the inhabitants have slowly but surely closed off from death, and slowly but surely ceased to live.

It’s like that children’s book The Bear Hunt where the kids in the story encounter marshes, rivers, forests, seemingly endless natural obstacles arise and every time, after questioning “Can we go over it? Can we go under it? Can we go around it?” They always conclude “We have to go through it!”

To get to life, real rich life, you have to go through death. There’s no two ways about it. Initially it sucks, it’s gross, it’s awful, but it’s necessary. And it’s so worth it.

We are always facing death. Western culture misconstrues the glory in traditional sacrifice, ignores the Tibetan and Egyptian books of the Dead, dismisses wondrous notions of Hindu reincarnation in favour of rational, cold-hearted and logical approaches based on what little we think we know.

Egyptians had only one belief—and that belief was in life after death. Initiates spent the entirety of their lives preparing for the moment of death, when the eternal part of them would enter the underworld. Here, the goddess Osiris would weigh their soul on a scale balanced by a feather, to measure the amount of sin accumulated in the material plane. This belief system is so complex and exquisite to study, I would highly recommend you do so. An ancient and highly civilised culture exploring one belief system for three-thousand years! Perhaps our ancestors have something to teach us about a subject we know precious little about. Perhaps it could change the way we live, for the better.

We worship an invisible God, enslave ourselves to the economy and destroy the nature which make life and death manifest before our very eyes in one great green theatre show.

What is the point is in having all these mysteries if we’re only going to impress our small-minded ideas upon them, using bulldozers and opinions, cattle farms and chem-trails?

Every square inch of this amazing jungle is the celebration of new life that comes from letting something die when it’s ready. It comes from not holding onto anything past it’s time, because in nature (and remember humans are part of nature) death and rebirth are one and the same.

In our culture, we think that death begets more death—this is a toxic lie constructed to keep us small and separate. What comes after death is life, greater and more abundant than we could have previously imagined it.

If you don’t believe this, ask yourself what you’re holding on to. Is it an identity of a widow, or of a poor woman, or of a lonely man who gets no sex? What about the cultural heritage you hold so close to you? Are you still clinging to the outmoded and incorrect history that the pyramids were built by Jewish slaves, rather than by resonance and sound? What are you so afraid to lovingly question? Question it! I dare you.

Identities are the main thing that need to die for us to live well. I have lived many lifetimes in a few short years, by letting go of who I thought I was. From mud-caked hairy hippy to sex goddess, from artist to writer to social media freak to business women, I’m actually getting quite good at it. That was another identity that is suffering a slow, drawn-out death: “I’m bad at everything.”

Take death, learn from it and run with it. If it’s the only thing that’s certain, why not make our whole life revolve around its existence? Death should live at the heart of our lives, ever reminding us to treat each moment as infinitely precious.

Each day look in the mirror and ask yourself “what is ready to die today?”

For me (please bear in mind, I’m considered slightly nuts) rather than asking “how do I let my obsession die?” I ask “how do I let my obsession eat me alive? How do I fill my days with my obsession? How do I make money from the thing that tortures me? What is my obsession trying to tell me about what needs to die? Is it pride? Is it vanity? Is it socially-acceptable isolation and self-preservation?”

How do we let these useless things die, so we can be eaten alive by what we love?

Because death is truly the greatest mystery, a step into the great unknown and the thing we fear most in all her guises.

“One is never afraid of the unknown, one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”  ~ Jidda Krishnamurti

Author: Jane West

Editor: Sarah Kolkka

Images: Hldrmn // Flickr & Jem Yoshioka // Flickr

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