“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death… Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.” –John Muir
It is suffice to say that our Westernized culture it terrified of death. You don’t have to look too far to see our culture’s obsession with youth, staying young and it’s disdain for aging, wrinkles and elderhood. This fear of death has created a disconnect in our psyches. Because we fear death we avoid being exposed to it. Most of us don’t get to see our loved one’s die or pass over when it is their time. Most of the time we don’t get to see their lifeless bodies for closure. We do the same with the animals that we choose to eat; the death of the animal is absent in the process.
“Different cultures treat death differently. The Caviteño, who live near Manila, bury their dead in a hollowed-out tree trunk. When someone becomes ill, they select the tree where they will eventually be entombed.” [Wikipedia]
“Many Vajrayana Buddhists in Mongolia and Tibet believe in the transmigration of spirits after death — that the soul moves on, while the body becomes an empty vessel. To return it to the earth, the body is chopped into pieces and placed on a mountaintop, which exposes it to the elements — including vultures. It’s a practice that’s been done for thousands of years and, according to a recent report, about 80% of Tibetans still choose it.” [The Buddhist Channel]
“When a loved one dies in Aboriginal society in Australia’s Northern Territory, elaborate rituals begin. First, a smoking ceremony is held in the loved one’s living area to drive away their spirit. Next a feast is held, with mourners painted ochre as they partake in food and dance. The body is traditionally placed atop a platform and covered in leaves as it is left to decompose. It has been reported that in some traditions, fluids from the platform can help identify the deceased’s killer.” [PubMed]
It’s exciting to hear that people in North America are reconnecting to the process of dying and how it affects the natural world. “In the United States, more and more people are opting for environmentally friendly burials. This means skipping embalming processes, nixing traditional concrete vaults and getting biodegradable, woven-willow caskets, which decompose into the ground. The Green Burial Council has approved 40 environmentally friendly cemeteries in the U.S. — way up from a decade ago. Another option: becoming a memorial “reef ball.” A company called Eternal Reefs compresses remains into a sphere that is attached to a reef in the ocean, providing a habitat for sea life.” [Newsweek, Wall Street Journal]
The natural world lives because of death. It is a perfect cycle and we, as humans, are deeply entwined in that cycle… whether we like it or not. We all go back to the Earth one day.
Death has the power to evoke many different emotions in us. Maybe that is the main reason we try to avoid coming into contact with it.
During today’s 30 minutes outside try to find an example of how death is feeding life. Please tell us or show us what example you found in the the group.
As an additional part of the activity, try to think of the way that you would like to die or have your body return back to the Earth. What ceremonies would you like your family and friends to have? I would love to hear about them in the facebook group.