Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Death



I am awed by my mortality. I am awed that despite the fact that I know I will die, I continue to live, to create, to love life. How amazing is that?

As a lover of history, which is the recounting of the memories and lives of people who once lived but are now quite dead, I am consistently brought face to face with the Great Equaliser. You can be Hitler, Arjuna, Napoleon or Gandhi, but you still end up dead. The story of your life, the one you choose to write upon the earth with the ink of this incarnation, is a miracle to me.  Because when you break it down to the basics, we humans live very short lives. The fact that we manage to accumulate such a vast array of opinions, judgements, experiences, accomplishments, growth milestones, failures and successes is incredible! We do so much in such a tiny space of time.

Just in case I give the impression of siding with some fundamentalist thought, I clarify - I don’t think we should ‘want to die’ or ‘sacrifice our lives’ for a cause. Nope. We are definitely of far more use to the planet alive than dead.  I do not support suicide either because for anyone who has allowed the lessons of death to teach them, we know that death is less about dying and more about living happily from the inside.

But the inevitability of death makes it important, in my humble opinion, for the topic to be brought to the table and discussed - without shame and without fear. ‘Mommy became a star’ is alright for 7 year-olds, though I wouldn’t have swallowed that at age 7, since I was exploring the concept of reincarnation then (and I suspect a lot of 7 year-olds would do the same if they were given half a chance to use their amazing intelligence.) But a thirteen year old needs something more substantial, don’t you think?

In polite (Indian) society, children are to be shielded from all discussions on death at all costs which is a ritual I find quite bizarre. That’s what they did with Prince Siddhartha – and when he finally heard of death and saw it, he went on a journey that made him The Buddha. At this time, we could definitely do with more kids taking such personal journeys.

But perhaps not everyone feels comfortable discussing their impending death at a dinner party. It’s generally considered a morbid topic and I haven’t quite fathomed why. There is a paranoia about death – as if by not talking about it, we could somehow avoid it happening to us. I don’t think that’s ever been proven possible. Everyone dies – the maggot, the pig and the human. We can be ostriches about this, but really, the writing’s always been on the wall.

The awareness of death and mortality, like all super-important cosmic truths, is a double-edged sword. It can kill you before you begin to live and make action purposeless, breathing pointless and strip life of all joy. Or, it can push you through that phase of inertia and fire your veins with the determination to live each moment to the fullest; to release the trivia; to make choices that could be deeply fulfilling in the long run.

Understanding the death of a loved one and releasing the fear of death can be messy and sticky – anything that makes us question our very existence and identity always is.  But what is fascinating is how we run from it! If there is one belief or one fact we need to wrap our heads around as mortals – it is that we are going to die.

After witnessing a fair share of death I find that accepting it is easier when we aren’t afraid of it. And what is death? A noun, a verb? What comes after it, if there is an ‘after’ to it?
There are plenty of beliefs out there – which one inspires you?

What I love about facing our mortality is that it brings us back to the very basics - where did I come from, and where am I going? The answers to these questions change on our journey, but the questions themselves  – their mere presence is important. They open up a separate track of awareness in the mind that gives a whole range of perspective to the strange and miraculous events that strung together, are called life.

Death is all around us. Do we know how to accept it when it takes loved ones? Do we know how to taste its wisdom? Do we know how to pass through grief into life again?

Do we know how to embrace death gracefully when our time comes?