Theres a strong tradition in many cultures to honor loved ones that have passed on by celebrating their lives rather than weeping after their death. I have always been fascinated by this and have always admired peoples abilities to recognize the joyful aspect of life and death. Growing up as a Latina, I always had a sense that death was not a terrible thing. Most latin cultures have enthusiastic funerals that include music, dancing, and ritual. My mother loved celebrating Day De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). She would create elaborate altars with pictures of her loved ones and skulls and flowers. It was a beautiful way to honor, not just the aspect of death, but that of a life well lived. Death is something most people fear, it is a fact of life that most wish wouldn't be. This fear tends to cause a lot of anxiety and makes for quite a stressed out body and mind. In my own yoga practice I have meditated a lot on this fear, particularly the fear of death and loss. On my 28th birthday I took a workshop on Death and Dying, with my mother and Godmother by my side, I chanted and danced and cried and released. It was one of the most profound experiences I had ever had. Letting go of the notion that death is a scary thing that must be avoided at all costs was powerful.
How can we begin to pass this fear from our cells? First, by recognizing the fear is there. I often think of the ritual of creating an altar for your loved ones, lighting a candle, and remembering that persons life. This is a magical tradition that can begin the practice of acknowledgment and allows for the releasing of fear. Most of us don't actually fear death itself but rather loss. Losing things is challenging, transitioning is uncomfortable. It makes us face the fact that we have become attached to someone or something and often its the biggest shock of our lives. Death in particular forces us to see nature, something our modern culture has stripped itself from, for what it truly is; ever changing and impermanent. In Nature things evolve in order to allow the ecosystem to thrive. For thousands of years our ancestors have celebrated the death and rebirth of the earth, "It appears that in every country the Day of the Dead occurs at the year's end, after the last harvests, when the barren earth is thought to give passage to the souls lying beneath it."- Yourcenar
After we recognize death and loss as a natural thing, we can begin to realize that our love was not for the physical form but that of an eternal essence, an essence that lingers long after someone passes. Like a fragrance from a flower or the smoke of incense, that energy lingers within and never truly goes away. The fear that we will somehow loose this is actually the ego gripping to something that was never in physical form to begin with.
"Energy can never be destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another"- Einstein
As we move into the darker time of the year and begin to slow down with the season, its important to pay tribute to our ancestors. To remember their stories and pay homage to their triumphs and struggles. Chant their names and ask for their grace and comfort. Moving into a space of deep gratitude to all that has come and gone, to all that will rise and will disappear. Into the mist we follow the energy of our people, we ask that they show us the way, guide us into the light, and remind us to celebrate. Life is a celebration, a miracle that has gone from the formless into form. The gifts that we give each other in the short amount of time we are here is magical. When we move beyond the grief, which for a time is natural and understandable, we can begin to truly celebrate and heal.
This October 31st & November 1st, allow yourself to step into the shadow and remember those who have come and gone. Allow yourself to feel their presence and in so doing begin to step into grace. Dia de los Muertos is about feeling their energy and asking for their blessings. Stepping into our own courage to be guided by wisdom far beyond our own knowledge, but felt within our hearts. Celebrate and be celebrated!