What is your relationship with death – both the big death of the end of life and the little deaths of loss and letting go that we all experience? How does your spirituality work with death? What difference would it make if you were to befriend death? That’s what this video is about. And if you prefer to read, then you can find the full text of this video below.

I recently read a New York Times article about the science of human longevity and the work being done to extend our lives. It was interesting to explore the debate between those who believe there will always be a limit to human lifespans and those who believe that it is possible that we could do away with ageing and natural death. What do you think? Would you want to live forever?

Honestly there’s a part of me that sometimes thinks it would be great to live a longer life – especially now that I’m in what is probably the second half of my life. But I also have to acknowledge that I believe that death is a necessary thing – for our humanity and for life to be full, vibrant, and meaningful. And in an evolutionary approach to spirituality, the necessity of death is even more important. That’s what I’ll be exploring today.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

In the Southern Hemisphere where I live we’re moving into winter soon. This weekend I joined some friends and family to observe the Wiccan Sabbat of Samhain. This was my first time doing this. Most of us are more familiar with the popular name of Halloween, or perhaps the Mexican Festival of the Dead. And, of course, most of us are used to Halloween happening at the end of October. One of my frustrations with the Church Calendar is that it is completely out of sync with the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. Which is why I enjoyed sharing in this Wiccan festival – the dates shift in the Southern Hemisphere to fit was is actually happening in the natural world.

Samhain is a day of remembering the dead. We had a moving and beautiful time of sharing a meal and speaking about loved ones who have died. We shared stories and remembered the influence they’d had on our lives. It was a truly sacred moment.

But, Samhain is also about engaging in a deliberate and meaningful way with our own deaths. We threw bones from the Irish stew we ate at lunch into the fire and meditated on what needs to die in our lives. And we recognised that, while now is not the time to engage with it just yet, the deaths that we are beckoning into our lives are making the way for new life to come.

THE CYCLE OF LIFE, DEATH, AND REBIRTH

What I loved about this ritual was how it connected me with the natural cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Because this cycle also happens in our own lives on a regular basis. The Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski proposed a theory of what he called ‘positive disintegration.’ He was speaking particularly of highly sensitive and highly intense individuals, but his process is really, I believe, a reality for everyone. In essence Dabrowski explains that we all go through many times in our lives when we have to release the life we have. And then we go into a disintegration. I think of it as a time of chaos when the old reality we’ve known falls away, but the new reality is not yet visible. In time, though, we reintegrate and find a new wholeness and energy in a life that fits us better and feels more authentic. From the outside, positive disintegration can look very negative – even like mental illness. But it’s actually a very healthy and positive process of growth.

Richard Rohr describes a similar process in the spiritual life. He calls it order, disorder, and reorder. And of course the Christian faith is built on the archetype of life, death, and resurrection. Most of love the idea of life and resurrection. But we don’t do so well with death. Even in Christian celebration, we’ve turned the death part of the process into something that ‘Jesus does for us’ – “He died for us so we don’t have to”, is the common understanding. But we conveniently forget that Jesus called us to take up our own crosses, and to lay down our lives. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit, he said.

Unfortunately our culture – and our distortion of the life, death, resurrection cycle, has separated us from death. And so we try to avoid it – whether I’s the big death of the end of our lives, or the little deaths that are required for us to go through positive disintegration and be transformed. But when we deny death, we lose life as well. Avoiding death forces us into a stagnant space where life cannot grow and develop and change. And when things don’t die, they lose their wonder, mystery, value, and meaning.

BEFRIENDING DEATH

So, in the next few weeks we’re going to talk a bit more about befriending death as a practice of evolutionary spirituality. We’ll look at what it means to make befriending death a practical part of our lives and spirituality. But for now, I invite you to consider what deaths you’re avoiding in your own life. What positive disintegration is waiting to happen, but being stalled because you’re not embracing the necessary death? Or maybe you can reflect on the deaths you are currently going through. You can spend time meditating on the cycle of life and death in the world around you, and make a note of where you are in that cycle in the different areas of your life. And then you can prepare yourself to make friends with death so that you can enter the positive disintegration process when your time comes.

What do you feel about the necessity of death? How comfortable are you with the idea of befriending death? How do you engage intentionally with the life, death, rebirth cycle of life? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. Feel free to leave your responses in the comments. And if you have any questions you’d like me to respond to in future videos, just let me know!

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