Death is not extinguishing the light, it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come. -Rabindanath Tagore
Dying is absolutely safe. -Ram Dass
It's been 24 hours since I returned home from the first annual Conscious Dying Summit, held this last weekend at the Oneness Institute at Harbin Hot Springs, and I feel compelled to write out some thoughts on death & dying while the experience is still fresh. I have had this blog title in my head for months, and am grateful for the inspiration to finally flesh it out.
When I first started to post (mostly on my Instagram account) about the death work I have been doing- from attending Jerrigrace Lyons workshops on Natural Death Care to co-founding the Full Circle Living & Dying Collective to promoting the Death Cafes our group have hosted- I was sure I'd lose followers, turn people off, have to say goodbye to some of the folks who have travelled with me through my years of sharing thoughts & images about herbalism, mothering, vintage clothing, etc.
Instead, I have been sweetly surprised to find that those posts not only have caused zero people to unfollow me, but that they have inspired a cascade of comments from people expressing their interest in this transition and asking me to please share more. It reminds me of what Caitlin Doughty, of the Order of the Good Death, had to say recently on one of my favorite podcasts, Tangentially Speaking with Chris Ryan (and yes, that was Caitlin you heard last week on Fresh Air too). She talks about how people approach her to talk about death and say something along the lines of "Well I find it really fascinating, but it's not for everyone." And yet everyone says this, so, "in reality, everybody's super morbid and... everybody wants this information."
I realized this at our most recent Death Cafe too. Many of us talked about how we'd been interested in death since childhood, but had that curiosity tampered down by adults who hushed us up and told us not to think about that (or, in my case, to "think about Disneyland"). It's a relief to most of us to have open, honest conversations about death and to be given permission to look inward and contemplate our own mortality.
And no, thinking about death is not macabre or goth or morbid in the negative sense with which we usually use that word. Thinking about death is human. The fact that we know we will die is perhaps the defining characteristic of the human species. To not think about death is to live a lie, a life devoid of the deepest possible meaning and truth.
A while back I put up a brief post- Birth Without Fear / Death Without Fear- about Amelia Kathryn, alerting those who had not yet entered her sphere on social media to the awe-inspiring series of posts she had been (and still is) sharing on Instagram chronicling the death of her baby boy Landon at his birth. This young woman gained tens of thousands of followers by sharing the story of her son's entrance into and exit from this world- which happened in a shorter time span than she had ever imagined- in an amazingly honest, heart-achingly beautiful way. She posted photos of her darling baby after his spirit had left his body, and people were enthralled, people flocked to her feed, people couldn't get enough.
As I said in that post, "This beautiful soul is single-handedly molding a new template for the way we express and share grief and love." I truly believe that Amelia pioneered a new paradigm for the way we talk about and share death and grief with one another through her experience with Landon. I saw, reading through the thousands upon thousands of comments, that she inspired not just pity and compassion in people, but true inspiration to live & die fully, openly, and with honest vulnerability.
One thing I especially loved about the way Amelia shared her experience was the creation of the hashtag #deathwithoutfear. "Birth without fear" was already a thing, just as the saying/bumper sticker "Birth is as safe as life gets" is already a thing. But, as all of us who choose to look closely at and work with death quickly realize, the parallels between birth and death cannot be ignored.
"Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the opposite of birth." -Eckhart Tolle
In the last few decades there has been a birth revolution in our culture (which I was passionate about for many years and played a small part in through my daughter's unassisted home birth), with the emphasis on reclaiming birth rites, giving the power during that transitional time back to the family, and bringing the experience back into the home, where it had been for millennia. These are the same issues that those participating in the death revolution are working on today. We are all remembering how to be human together.
Our culture pathologizes death, sees it as a failure, and seeks to avoid it at all costs. Considering the fact that it is the one inevitability in all of life's infinite possibilities, this dominant cultural paradigm is literally crazy making. Not just for those of us who are vibrant and full of life, but for those approaching the threshold especially. Our society's insistence on sweeping death under the rug leaves the dying feeling lonely and terrified, with no larger support system in place and no deep understanding of what is happening to them.
Can you imagine, then, if we all started thinking and talking about death now? If we all found that it is not a depressing practice but one that invigorates, inspires, and increases gratitude and vitality? What if we all, as one human family, contemplated and accepted (as much as we possibly could) our inevitable death? Imagine the effect that would have on each one of us as we lie on our death bed. If no one else around you is afraid to die, you won't be either. If everyone in your family and society has contemplated and come to accept death, you will too.
That's how I want to die. And I want to start playing my part in that transformation of consciousness now. Come, join me.
Dear Readers- I'm coming to a point, after 6 years of blogging, where I'd like to hone in on the subjects that matter to my audience and to be able to set aside more time to write and share valuable content. I would appreciate any feedback given- either as a comment here or on Instagram for those of you who found your way here from there- on the content I share and what you would like more or less of in the future. Last week I received two comments from people saying that I inspired them to become herbalists years ago with my posts. I can't tell you how rewarding that is! And it really motivates me to write and share more. And there is so much more I want to write and share about! For example, related to this post, the studies that give terminal cancer patients with anxiety about their impending deaths psychedelics to help them manage their terror (which, btw, works beautifully 100% of the time), and more about Natural Death Care and about herbalism too.
I would also like to gently point out the Donate button on the top right of my blog page (or, on mobile, beneath this post). I fully understand that most of us are not in a position to give money away. But if you are, and if you find my writing valuable, I promise that any money given will directly contribute to my being able to take time away from desperately trying to make enough money to survive the week so that I can sit down and write. $ = posts. Or better yet- buy yourself a new piece of vintage clothing or an herbal body oil and get something in exchange for your money! Thank you endlessly for your love and support, whatever form it takes.