It can be all too easy, partly because of our cultural denial of death, to view and experience death as being ‘negative’ and unwelcome.
I have a very different experience and view of death. This is partly because of my varied experiences of death and dying as a result of being a Celebrant. It is also the result of a longish life punctuated with various personal experiences of death along the way. I’d like to share some of these with you briefly during this session of Sovereign Earth looking at the subject of Death.
Here’s a truly inspiring poem from Tagore which I often speak at Parting Ceremonies.
Peace my Heart, Let the time for Parting be sweet
Let it not be a death but a completeness
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs
Let the flight through the sky
End in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands
Be gentle like the flower of the night
Stand Still – oh beautiful end – for a moment.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp
To light you on your way
Seeing people close to death or just after, is a very humbling yet also a very privileged thing to experience. One of things I love about my work is how I see a wide variety of lives – and in death, we get to fully celebrate a person. I know this doesn’t always happen, yet I believe that a healthy culture would naturally both mourn and celebrate a person’s passing. I was at the funeral of a friend last week – she wasn’t particularly old – in her 50’s. What came through from all the words and tributes spoken was the laughter, the smiles and the music which epitomised this person’s life. There was lots of laughter amid plenty of tears. I find each death to be a call to life: Wow, look what this person did in their life; look at the breadth of their experience , the depth of their pain, the height of their joy. What does this teach me about how to a live good life (while I still have the opportunity!) . Salutary, humbling and inspiring are the words which come to mind.
“I am tomorrow’s ancestors
The future of yesterday
For what I am in the here and now
Goes rippling out all ways
Goes rippling out all ways.”
(Words by Brian Boothby, song by Glennie Kindred)
Listen to these words from one of those who knew this territory better than most: Carl Jung
“What happens after death is so unspeakably glorious
That our imagination and feeling do not suffice
To form even an approximate concept of it”
Why wasn’t I taught that at school?
Come to think of it, why was I taught next to nothing about death – not in any way that really informed and improved my sense and understanding of it, rather than the odd story – which more often than not – diminished death.
- “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom” – so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- I would tend to agree. Over my life I have not only lost my Mother and Father and other close loved ones – but I have come to look back on periods of my life, and one period in particular which lasted several years, as being symbolic deaths in my own journey. I see now how these ‘deep loss’ times have enabled me to shed old skins and grow anew; to become over time ‘ a better form of who I was’ or at least thats how it feels to me and what I hear from others.
- I would suggest that embracing life, with all it has to offer, is the way to contentment and ‘ease of being’. To let death have its place when it falls due. To let the process temper us and tender us, by yielding to the strange gift, although it doesn’t seem like that at the time, of ‘dying to what was’ to allow the appropriate new life of “what is” to emerge.
`”And so long as you haven’t experienced this; to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth” Goethe
So death can be – and I believe is – the key enabler to life. For anyone who has come close to death or has real sense of it, then life can never be the same. Life is so precious and we are here for such short time in the scheme of things – the mere glint of a dragonfly’s wings in passing sunlight between showers. Let me give of what I have – all I can – in the moment.
I would like to believe that when I die
I will have given myself away like a tree
That sows seed every spring
And never counts the loss
For it is not a loss: it is adding to future life
It is the tree’s way of being:Strongly rooted
And spilling out its treasures on the wind May Sarton
That’s the way to live a life – Especially as a druid – to emulate a tree – the oak in my case.
I found these words in my ‘Book of Shinings’ as I was putting some thoughts together for this edition of Sovereign Earth.
I wrote them a few years ago – and they hold good
“ Because I love life, I will have no sorrow in dying’ Words are easy and I’m sure the process will be as testing as any. However, those words express a personal truth nonetheless.
There is one image of death that I have developed and adapted and find very comforting and assuring. – I think it qualifies as ‘universal wisdom’ and is very Druidic it is embedded in nature. The image is of a large stream, or perhaps small river, flowing sure and steady. This is us merged with all other droplets of water, flowing along in death. Suddenly we get to a high waterfall and as we plunge over, suddenly all the droplets separate and differentiate – we can see all the other droplets with sunlight glinting on them , alive and flying fast. Then all too soon, we splash and crash back down into the flowing river – a period of relative rest and calm – flowing along until…. we meet another waterfall and burst out of unconsciousness and are reborn. And so it goes
Spirit Bird She creaks and groans
She knows she has – seen this all before she has
Seen this all before she has
Hermana yo yo yo
Hermana yo yo yo
And this from the Vedas.
May your eyes mingle with the Sun
May your breath be merged with the Winds
May the waters of your being
Mingle with the Rivers and Oceans
May your body become one with the Earth
I’d like to finish with an otherworldly chant about the swan. The Swan is often associated with this time – the otherworldly time between Samhain and Alban Arthan/ Winter Solstice.
In the the ancient tradition of these lands, Swan symbolises Soul, that aspect of all beings which is eternal.
I will recount the story of the ‘swan song’ in my Sovereign Earth broadcast
As the Swan Sings
Lu Lu Lu Lu
Lu Lu Lu Lu
Lu Lu Lu Lu
As the Swan Sings.
“Nothing in the entire universe ever perishes, believe me, but things vary and assume new forms. Though one thing changes into another and that also changes, yet the sum of everything remains unchanged “
That seems to be both a scientific and mystical truth. It was stated by Pythagoras two and half thousand years ago. I believe that he was heavily influenced and taught by Druids – but heh what does it matter? Universal truth is universal truth. And Ancient wisdom remains ancient wisdom 🙂
Black Elk “It should be a sacred day for you when one of your people dies. A sacred day, when a soul is released and returns to its house”