We have moved away from looking at death in our modern society, yet just as it’s important to feel the full range of our emotions, it’s also important to look at the full cycle of life and death in order to be able to fully live – in order to fully be able to experience life.
Death is a natural part of the cycle of life. You cannot have life without death. Life and death are one and the same.
When you see blood, do you cringe and think of death? Or do you see the vitality and life force within? The life-giving power of blood? Just as the loss of blood can take it away.
When you see mold and maggots decomposing that which has died, do you cringe at the sight and smell of rot? Or do you express curiosity at the cycle of life and wonder at what that energy will next become?
Death is life-giving. Everything that dies is transformed, feeding and giving life to another. That transformation can feel ugly and painful, but it’s a necessary part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
We can have both grief and reverence when life meets its end. From the gut-wrenching big deaths to the transformative little deaths. To be able to look at death is to be able to become fully alive, honoring the full spectrum of the cycle of life.
If ever there’s a time of year that we’re going to look at death and consider death, it’s in the fall as we see more things dying, plants going into hibernation, leaves being shed from the trees, and hunting season in many areas. It’s a season of releasing, in nature and within ourselves. It’s a time that many of us honor our ancestors and our dead loved ones. It’s the time of year that we have holidays that honor death like Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, and All Souls Day. It’s a time of year when some of us are already considering death, but many of us in our modern society are still pretty disconnected from death and dying.
As many of our practices around death centers in the fall and we see things die in autumn, this isn’t the only time of year we experience death. Death is a natural part of the cycle of life, so it will naturally be seen at other times of the year. Winter is a time when death is prominent – when things are hibernating, frozen, or blanketed in snow, and the harsher weather conditions and less access to food are hard on animals. When spring comes around, we can really see the remnants of what succumbed to winter – the remains of dead plants, dried up and beginning to disintegrate, the remains of dead animals that succumbed to winter now being revealed as snow melts, the land becomes more accessible, or we venture out again in more seasonable weather.
Modernity disconnects us from death
Our modern ways of life have disconnected us from so much of this part of the cycle of life – the natural process of death. No longer are we out on the land as much, encountering and observing it as it occurs in the natural world – in the real world. We live in times with modern medicine, modern convenience, and a more predictable food supply, so humans are living longer. We personally are not confronted with death like our ancestors were, when life was shorter, when more children were lost even. Previously, it was pretty common that if you were a parent, you likely experienced the loss of a child.
None of this is to downplay how hard death is. Death terrifies me too, especially as a mother, and the thought of losing a child. It keeps me up at night sometimes. It literally kept me up at night last night as a past experience washed over me. I was in the depths of it and then I had a dark dream about one of my biggest fears – the fear of losing a child. It didn’t get to that point but it was terrifying nonetheless.
Death isn’t easy. Death is never easy. But avoiding considering death doesn’t make it any easier when the time comes in our life to face it. In a way, life has almost become less precious, because we aren’t faced with death as much and our modern world moves us too fast to slow down. Life keeps us so busy that we forget to consider that what if today was our last day? What if today was the last day with one of our loved ones? We don’t need to live in constant fear of this, but we are too busy to cherish the moments that we have in the limited time that we are given.
Death sustains life
Our modern food system doesn’t require that we go out and kill our food. We don’t have to see the death required in feeding people, so then we have modern ideas around food and sustenance such as the idea that if we eat vegan or vegetarian, we’re going to save lives. That our eating is going to be without death. That food without death is somehow a better way to eat. This idea further disconnects us from nature and from what it means to be a human.
We forget that throughout human history, for as long as humans have roamed this Earth, we have predominantly sustained ourselves by eating meat. Humans were front in center in the process of obtaining food, including taking the life of the animals that offered them sustenance. It was a different process than in this modern world, where the animal’s life was honored and respected. It was a sacred process. Now, humans are much further removed from the process, and the lives of the animals are given little respect.
Whether you’re a meat eater or not, we’re disconnected from the process of feeding people and the death involved in that process. This distance from our modern food system has us believing we can bypass death by choosing to not eat meat, yet there’s still death in the harvesting of grains and other crops. Cultivating the land – cultivating cropland, is not without death. We are changing the ecosystem, and we are taking away land from wildlife. When we create cropland, we are changing the landscape, and we are changing the way animals can inhabit those lands. Many animals lose the land they could once live on, and the ones that remain – the insects, the rodents, the smaller life that can live amidst the crops, are at risk when it comes time to harvest. Crops are not without death either, so regardless of how we choose to eat, death is not spared in feeding humans. Death is a natural part of feeding animals, the food chain, and the cycle of life. We are animals, and we have a place in the food chain.
Death is necessary for rebirth
There has to be death in order to be rebirth. There has to be dead in order for there to be life. No one is escaping death. We’re all going to die – all the animals on this planet are going to die, all the plants on this planet are going to die, and yet, there’s also going to be birth and growth out of it. Everything that dies returns to the Earth and becomes nutrients for new growth and new life.
The natural cycle of life is birth, life, death, and rebirth. Everything is always evolving and moving through this cycle of life. It occurs within nature and it occurs within our lives. We are constantly going through stages of life, death, and rebirth. Things in our life die and then new things are born from those deaths. Then we will live through a stage until it’s time for things to die again. When we can get to a place where we can look at death as a natural part of life and as a natural cycle that everything goes through, so too can we allow things in our life to die symbolically. We can allow things in our life to die when their time has come instead of clutching on to things that are no longer working. It’s natural for things to fall away.
It’s an uncomfortable process. It’s uncomfortable to let go of the things that we have known and grown accustomed to, but it’s a natural part of life. There are a few things we know about life for sure – that we are going to die and things in our life are going to die. Change is inevitable. No matter what we do, things will always be changing. We can resist the change and we can resist letting things go in our life, or we can notice that it’s a natural part of the process of life. Then we can begin to welcome in letting go of things – even when it is painful, even when it brings us discomfort because we know that something new will eventually come out of it. That we are making space for the next stage in our life and the next evolution.
Consider death to consider what matters most
Time is a complex idea. Sometimes life feels incredibly long when we’re in it, but we can also consider that our lives aren’t really that long. We never know when our time will come. As uncomfortable and painful as this may be to consider – the shortness of our lives, the shortness of time with our loved ones- then we can remember to live in the time we do have. We can choose to show up more or fully for our lives, to show up more fully for our loved ones, to be more present in life, more present to our loved ones, and choose to slow down instead of rushing through our days, always being on the go, and letting life pass us by. Letting the moments pass us by. We can come into the here and the now, choose to embrace the moment and choose to embrace the life that we have.
We can consider that when we reach the end, what do we want to say we did with our lives? How did you spend your life? Did you make what you wanted to make? Did you create what you wanted to create? Did you spend your time how you wanted to spend your time? Did you spend your life with those you wanted to spend your life with? Did you spend your time in a way that you valued? Did you feel like you lived a meaningful life? We can really begin to consider what we want out of our life at a deeper level when we’re able to look at the shortness of our lives and the shortness of the lives of our loved ones. We are able to really hold what is meaningful to us. We are able to get the clarity we seek. We can’t get to that place without considering that we will die.
It’s a dark way to look at it but it’s a way to get to the beauty of life. It’s a way for us to expand the full capacity of our life by looking at the whole cycle of life – life and death. We can’t take full advantage of what it means to live without also considering what it means to die – the big deaths and the little deaths. When we are able to look at all the little things that need to die in our lives as well as that we will all confront the big death in various ways in our lifetime, we can begin to fully live.
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