Paula Kettula, LCSW - Psychotherapy,  Educational Services and Consultation
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Whispers From Beyond: Reflections on life and death

Whispers From Beyond: Reflections on life and death

With Halloween and the Day of the Dead having just passed, it seems to be an opportune time to reflect on the concepts life and death: These two are firmly connected to each other.  Like friends holding hands, we must walk through the path of experiences between them. I wonder why do we modern humans prefer the friend of ‘life’ over the friend of ‘death’ whilst both are undeniable facts of our existence? Has it always been so? 

I recently delved deeper into the symbolism and meaning of Dia De Los Muertos: “A Day of the Dead”. It is a day when the world of the dead and the world of the living merge. This tradition does not view death as something scary and gory contrary to the modern Halloween celebrations. It is viewed as part of a great ever turning wheel of life that we all belong to. Time is seen in its natural cyclical form rather than as a linear concept of past, present and future. Dia De Los Muertos challenges us to stretch our polar consciousness and rigid view of life being 'good’ and death being ‘bad’. 

Dia De Los Muertos helps us commune with our lost  loved ones by building beautiful altars and providing them offerings of food and flowers. It is a celebration of life and the time we had with those who have departed from this world. 

La Catrina is the skeleton lady of the underworld who wears colorful elegant clothes and is frequently depicted with bright paints, flowers and patterns on her ivory skeleton face. She is fierce and powerful but also festive and fun. She laughs at us humans in our delusion of trying to escape our destiny. She calls us to enjoy life while we can in the face of its inevitable end. She reminds us to live every moment fully and joyfully through music, dance, food and love.

Dia De Los Muertos raises the morbid idea of death into its rightful place as a part of the journey of our souls. What happened to us modern people that we forgot what death is really about? Nowadays the pursuit of eternal youth and compulsive avoidance of  sickness and denial of inevitable death has lead people to take extremes measures. One can nowadays find surgeries that make us look younger as well as wrinkle creams and diet pills that promise eternal youth. And we all run after these illusions like a bee flies towards a fragrant flower it cannot resist. Yet it is a trap: The flower we seek is nothing but a mirage which binds us deeper into the material world. It is the faint enchanting call of a Siren which lures us into our destruction: Destruction of the order of life which includes both life/health and death/sickness. And we wonder why our soul suffers... It suffers because it is not facing, accepting and embracing the reality of the divine order which is its origin. We only see, accept and worship one half of the divinity that created us. The other half we deny and push into the depths of the unconscious mind where it haunts us like the ferocious Hound of Hades blocking our entrance back into the world of living.  

But it hasn’t always been so. In the Ancient Greek Mythology, we can find  the insane God Dionysus who invites us to connect to life through inebriation, music and feasting. The Dionysian festivals summoned people to experience ecstasy which allowed them to leave their ego-borders behind and commune with a shadow aspect of divinity (and humanity since humans are theomorphic) that included rage, lust, and insanity. The Greek origin of the word ecstasy already reveals its holy meaning: ek = outside, and stasis = standing. So it literally means; “to stand beside oneself.” It is a state where one leaves the mortal ego state behind, which is bound to polarity, and enters a divine state of unity. 

Dionysus is a God of both life and death. His birth as Zagreus, death in the hands of the titans and re-birth as Dionysus points to this idea. Throughout history, he has been commemorated in festivals such as the Anthesteria, which was a celebration where the dead were allowed to walk among the living for a day. Yet, it was also a celebration of spring and maturation of the wine from last year’s harvest. 

The Ancient Greek era was not the only time when life and death had space to simultaneously exist in the human consciousness. We can also go back 4,000 years to ancient Egypt where people dedicated their entire lives to prepare for death. Magnificent pyramids were built as tombs for the pharaoh so his soul could find its way. Beautiful temples and worship was dedicated to Osiris, the God of the Underworld who would guide our souls from the moment of death. 

Osiris was not only the “Lord of the Dead” but was also the “King of The Living” as the blessed souls of deceased ones were considered to be the “living ones”. Further, Osiris was a giver of all life and fertility. He was the one who would sprout new vegetation and make the banks of the River Nile flourish after floods that would nourish the soil. As in God Dionysus, also in Osiris, the boundaries of life and death are blurred into a symbol of wholeness which envelopes both aspects. 

The ancient Greeks and Egyptians considered death to be the high point of life: something to be revered and celebrated. It truly was a holy moment in life and a test to our lives' work in gaining the wisdom that life had to offer which is necessary at the moment of death.  The loved ones left behind surely missed the company of the departed, however, they also had a larger perspective of the invisible silver threads that connect us all to each other beyond the borders of this world. 

For the modern human, Dia De Los Muertos still holds traces of this ancient sacred knowledge that death is not to be feared but needs to be understood and accepted as a part of the mysterious eternal unity which stands behind us like an unseen veil.

I would like to invite you all to meditate on the idea of life and death. To expand your consciousness so that it may welcome both, thus welcome unconditional LOVE for life itself which also includes death. 

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