Death Cafe

In a dream I had the other night, an idea came through: “we’re not thinking rebirth, we’re thinking resurrection!”.  This message really stuck in my mind when I woke up, and I felt curious about it all morning.  So, I took it along with me as I set out for a walk/jog on the beach.

The weather of the day was, in my opinion, perfect.  The sun was rising behind the waves, turning them a translucent aquamarine, capped with a foamy white crest.  The east of the sky carried the hue of a promising day, while to the west of the sky threatened of deep charcoal and thick grey.  It was this tension of opposites: the coolness of the wind met with the warmth of the sun, and the dark sky merging with the sunny blue, that set the tone of creativity in my mind.

As I jogged along, I was wondering to myself: what is the difference between rebirth and resurrection anyhow?  Which got me thinking about two stories of resurrection that I had recently been considering: that of Inanna/Ereshkigal and that of Jesus Christ.  Both stories tell of incarnate Gods that surrender to the plight of death, and who’s resurrection in the end serves the betterment of humankind.  Using these two stories as a back drop, I can appreciate that the difference between rebirth and resurrection is that, unlike in rebirth where you start life anew as a baby, with resurrection you come back to life as you were before you died, but with a new, enlightened perspective; sounds easy enough:-)

These stories of resurrection carry similar flavours to the dismemberment process that I have been learning about in my studies of shamanism.  And, a little closer to home, they also carry flavors of “learn to fail or fail to learn” that is explained in learning theory and in particular by Tal Ben Shahar in the context of positive psychology.  So many different faculties telling the same story using different languages!

So if I were to suppose, as I know Carl Jung would recommend I should, that there was a kernel of gold in my dream to integrate, why should I focus on resurrection instead of rebirth?  Well, I have been thinking a lot about resolving the polarities of opposites in life, so maybe this is the area of desired application.

I’ve been contemplating opposing aspects of life such as pleasure and pain, scarcity and abundance, light and shadow, consciousness and unconsciousness, joy and sadness.  I’ve been thinking about how to approach the darker sides of life so to decrease my resistance to them, as resistance only seems to intensify the discomfort I feel as a result of them.  Example: if I decide to love and celebrate winter instead of hate it, perhaps the pain of missing the green buds of spring will not be as strongly experienced.  Of course, this is a lousy example as I moved to the other side of the world, to the land of perpetual summer, as a solution to winter…so much for attitude adjustment.

Anyhow, some teachings do suggest that a change of attitude towards darkness works in eliminating or reducing suffering, which feels suggested to in the resurrection stories.  Jesus and Inanna had a different attitude towards death and in the end death did not hold its power over them, they came back to life.  But if we bring this back to home, in the context of seasonal cycles, does that mean that if we have a different attitude towards winter, winter disappears?  Or only that we will relate to winter more like how we relate to spring?  Is the point to eliminate shadow, pain, death, unconsciousness, darkness? Or is there a different lesson in these stories?

Going back to the rebirth model, rebirth seems to reflect the ongoing natural rhythms of life on Earth.  In that recurrent way, it seems to mirror the yin and yang symbol and philosophy.  But, how does evolution play into recurrent cycles? Although in a short frame of time the seasons and cycles appear to repeat themselves endlessly, in a larger frame of time evolution of seasons, landscapes, biodiversity and species is actually always happening.  With each new generation of life, subtle changes in DNA and design take place (think living fractals).  So is this where resurrection folds in to the recipe?  With the resurrection model we have life, death, and then something totally unexpected and new!  Resurrection seems to carry the greater perspective of evolution in a life-death-life story; which in turn helps us transcend the short stories of our own life and death to embrace the part we play in the greater story of the whole of evolution.

When I think about the stories again of Inanna and Jesus, I realize that both of these incarnate Gods consciously, with loving acceptance, faced their deaths.  One could say they accepted death with an abled response, not reactively.  There was an active acceptance of it.  It seems their attitudes are the real magic in the lesson.  Their acceptance, value and respect of death seems to be what enabled them to transcend it; not in an better-than way, but in an integrating way: a way that allowed death to be a welcomed and honored part of the whole.  With that honored, willing acceptance, death lost its fear-based sway over them, and something totally unexpected and wonderful happened, something new!  With this, I’m not suggesting that by accepting and honoring death that we won’t end up physically dying.  But, I am suggesting that with an attitude change we might realize something new.  Perhaps we will experience a greater perspective on life that enables us to actualize peace not only in life but in death as well.

This echoes the wisdom shared in the movie “Griefwalker” that I watched the other day.  Stephen Jenkinson talked about fully stepping into this life by not only loving the living part of it, but also the dying part of it.  But how do we love death?

In a Ted Talk, Barbara Fredrickson (one of my all time favorite positive psychology researchers) was defining what love is.  And this I find useful for thinking about how to love death (in a healthy way).  She said, that in the context of relationship sciences, love is defined as the act of caring for another for their own sake.  And, on the flip side, to receive love is defined as feeling cared for, valued and accepted just as you are.  So, if our relationship with death is to be a loving one, we need to learn how to love death for its own sake, to accept it just as it is.

For me, with the help of Jenkinson’s perspective, it makes sense to do this, because the only way to be fully and unconditionally in love with life, I have to love all of it. And, if life is the thing that happens in between the acts of being born and dying, then birth, life and death are all aspects of life that are deserving of my loving acceptance.  To love life only for its living aspect is conditional; to love life for both its living and dying aspects is unconditional.

I think this is how Inanna and Jesus experienced transcendence in these stories.  They came to see, honor and love death for its own sake.  This changed their way of being in the world, physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually, and this attitude change enabled a transcendent evolution to occur, which benefitted all of existence…so the stories go.

I’ve never considered myself a religious person, though I am grateful for all the religions of the world that have kept the vast richness of stories alive, such as Inanna and Jesus Christ.  I have found them, an countless others, incredibly useful in contemplating my personal here and now.  So thanks:-)

With all of this, I feel a little safer with death and even curiously hopeful for what a peaceful attitude towards both life and death might emerge into.  It also leaves me feeling more grateful for both being alive and for the death process.

Of course…no need to rush into anything:-)

Thanks for reading.

Love and blessings.

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