404 Talking About Death | Stephen Garrett

Teacher? Yes, Death could be your Greatest Teacher.

I have been a cremationist for over a year now, a hospice volunteer for many more and each day I am grateful for all death is teaching me about real life – it is a wonderful and humbling experience all at once.  The surprise of the past twelve months is I have taken a new teacher.

I had been looking for ‘my’ teacher since early adulthood.  I found many and after the prerequisite honeymoon became totally disheartened by their hidden yet painfully obvious humanness.  A humanness that ultimately and always leaked through that spiritual glow designed to entrap us truth seekers.

This is not to say my experience with them was void of learning, in fact I learned much over the decades mostly when the teacher/student marriage came to an abrupt end.  And yes, before you mention it, I take full responsibility for putting each of them up on that darn pedestal and then watching with deep sadness as they fell back to earth with a thump.

Most of my early teachers came in the form of authors, poets, and philosophers – they came in the form of books.  The list is long and includes names link Dan Milman, Carlos Castaneda, Lao Tzu, Leonard Cohen, Stephen Levine, Gandhi and JJ Krishnamurti.  In the late eighties and well into the 21st century I stepped fully into the world of personal spiritual development – the land of shaman, guru and the slippery slope of student-teacher relationships.

Each teacher I took had lots to offer and always seemed, at least at the outset, much like some sort of demi-god incarnate.  Brilliant in some ways, charismatic in others, always though ahead of me, above me, somehow closer to God or the Truth than me.  I never seemed to be quite enough to ‘get it’. It wasn’t until their humanness showed up as it invariably did that the wakeup light went on.  The spiritual bubble always burst and I was always left flabbergasted, in a stunned state of disbelief.

The first time it happened back in 1989, I wrote it off to my lack of experience in picking the ‘right’ teacher.  So I picked again, and again, and again.  Each time the pattern was similar; the disappointment predictable; and the ending a certainty.   I thought initially it was I, then as I broadened my perspective and listened to other seekers, I discovered my experience was not unique.  In fact many folks had similar stories to share about betrayals they experienced at the hands of a so-called guru.

It mattered not what realm the teacher claimed to be ‘enlightened’ in, money, sex, relationships, sales, book writing, or finding God.  Each one of them, under the test of time, fell from their throne right into the depths of their humanness.  Each one fell prey to money, sex, or power abuse – each and every one of them.  Human ego always prevailed proving time and time again to be the ‘teachers’ undoing.   It was predictable, 100%!

I recognized my part in it, after years of experience, and take responsibility for putting them up.  They in their own right, each of them, were also responsible for accepting the elevated status and believing their own press clippings, thinking that they were it.  My last experience was so heart breaking it burned out of me the need to have a ‘teacher’.  It helped me understand that the teacher student relationship as I had structured it needed to change.

I changed it and stopped taking on teachers.  I understood myself to be both student and teacher and the roles switched often throughout the day so the same must be true for the teacher.  I also was now clearly able to distinguish between the teachings and the teacher.  A teacher may have skill in a particular area of life and be totally stupid in other realms of living – the skill is not necessarily transferable, and this is where I often made mistakes.  I assumed awakening in one area applied to all areas of a teacher’s life.  Entirely not true!

I also grew to understand that I was no more or no less powerful than any of my teachers, we were each of equivalent power.  Than means the teacher is not more powerful than me.

So at the end of the day I was clear no more ‘gurus’ for me.  That moment of clarity was empowering for me and I put myself back on a level spiritual playing field.  I was now approaching my growth without a feeling of lack.  This new terrain brought me face to face with a teacher I had forgotten to notice, to be aware of, and to listen to with a fully open heart.

That teacher is Death.

Death has no preferences or aversions.  Death visits all ages, all cultures, all sexual preferences, all religions, all political persuasions, all income levels – all living beings including all animals, mammals, fish, foul, plant life and even bacteria.  Death is a top priority in the cycle of life so much so that life could not exist without it.

Paying attention to death and those going through it, along with those close to it will inform your life if you listen, learn and love death as a teacher.

 

 

The Language of Choice

The Language of Choice – How to determine where you are speaking from.

The Power of Choice Wheel can help you recognize what quadrant you are speaking from by simply listening to the language you are using.  I have broken down some of the key points for the two most common quadrants – Reactive and Fear-based, and Creative and Free.

 

Reactive and Fear-based

Past or future tense

Scarcity and lack

Judgmental

Critical

Blaming

You will notice almost immediately which approach you are taking by noticing what tense your verbs are – past tense looking back at history and future tense looking forward to the yet to be created is the simple way.  You can also listen to hear if you are blaming others – their actions have power over you or whether you are judging or criticizing others.

All these communication habits will let you know if you are in your own personal power or if you are giving your power away to others.  In other words powerful or powerless.

Creative and Free

Present tense – the now moment

Abundance

Acceptance

Self-responsible

Acknowledging

When you are in your personal power – powerful – you will automatically be speaking in the now moment, the present.  You will approach issues as opportunities not problems.  You will be accepting of what is really going on looking for ways you can take action to bring solutions forward.  You will accept responsibility for your actions.  You will also be coming from an attitude of abundance and gratitude.  There is no finger pointing when you are in your personal power.

Others respond differently, they do not get defensive as they do in an environment that is fear-based and reactive.  They tend to join in and raise their level of communication to match yours.  Even if they do not the typical make wrong fighting doesn’t go on because you are not doing it!

Health, Ageing, and A ‘Good Death’ – Four Things You Can Do

Being one of a very few cremationist in North America, there are roughly 2,600 of us, I have a unique and unusual perspective of death and importantly its opposite life.  I am able to see the links between them both, noticing the lessons death provides us about living.  From my vantage point as a hospice volunteer and also from my experience in a funeral home I see the impact death has on families and friends that survive the loss of their loved one.  I can say I have seen ‘good’ deaths and I have seen my share of ‘bad’ deaths.  There are distinct differences between the two – differences that can inform our lives and if taken as ‘life-lessons’ can change the choices we make while we are living.

Let me explain.  By a ‘bad death’ I mean a death where there is a lack of:

Conversations about death

Advanced care directives or living will

Funeral or celebration of life pre-planning, and

Healthy life habits.

These missing ingredients have a huge impact on end-of-life care in the health system and can result in excessive financial burdens on both the family’s resources and the budgets of health care providers.  Unhealthy life choices serve to make complex medical support for the one dying.  Some of these oversights complicate the decisions that must be made for celebrations of life and funeral or cremation ceremonies once death has occurred.  These missed steps can confuse the legal issues of settling the deceased’s estate.

Emotions are running high when death is near at hand or has occurred.  A lack of clarity around important choices needing to be made can occur at a time emotions are running high resulting in poor decisions.  When making choices in an environment like this we tend to make them from a place of confusion and sometimes fear.  This ‘bad death’ environment can result in family in fighting, strife with the medical system, excessive legal dealings, and struggling with funeral directors – a ‘bad death.’  All of this occupying our time and energy when it should be rightly directed to more important activities such as:

Taking good care of loved ones in a way that serves them and their quality of life

Spending quality time saying good-bye

Deepening family relationships

Celebrating a life well lived.

 

Here are four things I recommend if you and your family intend to experience a ‘good death’:

1) Though our culture seems set against it, have open, honest conversations about how you want your care to be managed at the end of your life.

2) Create Advanced Care Directives that will guide the medical system in its service of your predetermined treatment options.

3) Pre-planning your cremation, funeral, or celebration of life and when possible prepay it.

4) Make healthy life choices now.

With these four elements present in a family unit when death does come knocking on the door, the important decisions are in place, the funeral is planned and folks can devote all their attention to each other simply managing the plans already agreed to.  This type of preparation results in what I would call a ‘good death’.

Why is Accepting Death so Important?

Here is my answer.  Then I will explain how I got there:

 

Embracing death is important because things need to change.

 

It just so happens that death is likely the biggest challenge we all have to face in our lives – death of a loved one, or our own.  Putting it another way death is the biggest change we all will face one day or another.  You may be thinking, “Well yes it is and what has that got to do with anything else?”  So here is how I have come to think and feel about it.

I work in the death and dying business, at a crematorium and I have noticed some interesting things:

One of the most interesting is the attachment the funeral business has to tradition.   The second thing I noticed was the tendency to focus on logistical details.

Here’s my thinking.  Death represents the most significant change all of us face.  In the funeral business this is all we deal with – death after death after death.  And death, after all is uncontrollable.  To survive in an environment filled with death, a most uncontrollable event, folks in the business have a tendency to go to the opposite pole – control.  Logistical details are controllable!  When dealing with the unknown, people tend to rely on the known – tradition.

It makes sense when you look at it through the lenses of opposites and the strong, often unconscious, human urge for balance.  By holding things tight, resisting change by holding to tradition, the details, or the known we seem able to survive and stay balanced and safe.  We tend to drop our natural curiousness, of joy of adventure, and our love of the yet to be known settling instead for trying to control our lives and stay secure.

Things need to change here on planet earth.  Some old traditions (habits like consuming ‘til we drop) must die into the unknown if we are to find new ways to answer old problems.  By accepting death we energetically open ourselves to change, to allowing what needs to die to do so thus creating the space for new and unknown solutions.  Accepting death in this manner may pave the way for unique, creative ideas that would take on age-old systemic problems like poverty, hierarchy, measuring success by dollars, and power politics.

In nature compost, dead plant and animal material, is necessary to revitalize the soil and produce healthy food.  Human life is very similar, the old needs to die in order for the new to be infused with the richness that once was.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

The Trouble with Bubbles

It seems we have a conundrum on our hands – true self and life appear to be on separate side of the universe.  We each seem to be operating in our own unique and separate universe – a universe of one. We have our individual history, beliefs, attitudes and lenses through which we experience our life.  Thought it appears that we are all in it together we really aren’t.  It is as if we are each a bubble in the soda of life.

Let me explain as best as I can.

Tell me who you are (the age-old mantra).

Who I am is the individual me… I am.  What I am, is a unique me with the potential or power of choice.  I am resting potential a kind of tap-able energy.  In itself this is not an issue I am simply resting potential energy.

Tell me what life is.

Life is the totality of possible opposites; an abundance of decisions; a multitude of options, an array of selections.  The universe never chooses for me.  It simply offers a never-ending series of binary choices for me to make.

Tell me what another is.

Simple, an individual like me in his or her own bubble of resting potential energy.

Here is the catch.

The moment I make a choice(s) I launch myself out of my resting potential –me the One, into life or not me – the Many.  I pop up out of the One into a universe of many as if I were a bubble in a glass of ginger ale. In the bubble of my choice(s) I look out and see other bubbles in their choice(s).

The game of life is on.  Like the board game SORRY, we try desperately to find our way home in the midst of all these glorious distractions.  My only way home though is to fall back into my resting potential, to surrender life, to die into the One.

The conundrum, the ultimate yoga – how do I live and die in the same moment?

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

A Cremationist’s View of Life and Death

Years ago when travelling in India I met a noble yogi in Varanasi, my favorite of all Indian cities.  This fine fellow had the simple job of tending the fire from which all funeral pyres are lit.  Stories have it that this fire has been burning for 5,000 years without going out and his family has tended it all these years.

What inspired me about him was the depth and presence he displayed while tending to his duties.  His compassion and humble pride were obvious too.  He waved me into his ‘office’ – we spent time together as he tended to his duties.  At the end of our visit we knelt by the fire.  This gallant man dabbed my forehead with ash from the fire and gave me a little packet of ash to take with me. (The ash still in an urn on my fireplace mantel to this day.)

What I took away from my visit with this fellow was more than just the keepsake.  I felt a deep appreciation for the loving and humble work this man did as he served all the families that came to the Ghats in Varanasi to cremate their loved ones and say a final good-bye – an understanding I would experience personally many years after our meeting.

Now, some 6 years later I find myself in a different yet similar situation as my Indian friend at the Ghats.  I am tending my own fire at a crematorium in Vancouver! Though his fuel is wood and mine is natural gas, and his fires are on the banks of the Ganges River and mine are at the corner of 41st and Fraser, I feel a deep kinship with the noble man in India.  Over the past five months I have been witness to hundreds of cremations, many of them attended by families.  I have watched and learned what is going on at these ceremonies.  I have studied the logistics and what needs to happen for a successful cremation.  I have watched the funeral directors and staff for tips on the human how to’s.  I have also watched the families for clues on how to do an even better job serving them at this important time of their lives.

One weekend late in the spring I had an amazing lesson from the sister of a woman who had passed.  It had been a full ceremony, lots of family and friends, and many people saying their final good-byes.  It was a wonderful display of family and friends sharing connections, happy memories, joy, and feelings of loss – gloriously full of life and love .

The sister said her final good-byes and as she turned to leave the viewing space she walked by me.  We had meet at the funeral home as she came by to make the arrangements for her sister’s ceremony, she knew I was the cremationist.  She stopped in front of me and placed her hand on my forearm.  Looking into my eyes and speaking to my heart she said, “You will take care of my sister won’t you?”

In that instant I felt my friend from the Ghats in Indian and the noble way he was with people.  I felt at the same time the trust families place in me, the cremationist, to take care of their loved one throughout the cremation process.  I knew it mentally, now I had the lesson deeply in my body.  I felt the trust people must have when they relinquish their loved one to the care of a funeral director or cremationist.  It blew my socks off!  What an honor and a loving responsibility it is to take great care of a family’s loved one as they prepare to say their final good-byes.  It feels to me like a sacred job, one that requires compassion, openness, and a grounded certainty.  I am such a lucky fellow to be able to serve people in this most unique way.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

Death, An Inside View From the Perspective of a Cremationist

Back in 2011 I made a personal commitment to get fully involved in the business of death and dying it was a calling of sorts.  I  volunteer as a hospice visitor and in early January 2012 I took on a part time job as a cremationist.  I have been fortunate to have  lots of opportunities to learn much about the goings on in a funeral home.

I have had the honor to work with families as they prepare to say their final good-byes to their deceased loved ones – the cremation is a fundamental part of that.  I have been involved in hundreds of cremations and worked with many families over the past months.  I have learned tremendous life lessons by dealing with death first-hand, gained insights I would not have otherwise seen, and been humbled by the reality of death.

I had several personal experiences with death over the years and have a good understanding of dying, death, grief and loss, and bereavement.  I took hospice training in the mid 1990’s and done some hospice work back then too.  Working with death as intimately as I do has deepened my personal relationship with death in meaningful ways so much so that I have taken death on as my life coach!

Death is teaching me daily; Each time I sit with a person dying, meet with family and friends as they work through pre-grief and grief when the loss comes; Each time I cremate a person and return the cremate remains to the family.  I learn something more about life each time I encounter death.

Death is very real.  It is physical.  No one is getting out alive.  I am certain about that, mentally emotionally, spiritually and physically.  I know one day I will absolutely be dead.  This may sound depressing, yet to me it is totally inspiring – I am alive today!  Today I am breathing and able to experience all that is in front of me – fully!  What a gift!

Being right is a waste of time.  One of the pastimes many of us enjoy is the pursuit of self-rightness (Self Righteousness).  I have seen it in my life over and over again. Though common I find it a waste of time and combative.  Rather be curious and wrong and learn something about life than be stuck in the land of rightness.

Follow your heart.  I spend time with people who are in the final days of their life and I often hear regrets like ‘I wish I would have done all those things I wanted to.’  Sometimes it is spoken like ‘I wish I had lived my own life, not the one others wanted me to live.’  Regrets like these are life lessons turn inside out.  For those of us living, hear these lessons and adjust your life so it won’t be you talking like that on your deathbed.

Love the one you are with.  I was with a family awhile back, the sadness was overwhelming.  ‘We all love each other.  Sad thing is we forget to remind ourselves by saying it out loud each day.  It is too late to remind Dad.’  Feel this one, really feel it and if you want to avoid this kind of grief, be more demonstrative with your love today and each day you are alive.

Money isn’t everything.  I have had the honor to cremate many people over the past while – some very wealthy, others very poor.  Multi-millionaires to homeless folks, people driving BMWs and individuals pushing shopping carts. When I am done my duty as a cremationist, at the end of the process I can’t tell the difference – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – there is no obvious difference in the cremated remains.  We all look the same in the end, and there is no evidence of money, stature or possessions.

Nothing wrong with abundance, nothing right with it either, it just is.  When it is life consuming as in the North American Dream perhaps it is time to put our attention on what is important – each other.

Death can be very informative when you look at it through new lenses!

 

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

The Rainbow of Death – A Chat with my friend Allison

Allison tell me something about the guy and your relationship

“I always knew he wasn’t the man I wanted to have a long-term relationship with.” She said.  “Yet for some weird reason there was something about unprotected sex with him that I let be acceptable.  I wasn’t on the pill, so I would always nudge him to remember a condom.  He didn’t.  Next thing I knew, really to no one’s surprise, my period was late.”

So what went through your mind when you realized your period was late?

“I started to ask myself the big questions: If I am pregnant, what am I going to do?  Could I have a child right now?  Do I want a child right now?  Could I carry a child to term then put it up for adoption?  What about having an abortion?” Allison went on with the story.

“Three weeks into lateness I bought a home pregnancy test.   Positive.

Three days later I went to the doctor to be tested just to be extra sure.  Positive.

I was definitely pregnant,” she said soberly and carried on.

“When I told the baby’s father, his instant reaction was he didn’t want it.  And he was adamant. It was in that moment that I knew no matter what decision I made about the baby I was alone on this journey.  Despite the mental fear, I started to get excited.  Internally, bodily, and emotionally I realized I wanted the baby.”

So what did you do next I asked as I was genuinely curious.

Allison continued, “Though I was terrified I decided to tell my parents.  I knew they loved being grandparents to my nephew, but my situation was so different than my married brother’s.  I had no idea how they would react.  I remember it was a Wednesday night.  I got them both on the phone at the same time and asked, ‘So, how would you like to be grandparents again?’  Thankfully all I felt radiating through the phone was pure love, joy, excitement and a willingness to support me however they could.  I was so relieved!”

So what happened to change your mind was my next question.

“A week or so later I noticed things inside me started to shift.  The reality of keeping the baby set in – the financial, emotional, and spiritual implications of raising a child alone brought me back down to earth pretty quickly.  But how could I have an abortion?  Could I consciously choose to terminate a pregnancy?   What would people say and think if they found out?   I’m not 18 anymore, I’m a grown up so I should be able to do this.   How would I live with myself if I terminated my pregnancy?  What the hell am I supposed to do?  All these questions raced through my head I felt scared, confused and really didn’t know what to do.”

She sat quietly as if remembering the exact moment and then carried on.

“I went back to my doctor and asked her about my options.  We talked about abortion and parenting and she asked me some really good questions about how I envisioned my life and my child’s life.  I sought counsel from an energy healer who I have been with for the last six years.  I also got first-hand accounts from a friend who has been through a pregnancy termination.

After gathering all this information I found myself laying awake many nights for hours, tossing and turning, staring up at the ceiling, meditating and praying, dreaming and trusting the right decision would come through at the perfect moment.  Finally one night, eight weeks into the pregnancy, the inner battle subsided and I came to terms with my decision, the decision I always knew I was going to make.  In that moment of clarity I emailed the clinic to request an appointment for the abortion – two days later the confirmation arrived.”  A few tears trickled down her face as she sat still in the memory of her decision.

Once you made the decision what was it like for you?

“I was scared, not just about what it would be like after the pregnancy was terminated, but that people would find out I was pregnant.  What would they say? What would they think of me?  What would I tell them after the pregnancy was terminated?  I didn’t want people to know I was pregnant then have to turn around and tell them there was no more baby. I struggled with who to tell and how much of the truth I wanted to share.  I was awash with understanding the intimate nature of my decision to terminate the pregnancy, and wanting to be open about what was going on.  It was hard.  In the end, I decided to tell only my immediate family and a few of my closest friends.” Allison related with a big sigh.

Tell me about the day of the abortion.

“Well, I woke up early, showered and put on my most comforting clothes – the bottoms of a set of scrubs that belonged to my Pépère, my grandfather, as they reminded me he was always with me, a man-sized t-shirt of the softest cotton that felt like a big protective hug, and my Zumba hoodie because it just felt good.  My friend picked me up and we drove to the clinic.”

Allison’s voice cracked a little as she continued, “I was greeted by the medical staff with respect and felt as comfortable as I could be in an uncomfortable situation.  I looked around the waiting room at the other women – some with girl friends and some with their boyfriends – my heart went out to the women and couples who were agonizing over their decision knowing there was no chance for a do-over.  My girl friend and I talked about everyday things, as we normally would any other time, sometimes laughing too loudly, sometimes getting lost in our own thoughts, sometimes locking eyes with a deep knowing, understanding and compassion. I joked with the ultrasound technician about the cruelty of making a pregnant woman fast for so long. I shared with the counselor how my grieving had already begun

“My turn arrived.  I was taken to a second waiting room, instructed to change, and given some Ativan to help me relax.  The TV was on the infomercial channel.  I sat staring, breathing, riding the waves of emotion that were coursing through my heart.  I talked to the unborn child inside me – Little Man as I had affectionately named him.  I prayed for strength and courage to make it through with ease and grace.”

She sat still for a moment remembering the events as if it just happened yesterday.

“A second nurse arrived and took me to the procedure room.   She was petite with long blonde hair.  I remember her loving, compassionate, tender energy.  As she put the intravenous needle in my arm we made small talk about how long she’d been a nurse and why she chose to continue to work in the clinic. I wish I remembered her answer.

“The doctor came in; more drugs into my IV; start the machines; mask on my face; breath deeply; big twinge; bigger and deeper breaths; then it was done.

Empty.  Baby was gone.  Instantly I started to cry.

They said I did great and wondered if I was in any pain.  None physically I said and in less than five minutes I was sitting in a recovery room, a heating pad on my abdomen, sipping Canada Dry, and eating cookies. “

Allison took a deep breath and carried on.  “My friend came in.  We cried together.

The recovery nurse gave me my package of post-care instructions and a prescription for antibiotics, and we were on our way home.  On the way out I stopped – I was taken aback as I glanced around the waiting room – there wasn’t an empty seat to be found.  I was shocked at how widespread the decision to have an abortion really was. “

Allison spoke about her recovery.

“The physical healing process was smooth and effortless.  I feel lucky.  I walked a little bit everyday, even if it was only from one end of my apartment to the other.  I ate healthy food to maintain my energy.   I rested a lot.  Though I still felt like I was living in a foggy dream, my life slowly got back to normal – the minutes, days, weeks, and months have passed by.  The absence of the baby in my belly makes it all feel like some kind of dream,“ she reflected.

“My greatest struggle has been to remember the whole event and honor the grief that has, at times, been paralyzing.   I mourn the loss of my dream of starting my own family that I always thought would make me somehow feel more complete.  The grief shifted from being solely about the baby and the abortion, to the loss of all the aspects of being a mom; breastfeeding, decorating a nursery, sleepless nights, and all those newborn sounds and smells, to the loss of the dream, “

Allison noticeably upset continued, “The emptiness in my uterus and the ache in my heart has been unbearable at times.   There are still periods of extreme heartache, supreme anger, rage at the baby’s father, emptiness that seems to have no end, guilt for killing my baby, and frustration that I still find myself dipping back into this pit of darkness. “

Before I could ask she spoke, “Thankfully, to the depth I felt darkness and despair, I have developed a greater capacity to feel love and joy, what a gift!  I also have a deeper understanding of myself, and my values.  There is a lot more love flowing through my heart for myself and others that I never knew existed before.   The love and joy continues to pour through me in my relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and with complete strangers walking down the street.”  Allison beamed,  “I laugh harder, I love more deeply, I have more gratitude for the simple things.  I feel more peaceful and I live with greater clarity.”

In wrapping up her story she shared, “While this experience has been the most difficult of my life, the wins have been profound.  I have realized there are many people who love me and who will support me.  I have learned that it’s up to me to ask for support – it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength that I choose to be authentic and vulnerable, and let the depth of all of my emotions be felt and seen by myself and others.  I would never have planned this whole journey, yet in my heart I am grateful for the lessons that have changed my life forever.”

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

The Ultimate Doorway Life versus Death

In North America we have a strong aversion to and in many case denial of death.  Human death happens 57 millions times a year on the planet – in Canada we experience 251,000 deaths yearly.  It is a very common, natural experience that many of us wish we didn’t have to deal with.  Death is a topic that most of us don’t even want to talk about.

When you look around at the world and really notice some of our behaviors it becomes obviously clear that we are totally afraid of death.  We seem to be holding on for dear life.  Death and ageing are made wrong.  Botox, facelifts, butt tucks, excessive medical interventions, crazy diets and all manner of efforts to demonstrate our belief we have some form of mastery over death.  In fact all our strategies speak of our abject fear of ageing and dying.

Whether we speak it out loud or not most of us are in the fear of death boat on one level or another.  It shows up as being risk adverse, supressed and somewhat pulled back from the edge of life – from life as it really is – from the magic of plain and simple everyday living.

Well, I have tossed myself into the world of death and dying.  I am working as a cremationist 5 days a week and I am volunteering my time as a hospice visitor so I am in it fully.  I have taken death as my teacher and here is what I have discovered

Life and death are sides of the same coin.

We don’t trust death.

Our elders have immense life wisdom.

I will explain.

In the world of opposites that we all live in, we tend to prefer one opposite more than the other.  In some pairs of opposites it is less obvious than with these two – life and death.  Of course most of us prefer life and would rather death get lost so we don’t have to deal with it.

Here is the catch I have discovered.  To the degree we deny death or are frightened of it we are equally in denial of life or are afraid of it.

Put another way if I embrace my death fully and take it as an ally or inspiration I similarly take on my life!  I can’t deny death and expect to have a passionate life.  By embracing my death I bring an end to the deadly habit of waiting for the right time, the right job or the right ——.

Procrastination goes out the window and living life is ushered in.

Secondly, we do not trust death.  When death comes knocking the fight is on and most of us do all kinds of thing to avoid the inevitable.  Using the law of opposites if we do not trust death we will not trust life.  When life doesn’t go the way we want it we fight it – we don’t trust it.  We make it wrong and rail against it.  What would happen if we trusted life and made it right?  Wow would we ever learn and grow.

Sitting with our elders by their death beds as I do often I have really learned to listen.  The gems of wisdom that roll off their tongues are truly life informing.  If we were all to spend 2 hours a week sitting with our elders, (not olders), we would all learn things about life that would greatly enhance our own living.

Death and impending death inform life if we would only learn to listen.  Since jumping fully into to world of death I have made some significant changes in my own living.  Here are a mere few;

I call my boys daily and don’t miss a day.

I call my mom 3 times a week, and my brother too.

I don’t put off until tomorrow what I can do today.

I am not so interested in being right.

My life is way more exciting, raw, alive and full of magic than I recall it ever being.  Perhaps this is simply because I am now more in it than ever before.  I know on a mind body spirit level I am dead at some point, it is not a thought to me it is a deep acceptance and knowing.  This visceral experience has opened me to the absolute joy of living my life just as it is.  Doing what I can to live in alignment with my heart’s wisdom.

Suggestions – Acceptance and Straight Talk

What would happen in your life if you really did accept the fact that one-day you will die – and you don’t know when that day will be.

Feel your own death, get it as a thought, get it in your body, feel it with your soul.

Do the same with your loved ones – get they are going to die too and you don’t know when.

This is real my friends, do this exercise with depth and reality and it will absolutely inform and change the way you live your life.

Spend some time with an elder and listen to their stories.  If you are an elder tell yours!

Open to the reality of death, doing so makes the current moment of life richer.

The moment is all we really have.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

 

You Can Trust Death!

I have been noticing over the past several years all the signs and signals that generally we tend to be death adverse.  A recent television advertisement that carries the statement Make Death Wait reminded me of our tendency to take death as a foe, something we need to delay at the minimum and usually fight against vigorously with all manner of ‘weapons’.

As I look around at the world and see all that we do to avoid ageing – plastic surgery, a shot of botox, a pinch here and a lift there – we seem to be demonstrating that we think we have some degree of mastery or power over one of life’s certain yet mysterious events – death.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love life and value it deeply.  I am not interested in rushing my death at all.  I whole-heartedly agree with good nutrition, good exercise, good spiritual practice and taking good care of ourselves so we can enjoy life and be able to give ourselves fully to family and friends, to our chosen work, and to our hobbies.  When illness comes my way I do take the steps necessary to return to good health as quickly as possible.

However, I have noticed some things about death especially in our North American culture as I pursue a new career in the business of death, both has a volunteer hospice visitor and as a cremationist.  I can distill all the activity that pops up around death to one simple sentence – don’t trust death.

First notice all that often goes on when some one you know gets the prognosis that she or he has only months or days to live.  Most people opt for one or more of the following solutions:

  • Aggressive allopathic treatments
  • Extensive naturopathic processes
  • Wild and crazy off-the-wall healers
  • Radical life style changes
  • Tremendous drug regimes
  • Spiritual Gurus and associated mantras

When death comes knocking our culture, our health care, and alternative care services kick into overdrive!  All this activity around death is telling me something.

And yes, you should all know that I have faced the loss of loved ones to death, my sister died in 1988, my father died in 2004, my brother faced and is still facing cancer to this day.  My aunt faced a 2 in 10 chance of surviving open-heart surgery, friends, close friends have lost loved ones to suicide so I have first-hand experience with this issue.  I understand treatment and pain management.  I know what I am dealing with here so my understanding comes from very personal and direct experience.

Here is what I have come to understand.

All this activity around ageing and death is saying to me that we do not trust death.  Somehow death is wrong.  We mortals must be able to control it, to manage it to suit our own personal needs and agenda.  We ought to be able to master death with all of our technology and knowledge.

What happens if death is right?

Much Love

Stephen Garrett