Death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not because I sense mine is imminent, but it’s all around. And it’s teaching me about joyful living.
Last week I attended a celebration of life for friends’ thirty-five-year-old daughter. Earlier that week, one of my closest friend’s mother passed on. In March I honored the life of a 95-year-old man who served his country and everyone in it for his entire life. Most of that time he rode a motorcycle. An uncle passed in January. Last year I said good-bye to my best friend of fifty-five years, a cousin, and my and everyone’s favorite uncle. A few months earlier it was an aunt, my friend’s husband, and a month before that, my Dad.
It’s not so much about what happens to our physical body and spirit that captures my attention. I do think about it, but more importantly, death makes me think of life.
Cleaning out my parents’ apartment I looked around at what remained after ninety years. Although they embraced a simple lifestyle, I was amazed at how much stuff they packed in. It made me think about focusing even less on things and putting my energy into that which endures.
During one of my shamanic training exercises, we role played, imagining we were at the end of life. We reflected on how we’d lived and what we were leaving behind. We questioned ourselves about any unfinished business. The exercise was powerful and life-changing and helps us understand why in the shamanic tradition, we refer to death as an ally. It makes us view life through a different lens.
We have a finite number of days on earth. That’s no big secret but for some reason, it only sinks in as we age. The realization that there were more days behind me than ahead of me led to my quest in 2014. As a restless sixty-year-old, I felt I wasn’t living up to my potential. I wanted to make everything I did for my remaining days count. My soul was calling, pleading for my attention. To do that, I had to find myself under the layers of roles, expectations, and cultural conditioning I’d accumulated over my lifetime.
I was able to go back and examine the stories that had led me to what I considered a life of mediocrity, and almost stifled my spirit. By placing myself in the lives of my parents and grandparents, I could look back at the culture and community that had conditioned me and see it through new eyes.
Everything and nothing changed. Through what became an arduous but soul-enriching journey, I just changed my perception without altering the past. That enabled me to reconcile with my spiritual roots and deepen the connection with my family, while belonging to me first.
Death teaches us how to live and reminds us to use our time, gifts, and resources wisely. If we practice that every day, we get better at it. We have no idea when our time on earth will be over. Living our fullest every day means we’re less likely to face unfinished business or regrets when the time comes. We did our best.
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