Saturday, July 14, 2012
Taking Death as Our Advisor
Reuniting Life and Death
We still unconsciously associate life with Mother, because we associate death with a withdrawal of love and warmth and comfort; death is abandonment and annihilation. This is the psychological component of the Terrible or Negative Mother complex. It is a devouring, a torment, a reduction to nothingness. The negative mother complex is strong within our psyches because these feelings are associated with our fear of death rather than with the knowledge of inevitable change. How can we grow if we don’t also leave the Mother’s house of childhood and grow into our individuality? The negative mother within us is the energy that forces us to face the dark and the dead in our lives. When we learn to face her and accept that at some points in life we will feel abandoned and loveless and tormented, we will indeed become wise.
In the East, the positive and negative mother is still united and therefore death does not hold such fear for people. One of the most glorious forms of the devouring side of the Mother is seen in India's goddess Kali, "dark, all-devouring time, the bone-wreathed Lady of the place of the skulls."11 This image is scary when we cut off life from death, when we split up the attributes of the Earth Mother. But in India, Kali, which means "Terror-Joy," is worshiped as both Creator and Destroyer, both good and terrible Mother, just as the primal forces of Nature are both life-giving and death-dealing. It makes death easier to accept when we believe that life, comfort and joy lies on the other side of the experience. And it makes our life experience deeper and richer to know that it won’t last forever. That Death has a claim on us as well.
The Earth Mother's mysteries are the transformative mysteries of birth, love, death and regeneration. What She tells us is that life flows into death, which flows into life once again. A woman had a dream:
I am standing with another woman watching all sorts of demonic creatures emerging from a gray mist and floating quickly, one after another, before our eyes. They do not bother us or seem to be aware of our presence. I think to myself, "My God! This is the Chaos of Hell." Then the woman recognizes one of the creatures and says, sadly, "Oh, Famine, not you - not again. . ." I realize I am viewing the afflictions of humanity.
The scene shifts. I find myself caught up into an enormous orgasmic experience. The atmosphere is electrically charged with creative energy of tremendous proportions.
This woman, in her mid-forties, felt that the dream makes it clear that the forces of creation are linked forever with the forces of destruction, that both forces are necessary for the weaving of the fabric of life. The 'orgasmic experience' of recognizing this fact unites her to the universe. The creative potential of this realization is enormous, because once we no longer fear death, especially the ego-death that the second half of life demands of us, the possibilities of creation open before us.
This is what happens when we turn to face destruction as a necessity of life. Doesn't our attitude change the nature of our ability to deal with chaos and death? If we can begin to accept that death is a blessing, will we not be willing to work toward changing the things in our lives and in our culture that are outworn and no longer appropriate to the health of the world? Can it be as simple as cutting dead wood? When we no longer fight against death, will we not have energy to meet it in new and creative ways?
The Earth can help us understand this mystery of life and death. Isn't Winter the season that gives us this experience of death? It is cold and dark and the life of the Earth goes dormant, frozen and covered over with snow. Although we can escape into our heated homes and cars and work places, we still end up going 'within' in some form or other. The coldness and darkness torment many people and the inwardness of the winter months is like a mini-death to some. And yet, the Earth holds up a mystery to us: the mystery and meaning of death is our constant companion in the winter months, but out of that death comes new life every spring. Why do we doubt that we also participate in these mysteries when we are children of Earth?
Death is always an unknown, a mystery; it does not, however, have to be met with terror. We say, 'I feel like I’m dying' when we are feel lost. But being lost is not the same as Death. We experience death many times in our lives, and so we have many chances to grow accustomed to Death. Besides the concrete deaths of a loved one or of a relationship, there are also those psychological deaths, the death of old habits, complexes and beliefs, the point when we can simply let go of our hold on life and let life itself carry us along. We hang on to old complexes and ways of experiencing life, even when they hurt us, because we have no conception of what will come after we let them go.
There is also a spiritual death we must undergo - the dark night of the soul - when we have to face our aloneness and emptiness. I had a dream at a time in my life when I had to make the decision to believe in myself and in what I knew to be true. I had to re-evaluate my belief system, my old way of seeing the world. Was it still viable, could it still guide me in my life decisions? I finally recognized that it was really keeping me from new life. In the dream, facing this knowledge was portrayed as facing my potential death.
I am in a house and very frightening things begin to happen around me. The wind outside the house is blowing fiercely. The Ark of the Covenant [I had just seen Raiders of the Lost Ark] is in this house, and I realize that the power of God is manifesting in dangerous ways. The other people with me do nothing, so I walk around, making sure that everyone and everything is alright.
Two men appear out of the Ark. One is very tall, with dark hair and heavy features, reminding me of Frankenstein’s monster. The other is a little man in a black suit with a black high hat and a black beard. They both come at me with terrible power. I am terrified and try to get away, but they have me cornered. I invoke God's name and keep trying to get away. I make the sign of the Cross as the tall man comes toward me and he laughs at my attempts at calling on God's help. He tells me that it will do me no good.
Then I realize that the only thing left for me to do is to stop running and face them. I tell myself that they can only kill me. I am still afraid, for they are powerful, but I am no longer terrified. I turn to face them, and somehow that is the only attitude to take that can defeat them, for they can no longer harm me. I also realize that I will have to face them again at other times in my life, but now I know what I must do, as well as what I can do.
This dream taught me about facing and accepting death; it taught me about my own bravery and strength and gave me the courage to act. In terms of my spiritual growth, the God whom I had been taught to believe was my heavenly Father was trying to destroy me. My old beliefs would not hold or save me. The dream opened me to the idea that my deeply held belief in the goodness of the father god, the patriarchy and the authority of masculine consciousness was dangerous for me. That it was no longer serving my life to act in the old ways, and to believe in the old gods. They had turned into monsters for me. Like Allerleirauh, I had to finally face what the Father's Spirit was doing to me, and like her, I succeeded in finding my own standpoint in relation to Spirit.
One part of facing your own death is to face your life. By this I mean taking responsibility for what you want and what you do; by taking your life into your own hands, you no longer have anyone or anything to blame for your condition. Life is, and your death becomes a part of that life. Don Juan Matus, the Yaqui Indian, taught Carlos Castaneda about facing his death.
"Death is our eternal companion," don Juan said with a most serious air. "It is always to our left, at an arm's length. It was watching you when you were watching the white falcon; it whispered in your ear and you felt its chill, as you felt it today. It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you."
He extended his arm and touched me lightly on the shoulder and at the same time he made a deep clicking sound with his tongue. The effect was devastating; I almost got sick to my stomach.
"You're the boy who stalked game and waited patiently, as death waits; you know very well that death is to our left, the same way you were to the left of the white falcon."
His words had the strange power to plunge me into an unwarranted terror; my only defense was my compulsion to commit to writing everything he said.
"How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?" he asked.
I had the feeling my answer was not really needed. I could not have said anything anyway. A new mood possessed me.
"The thing to do when you're impatient," he proceeded, "is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you."
He leaned over again and whispered in my ear that if I turned to my left suddenly, upon seeing his signal, I could again see my death on the boulder.
His eyes gave me an almost imperceptible signal, but I did not dare to look.
I told him that I believed him and that he did not have to press the issue any further, because I was terrified. He had one of his roaring belly laughs.
He replied that the issue of our death was never pressed far enough. And I argued that it would be meaningless for me to dwell upon my death, since such a thought would only bring discomfort and fear.
"You're full of crap!" he exclaimed. "Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.'"
He shook his head and seemed to be waiting for my reply. I had none. My thoughts were running rampant. He had delivered a staggering blow to my egotism. The pettiness of being annoyed with him was monstrous in the light of my death.
I had the feeling he was fully aware of my change of mood. He had turned the tide in his favor. He smiled and began to hum a Mexican tune.
"Yes," he said softly after a long pause. "One of us here has to change, and fast. One of us here has to learn again that death is the hunter, and that it is always to one's left. One of us here has to ask death's advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them." 12
How often do any of us take death as our advisor? Try it for a day, and you will find that the pettiness of your life will give way to a strength and standpoint that only a real acceptance of death can give to life. I know now that as I get older and death draws nearer, I have dropped the pettiness and worries of my youth. This acceptance of death is not foolhardy; it is not so much that the fear of the unknown disappears, but rather, it can no longer cause me to abandon what I feel and know I need to do. To be truly brave, we must face our fears and go through it to a new relationship to our life’s purpose.