It’s Halloween season! I know because a walk down the streets of our quiet neighbourhood means bumping into a few skeletons if not disembodied heads. While this is the time for us to think about the light side of death, our western attitude about death is so tinged with fear that we miss the opportunity to consider our own death or that of others whom we love.
A couple of weeks after Halloween, I will celebrate my and my late husband’s wedding anniversary, bringing back memories of him. So, of course, around this time at the end of each year death is on my mind.
While thinking about death may sound morbid, I think that we can learn lessons from other cultures’ attitudes and beliefs around death. Understanding and embracing death can offer valuable insights and guidance during life’s transitions, especially for mature women.
As a keen student of yoga, I have been learning more about the South Asian approach to these topics which emphasizes the cyclical nature of life and rebirth. The emphasis is to find your purpose and to provide selfless service related to that purpose. This purpose may go beyond this lifetime so that when you die, it is like taking off an old coat. Your body goes away but your essence and purpose continue only to be reborn through the karma cycle of birth and rebirth. The ultimate objective is moksha, the spiritual liberation that is our supreme goal.
A very different but related approach comes to us from Central America where the celebration of the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is celebrated the day after Halloween on November 1. This is a celebration which combines native religions with the Catholicism of the conquistadors and honours our ancestors. Through these celebrations death is seen as a natural part of life, and maintaining a connection with the dead becomes part of everyone’s life from the youngest to the oldest family members.
This is the time in our lives when we face our own death as well as the death of many of those who are close to us. Understanding that our spouses, relatives and friends who die before us are part of a universal life force can be comforting as well as help us find peace in these life transitions.
Some practical ways to use these various approaches to death include:
Explore your ancestral heritage and the death-related traditions and wisdom within your family backgrounds. This self-discovery can provide a deeper connection to your own lives and transitions. I feel that I have come closer to my maternal grandmother as I have explored her life. Honouring her with passing on my knowledge about her to the younger members of our family has been very satisfying.
What are the important things that you want to be remembered for? How much of these characteristics and actions are true now? While this may seem morbid, it can be a real revelation. Try it.
Practice mindfulness and meditation techniques that help you stay present and delight in this very moment. For the yoga culture, this is a way to find the true essence in you. At the very least, it can help you find a peace that you may not have found yet.
Understanding and accepting death can be a powerful tool for personal growth and transformation. I wrote about this in a blog from a few years ago called Four Ways to Deal with the Loss of a Loved One. Thinking about how we want to be remembered and what life force we want to emit can direct us in this important part of our lives propelling us through this time of transition.
Suggested read THINKING ABOUT DYING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE MORBID.
Have you thought about your death, or do you consider this too morbid a topic to ponder? What tradition did you grow up in, and how does death and dying factor in that tradition? Would you say your understanding of death is different at this time of your life?