Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day of the Dead - A reason for living

These three days, October 31, November 1 & 2, have largely lost their meaning in the modern world. Insistence on acknowledging traditions at this time of year is sort of hackneyed and a tribute to the business of candy more than anything else. But, if we will take the time to wonder at the transition of seasons, in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, maybe we can touch something larger than ourselves for a moment. If we observe that there is no going backwards, that change is inevitable, that remembrance has its time and place, and then it should be released, then we can get a handle on why Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, and All Souls Day, might be worth latching onto -because it nods its head to the only truth there is on planet earth. Our lives as we know them, are temporary ventures.

Whether we believe in Heaven and Hell, Reincarnation and Karma, or nothingness when we die, the fact remains that as we are today is a temporal anomaly, not to be repeated or retreated from, and is a limited edition of one. This experience is unique and valuable because it is a one-time only deal. Even if you do come back as someone else in some other age, even if you do get to go to some paradise down a long dark tunnel, this part of the dream is not repeatable. We don't get a "Ground Hog's Day" or a "Hot Tub Time Machine" to do it again. and neither did our ancestors.

The Kosmic Egg is a great symbol for this day, as it gives you a "before" and "after" idea for how this life might work. Before you reach a certain age and awareness, happy is the "before" life, perfectly contained within an egg. Experiences are added into life with the notion that it will always be a certain way. We can't help it because we don't know until the egg cracks that there is more. The egg cracks when we understand that we have chosen experiences in life that have been harmful to ourselves or others. The egg cracks when we understand that life can't stay small any more if we are going to live to be ourselves in this world. The egg cracks when disappointment tips the balance and we fall into a dark night of the soul to discover what we've been shoving into that cosmic closet of ours. After the Kosmic Egg cracks, we can understand it as an initiation into a larger truth, and an expanded human experience. It happens at different times for different people. It is rare that a person can skip through it, though some try very hard to ignore it, or numb it out.

That crack usually has something to do with death. Whether it is the death of a dream, the death of a way of being, the death of someone close to us, or an illness threatening our own death it is a period of grief, rip-out-our-hearts grief, and we search for meaning in it. Anyone who's listened to the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty" knows that there is no way to put everything back together in a life, to put it back the way it was before. But, the symbol of the egg doesn't have to be scrambled. Often that egg cracks because the new life inside can no longer survive confined.

The new life inside that egg has evolved to the point of no return. I love that the Mexican tradition includes the symbol of the butterfly or mariposa in the transition at midnight between Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents/Children) and Dia de los Muertos, because it is the symbol of the butterfly that best interprets the meaning of the cracked egg and what will follow. We cannot remain childish forever. At some point in life we must face mortality of that dream where things just work out, where we can mindlessly consume without offering back our full beauty and begin to take responsibility for ourselves...but what does that mean?

For many taking responsibility is a very sobering affair, and for some taking responsibility is the flight of the butterfly. I, obviously, prefer the latter. To think that I would shirk my duties, however, is to underestimate the flight of a butterfly. The fullest expression that I can imagine in life is to acknowledge our own fragility, and fly anyway. Can you imagine a pensive butterfly hanging forever to the broken chrysalis, considering how to climb back in and how dangerous a breeze can be? And yet, I admit, I have been this pensive butterfly, driven by fear of some boogie man, some ghostly hallow that attached to my psyche years ago.

Will I startle myself out of this pensiveness and finally blindly leap into the blue sky? I hope not. That has been my foolish start before and I seem to have landed back on this branch. So I'm turning against that instinct to depart and I'm turning towards the shadow to see what it really is. I think I know. I think it is perfectly expressed by Dia de las Muertos, and I will celebrate the opportunity with the sweetness of realization. Facing this zombie-like terror that is blocking the sun, I know it's a particular death, not just any death, and though I've confronted bits and pieces of it, I've never faced it head-on.

No comments: