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An Awaking and a Remembering

Jean is an early childhood educator in the Waldorf tradition and mother of two children.

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." This immortal Wordsworth line from Ode: Imitations of Immortality could also read, "Our death is but an awaking and a remembering."

Today, in the age of technology, many imagine death as a turning off, shutting down, an ending to a timeline. But what if it isn't? What if our current culture is delusional, batty, missing something? It is certainly more disconnected from nature and death than any other known culture before it. We avoid seeing and contemplating death. How can you know anything about something unstudied and even ignored?

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This season gives us an opportunity to do the studying. Death is all around us in nature. The leaves are withering and letting go, the grasses are drying and browning, the light is departing. Now is the time to journey into the depths of death's mystery.

In the ancient famous tomb ceiling fresco from Paestum, a figure dives from a platforn, presumably into the body of water representing the afterlife below. But when you closely look at the diver's head placement, angle of the arms and body, and the direction of the gaze, it actually appears that the diver is going to soar above the water. The figure is not only a diver, but also a flyer.

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Many many cultures throughout history have seen the body die. They have seen the flesh sag and decompose and have understood the cycle of material life as the body is returned to the earth. But they have also seen something beyond the physical processes. Those with spiritual insight have seen the loosening and flying away of the subtle bodies. Rudolf Steiner called them the etheric and astral bodies and said that the etheric body is responsible for the flash of an entire life before the eyes of the dying.

If death is a remembering and an awakening, to what do we remember and awake? What is the diver flying towards? That's the great mystery of course, to which many spiritual traditions have given similar answers and prepared themselves for those answers through meditation and journeying.

It seems the overculture's prevailing fear and attempts at avoidance of death only makes us more fearful and unprepared. If we desire to live our lives with bravery, why not face death with the confidence of the diver? Perhaps if we prepare, if we dive into the mystery, we can also fly without fear.

As Ram Dass said, "Death is perfectly safe." It is only our individual ego that clings fearfully to material life. If we learn to identify with the immortal rather than the mortal, what is there to fear?

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Luckily, or divinely given, we humans have been seeking just how to accomplish this for thousands of years and we now have access to so many of the answers we've come across. We can pick and choose from a variety of spiritual teachings. The only caveat is that this fills our heads, and leaves our hearts and souls empty. How do we embody what we know?

When my children are settled and my mind at ease I sit quietly outside my home. I notice that the wind is blowing and the sun is filtering through the shivering leaves. I notice the sun and shadow dance across my infant daughter's face. I smile. My heart fills will love and gratitude for this moment. I feel the all encompassing presence of Great Spirit and the enlivening whisper of Great Mother. "My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over." (Anna Diamant) My soul is awake. Where is my ego? I don't notice it.

My sister was bitten by a dog, badly. I hear her scream and my hairs stand on end. I run to her and see blood on the floor, on her face. We rush to the hospital at night. I sit beside her and tell her it will be okay, that she is okay. My heart is full of love for her and my soul is awake.

I give my child birth. Great Mother is there and both brings my pain to me and takes my pain down into the Earth and away from me. I feel my child's head. I hold them in my arms and gaze upon them for the first time. My heart is full of love for everyone around me. My soul is awake.

My son cried a lot as a baby. I held and rocked him for hours that seemed to never end. I sang. That singing felt immortal. It was the singing of my mother, my grandmother, and many grandmothers before that. My heart was full of love for my baby and my grandmothers and all of humanity. My soul was awake.

Life gives us moments like these to connect us to Great Spirit. These are simple moments. All we have to do is be present for them. Then our hearts are full and our souls awake and while this is when we feel most alive, it is also when we can be most connected to death. When we can dive into the mystery. "Death is but a remembering and an awakening." This fullness of heart and awareness of soul is what we remember and awaken to in death. For it is our inner soul lives that are immortal. It is our inner soul lives that the Great Mother cradles in the cosmic womb between lives.

So, I invite you this season to give thought and heart to the ones who came and went before you. Light a candle for them. Give them thanks. Give thought and heart to the fact that your current individuality will go too. Watch the leaves wilt and fall. Hear the whispers of the wind. Make each moment a prayer of thanks for this life. Fill your heart and awaken your soul in preparation for what comes next.

These are my words and my perceptions given to me by many others who came and left before me. Of course yours are not the same, not exactly. But hopefully mine remind you of yours. Hopefully they awaken your soul and fill your heart a little more.

© 2022 Jean McArthur