In my journey of personal growth and development I’ve found perhaps the most important movement toward transformation/enlightenment/salvation is awareness. Becoming truly aware, with “eyes wide open”, of the past trauma(s) trapping us, the cultural messages enslaving us, our internal narratives keeping us stuck, and so on, is crucial because more often than not we simply don’t know what’s holding us back from a thriving life or get unconsciously caught in unhelpful/unhealthy behaviors.
For instance, while I was addicted to porn for 10+ years and wanted to stop, I thought my weakness was what kept me there. This wasn’t the real issue, though, so I stayed stuck until I became aware of what was going on under the surface. At a deep level I thought I was unloved and unlovable, so used the pleasure of the addiction to numb my pain. The Truth that then set me free was learning, experiencing, and deeply feeling that God Loves me freely and fully always and forever … no matter what!
I share this because until quite recently I was unaware the general approach toward death in America is denial. We have a culture of death denial which glorifies looking young, builds separate retirement communities for older people to go away to, further segregates those nearer to death in hospices, has an entire industry for prettying up corpses, and largely resists looking at or talking about death in any meaningful manner.
We are massively death avoidant, which I think is ironically killing us in more ways than one. Consider the aforementioned increasing physical and relational separation of the older generation from the rest of us. This division robs the bulk of our population of the immense wisdom our elders can share with us. From their experience and journey they can offer us the keys to life!
While writing this, I found myself thinking a subconscious reason most people are happy with old folks living in communities, or homes, is because “they” are tangible, visual reminders of the most certain truth in life: We all eventually die.
Death is scary because it’s the great unknown, so we often avoid this fear by doing our best to NOT see it, approach it, or even talk about it. BUT, here’s the thing. The path to overcoming fears, healing hurts, and transformation is to dive IN to the topic, NOT go around it!
I think the biggest way I see our culture of death denial killing us is it easily leads to our priorities being all out of whack. America cherishes and spends boatloads of money/energy on youthful good looks, building a name for yourself, and continuously getting newer, better, and sexier things. When we live in fear, we naturally and normally live selfishly, and it seems to me our subconscious fear of death has resulted in a pretty dang selfish culture. Do you know what I mean?
When we feel safe and secure, though, it becomes much easier for us to lean into the fullness of life and all its awesomeness: Relationships, kindness, compassion, giving, receiving, connection, teamwork, celebration, sharing, vulnerability, courage, encouragement, etc. It seems to me, the more we normalize, talk about, and face death head on, the more freely and fully we can get to loving one another, creation, and the Source of this all.
I love how Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski puts it:
“Suppose we stopped compartmentalizing death, cutting it off from life. Imagine if we regarded dying as a final stage of growth that held an unprecedented opportunity for transformation. Could we turn toward death like a master teacher and ask, ‘How, then, shall I live?’”
In a very real sense, life is full of deaths; in that every change we experience is a type of death … followed by a new life. The more I surrender to the inevitability of both the many small deaths during life (job changes, moving, losing a relationship, gaining a relationship, kids moving out, etc.) and the final death of this life, the more richly and beautifully I’m able to be fully present here and now, welcome every bit of life (especially the uncomfortable stuff), and grow/transform into a kinder, more joyous, and more peaceful Lang.
Let’s talk about death. I’d be honored to hear your thoughts. As the title suggests, this is part one of a series (I’m thinking six overall right now).
Grace and peace,