OUR REFLECTION ON MORTALITY IS A JOURNEY THAT MIRRORS THE WISDOM OF NATURE'S EVER-TURNING SEASONS, ENCOURAGING US TO EMBRACE CHANGE AND LET GO OF OUR DEEPEST FEARS AND UNCERTAINTIES.
In times of fake news, there is one statement that we do not need to doubt. It applies to every one of us: we are going to die. Or to put it more precisely: Our physical body will die. Although this is an undeniable truth, we tend to ignore it. There are moments when suddenly the questions, our beliefs, the fear or even the longing for death catch up with us. When we say goodbye to someone close to us, when reports of natural disasters or accidents cross our screens, when the daily newspaper reports the death of a famous politician or a singer, we have grown fond of, we may slow down and ask ourselves what dying feels like and what may come after death.
In February 2023, a dear friend received a prognosis that had her become aware of such questions. We had intense conversations, I sent book recommendations and increasingly noticed how these topics are excluded in everyday life. This motivated me to make some recordings for my youtube channel and I created opportunities for conversation in circle about these questions. The exchange in the online groups has been touching and enriching. It is impressive what existential experiences we have as human beings without talking about them with others. Several times someone said something like "only a few people know this about me" or "I have never told this before". It was like that for me. I have been studying this subject area for many years, but until recently had only very rarely talked about my own near-death experience in the fall of 2006 in Bangladesh, even though it was extraordinarily poignant and transformative.
ON REFLECTION, WE CAN SEE THAT WE PRACTICE DYING EVERY DAY. IN EVERY BREATH WE PERFORM THE RHYTHM OF BREATHING OUT AND BREATHING IN.
A common experience that can become a sign for the interplay between incarnation and excarnation. Between breathing in and breathing out, there is a moment that is neither one nor the other. A gap. This moment can be compared to the transitions in birth and in the dying process. It can be just a moment that we do not notice, as it just happens by itself. However, we can direct our consciousness to it, and accordingly even intervene in the rhythm of breathing. In several traditions this is part of the spiritual practice.
Blossoming & withering, wideness & narrowness, dissolution & condensation. Words that refer to some fundamental dynamics that all testify to the alternation between taking hold & letting go, breathing out & breathing in. Strictly speaking, our lives are characterized by the fact that we have certain thought patterns, feelings, desires, and plans that at some point we must let go of. Even the objects we own can wear out or break. New phases of life may require us to leave a beloved place and take a step into the new, possibly unknown. Sometimes this is easy, but often it is not.
SLEEP, AS DEATH'S LITTLE BROTHER, ALSO REMINDS US EVERY DAY THAT WE AS HUMAN BEINGS FOLLOW CERTAIN RHYTHMS.
I can learn to observe what I bring from the night. It can be impulses or dreams, but also uplifting or unpleasant feelings. I sense that somehow, I was somewhere else with my consciousness. What happens in this unknown realm is not the same every night. Sometimes I wake up refreshed, sometimes downright exhausted. Even though some people may consider sleep to be wasted time, even they have no choice but to give themselves over to sleep again and again. I need to let go of my thoughts, feelings, and concerns for action, or I will not be able to rest, will stay awake, or will get tangled up in a half-awake state. The process of falling asleep requires me to let go of all that has occupied me during the day and to surrender to the unknown. Thus, falling asleep becomes the ideal preparation and training ground for dying.
Nature also reminds us of the inexorable rhythms and changes. In Western Europe, where I live, the solstices and equinoxes mark the division into 4 seasons. Autumn reminds us of the transience and mortality of everything that has become. Four Christian festivals were placed in the temporal proximity of these turning points: St. John's Day, Michaelmas, Christmas, and Easter. They are moments in which the change of direction can be experienced and the emphasis changes regarding the day-night rhythm. In the course of the history of mankind these turning points were celebrated and highlighted by many peoples in rituals and stories. Buildings and constructions were erected where these cosmic events could be witnessed and even predicted. Examples of this can be found at Stonehenge (England), Chichen Itza (Mexico), and Newgrange (Ireland). Light and darkness meet in a recurring rhythm.
JUST AS WE CAN TRACE EACH MORNING WHAT WE BRING WITH US FROM THE NIGHT, THE THRESHOLD BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH IS NOT COMPLETELY IMPENETRABLE.
Some people feel, for example, that they did not come into the world as a blank sheet, but bring impulses and dreams with them. In confidential conversations people tell more often than one would expect that they have the feeling that their deceased relatives still visit them and that they can communicate with them. For several decades now, reports of near-death experiences have been published. What is described is amazingly similar. Research has shown that often after a period of integration, decisions involving biographical changes are made. Most people that went through such a threshold experience have lost their fear of death. Their appreciation for life has grown, so that it has become easier for them to listen to their inner voice instead of being guided by external expectations. This happened to me, too. The experience of how everything that seemed so important slipped away from me has become deeply ingrained, and makes me keep checking, consciously or unconsciously, what is important. When in meditation I withdraw my attention from everyday life, I open the space that showed itself to me in the process of dying.
The love that I recognized as my essence, I consciously experience and taste in meditation. It helps me to live an authentic life and radiate my essence in this .
by Griet Hellinckx
Published online in Cosmic Magazine, November 2023
Practicing Dying - Guest article by Griet Hellinckx — The Cosmic Dreaming