School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: June 2011
The Old Death & Resurrection Show

By Ya'Acov

I may as well be honest with you right at the start. I want to talk with you about death, specifically your death and mine. I know death is not a very popular subject for most people but stay with me. If I were to be a little more explicit, I might ask you to imagine yourself standing with both feet on the soft earth in the Ardennes in Belgium. Go on, close your eyes for a moment, and then feel a good, strong shovel in your hand, take a deep breath and begin to dig. What are you doing? You are taking up the first clod of earth as you begin to dig your own grave in preparation for the Burial of the Warrior Ceremony.

How does that feel? How does it feel to be taking your life in your own hands and willingly inviting a deep dialogue with your own death? When I first did this, I have to tell you, I was terrified. But that first time I dug my own grave and did this ceremony, struggling all day in the summer sun with the dry, hot, hard earth of La Val Dieu in Southern France, will stay with me forever. And the many times I have done it since have each been benchmarks in my life. The last grave I dug was in my own back garden and during the night I spent in there talking to my old friend death, who used to scare me so much, I realised that if I did this every couple of years, there would come a time, when they could just leave my body in there as food for the land that has fed me for so long. I realised that for the first time in this body, I was finally at home. Whether we like it or not, the great death and resurrection show is coming to all of us.

Let me start by telling you about an unusual conversation I had with a friend last week. I was talking about writing this article and she said: “Oh lovely! I’m so excited about dying. I can hardly wait!” Before we go any further, she’s not the suicidal type and this article isn’t an invitation to some kind of early death party. It’s more of an invitation to enter into a dialogue with the reality of mortality, or as our old indigenous mates put it, an invitation to die whilst your still living. Not just once, but regularly. It’s an invitation to allow death to take its rightful place in our lives, as one of the greatest of all teachers. One of our great teachers, a woman many of you may know, used to say to us that teachers come and go but life is the Master. I would add that death too is a master, and what a mysterious duet they are! Are you still with me? OK, then let’s continue.

We’re at that time of year again when the sun reaches the peaks of its powers and right then, as the old pagan cycle of the year celebrated so openly in myth and ritual, the great celestial King of the sky recognises the approach of his own demise. I remember so clearly being taken along to a pagan ritual in my very early 20’s when this story was told so beautifully. It touched me very deeply because in the story, the King didn’t try to hold on to his power (now there’s an unusual guy!). He accepted that he must give his life to the land so that the eternal cycle could continue. In short, he made friends with his death and surrendered gracefully to it, and through that very act, his life becomes a blessing for all.

Death is all around us. If we wear leather or our diet is more or less anything other than vegan, then we are participating in death all the time. We are all either consciously or unconsciously part of this everyday dance of life and death. When I was in Hamburg recently, my friend Jens pointed out the huge abattoir that is close to the centre of the city. Even though death is on our doorsteps all the time, how many of us are consciously aware of it before it comes knocking and shocks us to the very core.

The choices we make connect us to life and death all the time. For instance, is anyone out there still buying Nestle products? I was horrified to see Nescafe being used at one of our events recently. There has been an ongoing consumer boycott campaign against Nestle since the late 80’s. Why? Nestle have for years been using unfair and unjust marketing to persuade mothers in third world countries to replace breast feeding with powdered baby food, with devastating effects for the child mortality rates in those countries. Even though measures and codes of conduct are in place, it is a well-documented fact that Nestlé continues to violate these measures in a systematic way (see the Breaking the Rules monitoring reports produced by the International Baby Food Action Network – And as UNICEF has said: "Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute." And despite this, so many of us are so out of touch, that when drinking a cup of Nescafe in the morning, all we taste is the coffee.

A good relationship with death brings us a calm urgency and an ever-deepening appreciation of the breath we breathe, the lives we are living, and the people we are living them with. Like any other relationship, our full attention is required. Unlike any other relationship, this is not one we can walk away from. Death is coming whether we are ready or not. So I’m inviting you to take your courage in your hands and come and join us in September for the Burial Ceremony, where we take time to dance with death and see what more we can learn about life.

It may seem strange or frightening to dig your own grave and then get in there, have it covered by a pallet or two, a tarpaulin and a mound of earth, and spend the night in dialogue with your death. But I can assure you, it’s a perfectly safe ceremony and my assistants and I will be sat up all night very close by should you need assistance. We have a little tradition now in this ceremony that should anyone require help, they have to shout for ‘ROOM SERVICE!’ Many people who do this ceremony are so surprised by how much more grounded they feel afterwards and more than that, how held they felt all night long by the living presence of the Great Mama all around them. Indeed another name for this ceremony is ‘the boost of the earth.’ Many people report hearing the heartbeat of the earth’ and a sense of a much deeper connection the earth as a sentient being. People tell me how many lasting changes come out of this ceremony and how much creative energy is released along with the strong imperative to ‘get on with it and live!’ And collectively, we could certainly do a little more of that heartfelt urgency that’s supported by the deep holding that a night in our graves can bring.

The presence of death tends to sharpen our perspective. It helps us to remember what really matters to us. A good relationship with death gives us so much more appreciation of the gift of life. It helps us to get much clearer about our priorities in life and it illuminates our regrets about the ways we have or haven’t lived.

Bonnie Ware, a nurse who worked with the dying for many years, wrote a very good article in the Observer newspaper in October 2010 about the top 5 regrets that people shared with her as their death approached. They are:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 2. I wish I didn't work so hard. 3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

There’s something so very poignantly revealing of the times we live in about this list. It certainly gave me some food for thought. What would be on your list?

And there are other important questions that death asks us. Are there dreams that you gave up on? Is there unfinished business from the past that takes up the space in your heart where love could be? If you could speak with death, your own death, what would you say? And if after an intense night of dialogue and revelations in the presence of death, she or he were to give you another chance to live, what choices might you make about the way you choose to live in the time you have left?

After my first burial ceremony, I had such a long list of intentions, people to speak to, and things I wanted to do. But such is the power of an ongoing relationship with death that the last time I did this ceremony, I came to the beautiful realisation during the night that if I were to die now, I could do so with a much more peaceful heart. Death continues to be my teacher and I hope to be able to say one day, that death is my friend.

When I asked my friend who was so excited about dying what it was that excited her so much she said: ‘Well it’s like when you dance, or meditate, and you let go, and you expand. Personality falls away and there is this huge space and to die consciously would mean to be able to just keep on expanding and letting go.’ I think this is what the ancients mean when they talk about dying whilst still alive. Death invites a shift of identity from the body, the personality and its feelings to consciousness itself. When the time comes for each one of us, I hope that death is kind and that we can all let go of this life with a smile in our hearts and a feeling of a life well and truly lived.

In the meantime, I wish you a very happy and peaceful summer solstice time and I hope to see you, shovel in hand, in Orval in September.

Ya’Acov. Summer Solstice 2011.

The Burial Ceremony takes place in Orval, in the beautiful Ardennes in Belgium, September 14th to 21st. Ya’Acov will not be offering this event in 2012 due to other commitments. For more details and to book, contact Roland: +44 (0)1803 762 255

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.