This weekend with the family group, we took a pause from covering the paramī’s to open a conversation on the topic of Death. As we said when we were wrapping up, the conversation didn’t end – it was in fact the beginning of a larger, ongoing conversation that we could each have. Together we can experience and consider what it is like living in a world where all beings must eventually pass away. This is one of the real strengths of a religious tradition that embraces practical realities – it’s almost easier to begin talking about these things as a group, and by recognizing that we’re basically on equal ground concerning the unknowns of death and how to relate to it.
We started with a short three minute clip: https://youtu.be/Ku_GUNzXoeQ . It shows how wild elephants behave when they come upon a dead member of their herd. The scene actually wouldn’t be much different for human beings – they stop, they linger, they think, they examine the body, they even ‘cry’ from special glands by their temples. Even in the animal kingdom, the subject of death is a mystery.
Then we did a guided meditation. In adult groups, it’s usually possible to have a visualization by imagining our own body in front of us. But this time Tahn Pamutto laid down as a visual aid, staying deathly still for ten minutes. It helped spark conversation points as everyone got to consider what it would be like if Tahn laid down and never got up again. The children actually couldn’t resist giving it a try at the end, though they were slightly more giggly corpses.
We took some time to explore the mystery by listing things that we know and don’t know about death. We know that the body grows cold, stiff, and still. It can’t talk or eat or drink. It won’t be able to comfort loved ones or avoid harm. But we don’t know what death is like – don’t know what the conscious experience is because as living people, we haven’t yet died. We don’t know if it’s painful or what happens to the mind.
In between these two realities, we have the fear and stress around death, which adult and children alike were able to describe and conceptualize in different ways. Where does it come from? Well, the unknowns of course (we don’t know when we will die, or how, or where we go from there). But also from the loss that is experienced. The loss of possessions, of friends, or family, of our bodies and lives. Seen in that light of course it’s stressful! But in talking it out we were able to also see the limits of the stress. After all, not knowing the time of death also means we may have a lot of time.
To keep this opening discussion from being too heavy, we also worked in a nice scavenger hunt with clues around different rituals relating to the dead. Scouring the internet for a slideshow also revealed that a lot of funerals and day of the dead celebrations are pretty colorful affairs!