Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Conscious Death, Sacred Service and Green Burial: Leaving a Legacy of Meaning and Conservation

We’ve all been touched by death in one form or another — whether through a beloved animal, the rhythm of nature or someone close and dear to us. Autumn in the northern hemisphere is the quintessential time of death and decay, as the abundant growth and life of summer quickly fades away to barren trees and fallow fields. It is considered the season of sorrow and grief in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

As commonplace as the cycle of life and death is, those in the West tend to have an aversion to the reality of this most natural of transitions. We try our best to evade the aging process and glorify youth — while ignoring the elderly and dying. Many times, we are completely numb to our emotional terrain or become overwhelmed when faced with death. But an organization in the United States is on a heart-centered quest to change the way we relate to death and return a sense of sacredness to the process.

Navigating Death: Cultural Contrasts

On my first trip to India, one of the most striking aspects of the country was its relationship to death. It wasn’t something that was hidden — instead, death was everywhere. Animals and people dying in the streets, disease and disfigurement, the burning ghats. For a heavily indoctrinated Western mind, these scenes were shockingly uncomfortable. And yet, I couldn’t turn away. For all the death and decay, there were also incredible moments of heart-wrenching beauty. Carefully shrouded bodies, layered with flowers, and lovingly carried through the streets by family members to the burning ghats on the Ganges river. The holy men presiding over the event. Small baskets woven of banana leaves, filled with marigolds and lit candles, floating down the river at dusk as tribute for those who have departed. One is surrounded by death, but also extraordinary sacredness and meaning.

The experience in India was vastly different from when our young son died years later in the United States. Here, we experienced the “business” of dying — industrial, scheduled and meaningless. Thankfully, Liam’s father and I were able to see clearly enough through our grief to embrace practices outside “the norm” — specific prayers placed with the body before cremation, and planting a white blooming Japanese lilac tree on my father’s property, which is rooted within Liam’s ashes.

But how often do we truly connect with death in a sacred manner? Without being shuttled through the corporate funeral process, one which has a significant negative impact on the environment. Is there a better way in the West? The answer is a resounding yes.

Conscious Living and Dying

Doorway Into Light was founded by Reverend Bodhi Be, Leila Be and Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) on the Hawaiian island of Maui as an advocacy and educational organization focused on death and dying. By actively assisting the dying, their families and caregivers, the organization transforms the “business of dying” into one of “sacred service.” Grief counseling and community outreach are also important elements of their work. Additionally, options are available for end-of-life care and after-death care that are “holistic, environmentally sustainable, community and family based, and spiritually inclusive.”

One method for maintaining ecological balance in relation to burials is through natural preserves. 
Today’s American cemetery contains massive amounts of hardwood, metal and concrete coffins, many covered with plastic or concrete grave liners to keep the ground from sinking when the body and coffin decompose, thereby ensuring easy lawn mowing. Large amounts of toxic embalming fluids containing formaldehyde, a cancer causing chemical, are leaking from coffins and seeping into the ground. Pesticides and herbicides are commonly used, further poisoning the ground and potentially leaching into the groundwater. Gravestones and markers fill the space. 
Current cemeteries are now reduced to “one-use forever” as well as removed from the public commons. The body and coffin are buried “6 feet under” where few microorganisms live, so decomposition is a long process. Cremation is becoming more popular as people recognize that present day cemeteries are a costly and poor use of land.

The organization envisions a conservation cemetery utilizing native trees to help reforest a section of Maui, with deceased bodies and ash increasing soil fertility. Walking trails, a picnic area and a meditative, reflective zone with small markers indicating the names of the dead in each particular grove, will be included in the site. 

“Our vision is to combine a burial ground with a reforestation project, a park, open space and greenways which include conservation easements, ensuring a multi-use zone protected for the public commons in perpetuity.”

Here's a brief overview of the organization:

If you’re interested in learning more about natural burials that help conserve land and resources, the Green Burial Council provides a wealth of information and can help you find a provider in cities across the United States.

A Gift to the Planet

Moreover, A Will For the Woods gives a moving account of one man’s journey to create his final resting place in an ecologically sound manner. Battling lymphoma, Clark Wang and his partner Jane courageously face his impending death, while also preparing for a spiritually meaningful funeral. A must-see for anyone concerned about the environment and leaving a legacy in harmony with the timeless cycles of nature.

A Will For the Woods

Everything Doesn't Happen For A Reason

By Tim Lawrence

(The Adversity Within) I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I've seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time. 

I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.

He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.

And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:

Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.

That's the kind of bullshit that destroys lives.

And it is categorically untrue.