Solar Dispatch 8
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Stephen Jenkinson on Dying Wise in a Death Phobic Society
Of Midwifery, Hospice, and Hospitals
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Sarah Buckley on the Ecstatic Hormonal High of Childbearing
Unto Dust Shalt Thou Return
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Mark Harris on Grave Matters and Green Burials
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Stephen Cave on the 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Arthur Haines on the Death of Domestication & the Birth of the New Aboriginal
Max Is Dead
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Darcy Harris, PhD on Developing Our Grief Intelligence
Wild Woman Speaks
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Jeff Greenberg on Developing Terror Management
ReWild Your Diet
ReWild Yourself! Podcast: Katy Meyers Emery on Excavating Ancient Funerary Practices
Today Is A Good Day To Die
Wiki Links Trail
My Immortality Project
Your Neo-Aboriginal Challenge
Welcome to the 8th, and final Dispatch of ReWild Yourself! Magazine. I set out one year ago to bring this project into existence, and here I am again, wizened by one more trip around the sun, but back in the same alignment with it, as when I began. What started as a project to educate and entertain the reader turned into an unexpected journey deep into myself and back out into the world. I have felt honored – truly – to have embarked on such a quest, and to have been able to see it to its conclusion. Thank you for all your support, for your readership, for reminding me that there are others who value the exploration of such existential topics as these.
In Dispatch 1 we explored the 'Intrinsic Taboo' of human wildness, and why our civilization is so fearful of acknowledging our animal nature. This led us to Dispatch 2, 'Let Food Be Thy Medicine', which explored the role of food — the most obvious culprit — in our own domestication. Dispatch 3, 'Primal Movement', was intended to offer strategies for overcoming the sedentism which characterizes contemporary moderns, with the hopes of inspiring a fresh approach to the way we utilize our mobile bodies, and a departure from what we normally think of as ‘exercise’. Dispatch 4: 'The Operant Condition', elucidated the animal control techniques and psychological programming that are all around us, informing so much of what we thought was autonomous decision making. It shed light on how we can take command of the way we motivate and condition our behaviors. Dispatch 5 was 'Awakening Sexual Intelligence', and its aim was to expose the shame that hangs like a storm cloud over our sexuality, crippling us with guilt and causing us to shrink and retreat into ourselves, to cannibalize each other in relationships that so often subjugate rather than edify. Dispatch 6 — A Chemical Ecology — dealt with the role of the altered state in our evolution, both anthropologically and also individually. It walked right up to the dragon of drug taboo and looked it straight in the eye. Dispatch 7 — A Fitness For Survival — was an invitation to be grown ups, to mature into the understanding that our own survival is no one’s responsibility but our own, and that if we truly seek to become sovereign beings, we cannot expect to be taken care of by the State, by our family and friends, or by any institution we affiliate with. It is – we are – our own responsibility. Each of these Dispatches has been a journey through the minefield of taboo, each touching on topics that never make for polite conversation, but need — however difficult — to be brought into the light.
That brings us to Dispatch 8. Death and Rebirth. Turn the ‘8’ on its side and it is the symbol of infinity, the Möbius strip, the endless, unbroken cycle. Hence, it is with this Dispatch that we explore the final, but principle, taboo. Dispatch 1 looked at Civilization's ‘Intrinsic Taboo’, the one that is built into Civilization; human wildness. Death however is a taboo that underlies the existence of Civilization itself. The fear of death, which is primary for an organism that understands its own mortality, must be dealt with in some way, and I believe that what we call ‘Civilization’, the building of city-states, is the greatest ‘Immortality Project’ ever undertaken.
When contemplating domestication and Civilization long enough, one can’t help but eventually ask why, if Civilization is so inherently unsustainable, self destructive, and eventually oppressive, would any people attempt this undertaking? I can’t help but arrive at the conclusion that death itself is the driving force behind the life-consuming machinations of the juggernaut of civility.
So what if we — here and now — decide to face down this last and greatest taboo. What if we walk up to the giant and ask it it's name. What if we dare to inquire, to turn our heads towards the very thing that has had us cowering for countless generations. What if we start the conversation, make peace with, accept the inevitability of our own individual deaths?
It starts with this accepting that there is no chance for escape — and no need for one. There will be no technology coming, no uploading of your consciousness into a computer. There will be no thawing from cryogenesis, or genetic alteration that will “cure us” of death. Death is not a disease, it is not a curse. Death, like birth, is part of an unbroken cycle that defines life, and so, a denial of death quickly becomes a denial of life. Death is not the pathology –– denial of death is.
This Dispatch may contain content that you have spent a lifetime avoiding, but take heart, it is not without hope. In fact, I think you will find that there is a liberation that comes with accepting these simple truths. One can’t know how disempowering running from a thing can be until one stops running.
The fear of death is the essence of domestication. Daring to look directly into the face of domestication, of the domesticator, to confront the shadowy fears that keep you enchained, is the essence of ReWilding.
This project began one year ago, and today it comes to a close. It has been for me a metaphoric journey of birth, through many sequential levels of maturity, and ending, ultimately, in death. But this publication’s end, like our own death, spurs new life. So it is, that as this project ends, new projects of my own, and your own, will be inspired, and so its end is the compost for something yet to grow.
I dedicate this project to those new beginnings. To ReBirth.
All writing in ReWild Yourself! is by Daniel Vitalis unless otherwise noted.
Daniel Vitalis is a Leading Health, Nutrition, and Personal Development Strategist. Encouraging us to “ReWild Ourselves”, Daniel teaches that Invincible Health is produced by a life aligned with our biological design. His entertaining, motivational and magnetic delivery style has made him an in-demand public speaker in North America and abroad. He is the creator of FindASpring.com, a resource helping people find fresh, clean, wild water wherever they live, and the founder of SurThrival, a brand pioneering a lifestyle of vigorously healthy living. Daniel was recently featured in the widely acclaimed film “Hungry For Change”. He can be found at DanielVitalis.com, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.
Photo credit: LeighLon Anderson
The snow here lies thick now, almost impassable were it not for the physical augmentation of my snowshoes. It is difficult to maintain a bipedal gate with any fluidity moving through this solid state water, now reaching high above my knees. The sun, when it does poke through the grey layer of water vapor – far thicker than snow that blankets the ground – is weak in its power, and scarcely warms my face. Yet one can’t help but notice that the days are growing longer, and though winter’s bite is as fearsome as ever, her bark has waned as of late. There are signs all around that spring is –– however far off –– coming.
Today is Imbolc, the last holiday of winter. Soon to follow is the Vernal Equinox, and with it, the early days of spring. For now, we — like so many other living things — await the return of the King, of the sun, who even now is climbing higher into the sky each day. Promise is in the air, albeit an air that burns cold in your nostrils with every inhalation.
This is the final deep freeze, and it comes like a cleaning crew, cleansing the landscape, draping it in a pure and shining white. From this calcination will arise the phoenix of spring, accelerating its way high into the heavens where it will burst into the flames of Summer Solstice, only to descend again into the snowy ashes of winter. This cycle goes on and on, like the ride of some celestial amusement park. We are none more than visitors to this carnival ride. We jump on the carousel, ride it round and round, and one day we step off forever. The ride was here long before we came, and the ride goes on, long after we have left. Summer falling to autumn, autumn descending to winter, winter becoming spring, and rising again into summer. On and on, ad infinitum.
I’ve taken this ride 36 times now, and I’d like to take it 36 more. There are, however, no guarantees, no promises. Today — Imbolc — is a good day to die.
First Dispatch: Spring Equinox - The Intrinsic Taboo
March 20 - 2014
Second Dispatch: Beltane - Let Food Be Thy Medicine
May 5 - 2014
Third Dispatch: Summer Solstice - Primal Movement
June 21 - 2014
Fourth Dispatch: Lammas - The Operant Condition
August 7 - 2014
Fifth Dispatch: Autumnal Equinox - Awakening Sexual Intelligence
September 22 - 2014
Sixth Dispatch: Samhain - A Chemical Ecology
November 7 - 2014
Seventh Dispatch: Winter Solstice - A Fitness For Survival
December 21 - 2014
Eighth Dispatch: Imbolc - Death and ReBirth
February 3 - 2015
Isn’t anybody curious about what happens when we die?
For decades I have wondered (by that I mean actually felt 'wonder') at the apparent lack of exploration into what — for me — has felt like the most important question one could ask.
There are many frightening things in this life to confront. Denial becomes a valuable tool for this purpose, and we seem to wield it with all the proficiency of a skilled swordsman. We slash, and cut, and stab in an attempt to edit out from our minds those things which we fear the most, the things we would most like to have disappear from our awareness. Denial though, is a sword whose use corrupts the mind, and we are suffering from all the mental illness that refusing to look at reality engenders.
Imagine it, each of us, bound together by a mutual mortality, inescapable. It is one of those few things that is equal unto all, no matter the wealth, status, or power that we accumulate. No matter the heredity, accomplishment, the will or strength. Each one of us will — and must — face our own death in time. There is no escape, no back door out, no flight from this finality. You'll have your dying time.
Death is — it would seem at least — unknowable, an impenetrable fog, beyond which lies something, or perhaps nothing at all. How can it be known, since none who go ever return to us. There are those who have come close, even ceasing to beat in heart-rhythm, or oscillate in brainwave, yet even these are only the subjective accounts of the process of dying. They are not death itself, but rather stories of survival, more akin to a detailed description of a doorway yet to be stepped through, than reports of what lies beyond. Nothing is known of the room (or void) just there on the other side. With such a fate as this, of course we quest for meaning.
Let’s level with each other here, there are still people all around us, friends — family members maybe — that actually believe that our eternal ego’s (they usually call them ‘souls’) go to a golden, cloudy place, replete with trumpeted music and an awe inspiring resplendence (angels included), which is –– they believe –– the residence of the great anthropomorphic creator of the universe. This they call heaven, a sort of 'level up' for those who sacrifice what little life they have here to that creator sitting enthroned therein. Still others go to a burning, fiery place, a prison of eternal tortures — a kind of Guantanamo Bay for those who failed to believe in the former. It is a prison, chiefly designed for that anthropomorphic enemy of the creator (somehow he has a rival), the Devil, and this, his eventual home, is called hell. Really? Is that the best we can do? It seems like the equivalent of believing that babies are delivered to new mothers by stork, or that the sound of thunder is Odin bowling a perfect strike. Beliefs like this are not tolerated in adults anywhere else, so why here, and in regard to what might be the all important question of our existence?
With such a looming mystery, is it any wonder that death denying cults are so rampant worldwide? We usually call these religions, which most people mistakenly think to be more of a moral code than a death-denying illusion. In reality, the truest purpose of these is to offer their acolytes some assurances for the un-assurable (or maybe insurance for the uninsurable?). What’s more, because so many are ethically, cosmologically, and ontologically in opposition to one another — despite the mental gymnastics of moral relativism espoused by the politically corrected — each becomes suspect, given their mutual exclusivity with one another. Are dead Muslims in paradise whilst dead Christians are in heaven? Do they both live eternally there while Vikings enjoy Valhalla and Buddhists continue to reincarnate, cycling through the wheel of birth and death? Is all this happening while Mormons are spreading throughout the universe, ruling over their own planets and harems of wives?
I get it, this isn’t something we want to talk about all the time. It’s awkward, it makes us nervous and this prevents it from coming up much in conversation. But never? Is there no cause for serious inquiry?
Science gives us nothing better than religion, sort of just assuming that at death your consciousness is simply shut off. Game over. This belief is based upon the rather glaring presupposition that consciousness is generated by the brain or body, and that the death of the latter must equate to the end of the former. This assumption — that brain equals consciousness — given the newly emerging data, is now — finally — being called into question.
There are those among us who believe that the secret to overcoming death — which of course presupposes that death needs to be overcome — lies in science. There are even many who purport that the secrets of immortality will be discovered in their own lifetime. These folks often talk endlessly about remaining alive long enough to receive this life-extending technology. Those believers who are not able to do this will sometimes have their corpses frozen in hopes for a thaw out and resuscitation later when technology permits. Are these believers from the cult of science really any different from those Christians who believe that their embalmed bodies will one day be resurrected by Jesus?
Is death something that needs to be overcome? Is it — like a disease — an affliction for which a cure should be sought? Or, is it more akin to a graduation, a final initiation into a level of maturity for which we have no earthly understanding. Is it nothing at all, as meaningless and invaluable as the nihilists would have us believe. Regardless of what it is or isn’t, do we benefit from the absurd and childish caricatures that we superimposed upon it?
Death may be the only promise that this life has to offer, and I would remind you that your skull, that symbolic death-head, lies now just a centimeter beneath your face. Stop running. Let’s talk about this.
I was humbled by my conversation with Stephen Jenkinson, teacher, author, storyteller and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School. This, my friends, is a very powerful interview. Stephen will make you re-think everything you thought you knew about dying.
- How to come to terms with death
- The hallmarks of "dying badly"
- What "dying well" looks like
- The consequences of being kept away from ground zero of human mortality
- We live our lives as if dying is the annihilation of life
- Considering “after-life"
- Understanding that your death does not belong to you
- A disconnection from our ancestors
- Learning from death
We live our lives as if dying is the annihilation of life. Tweet it!
It’s the quality of your approach to dying that determines what you’ll find. Tweet it!
Dying is a human-scaled mystery. Tweet it!
Your death does not belong to you; it’s entrusted to you for a time. Tweet it!
ReWild Yourself! podcast is now on iTunes! A longer version of this interview, including some of my thoughts on this discussion with Stephen, will be released exclusively there. I will be releasing all Dispatch interviews on iTunes, as well as additional Q&As, interviews, yes, even some stream of consciousness rants! If you're not already, go here to subscribe so you don't miss a show! I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and review of the show on iTunes as well. It helps the podcast grow, as well as helps us to improve the quality of the show and continue to bring on more amazing guests! Let me know who you'd like to see on the podcast! Click here to rate and review.
- Stephen’s teachings
- The Bucket List
- Orphan Wisdom School
- Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul by Stephen Jenkinson
- Stephen’s events
- Stephen's past interviews and presentations
Stephen is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making human culture. It is rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, working for a time yet to come.
Science and religion, the two great Immortality Projects of our time, oppo-sames who need one another like night needs day, are endlessly arguing over the sanctity or profanity of life. For many generations, religion had trumped science, and life itself was seen as an undeserved gift, granted from some insecure über-man godhead. We were eternal souls placed into the clockwork of the mortal body, toiling to earn the grace that we'd been given, laboring under the death-inducing burden of our 'original sin'. In this schema –– still alive and thriving today –– consciousness is seen as preexistent over the meat that houses it. Recently we have seen this way of thinking upended, as science has come to see consciousness as something generated by the very livingness of meat itself. In this system of thinking, the existance of meat and the consciousness that animates it, is the result of random chance, parts essentially having fallen into place from the explosion of nothing into everything. No god, or magic, or spirit needed, just emptiness that got so dense it exploded. Bang! Big, big bang. While both arguments seem hyperbolic and hyper-polarized — almost burlesque in their gross overreach and absurd literalism — the fundamental question of our consciousness, and its source, is one that remains unanswered. Not only unanswered, but nearly unapproachable without first suspending disbelief, as we recycle the obnoxious leaps of cognition that were sited above.
It can be difficult to arrive at any conclusions, walking about as we do in the land of the living, where all beings are already conscious in the present, and are buffered by a stretch of living in the past, and the expectation of a buffer of living into the future. It is comparatively infrequent to be with someone who is just being born, or with one who will be dying, posthaste, in the present. Here in modern America — and it is the same for much of the ‘developed’ world — birth and death are secreted away, not to be seen by the vulgar, average folk, except at certain landmark moments throughout ones tenure in a human body. These moments are usually the birth of one’s own child (usually both mother and child are drugged), or at the (hospital) bedside of a loved one in their dying time (who will usually be drugged too). While there are certainly exceptions, they are comparatively rare, such as the infant born in the taxi ride to the hospital, or the person dying before all to see in some tragic accident. Rarer still are those who choose to bring a child into the world at home, or to hold the space for their loved one to leave their body behind in the same. These latter, the home birth and death, are slowly becoming more and more taboo, and are under threat of being regulated and legislated out of existence.
The hospital, then, becomes a kind of portal through which the living emerge, and the dying depart. Behind the closed doors of the colossus of the medical industrial complex, humans are brought forth and recycled back, seen only by the select few who are familial, and the elect minority who work as the clergy for the portal. While you are not — at present — strictly forbade from witnessing a birth or death, you likely can — unless you work is specifically in the field — count the number of them you have witnessed in their fullness, on the digits of one hand. If you are an exception to this, an emotionally vulnerable interview would likely reveal the metaphysical conclusions you have reached about where beings come from, or where they go in the end.
Domesticated humans are encouraged to go about their days, performing the drudgery of the task to whose specificity they have been assigned, rarely being startled awake enough to contemplate the existential. In the many years of modern institutional conditioning (read: school) that we are made to attend, we are systematically stripped of any belief in the sacred, and then slowly reprogrammed with a loyalty to the State, or now, the World community. We are taught — even manipulated — to be blind to the idea of life as sacred or of consciousness as having some purpose other than the function of the continuation of the State (lest the savage forces of nature reclaim us). Would this belief in the emptiness of life be possible if we were able to witness the number of births or deaths that would have taken place all around us as natural extension of the biological rhythms of our ancestral tribal life?
For those who live with nature, whose home is the greater landscape, not the domicile, birth is taking place on a constant and predictable rhythm. Beings come into our world, and are met for the first time, emerging from the portal of the womb of the woman's body. Death too, particularly the death of respected, wizened elders, is routinely witnessed, as persons who have been mentors and respected members of the community — people who have lived all the stages of the earthly life — say goodbye and depart from this world, going on to places unknown.
Naturally some obvious questions burn in one's heart. Do those who are born here come from some other plane? Is it to this same place that those who are dying go, or do they graduate on to some other? Are those preexistent entities equivalent to post-existent ones, or does this time here — this Earthly life — have some transmutational effect upon the being who is preparing for departure? Do the unborn live amongst our departed ancestors, or do they spring into existence at conception? What are the mechanics of consciousness, and can they be glimpsed in this life?
Experientially, I have noted that when speaking to those who witness the arrival of birth or the departure of death, that a certain ineffable sentiment is often present, as the person struggles to articulate their encounter with pre or post existence. It is as if they had caught a glimpse of the sacred. All too often, the demands of the factory farm we call Civilization return, and the contemplation of this otherworldly artifact is forgotten or marginalized, as we drop back into the production that is daily demanded of us.
Meanwhile, behind the looming brick facades of our modern cathedrals — the hospitals, portals now of both birth and death — beings are arriving and departing under the strictest controls. The greater preponderance of them are born drugged and die drugged, under florescent lights and to the sonic influence of ear-rending machines, beeping and whirring, and alerting all to the constant ‘emergencies’ at hand. We have allowed these institutions to control the two most sacred and existentially significant moments in a human life. Not just to control them, but to manipulate and alter them with pharmacology and technology, with drugging, and cutting, and the implantation of tubes and hoses. Without our pausing to reflect on this, we have allowed hospitals to become the Ministry of Birth and Death, and we have allowed these two experiences to be propagandized and reinterpreted, with their unadulterated realities all but erased from our daily experience.
While there are still those who midwife the living into this world, and those who hospice the dying out, these professions are giving way to the ever greedy jaws of the medical behemoth that would rule the affairs of human life and death with the unyielding hand of a crazed and despotic monarch. We, the common folk, are kept from these experiences wherever possible. When we must bare witness to them, they are obscured as much as is currently socially acceptable, with curtains and sheets, drugs and doors. What witness we can bare is overshadowed by the bustling of hospital staff, and the constant influence of the conditioned belief that both birth and death are meaningless routines, like the churning out of parts on a factory floor’s assembly line, or the retiring of some obsolete thing to the junkyard.
But if we were a natural people, one who saw the comings and goings of beings into and out of the mortal coil, would such profane sacrilege be possible? Can nihilism exist in a person who witnesses healthy, unhospitalized births, or relaxed and mature, unhospitalized deaths?
Dr. Sarah Buckley — GP/family physician, author of the best selling book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering and mother to four home-born children — shares her passion for natural childbirth and the "beginning of the great love affair" between mother and child. She takes us through the hormonal physiology of childbearing from pregnancy to after birth.
- Wisdom vs. science
- Sarah’s history with childbirth
- Some of the differences between hospital births and home births
- Healthy birth pathways
- The stresses of Caesarean sections
- Why some stress is good for you
- The beginning of the great love affair
- The pleasure hormones between mothers and babies
- Unique altered state of birth
- What happens after birth
- Importance of skin-to-skin contact
- How much of our behavior is affected by our beginning
- Sarah’s natural birth membership website
Birth can be an orgasmic event. Tweet it!
The laboring mother goes out to the stars to collect the soul of her baby and bring it back. Tweet it!
Trust your body. We can’t really improve upon the processes of labor and birth, we can only get out of the way. Tweet it!
ReWild Yourself! podcast is now on iTunes! A longer version of this interview, including some of my thoughts on this discussion with Sarah will be released exclusively there. I will be releasing all Dispatch interviews on iTunes, as well as additional Q&As, interviews, yes, even some stream of consciousness rants! If you're not already, go here to subscribe so you don't miss a show! I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and review of the show on iTunes as well. It helps the podcast grow, as well as helps us to improve the quality of the show and continue to bring on more amazing guests! Let me know who you'd like to see on the podcast! Click here to rate and review.
- Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care
- Pain in Labour: Your hormones are your helpers
- Beta-endorphin levels during pregnancy and labor: a role in pain modulation?
- Maternal brain response to own baby-cry is affected by cesarean section delivery
- Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives
- Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: Brief History of the Approach and Current Focus on Epigenetic Mechanisms
- Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor's Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices by Sarah Buckley
Sarah is a GP/family physician, author of the best selling book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, and currently full-time writer and mother to her four home-born children.
Sarah’s work critiques pregnancy, birth, and parenting from the widest possible perspectives including scientific, anthropological, psychological, and experiential, Sarah has been sharing her unique blend of science and wisdom with parents and birth professionals internationally since 2005.
Her special interests include the hormonal physiology of childbearing, with her report on this topic published in January 2015.
Sarah encourages us all to be well informed, to listen to our hearts and instincts, and to take our rightful place as the real experts in our bodies, our babies and our families.
She lives with her family on the semi-rural outskirts of Brisbane, Australia.
Please, when this finite body I wear expires, let it be returned — as food — to the ecosystem from which it was obtained.
For just under four decades I have been accumulating the materials from which the body I now reside in is built. You too have –– since that moment the egg of your mother greeted the sperm of your father –– been gathering and attracting matter unto yourself, incorporating it into your being.
Water that once flowed through streams, making its way to rivers on a meandering journey to the sea, now flows through your vessels, floods your capillary beds, circulating through you like it once did through wild wetlands. Gasses, once part of the the atmosphere that surrounds you, now find themselves dissolved throughout your blood. Carbon, sequestered from a process orchestrated far outside of our own capabilities, has migrated up through the food-web, and now resides in your flesh as lipids, as glycogen, as a base material — a core building block — from which so much of the physical ‘you’ has been grown. Nitrogen, that nearly inert atmospheric gas, has been incorporated into your every protein, a precious resource that many of your fellow earthlings will scarcely allow to go to waste once your body becomes available as food.
Consider it, there are organisms residing all over you, organisms that stay close, waiting for you to succumb to the corrupting forces of time. These stowaways await a mutiny, the moment when your own cells cease to pulse with the metabolism of your life, and they, now colonating your hide, have the opportunity to eat glutinously of your once animated corpse. They seek to — just as you have always done — consume the flesh of another, incorporating what was once your earth-suit into their own little bodies.
late 14c., "to put (something) into the body or substance of (something else)," from Late Latin incorporatus, past participle of incorporare "unite into one body," from Latin in- "into, in, on, upon" (see in-
This offends many of us, having been raised to believe ourselves as somehow separate from all else that lives. We are taught, in both gross and subtle ways, to see ourselves as above the rest of the community of life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we dispose of our bodies in death. We seek to stave off our own return to the cycle, like children who throw a tantrum when it is someone else's turn to play. Yes, many living things became food for us whilst we lived, but this is a favor we've no intention of returning.
verb [ with obj. ]
preserve (a corpse) from decay, originally with spices and now usually by arterial injection of a preservative.
Once dead, we are drained of our lifeblood, the fluid of our circulatory system replaced with formaldehyde, making something akin to a human pickle to be lain out for display. Our orifices are stuffed and our mouths are stitched shut. Our abdomen is pierced and our innards are vacuumed out. We are dressed, styled, and painted with makeup, then placed in a coffin, which is placed into a burial vault, that is then sealed up tight against corruption — all for the hope of a long preservation. We wish to resist nature just one last time, demonstrating that we both lived apart from her in life, and we held to this ethos even in death. Denial of ourselves as part of the living cycle of Earth's ecology is the final statement we make in this world. We go down — six feet down — fighting. But this time, fighting decay.
Or perhaps we opt for cremation, which is — for my sensibilities — the far more sane and sustainable of these two options, but one that also makes a statement in death that illustrates the mindset that underlies it. Almost as if to say "If I can’t have my body no one can”, we remove ourselves from circulation completely, using fire to release the energy we have stored in the molecular bonds of our corporal form. In a flash of heat and smoke we are reduced to ash, before any earthly thing might consume us. We humans, as if from above the recycling system of nature, withdraw ourselves from the food web, and from the possibility of becoming the sustenance of another, from paying forward the gift given us by the myriad living things that have donated their own bodies to the lives we have lived. Compost is something we make in our backyards, not something we can imagine letting ourselves become.
The former of these two options requires a reassessment as soon as our species is mature enough to face it. I mean no disrespect, as I can understand how important it can be for people to have a place-holder, a final resting position, that they can use to anchor their grief at the loss of the ones they love. There is surely, however, a more sane and sustainable approach than lying our canned and pickled dead side by side in endless rows, and making so much of the space of this Earth unusable, toxic, and obnoxiously pockmarked with stones etched with reminders of the egos of those who have left us behind. How long can this go on? How long can we set aside space to commemorate the dead, each with their own unique plot, without a time limit after which the ground is restored? It's hard enough to find parking, but the unanimated get a spot forever.
And what of the cremations, the endless stream of bodies burning? Will we forever make unavailable our flesh from the composting efforts of the natural world? Is this process — what the alchemists called ‘calcination’ — part of some transmutation of self, or is it simply an elaborate denial of death? How much fuel is required to turn a human body to ash? How much fuel does it take to cook a steak to medium rare? Now imagine burning the whole cow to cinders. Is this necessary?
When I depart my body, when my ‘self’ merges with the all pervading consciousness of the universe, may this flesh I now wear be food for all who would compost me back into substrate from which life arises. It is not a foul or grotesque thing, this eating by insects, this consumption by creeping things, nay, it is something of beauty. I was taught, as many of you were, that these processes were something ‘unclean’ and ‘corrupt’, that it was a dire human need to overcome them. I now disagree. That I become the soil that becomes the life of another feels a crucial bit of closure that I would most certainly welcome at the conclusion of my life. I am, after all, living in borrowed matter.
That my meat and bones, that these accumulated minerals and nutrients, could become the stuff of another, ensuring that the continuity of life moves through what I once perceived as me, is a highest honor. May my waters return to the great hydrological cycle, may my blood one day be drunk at the source of the spring through the lips of another. May the winds that reside as dissolved vapor in my blood be breathed again by those who share this age of the earth, and even by other life forms that have yet to inhabit this planet. May the energy — neither created nor destroyed — that courses as electrical current through my nervous system, be trickled back into the battery of the Earth. May what I am now in the physical world aid the experience of other beings, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. May my death not be a finality that locks my body up in preservation, nor burns it into oblivion, but rather may it contribute to the birth of another.
We must address this denial of death, of our own mortality, especially as it relates to the continuity of life, and the cycle of new birth. Removing ourselves from the cycle of life is the symptom — I believe — of a much more significant neurosis. It is an obsession with the avoidance of the idea of the finality of our consciousness, and a deep aversion to the end of our egos.
Acceptance of death does not mean that we cannot mourn our losses, or that we need to forget those we have survived. Rather it is an opportunity to celebrate our time here in this life, and our place in the tapestry of livingness from which we cannot — despite our best efforts — be removed. It is understanding that death isn't the theft of life, but that our dying time is a normal, healthy part of living. Dying isn't a disease from which we are all seeking a cure. Rather it is as much a miracle as is birth.
It is back to the ground for me. For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
In this episode of ReWild Yourself! podcast, Mark Harris — author of Grave Matters — gives us an introduction to the green burial movement. He explains the many ways in which green burial is a better alternative to traditional modern burial practices.
- History of green burial
- The invasive process of embalming
- Purpose of modern day embalming
- Impact of having less interaction with the dead
- The burial vault
- Green cemeteries
- Mark’s personal burial plans
- How green burial works
- The green burial movement
- Mark’s mission
We may be short circuiting the whole grief process by looking at a body that doesn’t even look like it’s dead. Tweet it!
Instead of leaching all of these toxic chemicals into the environment, why don’t we let mother nature run her course. Tweet it!
ReWild Yourself! podcast is now on iTunes! A longer version of this interview, including some of my thoughts on this discussion with Mark, will be released exclusively there. I will be releasing all Dispatch interviews on iTunes, as well as additional Q&As, interviews, yes, even some stream of consciousness rants! If you're not already, go here to subscribe so you don't miss a show! I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and review of the show on iTunes as well. It helps the podcast grow, as well as helps us to improve the quality of the show and continue to bring on more amazing guests! Let me know who you'd like to see on the podcast! Click here to rate and review.
- Egyptian embalming process
- Kübler-Ross model
- Burial vault
- Green burial in North America
- Green Meadow at Fountain Hill Cemetery: A Natural Burial Ground
- Grave Matters by Mark Harris
- Mark Harris on Twitter
- Mark Harris on Facebook
Mark Harris is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. His articles and essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Reader’s Digest, E: The Environmental Magazine, Hope, and Vegetarian Times. His profile of a foster care community for Chicago Parent won a journalism award for feature writing. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Mark lives with his family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
For Grave Matters, Mark has been interviewed by Fresh Air host Terry Gross and appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News and the CBC. His views on green burial and funeral matters have been reported on in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and People magazine, among others. Working with the board of the Fountain Hill Cemetery in eastern Pennsylvania, he established the first natural burial ground in the Lehigh Valley, Green Meadow.
He speaks regularly to college students, church congregations, hospice workers, home funeral providers, consumer-friendly funeral advocates, and funeral directors about green burial and funeral issues.
A graduate of Stetson University and the University of Chicago, Mark is an adjunct instructor at Moravian College and a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. His current book project focuses on green homebuilding.
Disoriented. As if groggily awakening from some long hypnotic slumber, the dream begins to fade, and standing in stark contrast is the reality from which we have for so long been blinded. A world now in chaos, a brilliant species enslaved, an ecology in ruins, this has happened to our world on our watch, but we were too engrossed in the dream to see what wonton depravity had been wrought.
Now, in crippled, broken bodies, and with spirits the same, with minds as out of control as a runaway train, we attempt to restructure, to rebuild, to readdress the world that is our home and the paradigms that are, and have been, informing our actions.
Sometimes a do-over makes more sense than a repair. Be ReBorn.
To ReWild is to be reborn, to let the old self, the one shaped by the hands of the domesticator, fall away like autumnal leaves. It is letting the winds carry away the stories of what we believed we were, and letting something new emerge in its place. It is, from ashes, arising anew, a being who is the ruler unto himself.
You must be reborn. The person you have been is so deeply steeped in the programming and conditioning of domesticated thinking and behavior, that it is easier to begin again afresh than it is to try to rework the existing self. Like the serpent who, now grown from within, must slough it's own skin, so too must we shed the outgrown self once we have developed internally. The person you were, that you were told that you were, the person who appears on your drivers license, on your passport, on your birth certificate, is none but a legal entity, a slave, a bit of chattel in the possession of some unseen lord. That person, the one you have been until now, is too small a being to encompass all that you truly are, too small a container for the fullness of your spirit. Perhaps it is time to let the true self, your natural self, step forward from within. Shed your skin.
Yet, even then, we are left straddling two worlds. Like a pet dog who has broken away on a quest for freedom, we are no longer a house pet, and yet neither are we wildlings. The feral beast is one that must live between two worlds — a domesticated thing now escaped and living as a wild creature. Similarly you are not a dog anymore, not by the standards of men, but nor are you a wolf, as judged by the standards of the pack. It is a quasi place you roam instead, somewhere betwixt the house and the badlands, and you are now this feral thing. There is neither a master there to guide you, nor an alpha pair to lead you. You have become your own master now.
There is, I regretfully say, no easy path to follow now. We each break trail, in search of something sane and healthy, fulfilling and sustainable. The road behind us is scorched and barren earth, and the way ahead is a milky blackness of limitless unknown. We are a people without elders nor the resilient strength of strongly bonded communities. Each of us is here, now, alone. We must become sovereigns unto ourselves.
So with a warrior's heart we step out into the inky darkness of the unknown, and, with a torch of understanding, we light the next step ahead. One stride at a time, we push forward into uncharted lands, into new territory, in search of something that can sustain us, in search of a way. We are new beings now, no longer beholden to the story of what we were, no longer tethered to a master who demands that we live a life that diminishes us, that is amoral. Instead we make our own way, we carve out a new life.
Ours is a story of redemption. We were beings designed and developed to function as beasts of burden in a system whose machinations are too wicked to enumerate. Generation after generation we have slaved for those whose quest for power has known no bounds, whose Immortality Project would destroy the world before they would willfully relinquish their grip. But we can be redeemed — are being redeemed — and we can continue to remake ourselves in every moment. Service to destruction needn’t be our destiny. We can set our own selves free.
ReDeem Yourself, be ReBorn.
In this episode of ReWild Yourself! podcast, I have a fascinating conversation with Stephen Cave — author of internatinally acclaimed book "Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization" — about death and why we fear it. He elaborates on the "4 stories we tell ourselves about death" from his popular TED talk.
- First experiences with death
- Other species’ relationship to death
- Immortality projects
- The “elixir” story
- The “resurrection” story
- The “soul” story
- Science and the immortality quest
- The “legacy” story
- How to cope with death denial
- Stephen’s thoughts on the “zombie apocalypse” heroism over death
- What it’s like to work in the death field
- Stephen’s new projects
We’re not really built to cope with the thought of death. Tweet it!
We all live in the shadow of this personal apocalypse, and we’re not built to handle that. Tweet it!
We shouldn’t fear what we literally cannot experience. Tweet it!
Accepting our animality can be a comforting narrative about finding our place in the natural cycle that can help us to come to terms with existential questions. Tweet it!
ReWild Yourself! podcast is now on iTunes! A longer version of this interview, including some of my thoughts on this discussion with Stephen, will be released exclusively there. I will be releasing all Dispatch interviews on iTunes, as well as additional Q&As, interviews, yes, even some stream of consciousness rants! If you're not already, go here to subscribe so you don't miss a show! I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and review of the show on iTunes as well. It helps the podcast grow, as well as helps us to improve the quality of the show and continue to bring on more amazing guests! Let me know who you'd like to see on the podcast! Click here to rate and review.
- 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death
- The Mirror Test
- Elephant mourning
- One day you'll live on in an avatar
- Linus Pauling
- Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization by Stephen Cave
- The Philosophy of Immortality
- The Quest to Live Forever
- Frozen dead guys: Is cryonics an ambulance into the future or the latest twist on our ancient fantasy of rebirth?
Stephen was born in Cornwall, in the beautiful but rainy Southwest of England, back in the days when Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan were topping the charts.
After a decade studying and teaching philosophy, he was awarded his PhD in metaphysics from the University of Cambridge in 2001. Before dedicating himself to writing, Stephen made ends meet as a diplomat, negotiating international treaties on behalf of Her Majesty.
Stephen has since written essays, features and reviews on many philosophical, ethical and scientific subjects, from human nature to robot warriors and animal rights. He writes regularly for the Financial Times, and has also written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Wired and others. He has appeared on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, Deutschlandradio Kultur, Österreichischer Rundfunk and elsewhere.
His internationally acclaimed first book, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, was published in English and other languages in spring 2012. Stephen, who speaks fluent German, lives in Berlin with his wife Friederike von Tiesenhausen and their many daughters. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
A profile of Stephen's life and work was broadcast on DW TV in November 2013 and can be seen here.
By Arthur Haines of Delta Institute
Many people in the rewilding community are familiar with the term birth trauma, which describes not just the physical but also the psychological suffering that can occur as a result of a distressful birth experience. Birth trauma can occur to both the neonate and the birthing mother. Clearly, use of forceps (for example) that causes injury to the neonate’s head or face creates a physical trauma that needs to heal. But what of the emotional trauma that has occurred? While this question is dismissed in some birthing institutions, many feel this is an important aspect of birthing that needs to be treated (ultimately) for an infant to develop into a healthy human adult. Consider that, using the forceps example, the neonate’s first breath is suffused with the experience of contact with steel devices and pain from pressure to the head that can result in bruising, facial paralysis, damage to the eyes and cranium, bleeding, and seizures. An infant in need of emergency care due to injury is removed from the mother and, therefore, loses many of the comforting experiences provided by caring parents, such as skin on skin contact, feeling the heart beat and rise and fall of the caregiver’s chest, hearing the reassuring voice, etc. Experiences like this can impact the quality of life by creating untreated emotional issues. Such experiences need to be recognized and proper space provided for healing.
What I rarely hear discussed in this society is the concept of death trauma. When I mention this term, I’m not writing of a severe physical injury that causes the death of human. Much like birth trauma, which affects the quality of life going forward, death trauma is a set of emotional and/or physical issues that affect the quality of life going backward (i.e., reduces the quality of life and health of the human while they are still alive). Even though the actual death experience has not yet occurred, its impending occurrence creates emotional issues (sometimes severe) that prevent healthy living in the present. Like birth trauma, death trauma is only sometimes recognized and infrequently treated.
Graphic depicting the direction of influence that certain traumas have on our life experiences. These two kinds of trauma (birth and death) are those that occur due to experiences at the outside points of our life. Birth trauma occurs during and after delivery and affects our life going forward. Death trauma occurs prior to passing as a result of various emotional issues surrounding death, and can profoundly influence the last years (even decades) of life.
Understanding that death trauma is a real phenomenon that can affect the quality of life, the important questions become:
- What factors contribute to death trauma?
- Is death trauma experienced by all cultures?
- How do we prevent death trauma or heal it once it has occurred?
Looking at the factors that contribute to this form of trauma, the following is a list (far from comprehensive) of potential psychological/emotional causes:
- an unnatural fear of death and dying
- dread of dying in isolation
- worry over family quarreling after death
- concern for ultimate disposition of material possessions after death
- unease for the well-being of children and grandchildren after death
- a strong sense that life was wasted on meaningless work or activities
- burdened by apprehension over what people will think or say after passing
- confusion about and/or dread for the afterlife experience
- anxiety of being forgotten to the coming generations
The death experience is terrifying to people living in industrialized countries. They commit massive resources to avoiding (for as long as possible) a natural and inevitable phase of existence — the cessation of functioning of the human body. This fear is so manifest that they have lost touch with one of the important goals of life: to preserve the original purity of the earth (to the extent possible) so that the coming generations can have an ecological experience (again, to the extent possible) comparable to that of our ancestors. Modern humans have very different goals, much more about progress (read: destruction of the natural world) and the accumulation of material wealth, regardless of what harm occurs to humans — present and future individuals. Our ability to experience the earth in its original purity has been, to a large extent, taken away from us. And some of this is the result of psychological issues surrounding death.
While you might think that psychological traumas surrounding death do not rob the world of its pristineness, consider historical monuments. These structures were created to provide a lasting remembrance of a person’s existence (sometimes also an event). The word monument is ultimately derived from the Latin verb moneo, which means to bring to the notice of, to remind, to tell of. Monuments are the result of an unnatural need for an individual to be remembered long after they have passed (and over the memories of other individuals). To put this bluntly, many of the large-scale, ancient monuments that can still be seen today were constructed with slave labor to satisfy the ego and fear of short-lived remembrance (a factor contributing to death trauma) of rulers. The building of these monuments resulted in the subjugation of humans, the extraction and exploitation of natural resources, the clearing of forests to plant crops (to feed the slaves), and the perpetuation of untreated death trauma in the ruling class, which was inflicted on the lower class. In today’s world, the idea of the monument has been expanded to include many kinds of structures, works, and business enterprises. These are examples of metaphorical monuments, built, in part, by those who fear their own passing.
The interesting aspect to me is that all the items on this list occur exclusively or with much greater frequency in agricultural and industrial societies (though some modern religions do effectively address lifestyle choices that prevent death trauma). It is clear from early writing that many indigenous people were philosophically opposed to a fear of death. While there are exceptions to any statement that can be made, many cultures treated death as a natural event and saw to the passing of people with reverence and ritual. Many hunter-gatherer groups had specific practices aimed at ensuring the recently deceased reached their ancestral spiritual grounds. One example was a prohibition on speaking the name of a recently deceased person aloud in the first days after their passing — which could call them back to earth and prevent them from finishing their journey. While this practice may be considered antiquated or pointless, it does indicate the afterlife was not a phase of existence to be feared. Arguments over the deceased and their possessions were uncommon experiences — though these are frequent in many families today. Other factors that contribute to death trauma, such as feelings of isolation, discontent with career choices, and concern for the well-being of family members are recurrent features in modern living (i.e., in egocentric communities). Being a member of an ecocentric community, on the other hand, allows people to understand they are supported by one another and that each person can find their unique gift (i.e., contribution) for the world. Such benefits will allow someone to die with far less fear for themselves and their immediate kin and regret for their choices in life.
“Toli-kotuwine nitapèsq, naka nìl ntahcuwi-wicuhkema.” (My friend is approaching death, and I have to help her — an actual sentence recorded during linguistic work with the Passamaquoddy people of eastern Maine.)
How we prevent and heal the emotional harm that death trauma causes is by incorporating the following practices into our cultural being. In some cases, these will be difficult (but not impossible) to achieve—especially because the community aspect is so broken in affluent countries. However, it is imperative to learn about ecocentric community and egalitarian practices because these features of healthy culture help to allay death trauma. Consider that many pre-agricultural societies were able to observe most or all of the following:
- an acceptance of death and dying
- knowledge that communal support will exist during the death experience
- an understanding that the community will remain strong after death
- no concern for fate of material possessions after passing
- a realization that children and grandchildren will be cared for (by the community) after death
- a strong sense that life was spent on meaningful practices
- no emotional burden of potential community gossip because the community is comprised of whole individuals who have respect for those that have passed
- comfort concerning the afterlife experience
- recognition that each individual lives on in the next generation (regardless of whether it is remembered or not)
The rewilding path is one of gaining awareness of what nature divorcement and domestication has wrought on humanity. Our lifeways have been infused (often without our notice) with many beliefs, customs, and practices that do not generate health and emotional comfort. Death trauma, while common in contemporary society, does not have to be an unescapable feature of our lives. I believe one of the most useful manners for avoiding this form of emotional suffering is to reclaim real community in your life. Don’t confuse networking — the modern, corrupted equivalent — for community, because networking seeks only to utilize the strengths of each person and abandons people during times of weakness. If you are unable to find real community, then build it yourself from the ground up by following the practices of egalitarian cultures. Homo sapiens is a communal species; we are meant to find solace and strength in our tribal members.
“When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose lives are filled with the fear of death, so that when time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” Tecumseh, Shawnee
Greetings! My name is Arthur Haines and I’ve been helping people explore human ecology for over 20 years. I’ve done this with the mission of developing deep awareness of and connection to nature, promoting individual health, and fostering self-reliance. Wild food is a passion of mine, and through this, I offer a glimpse of our past and a new picture of our future. Through this knowledge, and many other facets of our shared ancestral lifeways, we can awaken a rewilding of our body, mind, and heart.
I endeavor to share knowledge garnered from this perspective, one that merges the material knowledge of present-day people with the ecological knowledge of ancestral people.
In my final Dispatch conversation with Arthur Haines (not to worry...Arthur will continue to join us on ReWild Yourself! podcast!), we discuss the death of Homo sapiens domestico fragilis and traverse the vast spectrum of ReWilding.
- The extinction of indigenous humans
- What is the ReWilding mindset?
- The vast spectrum of ReWilding
- Immersion in nature for better health
- How to best spend 30 minutes in nature
- Bringing wildness into your gut flora
- Raising the next generation of ReWilders
We’re witnessing the death of firsthand experience. Tweet it!
We’re at that crossroads where we’re choosing to either continue down the path of the domestico fragilis or follow this path of the new aboriginal. Tweet it!
ReWild Yourself! podcast is now on iTunes! A longer version of this interview, including some of my thoughts on this discussion with Arthur, will be released exclusively there. I will be releasing all Dispatch interviews on iTunes, as well as additional Q&As, interviews, yes, even some stream of consciousness rants! If you're not already, go here to subscribe so you don't miss a show! I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and review of the show on iTunes as well. It helps the podcast grow, as well as helps us to improve the quality of the show and continue to bring on more amazing guests! Let me know who you'd like to see on the podcast! Click here to rate and review.
- Survival International
- The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
- For more wonder, rewild the world
- Rewilding Europe Brings Back the Continent’s Largest Land Animal
- Chris Ryan
- Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha
- Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology by Pierre Clastres
- What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis
- Why I MovNat, and Why I Think You Should Too
- Gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherers
- Seven Fires Prophecy
I had been born only four years hence when Max died, the finch who was my first non-human animal companion. My mother was mopping the floor of our small apartment. She was single, and we were quite poor. Max’s aging and weathered bamboo bird cage was riddled with holes, and my mother was using the kitchen sink as a mop bucket. I was occupying myself as children do, and Max, as I recall, was flitting about, free from the confines of the cage where he spent most of his days and all of his nights.
It is murky there, in that memory, and there are only a few still images that I can now bring back to consciousness. There was some commotion, my mother scurrying about in some way that I knew was outside the baseline of her normal behavior. Something was amiss, but what I couldn’t tell. Perhaps she called me over to her side, knowing that this was a teaching moment, and that what words she chose then would be of grave and lasting import.
There are no spoken words in my memory, but there is a clear image of Max’s wet, un-animated body lying there on a paper towel. This struck me most deeply, this profane and disposable thing, a paper towel, being the resting place for this being, this celebrated living entity with which I had a relationship. It seemed to my child mind an indignity unbefitting such a pure and radiant being. This is my first memory of death.
There is a feeling-tone that wells up from within my deepest core when I meditate on this memory, one that I don’t have a name for. Perhaps there are cultures that have a name for such a sentiment, for the emotion one feels when they first become aware of the existance of mortality. There was a fundamental reorganization taking place in me at that moment, born of equal parts revelation, recollection, and resignation. It was as if a dark spot had opened up in reality, a black hole, a vacuum into which life could be drawn, never to be returned. Certainly Max was gone. There lay his body, warm still, and soaked in mop water in a way that seemed to unbefitting to a being capable of such resplendent flight. Where was he now? Somehow I knew then, as if having been reminded of a truth buried so deep in the self as to be all but forgotten, that this fate wasn’t one that befell only birds, this was the ultimate fate of all lifeforms, even my own.
Suddenly I understood what had befallen the ancient animals that I had studied so intently since I was first capable of holding a book; the dinosaurs. They, like Max, had fallen into some metaphorical mop-water, leaving behind fossilized skeletons whose awesome scale could barely attest to their former embodied glory. When would this blackhole consume my mother? When would it consume me?
Some short lived innocence was quelled in me that day, and in its place arose, however infinitesimally it began, some new emotion, an anxiety that would drive my behavior in ways that I couldn’t then have yet conceived. This anxiety was, of course, the fear of death.
I don’t mean to give the impression that I was suddenly preoccupied by the fear of death, or that the loss of Max was some all consuming event from which I struggled to recover. Rather, it was the germination of a seed, one whose growth would crack and fracture the substrate of my mind as it developed into the full expression of the knowledge of mortality.
We flushed Max down the toilet then, again the sacred giving way to the profane, and as he swirled to places unknown. I marveled at just how differently we treated him now compared to just an hour hence, before the thing that was 'essentially him' had departed us. Max, then, wasn’t his bird body, and soon I would understand that we too are not our bodies. Thus began an existential quest, one we must all take, to make peace with the dual nature of life. It is both corporal and yet also symbolic, both substance and yet simultaneously insubstantial. It is on the one hand a thing of flesh and bone and on the other something less ephemeral, something intangible and ineffable.
What would follow was years of conditioning, stories of heaven and hell, of pearly gates and flaming, eternal tortures. Of course there would also be the scientific atheism with its predictions of total annihilation. What is this place – this life – I would wonder, how is it we are here, and for what reason? Shockingly no one seemed to know, and what was worse, so few seemed even to care.
Today I have a better grasp on how this all works. Not the answers to these gut-wrenching existential questions, but rather as to why people haven’t explored these questions in a more overt and direct way. It is that same fear of death that I felt as I came to understand that all would one day greet their dying time. For those who have not made peace with dying, anything that reminds them of their own mortality must be pushed away, must be suppressed, lest it cripple them with fear. This culture, lacking as it is in ritual and initiation, has no way to prepare us for death’s inevitable arrival, and so we are left susceptible to the many neurosis that emanate from this immaturity. We become desperate to align ourselves with anything that seems immortal, lasting, unshakable, with anything that seems permanent. We submit to the cults of religion, with their promises of resurrection and eternal life, or to the State, who claims that it will live on forever. We cling to what feels familiar and we push away what seems foreign. We become superstitious and fretful, we pray to conjured deities. We let our minds ramble out of control, and come to dread a moment of downtime wherein the idea of our own mortality might emerge. We busy ourselves with Immortality Projects, and we invest our energies into something that seems to be of worth or import.
What though, if we stop all this? What if we pause, and peer within ourselves for a moment? Can we look death in the face, eyes and hearts wide open, and simply embrace our own finality? If so, perhaps, we will find that for once we can truly live.
Dr. Darcy Harris is an expert on the grieving process, and in this interview, she explains how to be present in your own personal grief, as well as with someone who is grieving. Most of us have experienced grief in one way or another in our lives, and Darcy's therapeutic words can help us to understand how to embrace it and even allow it to deepen our experience in life.
- The grief process
- What is thanatology?
- Recognition of mourning
- Implications of not directly interacting with death
- Terror management theory
- Speed dating for death
- How to be with someone in grief
- Planning for loss
- Reproductive loss
- Deepening our experiences through grief
- Where Darcy draws inspiration
- Grief and emoting
- Misconceptions about the grieving process
- Darcy gives you an assignment
- The power of positive thinking doesn’t stop the fact that we die
We’ve distanced ourselves in so many ways from the realities of death that we’re very inept now at handling that part of life. Tweet it!
Grief often goes underground because people don’t know how to deal with it. Tweet it!
Grief has the power to really deepen our lives, deepen our experience. Tweet it!
Death might end a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship. Tweet it!
ReWild Yourself! podcast is now on iTunes! A longer version of this interview, including some of my thoughts on this discussion with Darcy, will be released exclusively there. I will be releasing all Dispatch interviews on iTunes, as well as additional Q&As, interviews, yes, even some stream of consciousness rants! If you're not already, go here to subscribe so you don't miss a show! I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and review of the show on iTunes as well. It helps the podcast grow, as well as helps us to improve the quality of the show and continue to bring on more amazing guests! Let me know who you'd like to see on the podcast! Click here to rate and review.
- The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
- Terror Management Theory
- Death Cafes Breathe Life Into Conversations About Dying
- The Five Wishes
- Darcy on Reproductive Loss
- Daniel Goleman Introduces Emotional Intelligence
- Emotional Intelligence
- Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
- Kübler-Ross model
- Books written by Alan D. Wolfelt
- Counting Our Losses: Reflecting on Change, Loss, and Transition in Everyday Life by Darcy L. Harris
- Principles and Practice of Grief Counseling by Howard R. Winokuer PhD, Darcy L. Harris PhD FT
- Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society: Bridging Research and Practice by Robert A. Neimeyer, Darcy L. Harris, Howard R. Winokuer, Gordon F. Thornton
Darcy L. Harris, Ph.D., FT, is an associate professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Programs and coordinates the Thanatology Program at King’s University College at Western University London, Ontario, Canada, where she also maintains a private clinical practice specializing in issues related to change, loss, and transition. She developed the undergraduate degree program in Thanatology at King’s University College, and she serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She has served on the board of directors of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and was the recipient of the Death Educator Award in 2014. She has written many articles and book chapters, including Counting our Losses: Reflecting on Change, Loss, and Transition in Everyday Life (Routledge), Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society: Bridging Research and Practice (Routledge), and Grief Counseling: Principles and Practice (Springer). She is currently the Series Editor for the Death, Value, and Meaning Series with Baywood Publishing Company in New York.
Dr. Darcy Harris
The Transformative Nature of Woman
By Ali Schueler of Wild Woman Speaks
The cycles of death and rebirth are inherent throughout all of nature and the Earth.
Seeds embedded in the soil grow into mature plants, which then drop seeds back into the Earth, before the plant dies back once again. The plant provides more opportunity for life before it's life cycle comes to an end.
Seasonally, winter brings the dying back of plant life, animals enter hibernation, and humans retreat to the indoors through the season of 'death' — before spring returns once again, bringing the 'rebirth' of life, as plants regenerate, animals come out of hibernation, and humans re-enter the world.
The lunar cycle too, expresses the death and rebirth cycle, as the moon slowly dies back from its fullness into the dark moon phase, before being reborn as the new moon.
Death and rebirth are crucial to life itself.
Many spiritual traditions aim to replicate the death and rebirth cycle, with the intent of personal growth, development, and transformation.
Through the use of entheogenic plants, drum beat, various healing modalities, meditation, and other practices, humans regularly do things to create the cycle for themselves.
While death and rebirth are inherent in all things, and humans often imitate this natural cycle, women have the death and rebirth cycle already embedded within their being.
Women go through a dying back and rebirthing each and every month through their menstrual cycle. A woman's bleeding stage of her menstrual cycle is equivalent to the ‘death’ phase. This is where the purging, cleansing, and purifying happens through her bleeding, before she is born anew once again into the next phase of her menstrual cycle — in anticipation of her ovulation — the life-generating aspect her feminine cycle.
People pay large sums of money to have a 'healing' or experience 'transformation' through a shaman or an entheogenic experience, where they go through a spiritual or symbolic 'death' so they can be reborn in a new light, healed of their shadows.
Women are gifted with a free opportunity for healing and transformation through their menstrual cycle each month, should they choose to use it.
Women are cleansed through their bleeding because the lining of their uterus is shed in the process, and all sorts of toxins are carried out of their bodies in the actual blood they release. Women’s bodies are purifying themselves and providing a natural 'cleansing' process, so to speak, on a monthly basis.
Literally (and metaphorically), women's bodies physically release the things that are holding them back.
When a woman bleeds, she often feels more of a sense of introspection as opposed to feeling extroverted. This is her bleeding creating the space to take account of the past month, release pain, suffering and trauma that she may have experienced in the cycle that has just passed.
When women harness this natural inclination for introspection, great healing can take place.
A woman tends to experience more of a range of emotion when she bleeds, which has been dubbed (negatively) PMS or “Pre-Menstrual Syndrome”, though I like to refer to this more pleasantly as our "Pre-Moontime Experience”, due to the gifts that it brings.
More emotion is bound to surface during a woman’s bleeding, and it's her duty to feel all of this emotion if she wants to get the most out of this natural death and rebirth experience.
This extra outpouring of emotion during a woman’s bleeding doesn't make her 'crazy' or 'too much' — it’s completely normal! I view this time as an emotional purging of sorts, in that many emotions come up that a woman may have been unconsciously repressing over the course of her last cycle.
These emotions are meant to come out. Feeling the range of this emotion is the best thing a woman can do for herself, as it’s an opportunity to grow, expand, and heal by feeling through it.
Magically, women’s bodies encourage emotions to surface that need to be felt and released so that they aren’t continually held back by them.
This is the dying back of the death and rebirth within women.
The going within process, the introspection, is what allows a woman to shed and release that which is no longer serving her. As a woman releases this blood from her body, it contains the physical toxins, chemicals, and substances the body wants to eliminate, while also serving as the symbolic 'letting go' of emotion, pain, challenges, and the like — so it embodies the death of all the things it’s time for her to release.
When a woman harnesses this dying back through her menstrual cycle by actively feeling, expressing, and releasing the emotions and challenging experiences she might be having, she can get the most out of this natural process.
It also sets her up to create the rebirth for herself that she desires each month.
Letting go of the so-called physical / emotional / spiritual 'muck', allows the woman to choose how she wants to be reborn into the next phases of her cycle.
From here, after the phase of dying back, she can actively paint a picture of how she wants to conduct herself and what she wants to create, coming from this fresh slate of having released anything that might have been previously keeping her from attaining what she was seeking.
How do you want to relate to life in the coming cycle? What do you want to create in the coming cycle? How do you want to feel in this coming cycle? Who do you want to be in this coming cycle?
These are questions a woman can ask herself as she defines how she wants to be reborn after the release of her menstruation.
In choosing this clarity for herself, a woman can take actions in her life accordingly, so that she manifests how she wants to carry herself / be / experience / or create in the world.
When a woman reframes her relationship to her menstrual cycle and uses its gifts to her advantage, she can anchor in this monthly death and rebirth, by releasing what is outdated and holding her back, so that she can welcome in new, fresh energy as she completes her bleeding time.
Could a woman’s body be more intelligent?
Consider how you might be able to best harness the power of your moon cycle in the future, by feeling though the emotions that come up for you when you bleed, and make use of this natural desire for introspection.
How can you use this natural inclination to allow the things inside of you that are ready to die, to do so? How can you more actively call in the ways that you’d like to be reborn?
A woman’s moon cycle is a gift and can be used to her advantage in supporting her ongoing evolution as a human.
If you are a woman who is craving sisterhood — truly loving and supportive connections with other women in your life — than the Wild Feminine Un.leashed Virtual Temple of Sisterhood is for you!
In the spirit of intimacy and deep connection, the Virtual Temple is limited to 350 spots, so claim your space before it's full!
There are some pretty awesome bonuses when you sign up for the yearly membership:
- Access to a private, one-hour long group tele-course with myself and Ali on all things feminine ReWilding ($500 value)
- An hour-long private mentoring session with Ali ($200 value)
- One "Dirty Balm" from The Dirt Personal Paleo Care ($12 value)
Ali is a writer and women’s embodiment mentor. She is committed to the re-sacralization of the feminine across the globe. Her mission is passionately providing women with experience-based tools that inspire life-changing awakening in the feminine, promoting emotional awareness, spiritual fulfillment, wild self-expression as well as a connection to our bodies and their natural cycles. She enjoys writing and video blogging weekly through her website WildWomanSpeaks.com and sharing inspiration with her Wild Woman Speaks community daily through Facebook, Twitter @alischueler, and Instagram.
Photo credit: Sean Stuchen
the state of being subject to death.
Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to the restoration of a sovereign mind is the subtle but insidious, ever present and persistent, fear of death. Homo sapiens, whose cognition is capable not only of recalling past events, but also of conjuring imaginings of events which have yet to be, is a being both gifted and cursed with the ability to transcend the present moment, and to traverse time and space in the media-studio of the mind. Able to understand the inevitability of his own mortality, something we still assume to be uniquely human, man is plagued by the knowledge that death is a void — a blind spot — in his own map of reality. What’s more, it is one into which he will be thrown — inevitably — irrespective of his protests. He cannot, despite his tremendous capacity for invention, cheat this inescapable fate.
Our desire to fill in and label — to the finest resolution — our reality map, has been one of the great hallmarks of our species. As we have grown and developed as an organism, we have collectively accumulated what can — at times — feel like an almost omniscient body of knowledge. Beyond merely looking out at the stars and telling mythologized, anthropomorphic stories about their exploits, we have determined their actual distance, temperature, and composition. Not content with knowing just the observable properties of matter, we have sought to understand what matter is. We've penetrated deep into the material of our world, beyond the gross physical level, to the chemical composition, to the molecular structure. Beyond this we have discovered the atomic, and even subatomic nature of substance itself. We have mapped our own planet and are busily searching for others, and have built an arsenal of weapons capable of extinguishing the lives and lineages of most of the living things of this Earth. We have sent some of the bravest amongst ourselves to live on stations that orbit the Earth, viewing it from a perspective so distant as to make our planetary home look like a glistening, blue, glass marble suspended in a rich, black, velveteen sea. We have become apes in space. Yet what of death?
Despite being one of the earliest phenomena to which we turned our questioning glance, death continues to elude us, like an impenetrable fog, lying well beyond the reach of our probes and remaining unmeasurable to our sensors. We walk about with smiling faces, a cool demeanor and placid facade, but beneath this lurks a shadow monster that cannot be glimpsed, but whose presence antagonizes us like a stranger lurking just outside our door. Are we annihilated in death or does consciousness live on? Are we none but our physical selves, or is this symbolic part of us — this thing we have come to call the ‘soul’ — eternal? Is the eye of consciousness unblinking, or is it snuffed out as simply as a candle’s flame, one moment brilliantly illuminating the surrounding darkness, only to be overcome by it completely in the next? These pervasive existential questions loop and play in the background of the mind, whilst we carry on, feigning confidence, pretending to feel secure. All the while we know that every rotation of the Earth about its own axis, every pass it makes around the sun, carries us closer to the inevitable failure of our physical selves, to the degradation of the Earth-suit we wear in our exploration and exploitation of this planet. The simple act of living here is a terminally degenerative process, and we all know — despite our protests — its prognosis. What is an ego to do?
The terror this knowledge (or lack of knowledge) generates would be paralyzing were we not in possession of a tremendous capacity for denial. It would seem for most that the mystery of death is one too great for the mind to comfortably carry on with, and so we develop elaborate and sophisticated methods of denying it. Perhaps the most obvious are the great death denying cults we call religions, which so often profess to possess a very detailed knowledge of what lies on the other side of dying. What’s more, many offer entry into an exclusive gated community of immortal, disembodied souls, whose membership there was purchased with the crude currency of their total devotion to their life-sacrificing belief. This might (almost) seem harmless were in not for the primacy of the death fear itself, which, being the fundamental perturbation of the human mind, drives us to a kind of irrationally xenophobic, tribal sectarianism — compelling the devotee to bring to the ‘other’ the very thing that they themselves are denying; death. So bedeviled do we become, defending the edifice of our mythologized, and ritualized elaborate death denial, that when two unique approaches meet (i.e. two religions or 'death denying cults'), they are often compelled to destroy one another. Cults of death denial are, all too often, doctrinally mutually exclusive, and so the existence of the one shines too much doubt upon the other. To preserve one’s belief in the promise of immortality, such doubts are unacceptable. Total faith is the entrance fee, and only those with tickets are permitted admission to the everlasting realm in which there is no death. The unbeliever must be converted, the infidel must die.
It isn’t just religion that fulfills the function of death denial, and there are secular counterparts which perform similar roles. Perhaps we cannot live on eternally, but what if we can be part of something that can? An ideology, a philosophy, a political doctrine — any “ism” will do. If we can align ourselves with something that feels eternal, that we believe to be a universal truth, we can live on with it, the way a brick becomes part of the foundation of a great tower reaching up into the heavens. While at first the relationship may appear abstract, so much political grandstanding is none but an ornate denial of death, as we seek immortality through connection to something we see as having the ability to outlive us. We become vehement — even vicious and ridiculous — liberals or conservatives, capitalists or communists. Nearly any cause can be substituted, if it is adequately broad in its scope, and offers enough hope for lasting change. Just as with religion, if our attachment to our own immortality through the projection of self onto our chosen cause is sufficient, we are willing to bring to others the very thing we are seeking to avoid. Death. We will kill, or at the least sanction the killing, of those who oppose our elaborate Immortality Project.
Building upon the work of Ernest Becker, Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski, developed what has come to be known as Terror Management Theory. In a series of laboratory experiments, they have shown that when reminded of one’s own death, there is a tendency to cling tightly to those with whom we share a religious, political, or ideological affiliation, and a reciprocal tendency to push away and punish those who do not. Additionally, they have demonstrated that when reminded of our death, we are much less likely to desecrate symbols of religion, nationalism, or other sanctimonious icons or objects. In other words, the fear of death causes us to — apparently quite instinctually — form exclusive groups based upon a shared Immortality Project. This, we might assume, serves an ecological function, uniting tribes of humans together around a shared lineage, language group, and spiritual tradition. When confronted with the threat of territorial incursion, war, starvation, or any other hazard, we would naturally band together more strongly than ever, whilst simultaneously pushing the threat away as a unified force. One can almost imagine a hierarchy of such xenophobic tendencies, wherein we would cling first to our language group, then to our tribe, then to our foraging group, then to our clan, then to our nuclear family, and finally to our “self”.
This is still very much alive today. While the world of humans is still a very divisive place, if we were confronted — as a species — by some outside threat, an extraterrestrial or extra-dimensional force for example, we would doubtless come to see all humans as part of an extended tribe, and unify together to defend against this menacing outsider. The high-budget caricature of this idea can be seen on any big screen, and is, even now, coming soon to a theater near you. At present we tend to organize around religion or race, which are transnational. Below this, our tendency is to country — picture the olympic games — where we celebrate or mourn our victories and losses over (or to) the ‘other’. Lower still we cling to others of our region, perhaps our state or province, and another octave down from this would be our loyalty to a city or town. We can see this in our modern sports culture, where one state or city's team plays another. The stadiums are thronged with shirtless, over-fed fans, painted in their teams colors, screaming their loyalties and chastising those who oppose their team's victory. Though less common here in the US, in the UK sports team loyalties routinely lead to violence between rival fans. When we zoom in for even more resolution we see a similar pattern in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our gang or friend networks, and eventually down to the family and individual level itself.
The manipulation of this knowledge, which is basic and well understood in human psychology, can be seen all around us, as it is plied to gain public acceptance of war and military actions day in and day out. We are shown images that remind us of our inevitable death, images of others dying, such as when the World Trade Center towers were collapsed — symbols as they were of the Immortality Project of ‘our people’. We then, instinctively, cling to those most like us, flying our flags, and uniting along lines of nationalism and religion. We seek to strengthen the bonds between ourselves, and to punish those we see as having, so invasively, reminded us of our inevitable death. This is population manipulation 101, and it works as well today as it did 10,000 years ago.
What happens though, if we look our own mortality in the face, confronting it directly? Would we, if we were acclimated to the reality of dying, still be so easily manipulated by those who would leverage our impulse to escape our eventual mortality? Whether you come to terms with your inevitable death, or you bury yourself semi-consciously in an Immortality Project, makes no difference, death will still claim you. What is different is your susceptibility to living a life of illusion rather than one of grounded, authentic, honest acceptance of this life’s opportunity, and it's ephemeral nature. It is the difference between being an Avatar and being a Xenophobe. Hiding from our death makes us a pawn in someone else's game. Embracing it makes us the player of our own.
Stop running. Death is your birthright.
When you begin delving into the topic of death, you won't get too far without running into the concept of Terror Management Theory (TMT). Jeff Greenberg — social psychology professor at the University of Arizona — was one of three researchers behind this theory. In our interview, he explains exactly what TMT is, how it came to be and how we can use it to overcome our fear of death.
- How Jeff and his colleagues arrived at terror management theory
- What is terror management theory?
- TMT and cultural worldview
- Why they chose the word “terror"
- Fear of death from an evolutionary standpoint
- Managing our terror of death
- Stuck between a rock and a hard place
- How Jeff applies this research to his own life
- How people typically respond to TMT
- The psychological implications of immortality projects
- Jeff’s upcoming book
- Benefits of becoming conscious about death
Our concerns about our own mortality drive us to accept and believe in specific cultural worldviews and then strive for self worth and for a sense of permanent value within the context of that worldview. Tweet it!
Ideas that comfort people spread. Tweet it!
- Terror Management Theory
- TMT Research
- Ernest Becker
- The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
- Epic of Gilgamesh
- Fleeing the Body: A Terror Management Perspective on the Problem of Human Corporeality
- Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelations
- Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology
- Escape From Evil by Ernest Becker
- Susanne Langer
- Jamie L. Goldenberg
- Aubrey de Grey
- The Worm at the Core by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski
- Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality
- Ernest Becker Foundation
Jeff Greenberg is a social psychology professor at the University of Arizona. He is notable for coining the concept of Terror Management Theory, with two of his colleagues, Sheldon Solomon and Tom Pyszczynski.
Jeff Greenberg is also featured in the 2003 documentary Flight From Death, a film that investigates the relationship of human violence to fear of death, as related to subconscious influences.
Experiencing the Cycle of Life on the Homestead
By Chef Frank Giglio of Three Lily Farm
“It may be said, in broad-brush terms, that the primary purpose of life is the continuation of life. A deep program for survival and reproduction underwrites the complex cycles of life, in which death is the grand equalizer. ― Richard J. Borden, Ecology and Experience: Reflections from a Human Ecological Perspective
Until I visited a working slaughtering house, I was rather naive to the idea of killing in order to eat and survive. I was 19 years old and attending the New England Culinary Institute when I got an up close and personal visual of a cow slaughter. It was a potent experience for sure, enough that some students stayed put in the car during the process. It gave me a better understanding of the realities of raising animals for food, and what it takes to do that. Until that moment, I blindly ate meat, wrapped in plastic on sturdy styrofoam dishes, never asking “where did this come from?”
It was just another cold winter day in Maine, out on the land doing my daily chores. Every day, no matter the condition outside, I need to tend to my animals. A few dozen chickens, ducks, 3 lambs, 2 ewes – and my ram Brosif – require my support and care; otherwise their chance for survival would be slim. We have an unspoken agreement — I provide them with food, shelter, and protection from predators and they, in return, work the land and provide me with nutritious eggs and meat.
This particular day was just like any other, except for the fact that I unexpectedly decided it was time to put down one of my lambs. I walked back to the house, grabbed my field knife, gave it a few strokes on the sharpener, and headed back out to their shelter.
I needed a few moments to figure out how to get to the targeted lamb, who has always been the most skiddish one in the flock. There was a bit of scrambling, but before too long, I was out of sight from the other sheep while straddling over our beautiful Katadhin, whom my wife named Dandelion. I straddled her for several minutes, doing my best to calm her down. I too needed to focus on my breath, as the adreneline was now pumping with great force throughout my body.
During the course of my life I have successfully hunted a variety of animals, mostly small game. Although I have never successfully taken the life of larger animals like deer, bear, or moose, I have a lot of experience fielddressing and butchering a wide assortment of animals. I have accepted the reailty of taking life, but doing so with a sharp blade felt much more intimate, and far more powerful at the same time.
Once I felt myself and this lamb at ease, I drew my knife from its scabbard, gently pulled back her head and slit open her throat with one smooth movement. She immediately jerked, forcing me to hold her closer, as blood quickly streamed out her neck. For several minutes, we were deeply connected as I remained on top of her, gently stroking her head as she transitioned out of consciousness.
Once Dandelion was lifeless, I walked away and went about my day for a while before returning to complete the process. Although my heart was still beating rapidly, I felt at ease, calm, and still. In some ways I felt empty, wondering if what I done was unnecessarily cruel. It’s almost as if my ego stepped in for a moment as I decided who is fit to live and who is to die. But at the same time, I felt so connected to the source of my food and how I can have a direct relationship to its source.
For the next several hours, I spent my time gutting and removing her hide, which I planned on preserving by way of the traditional method of brain tanning. Once the hide was removed, I hung the body on our swing-set to age for a few days before butchering. The meat, about 40 pounds in total, will fill the freezer and provide myself and my family with deep nutrition, allowing me to say “I know where that came from.”
So that’s what really happens...
In March of 2006 I made a life changing decision to 'go vegan', and to cook very-little-to-none of my food. This decision, which was 100% health derived, did play an extremly important part of assisting me in getting back into my body and regaining my health. This dietary shift helped me to understand, for the very first time, how food affected my body. Somewhere through the years, I moved into a more spiritual decision to avoid the use of animals. My new understanding, although completely naive, came with a belief that no harm was done and no lives suffered, because I ate a plant-based diet. It took a few years to fully understand that my beliefs were false, and that as a human we must kill in order to survive. Plants, animals, fish, whatever I may eat, pays the price of death so that I may live a longer life.
Today I feel more mature and grounded in my knowledge of life, death, and rebirth. As I put in the time to plant seeds, and to raise animals from a young age, I see first hand what it takes to create life. From this I know that, ultimately, their role for living on my property is to feed myself and my family. These plants and animals, which have sacrificed their life for me, will nourish my body, but ultimately find their way back into the land so that future plants and animals can grow in, and on, soil that is healthier than before. With that, the circle is closed and the cycle of life continues to keep us thriving for years to come.
An Assignment — Taking Life
I know from personal experience that taking a life is not easy. I don’t take joy in cutting down a tree, but I do give thanks for providing my family with heat during a cold winter, and am mindful to keep planting new trees so that future generations can enjoy their beauty, and the fuel and lumber they provide.
There is much debate whether plants, animals, insects, or any other creatures for that matter feel pain. Clearly we can see how some are more human-like than others, making it morally difficult for some to take the life of certain animals. Science shows that it is difficult to pinpoint as to just how much pain, if any, these various creatures feel. For example, I have been around plenty of folks who just can’t take the site of seeing a live lobster being dropped into a pot of boiling water. As a way to alleviate that, most will cut through their head to “desensitize” it before being steamed or boiled.
Insects and other invertabrates feel like a great introduction to taking life, which to us show little human-like behaviors as opposed to pigs, sheep, or dogs for that matter. Also, the ability to access lobster to cook at home is a far simpler matter than sourcing a live goat, getting it into your vehicle, and taking it home before slaughtering and preparing it for dinner.
Head to your local fish market and pick up a lobster, take it home and create a ritual around preparing it for dinner. As you prepare your meal, give thanks for all that allowed the lobster to make its way into your kitchen. Using a sharp knife, cut through the head, splitting it down the middle. Now place it into a pot of hot water and cook according to its size until done. What comes up for you? What are your emotions, if any?
Over 25 mouth watering recipes featuring everyone’s favorite food: butter.
Easy, convenient, how to's and recipes to assist you in getting more of this nutriment in your life. Butter isn't something to just slap on your steamed broccoli. There is a whole world of incredibly succulent recipes featuring butter waiting for you.
When you get right down to it, who wants to compromise flavor and texture when it comes to eating healthy and nutritious? Be a butter believer and get butter into your kitchen!
about the chef
Frank Giglio exudes a passion for nature-based living in all that he does, from his culinary pursuits to the simplest of day to day projects. Along with his beautiful family, classically trained chef Frank runs Three Lily Farm — an off-the-grid permaculture minded homestead where he mentors and educates others on the importance of preparing and eating a real-food diet, growing their own fruits and vegetables, and connecting with nature through wild foraging, harvesting spring water, and simply spending time in the health-promoting glory of the outdoors. Every year, Frank continues to push his fitness to the elite level by competing in obstacle course races and ultra-marathons. A true Maine-Man, Frank maintains his beard by carrying water and splitting wood.
When she looks into my eyes, Kaina, my canine companion, has something I recognize as a “soul”. It’s an elusive thing, difficult to articulate, but something that when glimpsed is unmistakable. There is a presence there, something I recognize — instinctively — as self-similar, so much so that her presence satisfies (at least in part) the desire to be in the presence of another. Surely I need to be amongst other apes, namely Homo sapiens, in order to maintain my mental health, and yet it is difficult to feel loneliness when she is by my side. What’s more, for every human trait she lacks, there is something canine that no human can fulfill. We speak of ‘unconditional love’ as if it a common experience between humans, however in my experience (admittedly, I have no children) it is a rare thing indeed. With so much high drama and tension, patterned disfunction and reflexive frustration between we hairless primates, this man/dog relationship is the purest love I have ever known.
Kaina and I
There is a reason we call these animals our — (hu)man’s — best friend. Our two species — Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris — have lived as companions to one another for what might be as much as 100,000 years. Long before the first crop was domesticated, wolves (Canis lupus) began to change themselves, to enter into relationship with us. We likely changed too, in response to living with them. Ours is a tale of friendship that spans a thousand centuries, and the bonds we form with dogs in our lives today are likely similar — if not significantly more intimate now — to the ones that were formed tens of thousands of years before us.
This love, this desire for companionship, is emotionally expansive, as we extend our sense of our familial kinship outside of the boundaries of our own species to encompass a being from another. A dog becomes part of our family, nearly as dear to us as one of our own. Despite the unique congruency that allows for such a deep and enchanting emotional connection between us, just beneath the surface of this interspecies relationship lurks a distressing dissimilarity; that of our lifespans.
Barring some sudden, life shortening experience, I will outlive Kaina. I struggle to write that. I want to write “her”, or “my dog”. There is a tendency to be impersonal here as I describe this, to be general, to avoid specificity. The thought of her passing is one I’d prefer to immediately reject, and yet it is an inevitability which I accepted (semi-consciously) the day that she first came home with me. No matter the extent to which I provide for her, whatever precautions I take or strategies I set in place — unless death claims me in some unforeseen way — I will see her leave this world.
The honest truth is that I don’t believe in an oblivion for consciousness. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, part of the human condition. Maybe in my own flight from death I too have imagined some realm of existence beyond this ephemeral and temporal one in which I am sentient. To be clear, I don’t expect that ‘my consciousness’, that of ‘Daniel’, will go on after my death, as in some kind of heavenly dimension or 'after-life', but rather I believe that the eye of consciousness never blinks. I suspect that my own consciousness — in death — seamlessly merges with the Omni-Awareness, the All-Conscious (for why and how I have come to this conclusion, see Dispatch 6, A Chemical Ecology,) and so perceive death not as annihilation but as a dissolution of illusion into an ultimate reunification. A look into Kaina’s eyes, with all its recognition of mutual sentience, is a kind of confirmation for me, like the glimpse of an amnesiac in the mirror, having since forgotten their own visage but recognizing something of vague but palpable significance therein.
When our gazes meet, I sense the cosmic giggle, like a playful joke that ripples through time and space. It is, for me, as if I have forgotten — or am too finite to contain the whole of the truth — that we are but expressions of the same stuff. Like reaching out to grasp a live wire, the reality into which we are born cannot be held onto, and so simpler, more manageable soundbites ring as empty cliche’s or trite euphemisms: “When I look into my dog’s eyes I know we are all One” — or something to that effect.
What is this universe, this dimension we occupy, that it — like some grand machine churning out souls — generates sentient beings with such developed senses of self? From whence is ushered this instinct for togetherness, for recombination of ourselves and our energies in a love that comforts us like a blanket against the cold? What is this mortal existence wherein beings of differing species would find an ancient sympathy with one another, one that would play out in a companionship that spans 100,000 years?
Kaina and I — like strands of braided cord — are interwoven in a shared fate. One day she will depart this world, a thought which, when meditated upon, makes my stomach feel as a pit whose depths are like the proverbial void. I love her completely with a sentiment that I’ve never reserved for another human. Her part in my journey through this life cannot be quantified in terms of value, but is better stated as a kind of indelibility. She has left a mark upon me, a permanent reminder of a love that transcends death. Her loyalty to loving me in return humbles me to my core, past my ego, beyond any desire I have for control or ambition for success. I am melted, dissolved, and washed away by a purity of heart that makes looking into the abyss tolerable because I know I am never alone.
There is something divine and otherworldly in this relationship of (hu)man and dog that makes the inevitable loss more tolerable. It is — for me — a reminder I get when our gazes meet. It is written there in the twinkling of her eye: love is the indivisible fabric of the universe.
Katy Meyers Emery is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University with a focus on mortuary archaeology. She gives us some insight into the burial practices of our ancestors and shares her passion for breaking down the death taboo in our society.
- What are bio-archeology and mortuary archeology?
- The beginning of mortuary processes
- Do we treat death any differently than our ancestors?
- Katy’s personal experiences with death
- What it’s like to be the “death person"
- Vampires and other superstitious burials
- Difficulty of dating adult bodies
- What Katy wants her burial to look like
- Cemeteries of the past and future
- The legacy Katy would like to leave behind
- Terror management theory
- Chimps Understand and Mourn Death, Research Suggests
- A Mortician Talks Openly About Death, And Wants You To, Too
- Anglo-Saxon Deviant Burial Customs
- 8 Recently Discovered Medieval Vampire Burials
- Why are the elderly invisible in archaeological contexts?
- From Ashes To Ashes To Diamonds: A Way To Treasure The Dead
- Urban Death Project
- The Future of Cemeteries
- Bones Don't Lie
- Katy on Twitter
Katy Meyers Emery is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University with a focus on mortuary archaeology. Her research examines the relationship between different burial practices in Early Anglo-Saxon England, and uses digital methods to improve our understand of funerary behavior in the past. She is the creator and author of Bones Don't Lie, a blog that provides news and commentary on mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology.
Katy Meyers Emery
Please, don’t mourn for me. I was preparing for this day long before it came. Grieve as you must, clear what sadness there might be from your bones. There is nothing left of me to mourn, I have lived and am no longer here.
Celebrate, if you can, for what time you have, for the continued opportunity to learn and to grow. Rejoice for me please, that I have found freedom from the strong pull of the gravity of this place. That my consciousness has been set free from the inescapable patterning that, like a labyrinth, kept me so locked into being the person that I was. There was always a tension here for me, and now I have finally been released.
Please, do not burn my body, there is no reason to steal me away from decay and decomposition. Please do not embalm me, nor make me the subject of some ostentatious display. I ask that you give me to nature, let me nourish the beasts and the creeping things. Let me be colonized by roots, let me return to the soil from which I was made.
May whatever work I have left behind in this place be a gift to those who might one day stumble upon it. I would ask only that it — like the works of so many who came before me — be left as a clue for future seekers who quest with the same insatiable thirst for knowledge that I had. There were so many clues I discovered along the way, reminders that there had been others like me. I have received all that I needed, and if I can leave something of value behind then my time here has been doubly as sweet.
While I lived I wished to be a more consistent friend, a better partner, a better lover. I wanted to be more available, more present. This life of mine was so driven by mission and priority, and I struggled to maintain the intimacy that our relationship deserved. Know that you touched my heart, that our connection — that you — were part of the fabric of my being. Thank you.
I apologize for the hot-headed temper and brooding melancholy that I never seemed to shake. For the perfectionism that characterized so many of my days. I sought to remain as neuroplastic as possible, though much of my early wiring was hard to remake. When I hurt you, when I was quick to anger, when my words cut (and I know they did), that was me struggling to understand, to trust, to connect. It was me in the throes of the fear of my own vulnerability. Thank you for sticking by me. I barely knew how to love fully, but I mustered what I could, as much as I could handle.
When I pushed you, to be more, to try harder, to go beyond what you thought you could, it was because that was all I knew how to do. It was the principle way I knew how to relate. You are, and always were, enough, and I wanted so much for you to feel and experience that. I trust that there was, at times, some good in it, and for the times when there wasn’t, please forgive me.
Please, don’t mourn for me. Be not like prisoners grieving the escape of their fellow who has now made it safely to freedom. There was nothing left for me here, not compared to the freedom of the infinite. My every desire and craving has now been satisfied. The confusion has ended. When they say that I am now at peace, it is true. ‘I’ no longer exist, not in the way you knew me, but that person you knew was never at rest, never at peace. The endless fluctuations of my mind are now quelled, and this is the peace that they speak of. “I” have now — finally — come to know rest.
I am none now but the gaze of that all seeing eye, no longer lonesome and separated, but merged instead with the entirety of the field of awareness itself. In this way, I am with you now more than before, looking out through your eyes and everyone else’s — and you are more beautiful than ever.
Thank you for loving me,
Join me on a stroll through the collective commons of wikipedia, as we deepen our understanding of the forces at play in the domestication process. Reading through these entries will add depth and breadth to your knowledge base, and greatly enhance your user experience as an embodied being on the present day planet Earth!
If we accept the inevitability of our death, how then are we to live? What now, that we have come to terms with the many unconscious ways we are running form our mortality?
We are a people severed from our ancestry, and bankrupted of elders. We can scarcely interpret the wisdom of the past, nor sort through the deluge of information we are now treading in, like castaways at sea. There are no guides, just others who have been treading longer. Where do we turn? Are all of our Immortality Projects without merit?
This paragraph is the one that is supposed to answer the questions posed above, but alas, I haven’t any answer either. Busily, I have been treading the waters of the information deluge too, and sorting through it as much as I am able. For decades I have asked these questions, and found all the answers wanting. This, however, hasn’t all been for naught.
How to live this life is the question I am left asking. Writing this magazine has helped me to see just how thoroughly domesticated we – I – am. Now, we are like ronin, masterless samurai left to find our own way in the world. The modern scientific model has left our traditional world views in fragments, and hasn't replaced them with anything that can sufficiently provide meaning or context. We can try to assemble some montage of significance from the splinters that remain of the once flourishing and intact worldviews of our ancestry, yet thus far we seem only to create Frankenstein-esque monster-models which, despite our best efforts, can only be grotesquely animated, lacking the true spark of inspiration and life they once had when fully formed.
So we set out to make our own way through this life, through a fog so thick and impenetrable that we are forced deep within ourselves to find our guidance, as outwardly there is naught but dense haze and impression-less static, ungraspable.
Here, then, is how I am choosing — and I am fully prepared to look back on this with maturity, laughing a bit at my youth –– to carry on.
I choose to live as if this life is rich with meaning, and:
- To see life as a kind of school, a platform for learning, maturing, and growing. This fills me with inspiration. That feeling of inspiration is so “right” that I feel compelled to pursue it.
- To continue shining light on the shadows as if it is my duty, as if I were born to be a protector and liberator of life and a destroyer of oppressive taboo.
- To pursue freedom from the oppression that has become the standard by which all moderns live.
- To repair the rift between the sacred and profane. To live each moment as if it were as sacred and symbolic as the time spent in ceremony. Yet to do this without pretension and without ‘acting’. To be both grounded and real and yet to also live in the magic.
- To create a legacy that might do for others what the legacy of others has done for me. There has been so much art, literature, and other various “Immortality Projects” left behind by others that have filled me with hope, knowledge, and direction. I’d like to contribute the same.
- To heal, as much as I can, from the wounds that have accumulated from a life lived in a broken, damaged, unhealthy culture.
- To align myself with nature — not just earthly nature, but the entire expanse of the universe — rather than to struggle against it. This feels ‘right’ to me, everything else has felt like a struggle without reward against something so vast and immovable as to be an exercise in futility.
- To build meaningful connections with others, despite the isolating influences of our modern technology.
- To be guided by my inner animal, and to know that it — he — is not a ‘less evolved’ part of me, but rather the repository of billions of years of evolutionary wisdom. "I" am less evolved than it.
- To be a helping hand to those whose life is just beginning, especially as my own life moves towards its inevitable conclusion. To be a mentor and guide.
- To continue to explore death, to ‘practice dying’, in meditation, in the entheogenic experience, in orgasm, in a continual release of the things which I cling to. To live as if today is actually ‘A Good Day To Die’.
- To identify my illusions, to become a fearless witness of the things I want to keep in shadow. To be real, to live authentically. To be a light so bright that other's illusions can not be easily maintained in my presence.
- To remain humble in the face of the vast intelligence that reality displays in nature, in the seasons, in the orchestration of the rhythmic movement of the celestial bodies. To surrender – humbly – to an intelligence so much vaster than my own.
- To live with — and die with — gratitude. I don’t know how this opportunity to live has come to me, but I do know that the lives of others are extinguished every day so that I might carry on. I hope that ecstatic gratitude can be my final earthly emotion.
- To remain balanced in a dynamic equilibrium. To see with binocular vision, to avoid being too much this, or too much that. To be able to articulate both sides of anything I feel myself drawn into.
- To always stay a student, never deluding myself with the illusion of expertise. To refine and refine and refine. To be refined.
- To be able to — ready to — jettison anything that is revealed as false, no matter how closely I have clung to it, or for how long. Even when that is my own life, my own consciousness.
- Too grow my capacity for compassion — which some define as love + meditation — a little more each day.
- To constantly be resolving fear and opening to love.
- To accept that things are always changing. To embrace it, to see the tendency to say “when I was your age…” as if the snapshot in spacetime I was living was the correct moment, and all others fall short. To accept that those who come after me will be the evolution of what I was doing, just as I was the evolution of those before me.
I am sure there is more, so much more. But these all flowed easily from my finger tips. I won't live as a nihilist, with the jaded emotion of one who has been betrayed and abandoned. I will live my life with purpose. This is my Immortality Project!
Plan your death ceremony.
Your dying time is coming. It may not be soon, then again it could also be tomorrow, or even later today. It takes maturity to bear witness to facts such as these. When it comes, it might be such that you know long in advance, and have ample time to commune with those you love and to lay the plans for your departure. Conversely, it may come in a sudden and unanticipated way, leaving those around you to make instant and unforeseen choices about how to handle your affects, to include the earth-suit you have been walking around in all this time.
If you don’t leave behind a plan, someone will be left having to put one together for you. The choices they make won’t necessarily reflect the ones that you would have preferred. Making these plans will also be a burden to those whose time would be better spent in the process of grief than in the logistics of your funerary proceedings. What kind of ceremony would you like those who love and celebrate you to participate in as they say their goodbyes?
Our domesticated lives have lacked the many ceremonial initiations that would have served as benchmarks for our growth and maturation as individuals. We, as ReWilders must find ways to recreate these in our own lives if we are to have any hope of growing into fully expressed beings. Our own death will serve as the final initiation, and we can step into it fully by dying well. The ceremony that comes after isn’t for you, you will be gone. The ceremony that is held in your honor is for those who love you, it is an anchor point for their grief and their continued relationship to life and death. This is your final contribution to the world of the living.
Develop a plan now, not just for you, but for those who will mourn you when you go. Let it be your final act of kindness, a way of leaving one last gift behind for those you love.
May you Die Well. May you Die Wild.
Additional Resources via Arthur Haines