Death can be physical.
According to the definitions in Oxford Languages, dying is the process of death, the gradual ceasing of physical function. The example therein is of the dying embers of a fire. Many of us, when we think of death, think of this physical component of death, for example, the moment the embers of the fire go out.
Death can be spiritual.
In a non-physical way, each of us experience death regularly. For example, we may have had a dream to be a baseball player or professional chef, which didn’t come to fruition, and our dream died. We may have had an idea to make the world’s best “whatchamacallit,” and the idea died. We may have had a committed relationship for many years, and the relationship may have died. Our thoughts arise and die. Our feelings arise and die. Our plans arise and die. Our clothes are made, wear out, and die. Musical performances, and even single songs, arise and die. Almost everything, when we look at it, arises and dies, and we experience many forms of spiritual death each day.
Death and life recycle.
When we look at the ways that we experience the constant cycle of life and death, we can see it everywhere. Even as we listen to old songs, heard or sung today, they can give birth to new songs, thoughts, or ideas within listeners and performers. And as we look at old clothes, though they may appear out-of-date, they can give birth to new fashion trends. And although the threads may deteriorate and return to soil, that soil can grow new cotton crops, and make new clothes. In most cases, things don’t die, they just recycle into another form.
Our perception of death affects our perception of life.
It can be easy to see that our perception and feelings about death have a tremendous effect upon our perception and feelings about life. For example, let’s look at what may seem like a small and insignificant death, such the death of a meal. This example can be useful and commonplace, since many of us are blessed to experience eating meals each day.
The freedom of perceiving death as a process.
Personally, I perceive meals as a gift of life, from life (God). I feel thankful for meals, their preparation, the lives that may have died in their creation, their presentation, the company with which I am allowed to share them, and the world’s stable surroundings, which allow me to enjoy them. And, upon guiding my fork betwixt the plate and my mouth, I enjoy each morsel. I neither resist, nor regret the end (aka death) of the meal, as I am in total acceptance of the process of eating the meal, as a part of life (and death). By experiencing this grace—also known as acceptance and appreciation, honor and love for the process, I feel blessed and enjoy life.
The entrapment of perceiving death as the end.
A very different perception of the death of a meal is to see its demise. Sadness would be felt before, during, and after the meal, knowing that it’s nearly finished, and that all the dishes will soon have to be cleaned. Guilt may also be felt for having eaten the meal, knowing that we played a role in its death. After the meal is finished, we may feel a deep sense of loss, knowing that we will never be with that exact meal, time or experience, or people ‘round that table, again. And before the meal, during, and after the meal, we may express aloud to others: our discontent, regret, sadness, and frustration over the impending death of that meal, and experience. This perception of death is one of gloom, despair, and agony.
Do we resist death?
Resistance to death can be seen just about anywhere. It is not limited by age, race, class, or financial status. An example of resistance might be as follows. A person in power, whose time has come to an end, must now step down. How will he or she die to that season in their life? Will he or she flail, balk, or resist? Will he or she force their opinions on others in an attempt to control and maintain power? Or, will they move on with grace, flowing easily into their next season, alert, aware, and looking for opportunities?
Resistance is common.
High levels of resistance to death are so common, that in 1915, Sigmund Freud’s landmark essay titled, “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death,” listed a phobia described as a feeling of dread, anxiety, or fear at the thought of death, or anything to do with dying. He termed this anxiety related to fear of death as thanatophobia. In addition, the Psychology Today website lists the fear of death as a root cause of many other fears, such as flying, bugs, viruses, crowds, spiders, etc., since people fear that those things may result in death.
Death can be difficult.
It’s not easy to watch things and people whom we love, die. Because, we love what we love, and we may want to “keep” it forever. It can be very hard to submit, succumb, and let go to allow and accept the ebb and flow of life and death. Although, however difficult it may be, however full of suffering or grace … death is inevitable.
If we choose to resist death, we may make life more difficult.
Though death cannot make us behave poorly—our fear, resistance, and anger about dying and death may drive us to behave in ways we regret, leaving lingering, unpleasant memories within and around us. However, we have the potential to create a positive, lasting, meaningful change within us and our loved ones. We can ask ourself the following question, “Will we focus on what death may cause us to lose … or will we become curious about how we can be grace-full, and enjoy the process of birth and death (also known as life)? Either way, our living example shows others how to live and die—with fear or grace.
Resistance (fear) opposes grace.
Any resistance or fear we may have to dying and death, does not allow us to fully experience the joy of each moment of life. Our resistance and focus on the loss and ending (death), rather than on the experience of life now, (with hope for what’s next) can cause regret, sadness, frustration, anger, pity, controlling behaviors such as tantrums and denial that death is, in fact, occurring.
Grace is more than elegance.
Grace, as it relates to how we perceive and feel about dying, is both rare and beautiful. Grace, as defined by Oxford languages, is doing honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence (way of being). As related to today’s topic, if we are grace-full about death and dying, we would honor it, by giving credit to Life, God and being fully present, here and now.
Grace makes dying (and living) easier.
Without fearful resistance to dying, we can experience graceful flow, growth and ease in life. Grace and ease feel like a soft, sweet ocean breeze on a beautiful day. Grace and ease are like the nourishing water given to a seedling, allowing it to grow up and become a big, broad, shade-tree. Grace and ease are like the lube on a bike chain, which keeps us moving and in gear. Like grace, all three of these examples make living and riding along life’s paths possible, and more enjoyable!
How can we be more grace-full?
By allowing ourself to not cling to (and not be afraid of losing) life, we open ourself up to being more grace-full. By refusing to complain about what we’re losing, and instead, focusing on what’s valuable and important now, grace will be with us and infused in our actions.
To begin, we might choose to gracefully allow some small deaths, and then apply the same principles to issues that seem more challenging. We can allow ourself to savor the moments of our life, and our next meal. We can allow ourself to let go of unused items and clothes. We can allow an old concept of success that does not bring us joy to die. We can let go of old memories that feel bad. We can let an old car go, let a bad idea go, let an unhealthy relationship with ourself go, or let the body of a loved one go. By gracefully allowing, we can begin to feel a remarkable ease with life and death. By doing so, we reduce stress and can share that ease and grace with ourself and those around us.
What can we do be more graceful amidst our circumstance?
Here are six tips for more grace:
- Tip #1 Don’t rush anything energetically, emotionally or physically. This may be done through deep breathing techniques, deeper awareness, deeper respect for life and all involved, prayer, and curiosity, to name a few.
- Tip #2 Accept life as it is, now. Acceptance allows us to be satisfied with ourself and life. Both can change for the better AND be accepted right now.
- Tip #3 Accept that everything changes. Everything is in flux and holds potential for a more enjoyable experience.
- Tip #4 Refocus on what’s emerging, changing, being born, or our mission for this circumstance or life.
- Tip #5 Cultivate awe and wonder. Let’s face it, life and death are both a mystery. One of the best things we can do is be in awe and wonder about it.
- Tip #6 Take time for ourself. We cannot care for others if our own temple is in disarray. And by temple, I am referring to our physical body and mind, which includes our perception and feelings. Maintaining a graceful countenance requires attention, care, and rest. We can honor the life within us and others, by caring for our own wellbeing with dignity and compassion.
By refocusing away from what we may be losing, we build willpower and grace.
Each and every time we choose to refocus away from what death takes from us, and onto what makes us feel present with life and its process, we build connection and willpower. Each of us have the free will to choose what we focus upon. In the past, our willpower muscles may have been inadvertently used to focus on our resistance, regret, and unhappiness regarding death and dying. If we feel ourself slipping into that old habit and we don’t like it anymore, we can gently, calmly, and kindly say to ourself, “I focus on the ways life is working right now,” or, “I focus on awe and wonder,” or, “I focus on compassion for all, including myself.” As we seek this new focus, grace naturally occurs.
What say ye?
Will you choose to experience grace more often? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section, so we may grow in strength and willpower together …
Always with love,