Ah, Halloween is once again upon us.
I much prefer the Mexican version since it feels less about getting as much candy as you possibly can (sugar skulls and calaveras excepted) and more about remembering the people you love who have died.
(Of course, I might be guilty of exotification here since I never prepared a Dia de los Muertos picnic to enjoy alongside my dead; instead, my friends and I figured out the most efficient way to hit as many of the 982 apartments in the printers union-run co-op where I grew up in Queens. We had no tricks up our sleeves, other than to scream at elderly residents who “forgot” to buy bags of chocolate and handed us coins instead. The after-party, where we laid the booty on the floor and distributed it with an almost socialist-style zeal, was traditionally held in my bedroom.)
It strikes me as quite intelligent to remind kids (and even grown ups) that death is natural, and happens to all of us, or as Jim Morrison would say, no one here get out alive.
To keep it short and sweet this week (or at least macabre, like those candied bones), I’ll leave you with three simple exercises my clients (and I) have used to relate to death with more depth:
1) Live life backwards. Read the obituaries every day for a month, and check out the zany characters that have up until very recently walked amongst us. (Personally, I love the New York Times obits, but your local paper might prove even more fascinating.) Notice how radical their living arrangements were, the diversity of their relationship styles, how they chose to define or defend their life choices. Observe how many of them didn’t listen to their mothers’ well-intentioned advice in following their bliss and contributing to the planet and its people. When you feel ready, draft your own obituary. Or, as someone I work with is doing right now, write the obituaries of living relatives — maybe even someone you want to know more fully, rather than just in their role as, say, your “granny.”
2) Determine your final resting space. Are you, like one of my late aunts, so freaked out by bugs that you need to be placed in a mausoleum? Want to be cremated and sent to sea? Have a sky burial? Be transformed into coral reef? Find your remains in a eco-preserve with no headstone, just a redbud tree planted through your still heart? Catapulted into space in a titanium box (think Tim O’Leary)? Be donated to science? (Sometimes, I think I’d like my corpse to be given over to Gil Hedley who runs six-day cadaver dissection workshops for people who want to learn more about the fascia — one of my obsessions as a yin yoga teacher.) We spend so much energy caring for our bodies when alive; making a decision about where our physical forms will end up might help you tune into what might be on the remaining leg of the road.
3) Talk to your dead. I know people who write letters to their dead regularly; really isn’t this what an elegy is all about? Others use candles on birthdays or death anniversaries, or send Reiki to loved ones who are no longer here. Me, I scream at my dead when they turn on the TV and I’m in the other room. “Enough already,” I’ll shout down the hallway, “can’t you think of a better way of getting your message across?” A friend whose dad died last year was surprised when I told her that their relationship could still continue, just in a different form. A few weeks later she called to thank me. A beautiful Buddhist ritual involves lighting incense every morning or evening while you send your dead loving thoughts; you can leave them fresh fruit or flowers on an altar. Even if you believe dead is dead is dead, keep the memories of your dead alive and the dialogue active (at least on your end): thank them when something good happens, curse them out when you feel like shit, work on forgiving them when you realize they were highly imperfect and you still made something pretty damn good of yourself. Slowly, the stories you have of them — and of you — will flesh themselves out, and maybe you won’t have that same old feeling every time you think about them, or keep using your dead as excuses for why you’re not living the way you’d like. Maybe this is what it means by letting the dead rest in peace — it’s our hauntings of them that will cease.
Of course you can also watch my favorite TV series on death (actually, it was one of my favorite TV series period, precisely because it dealt with death something that most Americans seem scared of doing when it doesn’t involve a pick-ax and a masked dude named Jason). I watched all five seasons in about a month using Netflix during a period when I was deeply embedded in writing about my dead relatives, and tired of all the energy it takes for Americans to not deal with death.
Or: go trick or treating for all I care. Those of you in DC should consider dressing up and going trick or treating along Embassy Row where the best international treats can be had. Or, go to the drag races tonight on 17th Street.
I’d love to see you this weekend, though I won’t be in costume!
This Friday night from 8-10 pm at Quiet Mind I’ll be offering my regular monthly yoga and writing workshop ($25). We do gentle movement, of bodies and pens, in an effort to excavate what’s been hiding inside. Neophytes and seasoned yogis and writers most welcome. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a notebook and pen. This month’s theme: The Road.
Also at Quiet Mind on Sunday the 31st from 1:30 to 3:30, Daniel Hickman and I are co-teaching the second in a three-part anatomy series called The Organic Self: The Major Organ Systems (by donation). This is a great way to get to know how your body works, and how movement and breath can help strengthen the systems that keep you happy and healthy.
And a big thank you to all who came out to my book launch/birthday last week! Please consider supporting my work by purchasing a copy of The Last of My Village here.