“Everything fades away on Earth, Spirit, Beauty, Grace, Talent, as an ephemeral flower that is knocked down by the lightest wind.”
This quotation is written on a plaque which is wedged between stacks of human bones at the Catacombs in Paris, France.
There is a sign at the entrance to these Catacombs which says; Stop, this is the empire of Death.
Scary stuff for most of us but the kind of thing we dabble with around Halloween for excitement. The word Halloween comes from All Hollows Evening, meaning the evening before remembering all that is holy, sacred. It is also known as All Saints day. A saint is one who has gone through the deaths doorway, so to speak. Winter is the time of death, when plants die, and typically in more traditional societies it was a time when old people and animals died. In the Ireland I grew up in it was not uncommon to hear old people wonder if they would make it through another winter.
But, if we really think about these messages, take them seriously in our lives, how might they effect us?
All spiritual paths are ultimately dealing with the phenomenon of death, the universality of this condition and what it might mean to us individually.
Fear of death is our deepest fear and for this reason we learn to distract ourselves from it, try to ignore it, or deny it. This is necessary in order to function in the world but eventually all of us have to face it. The thing is, we can face it before it arrives upon us in a traumatic way. We can prepare ourselves for the eventuality, not by abandoning our worldly function but by questioning and examining what our lives are about.
Deep down we all know that we are in denial of death, but since all of society is in on this same game we don’t get much encouragement in looking at it and besides what can anyone tell us about it?
It came as a surprise to me to hear the Zen phrase; to die before you die. What dies? Who dies? What remains after this?
At first this looks simply ridiculous. It is incomprehensible and since most of us live our lives within the comprehensible, we can’t imagine that there is anything beyond what the mind can comprehend. That’s a major block. We may not have heard the idea that what we really are is something beyond comprehension.
My teacher Richard Rose used to say “beyond the mind is a golden find”. Here’s clue to what spiritual seeking is about, finding that golden find.
Finding that find is not a matter of learning to understand something, an intellectual idea, it is about finding what kinds of beliefs, assumptions, motivation etc are driving our lives and examining them in order to see if they are worthy of us expending our limited time and energy on them.
Many of us have found that we were spending our time and energy on half-baked ideas, picked up in childhood from society around us.
In this process of examination we lose half-baked ideas, false notions and consequently something else, something deeper, something permanent, begins to be noticed – something that as always present in the background of our consciousness.
As this happens, we become “aligned “with something within ourselves which was always present, except that it had been hidden by all the layers of beliefs. This is a process of inner transformation, which ends in “ death before the death of the body”. The ego dies and yet, oddly enough, despite the ego being the survival function it remains active enough to maintain functionality in the world.
So, Halloween is a good time to begin to take this innate fear of death a bit further than getting an adrenaline rush and then burying it back in distraction.