Death is a life teacher because it is unavoidable. It makes life that much more precious to know that your death is around the corner. It can teach you about what is important and what is not. It can jolt you into an understanding of how each moment is fleeting. It destroys the illusion that things remain the same forever. Death is also present in every experience of change that you have because there are always losses associated with it. Whether the change is good or bad, self initiated or a surprise, it creates a hole in the reality you have constructed.
-Hyemeyohsts Storm? from “Lightningbolt”
Death is considered one of the “20 Great Teachers of Life” in indigenous teachings shared by Hyemeyohsts Storm. Most shamanic practitioners believe that our spirits are everlasting; they remain in energy form when we die and we are reincarnated into a new life. In traditions that connect with past lives for healing purposes, it is imperative to see life, death, and rebirth on a circular continuum that has no beginning or end. I believe we come to earth with a mission each time we are reborn. It is our job as humans to remember what the mission is and learn and grow while we are here. Though death is a natural part of life, most of us in North American society are taught from a very young age to fear and even fight death–as if such a thing were possible! At some point in all our journeys, our illusion that we are immortal starts to crumble. But what if we raised children from the very beginning to see death as an ally?
In my experience working with children, they are natural psychopomps in a lot of ways. Psychopomps have been present in all shamanic traditions since ancient times. These people know how to guide departed souls through the spirit world to merge back into the Great Mystery we all originally came from. I am not necessarily suggesting that children be encouraged do this work without guidance from knowledgeable adults, but in a world that is so death phobic, many children with the ability to commune with spirits are unfortunately left to figure this out on their own. This need not be so: There are many shamanic practitioners that can train children properly if parents remain open-minded and are willing to seek these people out.
In my work with children and families, I openly explore death and dying most commonly from three different angles: moving through grief and loss of a loved one, moving through transitions and changes in life with more grace and acceptance, and helping the spirits of departed souls move on to the great round. Children often speak to me of seeing spirits because they know I will take them seriously. Other times, children are naturals at creating rituals to support grieving and loss. I notice that healthy, well-adjusted children often move through life transitions with ease. Many children are curious about death–even if they are afraid to talk to most adults about the topic. One of the reasons we created grieving ceremonies in our book, “The Magic Circle,” was to address this gap in guidance that is out there for children. In the book, we introduce the topic in simple terms children can understand and then we offer a ceremony that involves building a descansos. This excerpt is from that book:
We all experience loss in life. Sometimes a pet or a loved human dies. It is often hard to lose someone we love and with his/her death can come many feelings that are maybe new and hard to go through. Emotions such as: sadness, anger, loneliness, confusion, denial, fear and anxiety are all normal during the grieving process. Grief is a word that describes the emotion of deep sorrow someone feels at the loss of something or someone. Those feelings of missing the person are natural. Grief sometimes feels like it will go on forever when we are in it. Grieving is important because it helps us to transition into the next phase of life without the person we love. People grieve in different ways; there is no one right way. Although it is healthy to go through the grieving process, holding onto grief long-term is not good for us. Many people don’t allow themselves to grieve because they are afraid of all the feelings that come with it. Some people are uncomfortable with death. Other people feel that ending their grief means they will forget the person they love.
It can be helpful to remember that letting go of someone or something that is important to us is not the same as forgetting; we can still keep their memory our hearts even as we carry on living. Letting go bit by bit in an honouring way as a part of our grieving process can bring peace.
This ceremony may help you to answer some of these questions as you work with your descansos. A descansos is a memorial put up by mourners when someone dies. In Mexico, it is common to see ones like this by the side of the road with objects that remind mourners of the person they love.
Thankfully, society is now beginning to see the need to discuss death and dying practices. Death Cafés are cropping up in cities all over the world and people want to know how to live, die, and grieve well; in fact, people are often surprised to learn that the three are all interconnected. Unsatisfied with the big business of pharmaceutical and funeral companies and what they have to offer, more people are looking to cross over in ways that are reflective of the way they lived. They want to be able to talk about death and dying in intimate, meaningful ways.
A lot of shamanic practitioners (myself included) are working in the realm of death midwifery. Reach out for support. If death makes you feel uncomfortable, I recommend reflecting on the following questions for some time to work through these issues:
Do you fear or embrace death and death as change? How come?
Have you ever held onto something that actually causes you pain because of this fear? If so, what is the cost of this in your life?
What has death shown you to be of greatest importance in life?
Have you learned to trust death? Why? Why not?
If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you do now that you are not currently doing?
How does the natural world embrace death and change? How is it a part of natural cycles?
What has grieving losses fully taught you about moving through transitions in life?
About the Author:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic practitioner, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
“Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing”
For Amazon information, click image below.
For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com