(art by Aman Dalal)
What if the universe is trying to get us to slow down? To stop producing. To stay home and let the earth breathe a little without all the extra pollution we cause daily. To take a step back and realize how we really impact earth and one another. That we aren’t as significant or in control as we think we are. A virus can come through and wipe us all out but earth will still be here. We are all connected. Just like we can spread a disease, we can also spread love, kindness and positivity. Use this time for reflection of your contribution and the life you’re living. Slow down and finally hear yourself again. The universe is always speaking to us if we are willing to listen.
This quote comes from a meme that started circulating on Facebook just after the global pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020. It really resonated with me so I put it on my Spiral Dance Shamanics Facebook page. Quickly, this post reached almost five thousand views! Nothing I’ve ever put on there has garnered that much of a response and I started to wonder what about it struck such a nerve with folks. I am aware that there is way more traffic on the Internet as people shelter at home, however, that didn’t seem to account for why folks I never knew were all of the sudden “liking” my page. Obviously, I can’t take credit for the quote (though if you know who wrote it, I’d sure like that information so I can cite them properly). However, I did start to see that folks seemed hungry for something they perhaps couldn’t put their finger on that they hoped to connect with via earth-based spirituality.
As I read more articles, listened to spiritual teachers and mentors speak online, connected with the earth, and talked to friends, I started to get a clearer picture of what might be going on for folks. The thing is, our mortality is being placed squarely in front of us and many people don’t know what to do with that. Though most people are not consciously talking about death in existential or spiritual terms at this time, unconsciously our collective unearthed fear of death is coming to the surface demanding to be looked at. This is shadow work that is being asked of us by our psyches at this time. The universe is giving us an opportunity to stop long enough to hear our inner wise one speaking to us. We are being given a chance to do ceremony. I understand how shocking and uncomfortable this realization is. When I first started studying shamanism, one of the ceremonies we did as a part of our foundational healing work was designed to help us experience death as an ally.
Over a decade ago, a group of shamanic students spent a night in the forest–each of us laying in a hole in the ground representing our grave. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, our task was essentially to recapitulate our lives and to look at all our fears around death and dying. As memories, emotions, and thoughts came up, I allowed nature to speak to me. I was able to let go of things that had plagued me my whole life and give them to the earth for composting. I won’t lie: This was a terrifying exercise. Even though there were folks checking in on us from afar, being alone in the dark woods with a lifetime’s worth of unresolved inner issues and no distractions was not my idea of a good time! However, as the night wore on, I started to notice that I wasn’t really afraid of dying at all. I was afraid of living; specifically, I was terrified that my life and my legacy would not be what I’d hoped. I noticed the places where I really wasn’t living up to my potential. I was living small and scared because it was safe; the mainstream world expected this of me. I came out of that ceremony determined to really live–no matter the challenges that life threw my way. Knowing that society wouldn’t encourage this quality in me, I grew a supportive group of like-minded people around me bit by bit. This community of friends has helped me weather all sorts of challenges and I have been able to return the favour when needed.
According to the teachings of Hyemeyohsts Storm, death is one of the 20 Great Teachers of life. The other Great Teachers include the following: rage, care, pain, physical reality, feelings, sex, honesty, testing, victory, confrontation, raw power, Great Spirit, fear, defeat, loneliness, need, seeking, love, and patience. Storm says that as long as we are living, we are never without a teacher. One or more of these is always working with us to help us grow if we are willing to engage with them. In his book, “Lightningbolt,” Storm reminds readers that we will all experience the crumbling of the illusion that we are immortal at some point and that we must make peace with this in order to live well:
“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.”
Some questions to consider in your own life reflections might include:
- What (if anything) do you fear around death or dying?
- What is this fear costing you in regards to living well?
- What has death shown you to be of greatest importance in life?
- 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 can you bring some of that way of being into your own life?
The answer to these will be different for all of us. We don’t have to like change to make friends with it and move forward in a good way. The ability to accept death as a teacher is related to how well we live. We do shamanic death ceremonies to help us imagine our death so we can live more mindfully. None of us knows when our time will come and that makes the present moment more precious. I am not looking to leave the planet yet but I am no longer scared of dying. When I am on the threshold of death, I now know how I will measure my success. And it’s not by my busyness or how much I achieved but rather the legacy of love I left behind as evidenced in the faces of those that surround me as I cross over. This is the real benefit of doing this sort of inner work.
At this point, you may find yourself exasperated by this post asking some serious questions of me:
- Is all of this even relevant when folks are just trying to survive this pandemic?
- Is it really helpful to be thinking about life in such a big-picture way at this time?
Reflecting on these questions is not a morbid exercise. This is the time that the universe is giving all of us to go within. This has never happened in a global way in human history. Think about it: The world stopped and now we have time to feel the grief that we’ve been carrying as a result of living in such a non-stop, consumerist, unsustainable, isolating society that chews us up and spits us out as if we are simply cogs in an economic machine. Though I know the temptation is strong (says the recovering addict), I encourage you not to numb this feeling out by entertaining, drugging, drinking, eating, or sleeping yourself to death. (Though there is no judgment on my part if you do. We are all doing the best we can with what tools we have.) The beliefs that form the foundation of our lives are suddenly being called into question and we are being asked collectively to re-examine our role on this planet as humans. If earth can survive without humans, why are we here at all? What is our life purpose as individuals? How can we live more sustainably on this planet? Those of us who aren’t really hustling to survive at this time can do this. There is support out there if you feel you can’t do it alone. Reach out for help in whatever way resonates for you. It may seem overwhelming, and it is if we look at it from the perspective of everything “out there” that we can’t control. Lucky for us, ceremony provides us a way to look at the only thing we have one hundred percent control over as individuals: ourselves and our responses.
I believe that most humans do care about each other and the planet. We’ve just been too exhausted to do anything about it. We’ve been too busy to realize that the unease we’ve been sensing all our lives is collective grief. We’ve been feeling years of unexpressed grief of the loss of loved ones because we weren’t able to take time to really grieve well. Some of us are feeling the loss of loved ones to COVID-19. We are experiencing the loss of personal agency around how we spend our time as individuals. We are grieving the loss of a community of support. We are grieving the loss of the health and stability of our planet. And the list goes on…
This breather is giving us a moment to recalibrate in order to make the changes in our own lives that will bring more meaning and joy to daily living in sustainable ways for all our relations. This too shall pass. I know it’s hard, but I implore you not to go back to sleep as if nothing happened. Find creative ways to reclaim your life. Let go of what is no longer working. Grow a community of people who love you and support you as you are. Trust yourself. Trust the universe. Call on your ancestors who love you unconditionally and are always ready to lend a hand from beyond the veil. May you and yours be protected through this pandemic. May you all be well: body, heart, mind, and spirit. So be it.
ME: What if we’re wrong?
OLD WOMAN: Wrong about what?
ME: All this ceremony, prayer, meditation. What if, at the end of it, all there is is nothing?
OLD WOMAN: Then we still come out better people.
OLD WOMAN: Can you think of a better way to live than in gratitude? Can you think of a better way to be than to be kind, loving, compassionate, respectful, courageous, truthful and forgiving? Even if we’re wrong, can you think of a better way to breathe than through all that?
I couldn’t. I can’t. I continue…
– Richard Wagamese
Book: “Lightningbolt” by Hyemeyohsts Storm
Book: “Embers” by Richard Wagamese
Article: “Change as a Natural Part of Life” by Jennifer Engrácio
Article: “What if the Virus is the Medicine?” by Jonathan Hadas Edwards & Julia Hartsell
Site: Orphan Wisdom with Stephen Jenkinson
Going Shamanic Radio: Death Midwifery with Wanda Buchleitner-Garstad
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 coach, 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”