Death and endings have been on my mind, as the Great Ballcourt Fast wilderness rites of passage trip in Death Valley that I signed up for a year ago grows nigh. In preparation, we have been asked to do important things that we might do if we were actually dying — things like making amends with anyone or anything that we might have unfinished business with and expressing love and appreciation to those who are closest to us, as well as perhaps writing up our wills and getting our affairs in order.
Because I also lead wilderness rites of passage trips, I know that the psyche does its own work, underneath our conscious awareness, in response to committing to such an undertaking. It has been fascinating to watch my world shift and cycles of emotion come and go as my ‘death’ draws closer.
There was a period about a month ago where the reality of what I was going to do started to hit me, and I felt extremely sad. Naturally I thought of my actual physical death (which is on the agenda at some point for sure). I will so miss the sky, the turning of the seasons, sharing love with other living beings, and just the daily experience of having an ever-changing body and mind that experiences so much!
Then there was the period where I began to feel that it would really be OK to be dead. So much thinking and constant doing all the time felt exhausting. Even sleeping at night, if felt like I was dreaming constantly, never still. And for all the importance I put on my thoughts and what I ‘accomplish’ every day, I knew in the big picture, it all doesn’t really matter a whit.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by a couple of friends to watch the show, “Cosmos” on their cool new big TV one evening. (I highly recommend it.) Host Neil deGrasse Tyson takes viewers on a tour of planet earth, back 300 million years ago, and walks us through the evolutionary mechanisms at work from the Carboniferous Age to the Permian Age — also known as the Great Dying — when 9 out of 10 species that had been thriving on this planet, died out due to a plethora of events that caused massive climate change swings over millions of years. I was spellbound. Somehow I’d missed this in school. Or if it had been taught, it didn’t stick in any meaningful way. But now, with death so at the forefront on my awareness, the dramatic story of Earth’s near death experience hit home. I’ve since learned that this Great Dying was the third out of five deaths that geologists believe have occurred on Earth. And, some are saying, we are possibly entering the sixth.
What struck me was that there have been all these crazy life forms have come and gone over billions of years, and when the systems of this one blue planet hanging in space have wobbled and bobbled for whatever reason, Earth has eventually recovered. And not only recovered, but evolved life forms and systems that are more complex and even wiser for having gone through the death.
And in 2016, here we are, living in cities and creating technology, seven billion humans doing our thing, which seems to include creating the conditions for climate change and possible planetary death, once again.
We somehow have this idea that we’re different, we’re separate, we should know better and (for those who get that climate change is real) we tend to make ourselves bad and wrong for all the havoc we are wreaking. OK, from one perspective that may be true. But from another, we may just be Gaia’s playing with possibilities and seeing how far things can go. We tend to forget that we are not separate from Earth, that we are OF Her. We are Her experiment. Now, maybe She is experimenting with not just with inanimate physical form or biological living physical form. Maybe She is checking out self-reflective consciousness and what’s possible in its evolution.
I’ll be dancing with and talking to the lords and ladies of death about that idea, no doubt. Adios, amigos — see you on the flip side.