Friday, 18 December 2015

Reflections on Death

Recently I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks in Tasmania with my beautiful husband and a few old friends. Like most visitors to Tasmania we favoured the natural environment and spent several days exploring some of Tassie’s pristine forests. It was after one such visit that these thought came to me …….

What is this thing we call death? Is there even such a thing? Or have we been duped into believing in ‘death’ because of the fear and lack of faith in others? Every day we confront ‘death’ in some way.  Most days we are so detuned from ‘death’ that we don’t even notice it until it touches us personally in a deep and unavoidable way.

Our cat catches a mouse and tortures it before killing it to eat. Dead animals litter the shoulders of our highways, victims of this fast-paced life we live.  A bug lands on our skin and we swipe at it intent on killing it. The wood we use in our fireplaces was once a vibrant living tree providing shelter and possibly food for many creatures. 

But is there really such a thing as death? Or is death simply a means of transformation, an opportunity for growth in a different direction?

Whilst we were exploring the many beautiful natural wonders of Tasmania I noticed that everywhere we went life was abundant and beautiful.  In the Franklin-Gordon Wilderness Area we came across the remains of an ancient Huon pine. Some would say that this tree was ‘dead’. It certainly wasn’t living in the form that most would identify as a Huon pine. And yet the remains of this magnificent old tree – hundreds of years old – was bursting with life.  Over 160 species of trees and plants have now been identified as emerging and thriving in the remnants of what once was an ancient giant of the forest.

So is this tree dead? Or has it simply been transformed into something new?  It is certainly providing a fertile bed for a vibrant and diverse colony of life.  The evidence is there for all to see.  So is this tree ‘dead’?

And what about those unfortunate animals which have fallen prey to our fast paced lifestyle and become road kill? Their remains are now transformed into food for the many scavengers which are drawn to the freshly killed carcasses. Without these scavengers we would by now be buried beneath the burden of our own waste, our own carelessness.

But the forest provides the clearest example of the cycles of life, of ‘death’ and rebirth. A tree fallen in a wild storm crashes to the forest floor where it begins the process of rebirth. It is no longer the magnificent tree that it once was as it reached for the warmth of the sunlight.  It has now reached its lowest point and it slowly begins its transformation into something else, something potentially more beautiful, lighter, and more vibrant. 

As time passes this ‘dead’ tree becomes host to a multitude of living organisms – fungi, lichen, moss, insects, grubs, each one working in tandem with the others to transform the tree into something more beautiful than it was before. Eventually this fallen tree will support the continuation of growth and life of all around it.  So has the tree really died or is it simply being transformed?

We are generally afraid of death because change makes us feel uncomfortable.  Think of a time in your life when you were forced to change? A job redundancy, marriage, the arrival of children, moving out of home, illness, travel to a foreign country and so on. How did that feel? And did you emerge from this changed circumstance (whatever it might have been) exactly the same as before or had you changed in some way?  Change makes us feel uncomfortable but it almost always leads to growth if we let it. For most this growth will be in a positive direction but some get stuck in old patterns and growth either stops or reverses in a negative direction. The choice is up to the individual.

Change is all around us.  It is the one constant thing in this world.  Every day every one of us witnesses dozens of small changes – from the way we have brushed our hair, the clothes we wear, the direction of the breeze, the ever changing skyscape.  Change is all around us. Everyday. And yet when it comes to the biggest change of all, ‘death’, we become frozen. Often paralysed by fear of the unknown.  But isn’t God trying to show us through our natural environment that there is no such thing as ‘death’?

In order for us to understand this concept we must be able to acknowledge that we are not who we think we are.  We are not our physical body.  We are a soul having a physical experience. Many religious philosophies teach this. And yet if we truly believed this we would also have to acknowledge that the ‘death’ of the physical body simply marks a transition to a lighter and more ethereal existence.  Of course, the big problem with acknowledging this is that the ‘death’ of the physical body necessitates change. The person whose physical body has decayed and ‘died’ must get used to residing in a lighter form. And unless they were particularly tuned to this more ethereal existence prior to their ‘death’ they will have difficulty communicating with those left behind, especially if their loved ones have not yet developed the ability to communicate across the great divide. The person who has ‘died’ now has an opportunity to learn and grow in a different direction and perhaps be transformed into something with far greater potential that previously imagined.

Perhaps for us ‘death’ is like the tree which has fallen in the forest.  We have now reached our lowest point and must learn to surrender to the process, to the truth of the universe around us, in order to learn and grow and eventually transform into something potentially much grander and greater than we ever would have imagined possible. Like that grand old Huon pine in the forests of Tasmania, we all have the opportunity to allow ‘death’ to transform us into something greater that we ever thought we could be. But to do this we must be willing to surrender everything we thought we knew about ourselves. And we must be willing to learn to see ourselves through God’s eyes, will all of our potential and promise. Then we must be willing to let go and let God show us the way forward.  And who knows where he will lead us? And we can begin this process long before the ‘death’ of the physical body.

Death is not the end.  It is simply a new beginning.  Nature shows us this every day.  All around us.  We just need to wake up and pay attention.

With the end of the year fast approaching perhaps now is an appropriate time to reflect upon our own feelings about 'death' and ask ourselves "What 'death' am I wanting to face before the new year begins? What 'death' must I face in order for new opportunities to bloom and thrive in the coming year?"

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