As a writer and speaker on death, loss, and living fully I have long embraced death as the learning tool that it is. Reflection on loss and death lead will inevitably bring us to consider matters of spirit and the essence of life. It is impossible to separate death and loss from questions about what happens next, what happens after.
I would never attempt to address these questions, I don't know. I do not write about life after death but about life after loss, about life with loss, and life with death. What we find when we embrace the reality of life's pain is that it is the most universal of truths.
Death will find us all. This awareness can lead us to some very meaningful inquiry into the nature of spirituality, the essence of divinity. For me spiritual development and query began early in my life. As a teenager in the seventies, I fancied myself in the era of questioning authority. I was coming of age seeing young people challenge the status quo, change the voting age, question the draft, and denounce the notion of war.
I saw my generation starting to explore other religions, other philosophies, to challenge traditional Western approaches to life. The Beatles were meditating with gurus and we were reading Kerouac and Vonnegut. We were "oh so cool.
" At the same time my coolness was forming, my parents had me going through the traditional Lutheran confirmation process. This involved more than two years of study with the church, at a parish where studying other religions as well as our own was part of the process. Questioning was allowed and encouraged.
I vividly recall talking with my father and a great uncle, saying that as I was studying religion I found myself questioning the existence of God. I told them I thought I was agnostic, one who did not believe or disbelieve, but one who just did not know. They talked this over with me intelligently, with genuine interest in my perspective and interpretations. Both told me this was fine, inquiry was always encouraged. I loved this about my family. Faith was part of our family, but we were allowed to develop our spirituality in our own way.
I was fortunate to have an open and supportive family where attitude, actions, and the acceptance and respect of others mattered far more than formal religious structure. I have friends of all faiths and friends who are atheists. I have still more friends who are an amalgamation of theologies and philosophies, who seek their own truths, and find peace in a number of venues defining themselves as spiritual rather than religious. The point is that we do not look at what is different about one another.
We look at what is similar. We love and respect one another. We value each other's opinions and recognize what is true for all of us. We treat others as we would like to be treated. We love and cherish our families. We are kind and thoughtful of others.
We love life. In our friendships and relationships, when we recognize the divinity inherent in each of us, we can transcend definitions of spirituality and see spirituality for what it truly is, a matter of the heart. Death reflection will certainly bring our attention toward matters of spirit and we can certainly discuss these matters with others, however we must remember that spirituality and faith are private matters. No one has the right to thrust dogma and ideology on you and you don't have the right to thrust yours onto others. It is far more important to remember that we are all seeking peace with the knowledge of death and the pain that life sometimes brings.
How we go about it might be different, but we are all seeking the same end. All that should matter are actions. If people are caring, kind, and respectful of others how can we justify insisting our beliefs are the only answer? You have not lived their life. Their journey is not yours. We will each seek different avenues to bring us some peace with death and loss.
For some that path will be religion, for some personal reflection and development, and for others science or education, for most it will be a balance of all of these. For each, it will be a private and personal matter. In order to nurture and foster our own journeys through this truth of loss and death, not only must we respect the journey of others, we must respect our path as well.
We must give love and attention to our needs, both physical and spiritual. We must not only embrace the promise of death and consequently seek to be at peace with matters of spirit and the unknown, we must also embrace the passion of life, the divine and sacred life we know now. As I have said, I do not know what happens spiritually after death, but I can tell you what happens spiritually while we live, we love.
Love is the essence of spirit. Love yourself enough to respect your journey, to recognize your strength to face life in all its pain and pleasure. Love yourself enough to seek out loving and nurturing relationships. Love yourself enough to recognize that you are divine, that it is life itself that is divine. In respecting our spirits and their growth and expansion, we must seek out friendships and relationships with people who can respect the personal and private nature of life's journey, people who encourage our growth as individuals and celebrate our approach to life and living. True friends nurture our energy and uplift us and there is precious little time for the others.
However, remember that your state of being is up to you, you can choose to live in happiness and to live fully, the power to do this is yours and yours alone. By fully loving yourself, honoring the spirituality and divinity inherent in you, you will draw to yourself others who are like you. A beautiful cycle of nurturance and respect will blossom from your state of grace. Considering our own deaths or the deaths of those we love can allow us to consider carefully the content of our expressions and the consequences of our actions.
Nurturing a gentler self can be the positive result of reflection on death and loss. Fostering and developing kindness and care for others and for ourselves is the reward for facing mortality. Embracing to the depth of our souls that we are all dying demonstrates the vulnerability of all life, the fragile nature of existence as we understand it best. By holding onto the death that waits within us we can see what is sacred, what is divine. We are.
Life itself is.
Jana Baldridge Vargas is the author of "The Promise of Death, The Passion of Life: A Reflective Exploration of Death, Loss, and Living Fully." Learn more about Jana and her work at http://www.thepromiseandthepassion.com