It’s not the downer you might think!
“It’s only when you’re aware of death… that life screams at you with all its intensity”.
Nobody likes to talk about death. Of course people find the subject morbid and frightening. Whilst understanding this, I have at the same time always found people’s aversion to the subject quite odd, as it is only by taking the time to look right into the face of death, that perhaps one can feel the forceful vitality of life and all its splendor.
My mother learned this lesson first hand in the five years between her first diagnosis with cancer and her death. Saying this was a bleak time for our family is obviously an understatement and there were some very low lows along the way. But there were also some very significant highs and the larger point of this post is that positive transformation and growth can happen when faced with death.
After a period of anger and grief my mother quickly gained a new ability to see what was truly important in her life and that which wasn’t. Time became finite and life became something to take your time with and truly savor. Her zest for life became more vital and she gained a brand new appreciation and ability to sense the true value of things, especially in terms of the relationships with those around her.
The good news is you don’t need to be terminally ill to learn all of that. You don’t need to be shocked by horrific news to get jolted out of taking things for granted and letting the weeks go by in autopilot mode.
I was just 18 when my mother died. I consider myself fortunate to have been at her side learning this lesson early in life. At the time I was working in a printing factory, which had a single window (behind a cupboard) overlooking Leicester train station. Before losing my mum I used to stare out of that window and daydream about having a more exciting and purposeful life in London (It was a kind of promised land in my teenage fantasy life!).
Four years later I was in a leotard (a leotard!) standing next to ballet barre having won a scholarship to study dance at The Laban Centre. Not only was I literally dancing with joy, I was living in the promised land of London – Well, New Cross Gate to be exact!
Getting up close to death was one of the very best things to have happened to me. Life became a magnified gift.
Having got this experience in the body, it came as no surprise to me in my studies on the subject of yoga to come across a whole series of practices, which might be termed ‘Death Yoga’ or contemplations on the nature of impermanence. It is a subject I will perhaps write more about in future, but for now I would wholeheartedly recommend, to anyone interested in investigating this further, Akiro Kurosawa’s fabulous film Ikiru. The other is the short film above about Phillip Gould, which contains much wisdom.