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Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Proposal for a Meaningful Halloween Ritual/Party

I love meaningful, magical rituals, and I love holidays as a reason to have them. One day I will hold Halloween celebrations at the Gulch thus:

There are many jack-o'-lanterns (that we made earlier) leading up a forest trail to the top of the mountain. They are lit and look magical in the darkness.

We begin as soon as soon as the sun sets. Each guest has an appointed time to meet the host, Death, alone.

Death, wearing a long black cloak and a mask, greets the guest thus:

"At midnight all is blackness. We sleep, like babies in the womb. And then the dawn, we wake and the morning brings with it the brightness and energy of childhood. By noon the sun is beating down upon us; our energy has waned, but we continue on with our work – there is still much to get done. Then it is evening; we are glad the day is at an end and proud (perhaps) of what we have accomplished; we feast. Darkness falls, and we head to bed, appreciating the comfort our loved ones bring.     This is also the year. It starts in darkness, quiet, the womb. The world wakes up, the energy of spring. The summer is toilsome, work, exhausting. Then the harvest, lovely, and we are ready for rest, the cold and dark – death.     There is a rhythm to life. We die every night; we die every year; we die in practice.     Most likely, we will die how we lived. This is the path for those who would live –and die – as heroes."

Death's arm opens out in, inviting the guest to leave him and walk the path up the mountain alone. The hopeful hero heads to the base of the mountain, the first jack-o-lantern. A second cloaked figure stands there, at the base of the trail. When the guest approaches, he says:

"Before long you will be no one, and nowhere. Like all the things you see now. All the people now living." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

The cloaked figure invites the guest to repeat this quote back to him, to memorize it. Then he nods the guest on, perhaps handing him a goblet of spiced cider or a golden chocolate coin to enjoy on his journey.

Up the path the guest walks alone toward the first light he sees in the distance, another pumpkin with a magnificent, glowing face. He arrives. There stands another cloaked figure. This one says:

"It is our destiny to perish. So that new things can be born. To decompose, so that our atoms can be recomposed into something new." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

Again the guest is invited to repeat this back, to memorize it. Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the third light, another cloaked figure says:

"All too often families and pastors and even medical staff assume that all a dying person wants is to be comfortable. Once the death sentence is passed, we tend to fluff up the pillows and hope, for his or her sake, that death will come soon. We are terribly anxious about pain and seek the latest medications, most of which deaden the mind as well as the body. I am not prepared to say that this is all wrong. But I do believe we have our priorities confused. Someone's life is about to end. Surely, there are important things for that person to say and do before he dies. [As you continue up the path, ponder this: Is there anything you would like to say or do before you die that you would like to say or do tonight?]" (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Death: The Final Stage of Growth)

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the fourth light, a new cloaked figure says:

"Hospitals are institutions committed to the healing process, and dying patients are a threat to that defined role…. The human being who is dying is inexorably perceived to be a failure to the health professionals.... [This is tragic because] what dying people need is acceptance, they need to know it's okay for them to die, that it is natural, that they have not failed, that everyone will be okay. They need permission to die. The other thing dying people need is company, just someone to sit with them, because they are feeling scared and company is comforting.... You cannot help the dying until you have acknowledged how their fear of dying disturbs you and brings up your most uncomfortable fears.... If you don't look at and accept that face of panic and fear in yourself, how will you be able to bear it in the person in front of you.... If you are attached and cling to the dying person, you can bring him or her a lot of unnecessary heartache and make it very hard for the person to let go and die peacefully. [Worse, throwing a dying person on your shoulders and carrying them, insisting that they do not die, helps neither them nor you make their death journey meaningful, beautiful, or easy. Can you be comfortable enough with death so that you do not rob the dying of their death journey? Of their chance of having a heroic death? A death that is about them and acceptance and not about fear or you and your discomforts? As you continue up the path: Imagine you are at the bedside of the person you love most in the world, and he or she is dying. Can you give him or her the gift of permission and company?" (Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the fifth light, a new cloaked figure says:

"There was a young man who dedicated nineteen years of his life to caring for his dying mother. He was young when she developed Alzheimers and forgot who she was, needed diapers, and full-time care. He put off his life, his education, his career, marriage, and having children. He spent a fortune, everything he had in time and money, caring for her. He had a falling out with his sister about it. His sister wanted their mother to be allowed to die. The man couldn't do other than what he did. He had to care for his mother; that is what a good son would do, he thought. But when asked if he would ever want one of his children to care for him the way he had cared for his mother he said, 'Never. I would never do that to anyone. I would not want that.' And he cried. Why do we assume anyone would want that? Have you clearly communicated to your loved ones your wishes, so that they do not make this mistake? This is especially important if you have money. If you have money to leave behind and you don't communicate your wishes to your family, you may be choosing dementia in a nursing home on endless pharmaceuticals for twenty years, which is, in effect, choosing to disinherit your children and leave everything to Big Pharma. "

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the sixth light, the new cloaked figure says:

"The invalid is a parasite on society. In a certain state it is indecent to go on living. To vegetate on in cowardly dependence on physicians and medicaments after the meaning of life, the right to life, has been lost ought to entail the profound contempt of society. Physicians, in their turn, ought to be the communicators of this contempt – not prescriptions, but every day a fresh does of disgust with their patients.... [The hero wants] To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death of one's own free choice, death at the proper time, with a clear head and with joyfulness, consummated in the midst of children and witnesses: so that an actual leave-taking is possible while he who is leaving is still there.... He who has a goal and an heir will want death at the right time for his goal and heir. And from reverence for his goal and heir he will hang no more dry wreaths on the sanctuary of life. [As you continue up the path: Do you have a goal and heir?] (Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols)

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

Now the guest reaches the top of the mountain. There is a fire, a bubbling cauldron full of sweet smelling cider, a feast laid out on a table, and one last cloaked figure who says:

"When I first began studying the Viking myths, I thought Valhalla was similar to Heaven, a tool for those in power to use. Heaven was for the good boys and girls who did as their priests instructed. Valhalla, I thought, was for those who died in battle as their king bid them. But as I delved more into the Viking mythology I realized that Valhalla is a heroic death, heldentod. A heroic death is a meaningful death, a chosen death. To go to Valhalla one cannot die of sickness or old age; one cannot die in fear. He chooses his death and gives it as a gift to those he loves, showing them how to die, how to die beautifully, gloriously, bravely, and meaningfully. Every night the hero goes to bed exhausted, having worked so hard that he is all used up and looking forward to nothing more than rest. The same can be said about the twilight of his life. Are you working hard enough to look forward to your final rest? Sogyal Rinpoche said, "For someone who has prepared and practiced, death comes not as a defeat but as a triumph, the crowning and most glorious moment of his life." ( The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)

The cloaked figure shows the guest to the open, simple, wooden coffin under a tree nearby. If the guest wishes, he may lie in it for a time, meditating on his future death.

Once all the guests have arrived we will feast. We will toast fallen heroes and loved ones, share stories of heroic deaths and at the end, perhaps share the story of Beowulf.

Then we will feast and dance and sing songs.

The next morning at brunch, the host will say:

"Until the last hundred years it was considered very rude to not be aware of your own impending death and to not prepare accordingly. The work of the living, the work of survival, was understood as never ending and difficult. It was inconsiderate for the dead to leave work for those who survived them. It would have been unspeakably rude for an elderly person to leave an entire house of things for someone else to process when they had passed.

"Today you are invited to do the work of a conscientious death. You are invited: to right your wrongs, pay off debts, say to people what you don't want to miss out on getting to say, do to people what you don't want to miss out on getting to do, make sure your life insurance policy is paid up, make sure your will is up to date, and get rid of stuff you no longer need. If you haven't already, you are encouraged to share your will and your death wishes with your family.

"Today is also a great day to spend contemplating the words, stories, wisdom, and useful medical information you would like to leave behind to your descendants. Every year I add to The Book of Roslyn. This evening at dinner, everyone is invited to read a short section from their own book or a book of one of their ancestors."

This same ritual could also be fantastic if done as an evening walk through a graveyard.

Would love feedback on this! Would you want to come to my party? Would you want to come every year until you had memorized the various quotes? Would you want to be a cloaked figure? Do you know of a better quote about death or an aspect of it that I forgot to cover?

Happy Halloween!