April 2, 2008

Making Room for Little Deaths

On Easter Sunday, I went to church. Sounds pretty banal, except, that I'm not religious, nor do I celebrate Easter. At least, not in the conventional sense. I celebrate it because it's a convenient opportunity to be together with the people I love, enjoying life, and sharing experiences. Not in many years have I ever wanted to go to church on Easter morning.

This year, I had an overwhelming urge to go to church and hear about Easter. The church I go to doesn't have bibles, and many of the people in the congregation don't even believe in God. Yet, up there in front of us, was a reverend, who spoke to us about the bible, about religion, and about Easter. My daughter came with me, too. And because of her, not only did I go to church, but I sat in the front row.

There's something really satisfying about sitting in front of someone who is talking to a group, but it feels like that person is talking to me, alone. On Easter Sunday, the reverend talked about the resurrection, and little deaths.

Every moment of our lives, we are experiencing little deaths. I have to admit, when I first heard him use this expression, I initially thought of "la petite mort," which, in French, would be a far cry from anything a reverend would talk about in church, let alone on Easter. What he was referring to, however, was the concept that whenever we experience a revelation, deal with a crisis, or have any kind of experience that impacts our psyche, we leave behind the old version of ourselves, and re-emerge as someone slightly, or significantly, different. We've experienced a little death.

In Zen Buddhism, we study and think about death a lot. Not in a morbid way, but in a "what are we so afraid of?" kind of way. The reason we shouldn't be afraid, is because we are always dying. And we are always being reborn. Each moment we leave behind, is the death of that moment, of that person we were a moment ago. As we approach each new moment, we are being reborn again, and we are brand new person. If we look at our bodies, our cells are constantly dying and being replaced by other cells. The body that we had 10 years ago cannot be found anywhere in the body that we have today. One could say that the person we were 10 years ago is physically dead, and we have been reborn.

This can happen to our psyche, or soul, or whatever word we want to use for it. Some would call it growing. What we do when we grow, is that we transform, and we become a slightly different and new person than we were before. The reverend at my church called these "little deaths". And to him, that is what the Resurrection symbolizes - the opportunities we have in our daily lives to die and be reborn into a new plane of understanding and living.

I suppose, this is another way to say, "put the past behind us." It's not just that, though. It's also accepting the reality of having to actually go through the "little death" to get through to the other side, and be reborn. If we continually try to keep the little deaths away, we can't become the new person that this experience can create in us.

The reverend gave an example of two women who had lost their husbands around the same time many years ago, at another church where he used to work. One woman was the model of control. People were in awe of how well she was able to keep it together, and go about her life without much disruption. The second woman, she lost it. She cried all the time, and her life fell apart. It was the most difficult time in her life.

A year later, the first woman cracked, and had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward. The second, got through her pain, and emerged through to the other side a different person. She had accepted her little death, and had been reborn. The first woman fought her little death, and ended up in living purgatory.

I wonder if this is what the original writers of the bible had in mind when they wrote about Jesus' resurrection. Was it an allegory for how when we accept the worst, and live through the pain of being metaphorically crucified, we then can come out from behind the stone and walk away into another plane of existence? Is purgatory really a metaphor to the place we put ourselves in our lives when we hold on the person we used to be even in the face of obvious change and life challenges?

Pema Chodron wrote a book called When Things Fall Apart. Many times in that book she says, in several different ways, "Just let things fall apart." We're so afraid of letting things fall apart. What's going to happen if they do? We might have to face our little death, again. And again. But maybe that's not so much of a bad thing? Maybe it's only through making room for those little deaths that we can truly live? Because what is life, when we spend all of our time running away and hiding?


SuburbanCorrespondent said...

A lot to think about here, for sure!

MnMsZ said...

I admit, when I read the title of your post, the french version you had in mind was the same one I thought of. So, of course, I was intrigued! Thank you for sharing this wisdom. ~~MoonLissa

Angela said...

Really great post, Tammy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tammy:-) I love this post. Thank you. I don't know if I resist the little death or if I resist being reborn. I have animal cards that I play with from time to time, and I drew the bat card many months ago. Very haunting. The card "warned" of the resistance of the little death and basically the refusal to be reborn. The card said that if I refused to let go of old ways of thinking, that I could suffer greatly or even die. Now that I am dealing with a "chronic illness," I can see quite clearly what this card was saying to me. How I view my circumstances will effect how my body can heal. How I choose to experience my circumstance will effect how my body heals. Old belief system would obsess on fear and dread. New and budding belief system knows that to be reborn, one has to believe in being reborn.~Robin