What is the meaning of Death?


How can I begin to contemplate Life after Death, if I had not first explored death itself? How can I know the meaning of life, if I do not know the meaning of death? What concept of life can I have, if I know not death and its effects? It is in the shadow of death where I feel life the keenest. Life that precious magical gift. Once I have felt life with awareness how can I not treasure all of life? In the happiest moments of my life I must turn to death and give it gratitude for giving me life.

Before I go any further I would like you to watch a short video, a trailer to an amazing game in development, called Spore. I starts with a single cell and develops into civilizations, an apt background to the underlying theme of this exploration. It might leave you mystified as to my intentions but then read on.


Death is no stranger to me. My father was one of the old school country doctors. He delivered babies, was an anesthetist, and a general practitioner. On weekends we as children, used to dare each other to go and answer the front door bell, for we never knew what sight would meet our eyes. So often there would be someone escorted to our door, dripping in blood from stab wounds. A mother, clutching tightly to her chest a dead baby, hoping against all hopes. I was hardly more than a baby, when I was taken along to an autopsy my father had to perform in the bush. (For many years I had very vivid dreams of anatomically correct gory nature) I was not even 5 when I saw a man stabbed to death. And since I have seen more lifeless bodies than I care to count. So, I suppose I had to embrace the spectra of death from a very early age. Yet, can one ever become immune to the sudden silence the death of a loved one leaves? Can one not mourn each life lost, someone’s loved one?

It is known that the emotions we feel deepest also imprints us deeper. It is also now debated by some scientists that thoughts/feelings imprints our DNA. ” It is now recognized that the environment, and more specifically, our perception (interpretation)of the environment, directly controls the activity of our genes. Environment controls gene activity through a process known as epigenetic control. During the first six years of life a child unconsciously acquires the behavioral repertoire needed to become a functional member of society. In addition, a child’s subconscious mind also downloads beliefs relating to self. Cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton

Thus our perception of life becomes encoded in our genes. Although the claims are controversial, it is my believe based on my personal experiences and observation of others, that this is true; our strongest feelings becomes cell memory, and it is our memories that steers our course in life, until we begin to live a conscious life. Our memories are formed through an imaginative process, seen through the filters of our feelings. Two people will see the same event in totally different light, so that one can even wonder whether it was the same event. It is because of this that the famous psychological “Blop Test” is so revealing about our personalities. How we interpret our life events, and if feelings imprints our genes, we would then literally pass down in our genes our feelings to our children, as have our ancestors done for who knows how long.

Now think of sorrow, always caused by the touch of death. Whether it is the actual death of a loved one, a near death experience, a death of a relationship, a death of a way of life, it is accompanied by a deep sense of loss. The sudden emptiness, the silence, the vacuum. That very painful emotion must have been imprinted so deeply in our genetic inheritance, that how we view the world is almost surely tinted with a hidden sorrow. We actually live our lives in the shadow of sorrow. I posted the previous article as a background to my own thoughts of death and sorrow, to show the extend of sorrow that we at this present moment in time feel all around and through ourselves. Yet, do we acknowledge our sorrow, the sorrow of our ancestors, and the global sorrow? Do we own our sorrow?

The relatively new science called Epigenetics is beginning to unveil new evidence that suggests that what our grandparents or our great-grand parents experiences is passed down to us biologically. Epigenetics is defined as the transmission of non-DNA sequence information. For example, if our grandparents had to flee a war or some trauma, the effect on their adrenal system can be passed down on us many generations later, having an impact on our endocrine system, the way in which our body digests food and our general metabolism.

From this have developed Systemic Constellations, which are a way of discovering underlying consequential family bonds and forces, which have been carried unconsciously over several generations. Practioners have observed consistently that traumatic events such as the Anglo-Boer War, early death of parents, grandparents and children, accidental deaths, murders, adoptions and placements in an orphanage can have a deep residual impact even three to five generations later. John Payne, a Family Constellation counselor, says, “Just as such experiences can leave emotional scars with an individual that may affect the pattern of their lives for many years to come, or until its conclusion, so too do such events leave an imprint on the family soul where individuals, one or more generations later can feel those feelings as their own. These emotional imprints have been observed to lead to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, disruptive relationship patterns, bi-polar and even cancer and similar life limiting illness and disease.” http://www.familyconstellations.net/

This is of course ancient knowledge, and nothing new. As the Native American saying “If you heal yourself, you heal seven generations back and seven generations forward.” and the African saying, “If the branch is to flower, it must honour its roots. “ reflects.

In his book “The Mythic Imagination” by Stephan Larsen says;” Thanatomimesis is the imitation of death by something that is living; ‘Playing dead.’ As if to disprove John Locke and baseline social-learning theory, this pattern of ritualized behavior is by definition, not acquired. ( You don’t have to die to know how to do it.) Furthermore, Thanatomimesis is practiced by insects, animals of all sorts, and humans.

We wonder sometimes when we see children “play dying” with such innocent enjoyment, where this intuitive rapport comes from. Kastenbaum and Aisenberg said, “ We might increase our respect for children’s death impersonations if we keep in mind the strong likelihood that this play is a significant part of a developmental process that will have implications for their total life view and adjustment.”

Spiders, possums, and human children can all give Academy Award-winning performances of dying. It seems that this imagery – and its dramatic enactment – is carried in our RNA and DNA, our genetic material. … But is the art and imagery of dying not at basis an instinct? It may well be out of an instinctual reservoir of knowledge about death that the soul generates its perennial imagery of transformation.

Our imaging and personifying of death affects life values. Each of us mythologizes death differently, based on personal variables and developmental stages. We also know that the depth encounter with death is almost always positively transforming. (Whereas the shallow or unconscious brushes, or the fearful running away from, produce pathologies.)”

In the world we live today we do not have the time, do not make the time, are afraid, to acknowledge our sorrow, our encounters with death, and the many “little deaths” we suffer (undergo). The” little deaths”, Kubler-Ross and others pointed out, that attend many of life’s transitions and disappointments also follow the classic stages of coming to acceptance of actual death; with the phases of denial, anger, then catharsis, and coming to acceptance.

In the book Hanta Yo, the lead character is the tribal chief.” After the deaths of his family, he must go into a special tepee, where he is given food and water. He must stay there until he weeps deeply and grieves his loss. This is a traditional ritual of the tribe, because they know the danger of having a leader on a field of battle who has not fully grieved an important loss. He will seek revenge because of his anger, and do something stupid that puts the tribe or himself at risk. We see examples throughout our culture of revenge behavior stemming from unresolved grief – excessive work, excessive play, excessive drugs, excessive sex, excessive material consumption, excessive alcohol, excessive food..” Don and Jeanne Elium

It is clear then that sorrow that comes from our encounter with death, or more specifically our perceptions/interpretations of our loss, whether of external or internal nature, affects not only us but the future generations. It is thus clear that to consciously embrace, own our sorrow, is essential not only for our own progress, but also in the scheme of the Bigger picture. Death and sorrow is the polar opposite of life and joy, the one cannot exist without the other, neither can you have any understanding of one without the other. You can also say that all of definitions of what is good or bad, stems direction from our conscious or unconscious interpretation of death. It is our emotional reaction to death that directly affects how we live life.

In soul-studies there is a concept of a soul’s image, this is an image that we receive from the soul, which is indelibly imprinted in our unconsciousness. This image may take us a life time, or more it seems, to unravel. It appears as a symbolic picture, a myth in our consciousness, which reveals itself again and again, at poignant moments in our lives, and in those moments we gain a deeper understanding of that image. The image increases in that way in magnitude and perspective. It is my belief that we are given a soul’s image of things that is beyond our present perception, but that it leads us into an understanding of that which we yearn to understand. Just so each of us have received a soul’s image of death. We begin our quest into full consciousness with a burning desire, an intent. We begin to explore and and questions arise from our life encounters. When first have our ancestors asked the question, “Why must I die?”, “Is there life after death?” My guess is that those questions were asked even before we asked whether there was a god? In response to those questions we receive a soul’s image, a myth that contains the answer. This myth leads us to more life encounters that we can either see as fate dealing us a bad blow, or as fate bringing us growth, life, understanding and wisdom, and eventually perhaps a means to transcend the cycle and become an active creator.

Through my personal soul images and myth from humanity, I have found many keys in dealing with, and understanding grief and death. For me the runic symbol of ice; Isa, reflects the purpose of mourning., Ice is the result of a change in the state from liquid to solid, after a loss of energy. It thus signifies cessation of progress or termination of a relationship, according to powerful, inexorable forces. As an iceberg, it is deceptive, for only one ninth of the true mass is visible above the surface. “Ice”/Death/Fate present the intrusive and essentially uncontrollable aspects of the external world.

Just so with sorrow, each time we feel sorrow, we have an opportunity that allows us to ‘freeze the waves’ to consciously become aware of our responses, and thereby alter our perception of the outside world. The Myth of Persephone/Kore is the basis of the Eleusian Mysteries. Kore means ‘pupil of the eye’ as well as girl., Kore becomes conscious when She sees Herself reflected in the eye of Hades. Kore separates from Her friends when the sight of the narcissus flower lures her away. Thus sight and focus moves her away from consciousness into death.

And then it changes. In death Kore becomes conscious because she does not run away Persephone looks. Awareness is not something that just happens to us. It is a decision we make. Kore comes into her power, she becomes Persephone, the one that shines in the dark,when she chooses awareness in the land of death. Death takes her but does not obliterate her. Sophocles wrote; ‘ Thrice blessed are those mortals who have seen these rites and thus entered Hades; for them alone there is life, for others all is misery.’ – Rachel Pollack

Within the myth of Persephone is revealed transformational power of death we see reflected in this world. The transformation of the soul through death is the central message not only of Christianity but also of the oldest religion in the world – shamanism.

Gurdjieff believed, like many teachers before him, that an alchemical or gnostic transubstantiation of our lower selves was necessary to become immortal. And to do this, we must first become conscious of it, the parts we would rather avoid. The unexamined life’ always needs to die. It is only through encountering both life and death consciously, the wisdom traditions tell us, that we build the adantine, the diamond, the vajra or thunderbolt body of immortality.

This same concept is reflected by some quantum theoritists. Says Ervin Laszlo;” A single-cycle universe would come to eternal rest. But there are no good reasons to assume that further vacuum instabilities would never create quantal solitary waves in a freshly constituted spacetime; and some good (though abstract mathematical) reasons to assume that they may do; the parameters of a multicycliclic open universe are intrinsically self-consistent. In such a universe the evolutionary process repeats time after time. It does not repeat in exactly the same way, however. The spectral record of prior cycles remains encoded in the vacuum. And this record in-forms the evolution of the matter-energies synthesized in the next cycle. Thus each cycle is ‘in-formed’ by evolution in all previous cycles. As the process is progressively biased towards functional responses to chaos-created alternatives, evolution in each cycle becomes increasingly efficient. In successsive cycles in equal times, matter-energy systems reach higher apexes of order and complexity.” Matter-energy evolution in a multicyclic universe, through cyclically reversing, becomes transcyclically irreverable. … Ultimately, the universe will reach an ‘omega cycle’ where the complex, self-consistent orders attained by matter-energy systems in spacetime, together with the similarly complex spectral records in the vacuum, achieve a level of sophistication where complex devolution into vacuum die-back may be averted. The cyclical manifold would then be moderated by some form of continuous subsistence.”

It is thus through the process of death that we able to evolve, and perhaps even ultimately be able to transcend death itself. Yet, we fear death, we would rather run away from death/fate and not look. We do not know how to die. When did we begin to fear and dishonour death? Some writers like Rachel Pollack feel (An idea developed by Carl Kerenyi from Friedrich Schelling, and others.), that Persephone does not actually join with Hades, but with the much more vital being of Dionysos. Dionysus is the God of Ecstacy, and the word ecstacy means ‘standing beside,’ that is, outside ourselves, lifted out of the narrow box of ordinary perception.

Kathleen Granville Damiani expounds on this:
To turn the dragon’s wrath (death/fate)into your own power to use for the good of the community traditionally falls upon the shaman or yogi. The person who sees carries the responsibility to insure the survival of humanity–wherever the situation occurs. The individual in touch with her own genius, her own clear perception, can turn the fate of humanity from extinction to health. This is done through vision and self-expression. We think that it is only “action” which can change the world. But what is action without wisdom to know what to do? Much of our action ends up reinforcing or strengthening the very habits we are trying to change.

For the early Romans, as for many other cultures, freedom was the concern of the genius. Slavery was the condition of the repression of the vital, the silencing of the genius. Liber, freedom, is related to the same word as the generative soul, the genius. Liber also means to pour liquid, wine, and was associated with Dionysus, he who loosens the binding. The Anglo-Saxon word freo means not only “free” and”noble” but having desire, joy, for it is related to freon, to love and the word friend, (German Freund ) and Frig, the goddess of sexual desire, love, and fertility.

Death does not have to be a literal ending. Death is healthy. When we encourage our old institutions (and old ways of thinking) to die, we are in fact, cooperating with the deepest, most spiritual impulse of life. When we dishonor it and fear it, it becomes the image of our terror, a monster that follows us, fueled by our fear and loathing, chained to us just like our history is bound to us. In the Phaedo, Plato defines philosophy as “a continual exercise of dying.” Love of wisdom–philo-Sophia–is learning how to die. “

So we see that death and sex are related in many of th pre-Christian esoteric traditions. Even in our believes today, we also believe that the power of love always contain a secret seed of death, as the French term for orgasm, le petit mort, “the little death,” seems to imply. When we love, we loose ourselves, and conversely when we have become lost to ourselves, the spiritual traditions tell us we become capable of inexhaustible love.”You have to loose yourself first, before you can find yourself.” Through carnal love we find death, and we see through death to find only love. So it would make sense to say that if we fear death we also fear sex and love. Nonsense you might say, but according to sexologists one of the sexual myths are that everyone wants good sex. The truth is however that many people don’t really want great sex. “Good sexual experiences can be emotionally overpowering – mind-blowing, rather than warm and comforting. Lusty sex requires you to confront all kind of worries – getting so close to your partner that he or she overwhelms you, or being rejected at an intensely vulnerable moment. It may even put you in touch with your own mortality, reminding you that your partner won’t always be around. Great sex requires inner reserves to tolerate the angst.” Kathleen Mc Gowan.

Rachel Pollack writes; “The development of sexuality brings death. One-celled organism never actually die, the split, with the two daughters a direct continuation of the  life of the mother. When both daughters and sons result from combining a male and female parent, they become something new, a unique child that is not the same as either parent and is more than a combination of the two. But  now, the parent dies instead of reproducing copies of itself. The miracle of reproduction can be described as one becoming two becoming many. The one-celled organism splits and becomes two, but actually remains one, for they are the same. With the introduction of the male, a different kind of two becomes possible. From their union, the many emerge, all the diversity of life. And yet, we carry within us a sense of something lost. Death returns us to one, for our bodies decay back into the body of the Earth. “

The energy that enables us to be born on earth is a sexual energy, yet it also necessitates our death. What we desire most we also fear most. We know within the depths of ourselves that we have to die to ourselves to evolve, we know that death is a natural process of renewal and so ensures life, but to be able to open our eyes in our grief we have to enter our sorrow and when we enter our personal sorrow we also enter the sorrow of our ancestors, by acknowledging their sorrow we honour the lives of those who have gone before us, and we can truly claim our inheritance, and release “the sins of the fathers”. In so doing we truly liberate ourselves from the fear of death, we transmute our grief into a gift of a renewed life. In liberating ourselves from the fear of death we open ourselves to love fearlessly. We open ourselves to life itself.

The cry of the Serpent. Roerich. 1914


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