“You have feared death
more than anything else
and this fear lies beneath
so many lesser ones
as you watch death
and you think you know death
but you have not looked at it
you have not been able
to look past
Whether we realize it or not, death is our constant companion. From our first breath we draw ever nearer to dying, and each autumn we watch death come to the trees with the glory of a ship going down in flames. With every illness, every sign of age, every loss, we are reminded of the sureness of our eventual transition, one way or another, and yet we run from it as if there is somewhere we can go to escape. He who appears to hold the magic of immortality, the younger lover, the plastic surgeon, the raw foods guru, to him we pay homage and hard earned wages, for he teases us with the possibility that perhaps everyone else may die but somehow we alone will live on.
Have you ever daydreamed of your own funeral? Have you ever watched while your loved ones weep, as in your imagining they express your own grief, your own fear that your beloved self may lose this tentative, earthly consciousness and enter a great unknown? Have you ever faced an immense loneliness at this thought? And if you have, do you then scold yourself and turn your attention away from the seeming arrogance and morbidity, cutting short a voice of pain that rises to push denial out of the way and say yes, yes, one day I too shall die?
Of course we shall, and of course death is itself the ultimate illusion. We will trade our human sight for a limitless one, and if there is one task set to us in the time we spend in material form, would it not be to clear our fear of all experiences of separation? To walk fiercely into every challenge, and by so doing, watch the illusion fall?
There is a beautiful children’s story called We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and it should be required reading for every adult on a spiritual path. Retold by Michael Rosen with gorgeous illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, the book is based on a traditional rhyme, following a family with young children as they pursue an elusive bear through tall grass, a cold river, dark forest, raging snowstorm and more, finally daring to track him directly into his narrow, gloomy cave. Each obstacle is met with the chant, “we can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we’ve go to go through it…” and never has there been a more perfect description of how we must learn to face our fears.
In the cave, the bear confronts his inquisitive pursuers and chases them right back through every obstacle they have already traversed in reverse order. Many a naturopath has noted that when, as adults we cleanse toxins from our physical bodies, often we experience recurring echoes of ailments, reflecting an earlier stage in our lives when the toxins were taken on. And these cleansing experiences do take place in reverse order, from the most recent until finally we approach ailments that may have begun in early childhood or infancy. Similarly, as adults we cleanse energetic and emotional wounds from the cellular memory, peeling back the layers, going deeper and deeper until we arrive at the primary trauma, the core. Beneath all of it, of course, lie our fears of death, the biggest, baddest bear of all.
At the end of Going on a Bear Hunt, the family makes it home, slams the door on the bear and jumps into a big, cozy bed, announcing they will never go on another bear hunt again. I loved reading this story to my children, and I imagine that delightful reprieve satisfied them and made it a safe story to reread many times. But for the seeker, we know that after a short while under warm covers, we will kick them off and dare again, knowing that we can’t deny our true thirst for spiritual adventure.
In the modern version of the tale, it is a father who leads his children on a quest, the courageous masculine in all of us that strikes out to hunt down what we fear. And the truth is, one day we will walk into that narrow, gloomy cave and the big black bear is going to catch us and gobble us up. But like all of the shadowy places we are so afraid to enter, once we realize that we can’t go under it and we can’t go over it, the going through it may just show us that our dark imaginings dissolve into mist, that we are safe, no matter where we walk. The truth is, we are all authors of every moment, and life is just a story after all.
Watch Going on a Bear Hunt here.