We’re fast approaching the end of October – a time when some indigenous cultures have long observed and celebrated people’s connection to their loved ones who are no longer alive.
Día de Muertos and Samhain are two I’ve come to appreciate. There are others held at different times of the year, such as Obon. And there were probably many others that have been lost as settler cultures have tried to wipe out indigenous ways.
Autumn’s weather shifts and the changes that native vegetation goes through can lead us to increased awareness that things die – or at least die back for the next part of the year. This can lead to a sense of melancholy, or the ringing of an internal bell that reminds us of loss and death.
We’ve all seen the grotesque caricatures that represent Halloween in commercials and advertisements, in stores, and on the front yards of our neighbors. But, how can we look past what capitalism has hidden from us, to honor and celebrate those who have been important to us who have now died.
We can look to ancient holidays and learn. Using the wisdom of old observances without appropriating the ceremonies that belong to other cultures can be tricky.
Here are a couple of processes I recommend:
— If you feel pulled toward a particular culture’s observance, learn about it. As you do, notice the aspects that seem important to you – not like you would if you were writing a class report, but look for your own internal responses. You might notice tears welling or a tightness in your heart-space, your throat, or your belly area. Your skin might feel different, or you might experience a momentary change in body temperature. Maybe even an intake of breath or a sense of joy or connection. Make note of what brought up these responses.
— When you see or hear advertisements for Halloween products, or watch creepy movies, stay aware of which aspects hit you hard and which ones make you want to avoid them. I’m not saying to watch a horror show if that’s not something you normally do, or watch TV or do seasonal shopping if that’s not part of your normal routine. But if you do, use the experience to identify the parts are meaningful for you.
— Pay attention to what you see in the natural world: leaves changing color, fruit falling, the landscape looking more barren and listless (although also notice the beauty in the forms of bare branches and evergreen trees). Let these images roll around inside your mind and notice what you connect with most strongly.
As you pay attention in these ways, you might journal or use another form of inward reflection to sift through and identify the aspects that are most meaningful to you. Use whatever form of creativity you’re most familiar with to play with these aspects: write a short story; doodle, draw, paint, or collage; sing or dance; spend some time taking photographs or videos that visually represent these aspects.
(Avoid the tendency to react as Hollywood has taught you. Your responses don’t come from outside of yourself. Nor should you be afraid of your own physical responses; they’re simply notifying you that something is important for you. But, of course, stop before you find yourself triggered.)
As you pay attention to what resonates most deeply for you, you can turn those aspects into your own observance.
– Create your own ceremony or ritual. See how this changes from year to year. Perhaps invite trusted others to join you.
– Set aside time to speak, write, sing, dance, etc., to the deceased people and animals who have brought you joy or taught you life lessons. Even those you never met in person who have taught you via family stories and photo albums, or through pages of novels, works of art, song lyrics, stage plays, lectures, etc.
– Create a space in your home for photos or other items that remind you of those gone who are important to you and the wisdom you’ve gained from them. This can be seasonal or year ’round.
– Make a point to tell trusted others about these special people/pets and what they meant to you.
And perhaps, as you do any of these, the negative or fearful feelings you might have about this time of year will be overcome by the richness, sweetness, and love of this season of respectful death observances. That is my wish for you.
May it be so, and may our current, co-mingled culture grow in depth and richness as we all learn to honestly face death.