In Between Life and Death

Today I walked with Grace. I feel like it is easy to walk with grace when I walk with Grace. She is the loom upon which threads are woven into tapestry. She is the frame upon which the skin is drawn taut to sound the drum.  She is grace. If you would like to walk with Grace, check out her page here.

Today, she walked for discipline. Where do good intentions lead us without discipline? She is walking as an embodied practice in response to the detainees being held across the country at detainment camps. Her friend Sonya was walking for more understanding and to leave behind anger. Before we began walking, Grace asked me why I was walking. “I am walking for death. And life. To understand those that risk death for a better life. To midwife out a dying system that does not accept them and to midwife in a new system in which all life is equal.”

Our first steps were past a “tramp house,” which is a one room house designed in the early 1900’s to help those that were struggling. “This one room dwelling housed many ‘tramps’ who passed through town during the first half of the 20th century. Severe economic conditions and high unemployment caused hundreds of thousands of people to take to the roads and railroads seeking work, handouts, food and shelter.” This was our wisdom at that time. If people were struggling and coming through the area, they had a place to go. They had a support structure to help them. This is great. Wisdom in our own history for how to help others. Only 100 years have passed. Where is that wisdom now?

Holding space for death and life may seem contradictory, though for me, it is more a way of being.  To me, the world is colorful and full of so many different shades of each color.  There is no “black and white,” “right and wrong,” “good and evil” dichotomous plan that plays out on the Earth.  To me, to buy into such a way of thinking imposes limits on a being; to their thoughts, inspirations, opportunities, actions and interactions.  In short, the dichotomous way of thinking stunts the very life in a being that buys into its boundaries and rules.  It can also stunt the lives of other beings if that same being that buys into the boundaries of the system is in a place of power.  I believe that is what has happened over many years.  The limits of a stunted belief system, are evidenced everywhere we look in our world.  Fortunately, if we slow down, open ourselves to the unknown, listen, observe, and trust, we can look beyond the limits of what is visual in our human limited system at the moment.  The best place I find to practice this slow down and way of listening, is outdoors.  I find it easier to listen and sink into a place of openness where my body response is based on an older, less limiting way of being.

This time of year, I can’t help but think of the many animals entering a slow down for the cold weather in New England.  Of course, bear comes to mind.  Firstly, because I am lucky enough to be in wilderness enough to see bear in physical form, moving across the landscape, including my front porch at times, as they interact with all that is around.  Secondly, because the bear is an archetype for entering the cave and slowing down.  While the scientists are working on determining the definitions of “hibernation” and “torpor,” what is clear is that the idea that hibernation is solely based on temperature is limiting and leads to misunderstandings.  For a long time, bears were thought to hibernate, based on observations.  Then, once scientists defined “hibernation” and it required a large drop in temperature, which bears did not follow that rule, bears were taken out of the group of hibernators and given the label of going into torpor.  That label has not lasted for very long, as scientists now determine that they need to expand their limits of what determines “hibernation.”  Instead of only measuring temperature drops, they are now admitting other changes, such as drop in metabolic rates and drop in respiratory rates, as evidence of hibernation.

Bears are now considered hibernators, at least, in many scientific circles.  It hasn’t fully trickled out into mainstream yet and many people still consider bears in torpor.  Although, some people fully missed all of the scientific research and always considered bears hibernators.  I am not sure if that makes them “behind” the times or “ahead” of the times.  Either way, my head spins trying to keep the world limited in this way, is it yes or is it no?  Well…yes, though there are exceptions, seems less true than simply explaining the unique circumstances for each observation.  The world does not fit into our nice, neat rules and boundaries.

The beautiful Roaring Brook flowed next to the road for a good part of the way on our walk.  A few brooks, flowed out of the surrounding hills and provided more water to the Roaring Brook with a burst of energy and sound as they cascaded off of vertical rocks before joining the flow.  The landscape was beautiful!  Joyful.  Even playful, as I was encouraged to join in the song of the river.  As I sang, I tensed up suddenly and looked up.  “Private Property.  No Trespassing.” All along the other side of the river, a sign nailed into the trees every 50 feet or so, spoke so loudly with its silent message.  I watched a squirrel cross the invisible boundary.  I suppose the message wasn’t for him.  Or the bird that flew over or the chipmunk that scurried the rocks and jumped over the boundary.  Or even the plants that seemed to grow on both sides of the boundary.  I felt uncomfortable with the sign.  My body had tensed due to its presence, before I had even seen it.  Perhaps it is meant for me then.

I thought of changing boundaries, as I saw the many rock walls, criss-crossing the entire landscape, as is common in New England.  They are evidence of boundaries from the past that do not always match the boundaries of the present.  Which boundary is for which beings?  Or more closer to the truth, which parts of ourselves are we trying to keep separate?  Do we fear those parts of ourselves or fear the parts of ourselves that created the divide?  Are we ashamed of those parts we hold on the “other” side or ashamed of the parts of ourselves that continue to follow the boundaries of the past when our steps are planted in the present?  Perhaps we have been so focused on the forest that we didn’t even realize we were tripping over the rock walls and we are ashamed of our lack of sight.

I continued to walk on the road that was most likely made on an older Native American foot path.  Many people died before this road was put in as it is now.  Many years before, the indigenous people walked this land and fished in Roaring Brook, though it may have been known by a different name, before the land was taken from them by people, including my ancestors.  I often try to imagine the land through the eyes of the indigenous.  I wish I could walk in that world now.  Where there are no rock walls or dotted white and black boundaries, no paved roads to speed up our traverse through the beautiful land.  As I walked on the road, I felt such joy at the life I was seeing and such sorrow for the death that occurred to make it so.

I stop to add a prayer to the water and add energy through the addition of plant being medicine I have brought with me.  My thoughts return to a memory of childhood in which I played with a frog in a puddle on a dirt road.  The joy I felt with the frog in the mud brought a smile to my face.  I remembered too, that as I walked away, I later saw a couple of boys on bikes speed past me.  They had smiles too I remembered.  I ran back to the puddle after the boys rode through to check on the frog.  My heart was pounding, not from the run, but from what I was afraid to find.  The frog’s leg was crushed.  He could still hop mostly.  I cried and tried to help the frog as best I could with my six year old hands and wisdom.  I was mad at the boys for rushing through and not even seeing the frog as they ran him over!  Now, I hold both joy and sorrow for the moment.

How much plant life was killed to put in this road?  How many trees were uprooted and insects crushed?  How many mycorrhizal communication webs were interrupted with the creation of this physical boundary? How many animals have died trying to cross this boundary?   In the present day, this road also brings many people joy in getting out to the “nature” that is here.  Many people have probably driven this road on the way to the hospital to deliver a new life where, in present day, our people who are knowledgeable about births are located.  It is not only good and bad.  It is all of that in between.  It is a spectrum of life and death.

As I walk my path forward, I am in between my own life and death.  Every moment is in between life and death.  I don’t know for sure what happens before life or after death, or perhaps in between death and life.  I can try to be as aware as possible of all of the shades of all of the colors I see around me.  I can walk with as much compassion as I can hold for as many beings as I am aware of and have compassion for myself as I learn even more.  I can honor death and life and everything in between with open arms, just as the image at the end of our walk represents.

The best way I know how to midwife out the current system and midwife in a new system, and to honor the deaths of those reaching for a better life, is to walk with more than the limited structure of duality.  To walk each step forward with as much awareness as possible of the full spectrum of life and death.



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