Today, I reflect back on the strange and wondrous coincidence to have been born on el Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Some would say it is not, however coincidence, but rather some providence, mapped out by the constellations of stars and influenced by the planetary pull of certain celestial orbs. Was it a momentary convergence of astronomical forces that configured my birth on November 2nd, a day celebrated as All Souls Day in much of the Christian world and the Day of the Dead to the indigenous Aztec peoples of Mesoamerica? Being born on the day when the dead are not just remembered but colorfully called out, adorned and celebrated, somehow configures in my long pilgrimage on the path of yoga. Yogis have known for millennia that reflections on death bring a luminous clarity to life. “Of all meditations, that on death is supreme”, says the Parinirvana Sutra, compiled in the 2nd Century C.E to expound the nature of the Buddha-mind.
In my early years of soul searching, years when I lived off the land in Montana and hitch-hiked through Mexico, my impressionable mind was taken by the wily ways of Don Juan in Castenada’s marginal mescaline filled journey through the Sonoran desert. For Don Juan, death is the ultimate teacher: “What do we really have, except life and our own death? The thing to do when you’re impatient, don Juan told me, is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that it is there watching you.”
On this day in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal season comes to a close. The leaves on the trees relinquish their short six month grasp on life and the North wind makes its way down the the plains and valleys.
Raised in Amherst Massachusetts, I pedaled my bicycle to school each day, past the Emily Dickinson home on Main Street. If there was ever anyone who had sympathy for death it was Emily D. “Because I could not stop for Death—/He kindly stopped for me—/The Carriage held but just Ourselves— /And Immortality/We slowly drove—He knew no haste/And I had put away/My labor and my leisure too,/For His Civility—”. She knew the sacred, silent bond between death, what the yogis refer to as the inexhaustible, indestructible, Great Self (para-atman). Without death there is no progress on the path. What is it that must die? The egocentric, fixated aspect of the personality that seeks only possession in this world. So, to be born on the Day of the Dead reminds me to relax my grip and pay homage to this fragile, blooming world. It is a reminder to us all to see through the veil of blinding illusion that causes man to wage war, steal from the earth, and destroy. It is a reminder to yoke to That which is never born nor ever dies and to awaken to the spacious grace that always and forever surrounds us.