Another one Bites the Dust: Can we face mortality with a little more laughter than fear?
The information overload vis-a-vis this Pandemic is at times just too much. I find myself consciously unfollowing most of it. There is only so much case counting, new variants and mounting effects of lockdowns on mental and emotional health that one can take in. I read titles of articles and that’s enough to shut down.
But, as much as I can opt to live in a relatively contented hermetically sealed bubble and focus on daily activities, work, parenting and ‘the new normal’, I don’t think any of us can escape the fact that we are finding ourselves facing mortality with new regularity. Death is closer somehow. Uncomfortable as this makes us, there is a way to step through the fear of it and toward the other side where we can feel the truth of life anchor us in the joy of the present moment.
I was driving with my 12 year old son recently and listening to Queen. It struck a memory my mother shared with me as a child. She had attended a funeral service of a friend who had spent time in earnest preparing her service. The women who had passed chose to have Queen’s ‘Another one Bites the Dust’ play as attendees were departing. People rejoiced in her humour and at the same time cried at their loss of their dear one. My mom described a veritable euphony of tears and laughter bubbling up and pouring over as people exited the service. My child self knew this woman had left her living people with a gift of waking them up to the beauty of life in that moment. As a child I had experienced that feeling of laughing and crying simultaneously. I understood it as a place in which truth and celebration and real presence in life lived. I understood it deep in my bones because it was such a good and alive feeling.
What is that?
Laughters and tears are active forms of release. We laugh at the beauty and sometimes hilarious miracles of life. We cry for its temporary, fleeting nature. And we do both in the spirit of knowing we can’t hold on to any of it. There is potential access to this wonderful state when we can shake the hold of fear. All fear when you boil it down is fear of suffering and death. I know this is a health and wellness column but we have to talk about the elephant in the room to get to the root of inner peace. And that elephant is what the yogis call the great spiritual obstacle, ‘abhinivesa’, or fear of death.
I don’t think we realize how our fear of death hunts down our permission to feel and experience the moment and with sometimes surprising and insidious regularity.
My experience when I can step outside of my fear and all its implications is that of tremendous gratitude, and gratitude for people. I’ve never felt more aware of how much vitality I receive through human connection during these times. The single most important aspect of my mental health in the past year has been sourcing regular connection with friends and family including the “cut the BS” moments with people in the community. Grocery tellers emerge as perfect 5-minute therapists and teachers as saints, offering connection and education. Any little offering of help I can extend to anyone bolsters me hugely. All signs of children playing, spark hope.
So at the grocery store, when I step outside of a dystopian vision of people in masks actively avoiding each other and second guessing their natural instincts to touch fruit and lend a helping hand to a stranger, I can land in the vulnerability of reality. The reality is that we are all tender-footing through the aisles avoiding suffering and death. And yes, we should embrace the Bee Gees mantra and yes, keep stayin’ alive! But also, death is a very real part of life and a part that western society actively avoids confronting. Now, we find ourselves facing it daily.
What does that look like?
I’ve discovered it’s the body preparing itself with an armour of misdirected tension. I don’t need to be fearful. It is not helpful. Can I let myself breathe and touch on the real feeling my fear is shutting me off from? What is that feeling? It’s love! Love of life and not wanting to lose it! But that laugh/cry place teaches me I can’t hang on to anything. So I can choose to let fear go. Then bamn! Wow. I can see. I can see the moment and feel the people around me.
I have found myself in the grocery aisle letting tears drop. I’ve had a teller obviously attuned to her customer extend her heart, through masks, through Plexiglass, through working a 9-5 job on the frontlines. “Honey don’t worry. You know life it’s like water. It flows. Nothing stays the same and this is all going to change and pass. Honey it’s going to be OK.” Right there I met an angel and by the end of the line I found myself crying and laughing through real truthful human connection.
Back in the car trip with my son, he unexpectedly launches into a description of what his funeral service would look like. There’s a huge concert hall with pyrotechnics, the darkest of Black Sabbath and his open casket coffin dramatically lowers from the rafters. I get the feeling he’s thought this through. I have a passing moment of deep parental concern but choose instead to open the floodgates and laugh … and cry. Here he is on the cusp of adolescence, stuck in a Pandemic. He must be facing death daily too, like all of us. We talked about how the concert funeral experience would be tongue-in-cheek and also give his attendees a brilliant full-on raging rock concert! I recognize this is an experience that he has neither had or is available to him right now. I started seeing how maybe this hard core death rock vision is a way of facing this idea of death and also managing the death of some would-be experiences through the imagination. We connected on a level around the experience of this Pandemic that inhabits that laugh and cry place. That connection is essential.
So, what to do? I know each person’s experience during this time is unique and there are also curious universalities shared. I’ll extend an invitation to explore where fear lives in your body and navigate how to unravel it when it rises up. Give yourself permission to feel what is underneath it all (and be surprised by the flood of reflected empathy that may rise up around you).
If we can breathe and open up, we might just rise up laughing and crying- and feel through this together.
Join Jessica for a gift of a free community yoga class– a gentle restorative class to open the body, mind, breath and clear fear. Wednesday April 21st 10-11am on zoom. If you can’t make the slotted online time, register regardless to receive a link to a recording of the class. Beginners welcome.