It is hard for us in the ‘West’ to talk about death and dying. My friend just came back from visiting her mum. Living in a retirement village, death feels far too close for comfort so nobody wants to talk about it.
So we don’t. We keep it in dark corners. We shroud it in taboos, projections, superstitions and silence.
As Vanessa Machado de Oliveira (2021) writes in Hospicing Modernity, “as if talking about death and dying or preparing for death we necessarily speed up its process”. As she says “this makes sense within modernity, since modernity emerged as an attempt to control change and resist and defeat death, which is done partly by dissociating ourselves from nature (as if we were not part of it”)
Yet we so easily use that familiar expression ‘dying to …’ It is one full of eagerness and excitement. Of want and desire. It is our literal knowing of this life-death dance. We know they come together. Side by side.
And our heart is always telling us about what we are dying to do and become. Except quite often we are tuning out, caught in the noise and stress of life, unable to hear its whispers. Even if we do, sometimes it feels easier or safer just to ignore them.
It seems that we finally start to pay attention to what is true in our heart, when we have had someone close to us die, or have ourselves received life-threatening news. Or had a ‘brush with death’, or suffered loss in some way, shape or form. It is in these times, we wake up to a new appreciation. A reverence for the life we have. Or we gain clarity about the life that beckons. I know the death of my father finally catapulted me into following my dream to live in Roma, leaving full-time work with Lane4.
In those tender life-death moments we are reminded we have limited time on this wonderful earth. And want that time, and ourselves to matter.
And we don’t have to wait for such crises. The invitation is always there to engage with death and dying. To honor the talk of your heart.
As poet Mary Oliver beautifully reminds us in ‘Wild Geese’
“the world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things”
In the business world, this heart talk might be framed as purpose. But underneath it is the same life-death duet. By resisting to engage with it, we are limiting our ability to fully step into our potential. As people. And leaders.
When we do, we make better decisions for ourselves, each other and the earth that is our home.
Conversations that matter
In talking about our relationships and conversations with nature, it was inevitable that death and rebirth, dying and living were central themes on the 50 episodes of the #earthconversepodcast. I am grateful for all the guests who were willing to have those conversations. From 10 year old Malu talking about her chicken Friday dying and Jeannie talking about a death of a tree when she was young. To the likes of Gemma and Calvin sharing how the death of their respective fathers stirred life purpose. Or the several guests who talked about the impact of war, death and ancestral healing. And the likes of self-proclaimed ‘agent of death’ Bill Plotkin, or Nando Garcia ‘as a death doula to people and society’ and the other vision quest guides sharing how they help people metaphorically die.
These are the types of conversations we all need to have.
Go have them.
And if you would like support, at earthconverse we help leaders gently and courageously have these conversations that matter through 1:1 coaching and collective work.
May we all listen to our hearts for the next step.
- https://earthconverse.com to access offerings including the leadershipblog and earthconversepodcast.
- Machado de Oliveira, V (2021) Hospicing Modernity, North Atlantic Books p. 188-9
- Oliver, M (2017) Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, Penguin Press p.347
- Thanks to Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash