I’ve thought frequently about life and death. Certainly those of us who are alive face the inevitability of our body’s death at some unknown future point. But why? Why must our bodies deteriorate? Why must trees get old and die? Why must foxes slow in their speed and strength and new foxes come along? Why do chickens stop laying eggs and age? Why the newness of the chick pecking through, needing to learn how to find worms, how to scratch, how to avoid predators? Why the newness of babies, born so helpless, needing so much care and protection to become strong, able members of the world?
Biologically it seems wasteful to have to teach all these new beings how to survive. Over and over the dying, the newness, the learning, the living, the dying, the newness the learning, the living. Why?!
To understand the necessity of death, I think of an individual human body. In each moment millions of components in the body are dying, millions are being born. New cells are being formed; old cells are excreted. Oxygen is inhaled and distributed, waste and carbon dioxide are exhaled back to the earth. Water is taken in, water and toxins are excreted. Solid food is ingested, solid waste and toxins are released. One individual body is an entire system of life and death, strong and able because of the release of the old and the birth of pure and ever new cells. I believe it was Wayne Dyer who explained in one of his books that during a period of seven years every cell in the body becomes new – seven years from now not a single cell in your current body will remain. And your body will be stronger and purer because of it! In the newness is life.
A car, for example, just gets older and older. You can give it new parts, you can replace the engine, you can continue to try to help it become new, as our bodies do naturally, but it eventually stops functioning. If a car were alive the way we are, I guess new rubber cells would constantly grow in the tires as the old ones sloughed off and that sort of thing. It would last and remain fairly constant in strength and speed. Plants, for example, are continually becoming new with old leaves dropping and the new unfurling, old cells dying and the new being born. In this design, life forms spend the majority of their time on earth functioning well as a part of the whole.
The process of life paired with death equals health then, do you see? (It also necessitates time, but that is a topic we have not the time for in this one blog post!) If our cells did not continually die so that new cells could take over, new cells that were unburdened by toxins or time or set in their ways fighting the outdated antigens, the older viruses, the older pollutants, then our bodies could not adapt to changing conditions and dysfunction and death would happen much faster. Each individual cell, however, must do its very best and strongest job while it is alive: that is its contribution to the whole, the body.
Even so, each individual human being on this planet must do his or her very best in the life allotted, for this is our contribution to the whole, the life form of which we are a part. Certainly the planet itself is a life form of which we are a part, but perhaps we are a part of an even bigger life form, one which we do not even dimly sense. Matsuo Emoto, who has done such astounding work on the “living” properties of water, metaphorically explained the earth as a sort of kidney in our universe, filtering water that comes in and releasing it in a purer state (from his book The Hidden Messages in Water, 2005). Perhaps we individual beings are simply (and profoundly) healthy cells in a purifying organ for a much larger system than we can imagine.
And, when our time is up, when our bodies are stiffer with age and our minds are stiffer with beliefs that served well in their time, when we have fought our battles against our generation’s foes, when we have helped the next generation get strong and embrace all that they were born to adapt to, to thrive upon, then we, too, will die, trusting these next cells, these next beings, to take care of this precious body and to know it better, in its newer state, than we ever could with our minds and bodies that were born in its slightly younger age.
In “The American Scholar”, a lecture Ralph Waldo Emerson gave at Cambridge in 1837, he says that “Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this.” His point is one similar to Willa Cather’s, who said in her 1913 novel O Pioneers: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.” In the newness is the fierceness; in the fierceness is life. Each age needs new scribes, new artists, new warriors, new leaders – each age is newly born, and slight changes to the age-old archetypes come with that birth. Emerson and Thoreau spoke the words needed by those on the edge of new spiritual truth in the 1800s and we later called it Transcendentalism. Caroline Myss, Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie, Gregg Braden, and many others have spoken a new spiritual truth to those in our present generation, leading us toward a breakthrough in consciousness, and we call it a New Age…
And even so, our leaders will die, and we will die, and our ideas will seem old to the generations coming. And writers will be born, performers will come, visionaries will see even deeper into the future, standing on the solid ground we leave them, from all we have given by living our very best lives in the little, beautiful, miraculous bodies we were born into and from which we died.
Let us continue to live bravely and well, and let our actions bless the larger being of which we are a part in the same way that each of our cells dutifully – and perhaps joyfully – performs and functions, living and then dying to allow the new to come in and restore, revitalize, and begin, again.