Die and Die Again
How to make sense of a world where “I can’t breath” is spray painted all over the streets while the country is in desperate need of ventilators.
What did your life look like on March 14th?
If it wasn’t the first official day of quarantine, I would have been mid-air on a one-way flight to Brooklyn, moving all my stuff to a little loft close enough to the ferry to take the East River to work. Just one day before, I had my dream job, frequent travels, events, a growing relationship, and tickets to Polo & Pan at the Hollywood Bowl. May 31st came around and it was all gone. And I had it easy.
By the same time, thousands of businesses closed, 38 million Americans lost their jobs, 109 thousand people died in the US alone. The whole world was grieving the loss of their loved ones, if not their relationships, if not their jobs, plans, pleasures, and sanity.
… And then George Floyd. Amidst a global pandemic, an innocent black man suffocated by a police officer ignited centuries of collective rage over systemic racism and police brutality in the US and across the world. After three months of being cooped up in their homes alone, thousands of people took to the streets, most protesting peacefully, a few vandalizing and looting storefronts. The restaurant we wanted to order from that night was burned to the ground and my dads prescription drugs were stollen off the shelves of our local pharmacy. The same weekend we would have been mid-ocean for Summit at Sea, the country was up in flames.
A healthy dose of optimism attempts to finds gratitude and growth in even the worst of circumstances. We remind ourselves that outrage provokes change and disease obligates us to heal. Just like my cancelled move to New York was good timing, my salary cut meant I was still employed, and moving home was an opportunity to recover lost time with my parents. Eventually losing my job meant having time and space to explore something new.
But optimism takes energy, and the truth is I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling so much pain and seeing others feel it even more. I’m tired of having to be strong for them and for myself, of being afraid and heartbroken and on my own. I had such a good grip on everything before it slipped through my fingers and I’m really just tired of not having anything left to hold on to.
But when I find myself in that state, there are two concepts that help me stay grounded and contextualize this outrageous point in history: the Life/Death/Life cycle from Women Who Run With the Wolves and the dynamics of order & chaos as defined by the parody religion of Principia Discordia.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes the Life/Death/Life cycle as the natural cycle of animation, development, decline, and reanimation that exists in all things — the sun, the moon, plant life, human affairs and those of the tiniest creatures, cells, and atoms alike. She believes that once we accept and align with death as the process of incubating new life, we no longer live fishing for fantasy but are connected to the real and untethered wisdom and beauty of creative cycles in their entirety.
Being more of the “attached” type, I often express love through unwavering loyalty, commitment, and a deep appreciation for and desire to preserve relationships with the people, places and moments that make life worthwhile. This framework is dependent on the illusion of immortality, it refuses to acknowledge that in all loving relationships, Death must have its share.
But what’s actually dying? It isn’t love itself, but the illusions, expectations, greed of having it all, perceived social status, a false sense of security and control, and the belief that everything needs to be beautiful. As Dr. Estés says “when one commits to love, one also commits to the revivification of Death and all its teachings.” It’s precisely why it takes so much courage and soulfulness to invest in a loving commitment in the first place.
Ironically, the most anguish and anxiety comes not from Death itself, but from trying to keep something alive that we know deep down we must let go of. It’s a type of cognitive dissonance — the discomfort we feel when our beliefs misalign with our behaviors. But when we deny Death, there’s inevitably a breaking point when nature itself creeps up on us.
Why does it so often take an act of infidelity to break up an already fragile marriage, a lost job to contemplate a new career, or a global pandemic to reconsider the healthcare system? How can we better embrace the Death cycle as part of the Life process. What must we let die today in order to generate more life tomorrow? What must we let die in us in order to love deeper? What ugliness do we fear and what beauty are we afraid to give birth to?
Evidently, Life/Death/Life is a single organism in and of itself, and the only real trust required to align with its nature is knowing that when there is one ending there will always be another beginning, even when we can’t see ahead. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a willingness to die and be born and die and be born again and again. Plain and simple.
The Discordian understanding of chaos and order adds another layer to the mix. Discordisnism, a parody (anti) religion born in the 60’s, worships Eris, the goddess of chaos, and celebrates disharmony as an essential creative force.
Discordinism believes order and disorder to be man-made concepts dependent on perspective and the belief systems — the values, needs, and judgments of good/bad — that create a filter for how we see the world. This view assumes that all beliefs are ever-evolving and relative to their observer in a specific moment in space and time. When we zoom out, we notice that moments of perceived chaos often lead to perfect order. It’s a dynamic cycle that’s inevitable but malleable, and a creation of the mind.
What I take away from this philosophy are two core ideas:
- We have the power to re-contextualize and release resistance, judgement and fear of perceived disorder and chaos as being something “bad.”
- Like the Life/Death/Life cycle, order does not exist without chaos.
What that means in the time of COVID, financial crisis, social isolation and the death of George Floyd is that we can choose to not only experience calm within chaos, but to welcome all parts of an ugly reality as the precursors to the new life and beauty that is bound to take place all around us.
If you forget, turn to the body — “when one side of the heart empties, the other fills and when one breath runs out, another begins,” it’s our nature. But perhaps the most valuable lesson to come from grief, loss, fear, and shattered ideals is that when you breathe love through pain, embrace chaos, and nurture death, there’s literally nothing that can destroy you.