As I soaked in a hot bubble bath at the end of a thoroughly joyous birthday, I noticed that an orange autumn leaf had somehow followed me into the room, and I thought, “It’s impossible to reflect on one’s birth without also thinking about death.” The birth/death cycle is at the core of understanding transitions, and one of the boons of approaching transitions with consciousness is that, with each spiral of letting go, we have an opportunity to become more comfortable with death.
The truth is that everyone, if they’re honest, has some fear of death. It’s the niggling thought that presses on the edges of the mind at the day’s end; it’s the blaring thought that creates fear in the middle of the night. It’s the fear of change. It’s the resistance to growth. It’s stagnating on what’s comfortable and familiar because change involves letting go and letting go involves a death. It’s the avoidance of pain. It’s the fear of aging. As Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart:
“All anxiety, all dissatisfaction, all the reason for hoping our experience could be different are rooted in our fear of death. Fear of death is always in the background… Trungpa Rinpoche once gave a public lecture titled ‘Death in Everyday Life.’ We are raised in a culture that fears death and hides it from us. Nevertheless, we experience it all the time. We experience it in the form of disappointment, in the form of things not working out. We experience it in the form of things always being in a process of change. When the day ends, when the second ends, when we breathe out, that’s death in everyday life…”
But what she doesn’t say in this quote is that there’s also rebirth in every day life. I’m endlessly fascinated and inspired by the confluence of birth and death, the irrefutable truth that one simply cannot exist without the other. I’m constantly reminding my clients who are in the throes of a death experience – whether it’s getting married, having a baby, changing jobs, miscarrying, or diving into psyche’s work of the dark night of the soul – that a rebirth always follows the courageous wrestling with the demons of fear and the challenge of grief work that arise during the letting go stage. It’s hard to remember that when things are painful and scary but it’s often the lifeline that gets people through: Just as spring and summer always follow autumn and winter, so rebirth and new possibilities always follow the psychological death and emotional letting go of a conscious transition.
As I step into my new birth year, I’m looking for signs of change: old habits that have died and are replaced by something more positive, hopeful, and alive. Like a gardener anticipating the first spring shoots, so I walk through the garden of my soul and smile at the signs of new life, the places where I’m softer and more compassionate, where I’m able to access faith instead of fear. The changes may be small, but with my attention they slowly help me grow into the person I hope to be.