Death is a natural part of life, but even talking about it is largely taboo in Western society today. How on earth did this become normal and accepted behaviour?
I discovered a very different attitude to death during the twenty years I lived in Bali, where the topic is openly discussed and they have some of the most advanced death practices I have seen anywhere on earth.
My introduction to this came early on in my relationship with the Balinese man who was my husband for 12 years, while we were sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a meal we had ordered.
‘Have you ever seen a dead body?’ I asked (I’m well known for unusual conversation starters).
‘Hundreds,’ he replied.
This took me aback. I was expecting him to say “no” or at the very most “one or two”. I began rifling through my mental filing cabinets looking for an event in Balinese history that would explain this.
‘Were you in a massacre or an earthquake or something?’ I asked.
What had started out as an idle inquiry had suddenly become very interesting.
‘Well, every time someone in my village dies, we all go to the family’s house and keep vigil all night with the body. Then we help the family wash the body, prepare it for burial or cremation, and organize all the death ceremonies. This happens everywhere in Bali. Doesn’t it happen in England where you come from?’
‘Well, no. If someone dies, the family pays undertakers to do that.’
‘What? You let strangers handle the body?’
He gave me one of those kind yet withering Balinese looks that says, ‘Don’t you westerners know anything about anything?’
‘Death is a sacred event,’ he explained. ‘If someone in your family dies you can’t leave people who don’t even know the person to take care of what happens to their body and the journey of their eternal spirit. If someone in my village dies we all go to help and everyone wants to touch the body one last time to say goodbye.’ He patted my arm repeatedly in different places, imitating a group of people clamouring for one last touch. ‘No one feels quite right if they’re not able to do this. It feels like you haven’t finished the relationship properly.’
This casual, pre-dinner conversation gave me much pause for thought, and began an in-depth research into death and grieving practices that continues to this day.
The most insightful writing on this topic I have ever found is one of the Knowledge Tracks written by Samuel Sagan of the Clairvision School of meditation. It’s called Death, The Great Journey. I rate it as the single most important book I have read this lifetime.
As Samuel Sagan explains, the techniques for death are the same as the techniques for life, so the best time to read this book is while you are still very much alive. Put simply, the more you understand about dying, the more you will understand about living and how to make the most of every day you have.
It’s also invaluable to read if you are facing death, want to prepare for your eventual death, or have experienced the loss of someone dear to you. It explains many of the mysteries of death and includes a Book of the Dead for Modern Times, to be read to a person soon after they die, to assist them in navigating the astral realms they find themselves in after departing their physical body.
It can be used by people of all religious, non-religious and spiritual beliefs. Reading it to my mother after she died was one of the most beautiful and uplifting experiences of my life. I experienced a much higher dimension of the woman I had known, and a rich completion of my relationship with her.
The book is self-published by the Clairvision School and comes in the form of a downloadable audiobook so that you can listen to it again and again, together with a PDF copy of the text that you can read onscreen or print out, if you prefer. It’s only available direct from the Clairvision School in the US and is a bit pricey because it’s self-published, but worth every cent.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2014, updated 2023
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