2021 the year of unity danielle van de velde

A Date with Death

A Date with Death

How contemplating Death is a doorway to gratitude and awe

I was recently treated to a tour of the Mexican Embassy’s 2021 installation of ‘The Altar of the Dead’ at the National Museum of Singapore, with my friend Katya, the Mexican Ambassador’s wife. It was a symphony of colour, celebration and gratitude for pre-Colombian forebears, ancestors, the harvest and Death itself. It was refreshingly uplifting and incredibly beautiful. Día de los Muertos and the Pagan origins of Halloween in the feast of Samhain have captivated me since I was little. Why? Aside from the full-scale celebration, beauty and feasting of these ancient customs, it is because Death is not only celebrated, but reframed in beauty and reverence, and this attitude is enormously liberating.

A date with Death is the destined experience for us all, yet despite its inevitability, and especially in western culture, it remains feared and ignored, demonised with labels like the ‘Grim Reaper’, unspoken about and unexplored, until that is, the day comes when our date is knocking on our door.

This fear of Death has been amplified in the last couple of years of the pandemic too. We have all been reminded, constantly, of the fragility and impermanence of life and we have seen so many die in an ongoing and daily tally from every country on the planet. As long as Death, our destined date, remains hidden, hated and feared, the bright pandemic spotlight on global death rates is creating some serious dissonance in some.

I have seen in my healing sessions, especially this year, a growing tendency to ‘catastrophize’ what might otherwise be dismissed as innocuous symptoms or sensations in the body. A small patch of eczema, for example, has turned into definite skin cancer in the client’s mind, or not conceiving in a cycle has turned into wholesale infertility etc. There has been enough catastrophizing for me to witness a trend. Otherwise logical, smart people are being affected by the collective fear of dying and are jumping to worst-case scenarios in a millisecond. 

In general, I believe it’s the fear of Death that lies beneath many of our serious dysfunctions as a collective…our obsession with eternal youth, overconsumption and accumulation of resources to stay secure and to elongate life.

When observing the beautiful customs of our ancestors, it seems that a very different view of Death served them in life – the cultivation of a relationship. Furthermore, there’s no better way to disarm a hidden, feared perception of annihilation than to honour it, dance with it, invite it to the feast and make it beautiful, to court it, to consciously engage with it. And in my books, the Celtic Pagans and Mexicans have got this gig down! They romance Death on an annual epic date!

winner of the 2020 catrina body paint contest in mexico city danielle van de velde

Winner of the 2020 Catrina Body Paint Contest in Mexico City

Contemplating Death is also a Buddhist practice that is used to help identify and release attachments to people, things and experiences. Last Day Contemplation is a contemplative meditation on the inevitability of Death. It falls into the category of Stoic Meditation, as it boldly focuses the awareness onto something we perceive as being ‘bad’ or feared. It is also a diagnostic meditation to help raise into awareness, our attachments to the things or relationships that we deem as defining us and bringing meaning to life. 

The first time I experienced this with a Buddhist Monk here in Singapore, I experienced a massive attachment to ‘leaving my children’ through Death and realised how much I was defining myself through my story of ‘motherhood’. It rose in me during the meditation in an emotion of anger and a heated discussion with the visiting monk afterwards. I will always be so grateful for his patience and wider frame that guided me into a deeper understanding of how much of my identity I had pinned onto ‘motherhood’. This event, many years ago, triggered a wholesale change in my approach to mothering and allowing my children to claim their own journey, which in turn ushered in a beautiful new freedom for everyone in my home. It brought a deeper, more joyful experience of mothering and gave me a licence to develop my offerings beyond being a mum.  

It took repeated practice and deep witnessing and then I found it – the invitation to gratitude, presence and an appreciation of the uniqueness of every moment. This meditation is not advised if you are suffering from depression or anxiety. It is powerful, and requires stable ground to work with it, and it is worth it!

with permission by natasha allegri danielle van de velde

With permission by Natasha Allegri

Another field that has opened up significantly for me over the last few years is mediumship. The irony I have found in dating Death is the realisation that we don’t die (or at least in the final, extinguished, puff of smoke annihilation way that we so fear). The consciousness prevails as a living mind! This will be a topic of upcoming writing.

In the meantime, you can start to work with my version of Last Day Contemplation, recently released on the InsightTimer app. I would love to hear about your revelations and experiences with the track.

All of us will be dating Death at some point, and whether you believe this will be the end, the beginning, or a return home, looking at your relationship with Death whilst you are alive is an incredible pursuit that helps you live more fully in the now, in gratitude and deep appreciation of the wonder and beauty of life.

If you have any questions or thoughts on Death and how its contemplation can lead to feelings of gratitude and awe, do get in touch. You can also visit my website to explore courses and useful content to guide you on your path to healing, self-discovery and mindful living.

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