A Conversation with Thanatos

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Death of a Day: Dusk at the Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Thanatos 

(/ˈθænətɒs/Greek: Θάνατος, pronounced in Ancient Greek:  [thánatos] “Death”, from θνῄσκω thnēskō “to die, be dying”) was the personification of death. He was a minor figure in Greek mythology, often referred to but rarely appearing in person.

Shadow walker. Shape shifter. Death doula. Destroyer. Witch. Shaman. I’ve been walking the roads of the underworld from the moment I took my first breath. Paved with skulls, ravens, unused magic wands, torn capes, blood, and voices screeching in agonizing pain. An observer’s paradise. Much like Alice, I found a bridge into another world and have been traveling back and forth between two distinct realities since. Caught amidst a feud between Eros and Thanatos, I sit still in order to remember all which I’ve forgotten. I feel Thanatos pull. This pull has been inexplicably present in my life for as long as I can recall. There’s something so delightful, delicious, and seductive about darkness; My sisters – Kali, Persephone, and Isis – understand. “With the same power that you slay, you can create.” They chant. Distracted by a particularly disturbing scene in the realm of hungry ghosts, their words became white noise in a polluted background. After experiencing a dulled shock followed by an intense curiosity, I went into a slumber.

Carl Jung says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”  To the rhythm of his words, I awakened with a will that preferred to reside with Hades rather than with Zeus in the circus of Olympus. Instead of trying to escape from my desire with an appropriate coping method – meditation, yoga, sweating – I acknowledged its presence. “Well there, good morning, death wish. I have a sense that you require my attention.” Startled, it began to interact with me.  We conversed about presence. We conversed about embodiment. We conversed about passion. I am writing these words in an attempt to convey the lessons that I learned while conversing with Death.

You seem to be attracted to the realms of Jung. Have you ever heard the story of The Lady Who Lived on The Moon?” Death asked. I shook my head to indicate no. Well, you see, there was this young girl whom had been abused and was catatonic, exhibiting what you folks would call schizophrenia in the modern day. When Dr. Jung first interacted with her, she told him an elaborate myth of her life on the moon, where she was a female protagonist, the savior of the moon people. This girl had no prior knowledge of mythology. In her story of the moon, the girl told Dr. Jung that when she first arrived at the moon she only encountered men. These men escorted her to a clandestine dwelling with women and children. She went on to describe that in the high mountains, there lived a vampire that kidnapped and killed the women and children, hence why the men were attempting to protect her and the other women and children. According to Dr. Jung, the young girl wanted to save the moon people from the vampire. When she attempted to destroy the vampire, she was unable to for she was consumed by his beauty. This story continues. Dr. Jung continued to treat her for a two-month period. This girl preferred life on the moon because she didn’t think life on Earth to be beautiful. Eventually, she accepted her Earthly fate, became a nurse, and when someone tried to sexually abuse her, she shot him. After that incident, she returned to her hometown, married, had children, and over the course of thirty years kept in contact with Dr. Jung via letter. She remained in excellent health for the remainder of her life.”

  I opened my water bottle, took a sip, and stared into the distance. “What is the purpose of sharing this story? Are you comparing me to this young girl?” I asked. Death responded. “It’s a metaphor. You see. Most people in your modern-day world live trying to craft elaborate ways of escaping me. Why can’t they accept that I am a vital part of the life cycle? I walk through the hallways of hospitals, schools, airports – watching you all consumed in your act of living. I sit in benches and marvel at the beauty of you all; Watching prana run through your bodies. It’s fascinating – this human experience you were all gifted with.  Yet, I become deeply saddened, when I show up and I’m often thrown into the fire with rage. I only make myself seen in order to preserve life. Without death, life would be unsustainable. Without death, there would be plague, overwhelm, and disease. I come in with the intention of providing anyone I cross paths with an opportunity to begin anew, to begin again. I come to relieve pressure. I may appear in a literal, physical sense, but mostly I appear in my metaphoric form – job loss, illness, breakups, failure.”

 The conversation was enlivening, engaging. I stood up and walked into the kitchen to prepare the tea kettle. A cup of tea seemed like the perfect addition to my date with Death. As I moved around the kitchen, Death followed. “I see your point there. However, from first-hand experience as well as witnessing that of others, loss can feel brutal. It can be excruciating. I can understand why some of my kind would meet you with nothing, but rage.” I said as I poured tea into our small, ceramic cups. “Ah, my dear. I will not discredit that statement for I do believe that when prana leaves the body once and for all, whether literally or metaphorically, it marks the end of an experience that will forever be lost to time. I too, sometimes weep, while I carry out my mission. Father Time is a stoic I will never quite understand. Let me clarify why I shared my sadness in regards to the general human reaction to my presence. You see, when I arrive, I don’t intend to stay eternally. To do so, would be to go against my purpose. I arrive as a reminder of transience. To further emphasize that change is the only constant. All I ask, is that your people, your kind, make space for me. In order to understand my message, you have to be willing to make space for me. In the story of The Lady Who Lived on the Moon, the young girl was only cured after Dr. Jung acknowledged her myth as if it were reality. And come to think of it, it was her reality.”

“I think he said that his fearlessness was that he always created room for fear. It was always allowed into the discourse. FEAR NEEDS GOOD COMPANY. It needs the company of courage. It needs the company of discernment. It needs the company of evidence and knowledge. It needs to not stand alone.

When any idea stands in isolation; when any emotion isn’t integrated into the greater matrix of relationships, it becomes a liability rather than an asset. Courage is a liability without fear because then it becomes impetuousness, recklessness.” Douglas Brooks

 As Death continued on, I began to think of every time I had felt an urge to cease to exist. The sound of a ticking clock in the background was the perfect soundtrack for the setting. In my younger years, I used to run a poetry blog. Through my words, I had connected with beautiful humans from around the globe. One of those people was Stephanie. At the time Stephanie was a Buddhism PhD student at Columbia University. “I absolutely love your poetry. Are you familiar with the concept of the dark goddess? I’m currently reading the works of a woman named Marion Woodman, a Jungian depth psychologist, and based on the content of your poems, I think you would enjoy her work.”  I delved into Marion Woodman, her work deeply resonated, but eventually I continued living my life and left her work in the tracks. Some years later amidst a bout of intense emotional agony, I pleaded to Death to take me. Suddenly, I remembered the works of Marion Woodman. Ms. Woodman held a notion than more often than not, a desire for death, was an indication that a part of ourselves needed to die; That we had outgrown a behavior, a trait, a habit, and it was time we released the carcass. Upon remembering that teaching, my pain subsided. Death demands presence.

“Are you still listening, dear?” I looked at the clock and then over to Death sipping his tea with an expression of joy. “Oh, it’s ok if you’re not. I tend to ramble. Anyway, as I was saying. I think there are some people that were put on this Earth to make my work more easeful. Those gifted with the capacity to destroy systems to make space for the new. Some call it the ‘power of reinvention’.  You’re one of them. It’s your superpower. Though in your earlier years you resisted or overindulged in your power, the more that you make space for me, the more I’ll teach you to hone it. Thank you for welcoming me with the grace of the swan today – you’re learning. Well, my love, duty calls. I have to get going to start working on my next mission. It won’t be an easy one. Wish me luck.” Death hurriedly stood up, placed the tea cup on the sink, and rushed towards the door. “One last question – what kind of tea was that? It was delightful.” “They call it Tulsi.” I responded. Death walked through the door and in an instant was completely out of sight.

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Rebirth: Dawn in Englewood, Colorado

As I recalled the highlights of my conversation with Death, I began to witness my fear of being alive. The earlier words of my sisters – Kali, Persephone, Isis – came to mind:  “With the same power that you slay, you can create.”  In Dr. Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he says, “No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow side.”  For years, I’ve thought that my desire to cease to exist was nothing more than a curse, a burden, a flaw. Today, I realize it’s my greatest gift, a strength, a superpower. It is my duty that while I’m alive and breathing on this Earth, I learn to weave the lessons from the underworld with the Earthly plane. That I learn to make space for life as much as I do death. That I embody both the creator and destroyer; To master the art of integration. That I hold space for death in myself, but also for others.  In the popular Disney film, Frozen, Elsa has cryokinetic magic – an ability to manipulate the ice and the cold. In the beginning of the film, Elsa, whom doesn’t know how to use her powers is shamed for having a lack of control after injuring her sister, Anna. After a period of isolation, a heroine’s journey, and an encounter with a villain, it is Elsa’s icy powers that save the day. As I took the last sip of my tea, I thought of all the times I had been able to embody death because I have a human experience: Savasana after an intense yoga class, holding my breath with full lungs during meditation, in the midst of a bodily shaking orgasm (La petite mort). As I relished in the sensations of my memories, I spotted a Phoenix and a Snake out of the corner of my eye. My constant companions whom teach me the value of burning, of shedding, or as Elsa would sing, the value of letting go. Death is nothing more than an invitation to transform.

Works Cited

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