By Tasha Friedman
¡Feliz Día de Muertos!
Día de Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) is iconic of Mexico, although it is celebrated throughout the Latin American world, and similar festivities take place in Spain and southern Europe.
The celebration as we know it likely has roots both in indigenous pre-Hispanic culture and European traditions reaching back to the Middle Ages.
Around this time of year in Mazunte and throughout Mexico, flower shops are glowing with orange marigolds (cempasúchil or flor de Muertos), believed to attract souls of the dead. Cemeteries are cleaned, and the graves are adorned with flowers, candles, sugar skulls, and other offerings.
The holiday itself (two days, contrary to the name) is marked by a similar blend of bright colors and death imagery. Families set up lavishly decorated home altars to honor and make offerings to their beloved departed. The night comes alive with parades and parties, often at gravesites, with exuberant music, dancing, and costumes.
Día de Muertos is a popular holiday, an event for families, children, and people from all walks of life. Yet, it contains a profound message, pointing to a highly liberating view of death and of life itself.
Alternative Views on Life and Death
Joyful celebration and remembrance of death are not a common combination in modern Western culture. We’re more accustomed to avoiding the thought of mortality, speaking in euphemisms, tacitly clinging to the hope that medical advances or a healthy lifestyle will save us from this most basic fact of human existence.
This doesn’t work, of course, and cuts us off from one of the most essential aspects of life, potentially one of the strongest pointers towards our essence.
How you relate to death reflects how you relate to life.
When you contemplate your mortality, what do you feel? Fear or openness? Hopelessness or peace? A need to grasp at what you have or relaxation around the ebbs and flows of life?
Fear and contraction is the normal reaction of the ego. If you are fully identified with your body and mind, if these structures represent the whole of existence, then, of course, it is a big problem that they will eventually degrade and disappear!
But it is possible to have a different attitude. As the celebratory mood of Día de Muertos makes abundantly clear, this shift is available to everyone, not only great yogis who have spent years in practice.
Death grants beauty and meaning to life. Our human lives, so tiny and so very transient, are mere blips in the vast workings of the Cosmos, less than a single drop of water in a world covered by ocean—and yet indescribably precious.
Death puts our affairs in perspective. It shows us that since in the grander scheme, nothing we do matters, nothing has any lasting meaning, and so everything is fully, abundantly, and perfectly meaningful in and of itself.
Death teaches us to live every moment for its own sake. Make your plans for the future, yes, build your projects and manifest your dreams, but always remember that the only thing that is real is the Present Moment. And the Present Moment doesn’t answer to anything, doesn’t have to accomplish anything or fit into any narrative: it simply is as it is.
Joining the Celebration
When you recognize the vastness of your existence, a Reality beyond the limits of the body and individual mind, suddenly the impermanence of said body and mind is much less alarming.
Life blossoms in its ephemeral show of color and light: why not celebrate it?
Celebrate human connection, friends, and family.
Celebrate the pleasure of the senses: good food, good music, bright colors, and dancing.
Celebrate the mystery, this short life with its unknowable beginning and end.
Celebrate the absurdity, the sheer weirdness of human existence that nothing can fully make sense of.
Celebrate the impermanence, the fact that nothing lasts, that this whole manifestation is a constant exchange and transformation of forms into one another.
And we all continue dancing together, walking each other home, holding each other’s hands as we plunge joyfully into the unknown.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.
Image © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons /