Lizzie Cummings, who is to run a workshop at the Festival, invites us to learn with her the art of walking towards death with our eyes wide open…
“Death is the ultimate goal.” So said Carl Gustav Jung. When I was in my twenties I did not understand how one could “strive” as he suggested, “towards a good death”. I didn’t want to die at all. Living was too interesting and the thought of leaving the people I love didn’t bear thinking about. Dying was something I did not intend to do.
When I first read Jung’s words it reminded me of a conversation I had overheard when I was about 7 years old, on the subject of death, at a dinner party of which my parents were the hosts. I was supposed to be in bed but had snuck halfway downstairs to spy through the banisters, as small children are want to do, on the mysterious discourse of grownups. Time passed and just as my eyelids were drooping I heard one of them say with a finality I shall never forget, “Well, when you’re dead, you’re dead. The End. There is nothing after that”. I jerked awake, stunned by what I had just heard. This revelation was so shocking to my 7 year old self that for a long time I was left with a deep sense of loneliness and dread. I wept every night at the thought of all those I loved disappearing into what I now believed to be the black void that awaited us all. But over time I used my imagination to fill in this infinite emptiness with colours, music and beings of my own making.
Thus I had made my first reconciliation with death and connected more deeply with my creativity in the process. Well, I soon forgot about it as the importance of playground friendships took over and I returned to the ever pressing challenge of how to successfully hide my greens under the mash potato. I was immortal once more.
I am now mid-way in my own life’s journey, should I be blessed enough to die simply of old age. At 46 I stand on a metaphorical bridge from where I can reach out behind me and still touch my youth and at the same time look in the opposite direction and see my death as an event that is most definitely going to happen. I wish to learn the art of walking towards my death with my eyes wide open and I intend to age gracefully, or disgracefully, depending upon how the mood takes me from one decade to another.
But I have parted company with that wonderful feeling of immortality that we carry through our childhood, teens, twenties and even our thirties. I guess that is a kind of dying in itself. That jubilant feeling of “forever” is lost to me and I feel deeply sad and at times frightened that one day I shall be gone from this extraordinary planet, let alone all those I love. However, accepting this mini-death, though deeply painful, has allowed me to replace “forever” with “for a while”. This more transitory attitude to life asks me to shift into a different gear, to let go of the things I didn’t achieve, (too late now!) celebrate the things I completed (Hooray!) and then ask myself, “How do I want to be in the rest of my life?” It is oh, so tempting to cling to our youth but to do so is to fight against ourselves and miss the wisdom that ageing can help us to achieve.
I would like to age with purpose. Death’s call asks us, whilst we are still alive, to let go now of all that no longer serves us, and not to wait until the last moment when we will no longer have the choice. But we can not easily let go of old comforts, lingering dreams and structures that were once intrinsic to our youth. This takes time and often, letting go feels like a part of us has died. Well it has! It takes courage to allow this to happen but mini-deaths are necessary to make way for new creativity. When the beautiful, golden Phoenix dies, it burns and becomes ashes. But out of the ashes, so the myth goes, the Phoenix arises anew.
As a drama and movement therapist, I help people to explore their issues through stories and myths, body work and dance improvisation. To explain: Stories can hold up a mirror to the parts of ourselves that are difficult to understand or express rationally, whilst the body holds memories and feelings that have been cut off from the mind for one reason or another. So when we dance or move creatively, step into the shoes of a character with whom we identify, or simply connect mindfully to our bodies, we may discover and unlock what holds us back and re-discover the parts of ourselves that got lost along the bumpy road of life. We don’t just think our way around our issues, we embody and feel our way through them so that we may move forward with a more grounded and personally satisfying truth.
So I am delighted to run a workshop for this year’s “Kicking The ‘Bucket Festival” at Inner Space, the meditation and personal development centre in the heart of Oxford. There are many stories that help us to think about the life/death/re-birth cycle. Exploring the infinite mysteries of what lies beyond through story and play is a wonderfully creative way to put ourselves into the centre of this cycle. So what is the chosen myth for this workshop? Come along and find out!
Wednesday 2nd November 6.15-7.45pm “There is Life in Death” Workshop with Lizzie Cummings at Inner Space Oxford.
To find out more about Lizzie’s work you can go to her website: www.lizziecummings.com