A Tantra of Death
Death Dialogues Project Debut: Say His Name – a review.
I was quite uncertain as to what to expect when I saw the event posting for ‘The Death Dialogues Project Debut: Say His Name’ – my curiosity was piqued.
Several years ago now I studied for almost a year Death Doula or Vigiling – the act of sitting in stillness with a soul that is transitioning, journeying and ushering it onwards – the study I did was both a modern day revival of the ‘Death Doula’ of tradition incorporated with the study of the Tibetan ushering of the deceased for 49 days after death – which is known as the Bardo Thödol.
Loosely translated ‘Bardo Thödol’ means ‘Liberation in the Intermediate State Through Hearing’ and involves the chanting or recital of a funerary text the purpose of which is to ease the consciousness or ‘soul’ though the death portal and in the Tibtan culture to help it gain a favourable re-birth.
So I can say I am an explorer of death…
…and the ‘Death Dialogues Project Debut: Say His Name’ – proposed to open up conversations and pathways and streams of consciousness surrounding and about death – and that in my opinion was awesome.
I teach a form of Yoga based purely on the concept of death; essentially there is one pose ‘Savasana’ also known as ‘Corpse Pose’ and this is explored in depth – there is a whole tantra around this single seemingly ‘simple’ posture. The practice of which involves moving towards the point of virtual death and to be honest it has not been one of my most well attended classes! While yoga practitioners are generally quite open to exploration of the human condition and have a degree of ‘consciousness’ not necessarily experienced by the general population; I think that response to my practice on ‘Death the Climax of Life’ quite accurately reflects the general consensus or status quo about death in our Western communities.
Our thoughts and actions about death are largely shrouded in mystery and uninformed – so at the crucial time – the climatic point as the Tibetans believe of ‘life’ we have no resources to call upon, no tools, no conversation.
We are divorced from death as if ‘we’ – none of us expect it to happen to us.
I for one welcome these conversations and am excited to come back into relationship with ‘death’.
So here I was in this beautiful theatre known as ‘OneOneSix, an old church in Bank Street Whangarei that has provided containment for many souls at so many stages on the journey of conception to death.
The theatre was set up as a lounge, tables couches, cushions, informally arranged seating – there was little to define the ‘stage’ as such and this blurring of the lines between audience (as in a body of people expecting to be entertained) and performers (as in actors or talent) gifted an intimacy and familiarity that was as if we were gathered around a table, friends and family it evoked for me a feeling of being at the Last Supper.
There was no real audience and no real performers although the performance if you would call it that was ‘real’ in every sense of the word. There was no ‘acting’ or ‘talent’ and the ‘Verbatim’ Theatre was the perfect forum for exploring death.
I was new to Vebatim Theatre so Becky Aud-Jennison explains Verbatim Theatre is; “The body of the dialogues, [which] was edited down from an 2.5 hour conversation with Madeline and into a 25 minute verbatim reading.” Becky feels this is important information because this is where art and death are intersecting. It is actually a little piece of ‘documentary style theatre’ and the intention is to conduct the interviews to gather the material with the aim of a full length verbatim play – she says;
“People love hearing truth.”
And from the packed house – I would agree.
The program started with a ‘settling song’ from Indigo Girls…
‘All That We Let In’. Like all songs at first hearing I caught wisps of words, not whole, not complete but offerings – sweet, inspired and somehow joyfully sad.
“Lost friends and loved ones much too young. So much promise and work left undone…
See those crosses on the side of the road, tied with ribbons in the median…”
The final line ‘And the greatest gift of life is to know love’ brought it full circle and I knew I was in a beautiful place.
Perfectly perfect timing.
Opening in prayer was Eliza Gilkyson with her prayer-song ‘Sanctuary’ which affirmed my knowings … as we voyaged on her words into the ‘valley of the shadow’…
Jane Cunningham spoke beautifully as she blessed the project – her honor at being bestowed this ‘role’ – cast so beautifully, quietly, and still as herself dressed in simple black and barefoot was palpable as she lit the candle that carried all our words, thoughts, sentiments towards heaven and to all corners and edges of the infinite universe.
She said ‘Death is the Bringer of Life’
We all said ‘May it be so.’
The ‘body’ of the dialogues – a conversation from Madeline Chaplin about the dying and death of her 6 year old son ‘Mahyan’ from a terminal brain tumor 16 years ago on this date – November 25; was read by Becky Aud-Jennison.
I can not elaborate on something so profound, so raw and so evolutionary and organically processed and so perfectly complete in itself. My words will not add to it, the timeliness, the moment, the life of Mahyan that could and will never be extinguished though the body faded, of a boy I did not know – but do know now.
He lives in me – my cells are changed from this meeting with him 16 years after his death.
What a life – Mahyan – you gifted us something beyond the words any can express and none can express so eloquently as your mother Madeline.
Your life and the depth of Madeline’s love that is measured in grief – not wallowing in grief but living on in grief that is contained in beauty, realness and functionality.
I say functionality as so often we get stuck, not just in grief but in any emotion and surely the purpose of ‘E’-‘motion’ is to ‘move’. It is ‘energy in motion’ the origins of which are Old and Middle French and Latin. The etymology of the word ’emotion’ which came into existence sometime circa 12C means to move, agitate, stir, and the ‘e’ comes originally from ‘ex’ which means ‘out’.
It literally means to let out that which moves, stirs or agitates one.
When we let the emotions out we make room for life to keep living us inside.
One salient piece of advice which I related to on a deeply personal level was the acknowledgement from others that as you walk with the dying and the dead – there is lots that is hard; in this we become raw and the rawness hurts and from it comes wailing, crying and noise. There is rage and sorrow and chatter. No-one really wants to hear this noise it is too painful so they say “You’re doing so well.” What could be better to say is … “It’s hard.”
Because it is.
It is hard for everyone.
It is so hard for the principle griever.
Let’s get real – it is hard. In my opinion saying this brings an honesty into the open that opportunes expansiveness while being deeply personal and inclusive.
Then healing can emerge – without movement of emotion; with out life; things stagnate and as like others do Madeline came into a place where her life was ‘changed’.
She said, ‘It changed my life.”
Grief is love with no-where to go.
We don’t come back from grief.
We don’t get over grief.
Grief changes us.
Grief is a journey, a passage, it is not weak.
Grief is the price of love.
“It is in the sharing of stories we become mid-wives to ourselves.”
Personally I see the grief path as a midwifing journey, as one of the lines spoken towards the end of the evening and that stayed with me intimates; “the pain we thought would kill us becomes the labour carrying us to a new ‘me’ where love and loss merges.”
Jo Samuel shared; afterwhich Madeline spoke, and members of the Giant Drop in Choir sang ‘The River’ and again the whole gathering lifted heart and voice.
Jane Cunningham closed.
Michelle Branch sang ‘Goodbye to You’ this song is especially poignant as this is the song that was referred to earlier in the Verbatim piece when Madeline says; “There was a song that kept running in my head one day — Why is this song in my head? Get out of my head.” — and Mahyan died later that day. Sometimes the response I feel is just to ‘be’ with, the asking of ‘Why?’ can seem so fruitless.
And in these last words and lyrics someone – I don’t recall who, so poeticaly said;
“Threads of magic…
That is what our stories are ‘threads of magic’ that alchemically alter others lives in ways none can imagine – until they do.
We said His Name – “Mahyan, Mahyan, Mahyan.”
And I for one am thankful for Mahyan for I am certain healing begins as Madeline said “in the co-existence of rage and sorrow with gratitude and joy.”
Mahyans life is transforming lives now and this debut is the launch of a new movement of conversation and be-ing around death in a way that invites us as we are – perfect not broken or wrong because we grieve and want to grieve but doing what heals us naturally.
Becky also explained; “This first production was the blessing and introduction of the larger project.”
So it is with many thanks to everyone for a truly revolutionary, inspiring and ‘real’ evening with ‘The Death Dialogues Project Debut: Say His Name’
The Death Dialogues Project Debut Say. His. Name.
Becky Aud-Jennison – About & Verbatim Piece
Madeline Chaplin – Mahyan’s Mother
Michelle Branch – ‘Goodbye to You’
The Indigo Girls – ‘All That We Let In’ recorded music
Eliza Gilkyson – Prayer Song – ‘Sanctuary’
Jo Samuel – Words
Jane Cunningham – Welcome, Blessing, Closing Words
The Giant Drop in Choir – Whangarei 116 Bank Street -‘The River’
The event was followed by a truly delcious feast of cakes especially and other foods and beverages