A couple of weeks ago, I went for a hike and came upon a buck that had been recently shot. I could see the wound shot by his neck. I knew it was dead, because it was lying on the ground without moving. He had not decomposed, yet. It almost seemed as though it was asleep, resting. I came close to the deer, and felt deep sorrow for how he had been left there to die. It wasn’t his death that had overwhelmed me as much as the unceremonial and dishonorable way in which his life had been taken and left there to waste. Life is never sacrificed – only the physical in which the life existed. Life continues – its expression is abundant and limitless. But life can be dishonored when it is taken or treated in a manner that is not sacred. This, had happened to this gentle animal.
I wasn’t afraid to touch him, to lay my hands on his abdomen and pray for his spirit and transition. When I put my hands on his body, I felt a profound sense of peace. I felt the gentleness of his life in me and around me. I wasn’t disturbed by death itself. I could feel that there was more to life than his body; that he would continue on and transition to another journey. In that moment, I had a deep-seated realization that there was more to life than the beating of his heart. His physical body was just one of many journeys his spirit would take. I sensed that to be true for myself, as well. Maybe that’s why I felt so much peace – because I recognized death wasn’t and end. Nothing truly dies.
I recognized the life that existed in the deer was infinite. I could see and honor the life that had been, but also the boundlessness and timelessness of the life that continued to be.
I encountered this beautiful, gentle buck just three days before the anniversary of my grandmother’s transition. In that moment, I understood my grandmother’s life had not ended – no one’s life does. Her Spirit had chosen to move on, but she was still life. She’s still a part of all the abundance and connectedness there is, because life creates conditions for other life to flourish. My encounter with the buck made me feel so alive, so fearless. Death did not disturb me, but rather, awakened me.
I experienced this beautiful deer in the midst of fall, as trees and grass and mountains are letting go to prepare for the enduring of winter and renewal of spring. I met this deer during the season of Dia de Muertos when we honor, through prayer and rememberance, those who have transitioned. He graced me with the understanding that death is the closing of a cycle, and the portal for a new form of life to flourish.
The deer’s gentleness and grace reminded me of my grandmother. His body of hers. His essence was her essence. She was there in him as much as she was in me. We are truly held and protected by life beyond the life that we inhabit in our body. That day I understood that life is much more than what we see physically. Life is an energy of love, compassion, and kindness moving through all sorts of beings: animals, mountains, stars, rivers, trees, and humans. It’s in us. It’s around us. It’s beyond us. I felt it that day like I’d never felt it before. It was introduced to me by the illusion of death.
The deer’s antlers can grow back once they fall. Because of this characteristic, this animal has been revered in many traditions as a symbol of life regeneration. There’s a mystery around this ability that gives the deer a magical and mystical quality. The deer represents life’s magical ability to renew itself.
The dance between life and death is a peculiar thing. So delicate. So fragile. In our lifetimes we will find ourselves celebrating and uplifting life, but also mourning and letting go of it, ultimately letting go of our own. Life is constantly moving us through cycles, teaching us that life in its purest and unrestricted form is a series of transformations, and that what we perceive as death, is only a metamorphosis, moving our souls through stages of maturation. We must let go , in order to become the most purest and unrestricted form of life. Death is not and end, but the full embrace of life without the limitations of the physical form and the ego.
My God, I never thought I could feel life this intensely. I am sitting in profound gratitude for feeling so deeply connected to life and for these moments of deeper awakening that life presents me with. It’s been seven years since I last felt my grandmother, physically. Time just keeps on moving, only our memories and love keep it still, if just for a few fleeting moments, when we find ourselves reliving our experiences with those who have transitioned through our remembrance and dreams.
The winter solstice is nearing and it marks a time when the night is longer and the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. One ancient definition of solstice is “standing still sun”.
Winter is a time when we stand still like the sun and we hone in on our wisdom by exploring our inner selves, as well as determination and resilience to navigate the darkness, which can be presented to us through doubts, uncertainty and hopelessness. It is a time in which we go into our cocoon and endure the process of transformation. In nature, Deer can see well with little light, and like the deer, when we are in touch with our intuitive wisdom, we have the ability to see through the darkness and help guide ourselves and others home, to the seat of our soul. Winter is also a time of being born again, not of the flesh, but of spirit. That beautiful deer I came upon in the mountains showed me that death is necessary, a pathway of going deeply within, of beginning to awaken to a more profound consciousness, of discovering the light within, and of building spiritual strength for the work yet to be done on this physical plane. Death is the gift for spiritual awakening, growth and renewal.