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Home Articles Thelki Death Lodge experience
Death Lodge experience PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 May 2012 12:09

A Death Lodge is a native tradition in which a person consciously goes out alone into the wilderness in order to lay-down some established aspect of their life that no longer serves them. This aspect is released; it receives a ritual death. In sacred terms, this is a 'dying before you die' and is one of many deaths that we must necessarily experience in life before our eventual physical, bodily death. The Death Lodge is a way of spending an intense period of time reviewing and fully experiencing all that this element has meant before it is laid-down in a symbolic ritual of dying, release and opening into whatever is to arise next in the void that follows the death.

I took myself off to a Death Lodge in May 2012 to mark my imminent retirement from a professional career and working life of over 38 years. I wanted to not only let go of my working life - something that I had been toying with for over ten years - but perhaps more importantly, I wanted to release myself from so many of the patterns and behaviours that had arisen and taken hold throughout this career. This particular Death Lodge was guided by Dave Bingham and facilitated for a small group of men over four days in a remote highland glen in Scotland.

During the first day we prepared ourselves for the solo wilderness experience. In an opening ritual, we picked up a stone that for me represented the burden that I had come to lay down; a stone that was to be carried at all times before and during the experience, until it was finally released in the laying-down ritual. On the second day, we each set out in the wilderness of this remote glen to find our spot for 40 hours of solo wilderness camping and contemplation, without food.

death lodge glen death lodge camp

The weather throughout the solo camp was unusually cold with night-time temperatures down the freezing, and day-time temperatures rising to no more than around 7 degrees with a northerly wind adding a wind-chill factor. Without food, and being relatively immobile in a contemplative state, these conditions proved challenging and added to the seriousness of the experience. At the same time, I was very conscious of the presence of both life and death in the natural environment all around me: a dead sheep; old pine cones; fallen trees; a new-born lamb; leaf-shoots; birds of prey; ancient crofts and enclosures; falling and melting snow.

For the first day, I gave my attention to a thorough review of my professional career: the different jobs I had undertaken; the various employers; the range of roles; the qualifications gained; the status that work had given me at different times. My working life has been very varied. I explored each of the main projects, their successes and failures. Of equal significance was the focus on jobs and roles that I might have taken - either if they had been offered to me, or if I had been successful in my applications. I wanted to sit with the regrets about work - both the things done and the things undone - as well as an awareness of what might have been, if other circumstances and decisions had prevailed.

I've always felt confident and fulfilled by my work, but I wanted to explore the motivations and drivers that had underpinned each of the different roles. I asked myself questions about what had really led me to take each role, and what had kept me in that role, sometimes beyond the point when I wanted to stay. This led to a 'ranking' of all the work roles in terms of how much satisfaction they had really given me at a deeper, soul, level. I found some uncomfortable truths here around money, security, status and earning, that I had been aware of but were more pervasive than I had previously realised. It was the deeper level patterns and behaviours that had arisen through work and had come to be so influential in my way of life that I wanted to reach.  Some jobs and roles revealed themselves to be in complete and natural integrity with my inner life; others I discovered to have shadow layers that were now seen to be less healthy and less genuine that I had realised (ignored?) at the time. They included saving, possession, driven-ness, and delayed gratification. It was deeply uncomfortable and yet satisfying to reveal and sit with all these aspects of my life.  Each such role, achievement, regret, attitude, and aspect found its way onto a card and into a piggy-bank for use in the main ritual.

After a full day in the wilderness, I got ready for my self-devised death lodge ritual. On the bank of the river I created a ritual site, with a clear intention to lay-down, release and move on. I opened the piggy-bank and cast all the little cards into the flowing river to be carried away and dispersed. I laid the piggy-bank itself on the ground and smashed it open with the largest stone I could lift, symbolising the breaking of the old patterns. The remains of the piggy-bank were then burned and destroyed in a small fire. Finally, the stone that I had carried for so long was hurled with some force into the depths of the river, from which it had originally come. This was the laying down and the death of my professional career.

The rest of my 40 hours in the wilderness was easier without the burden. I could be still again in the awareness of both Nature and my own Presence. The cycle of life and death continued all around me. I began the opening into the void that follows any death. There is no need to plan and create, for what follows will emerge when it's ready. I have a sense of freedom, spontaneity, generosity, recklessness and presence. It has been a 'good death'.