Little deaths

Learn from failures, mistakes and losses. They can open our hearts.

Life is in a constant cycle of regeneration, with both a flowing of abundance and a vast emptiness. It is an ongoing dance of creation where the fullness secretly contains the emptiness, and the void of emptiness contains the elements of abundance. Older ways of seeing considered all aspects of creation to have purpose and to be intertwined with each other. Whatever existed did so for a reason and there were no mistakes. Life had its own intelligence and way of balancing things out.

Being born, we inherit both sides of the dance, the gift of life and the final breath. Death and loss must have a place in life, or creation would not be able to continue – they both exist because of the other. Life is like the music and death like the silent backdrop for it to be heard. Beyond both of the polarities lies a possibility of transformation, just like deep heartfelt music and true silence can be a remedy for connecting to deeper places within. 

"Death is the middle of a long life," an old Celtic proverb states, reminding us that putting death at the center of life instead of putting it out of sight allows us to live more fully. A healthy awareness of death can make the breath of life feel more of a miracle and bring us more clarity about what's important. Death used to be called the great teacher of life because knowing something about death allowed people to value life more. It is not morbid to consider the role of death in life. It is what shines a light on that which is most alive in our lives, and points us towards our greatest purpose. 

When death is simply considered a failure and enemy of life in a medical occasion, life itself becomes reduced. Death's teachings have been separated and lost in the fast-paced modern life that worships youth and beauty. We are trying to outrun the inevitable and have diminished the dark wisdom and instruction that it can provide us. The saying "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" shows us how both must exist. Contemplation of death can teach us how to cherish the present moment. Life is a permanent today.

Life in all levels has the ability to renew itself again and again. I can attest to this from my personal experience of losing one of my older brothers a few years back. It was and is one of the greatest teachings in my life. As one door shuts, another revelation opens. Death can be both sorrow and a boon if we have the endurance to grieve in a healthy way and allow ourselves to endear the moments given to us.

Along with actual death, there are little deaths that are always occurring. Our encounters with sorrow and loss are inevitable and if suffered honestly they can become the darker wisdom from which a greater life can grow. The little death represents the death of the ego, and allows for a deeper part of life to reveal itself. The breaking open of our hearts, as painful as it is, can also be the medicine for that which ails us in life. Many things can help us open the heart and suffering and loss are strong medicines. An open heart is a heart fully alive, not rejecting or judging but living life as it is. Typically the energetic heart opens right after something powerful. In most cases that is some form of suffering or little death.

Little deaths can be profound, as is the case in the story of the Buddha, know originally as Prince Siddhartha. Born into riches and a powerfully rich material lifestyle, Siddhartha changed his fate upon experiencing the sight of old age, death and suffering. It wasn't until these experiences that he began to open to who he truly was. The little-death created a great awakening. As he awakened further, he both understood the common fate of humanity and recognized the unique nature of his destiny. Something has to die so another element can be born. 

Little deaths are the necessary ingredient for big change in our lives. Knowing more about the nature of it can lead to knowing more about the nature of living. The failures, mistakes and losses are the little deaths from which the great lessons can be received and learned. When the ego suffers, the greater self within can grow. Those who accept the presence of a little-death in life are transformed the most.

Tim Hahn is a lifelong resident of central Illinois. He and his wife Molly run CrossFit Instinct where they specialize in health and wellness from a holistic approach. He is a father of two and a life coach and yoga teacher.