When I first started working with the nervous system, my interest was around how I could use these understandings to be more engaged in life. To be vital and robust. To allow myself to be an active participant in what was happening in my own experience.
When one of my mentors mentioned to me that in essence, the purpose of the nervous system is actually to lead us towards death, I found that realization quite jarring.
My first instinct was to reject it. Or at the very least not think about it. Which is, unfortunately how most people in the culture that I’m a part of treat death and dying.
We are aware of our own mortality and the mortality of others, and yet, when confronted with thoughts or conversations about death, we find ourselves commenting, gosh that’s a bit heavy isn’t it, and turning our attentions elsewhere.
A book I was reading recently mentioned that the fear of death and the denial of our animal nature- the fact that we return back to the earth in the same manner as the bugs, and plants and animals- lies at the basis of most of our striving. Striving to set ourselves apart so we can continue to live as though we are immortal.
My studies of the nervous system have afforded me a great deal of love and respect for my body, and for all body’s. That might seem like a weird thing to say, but it’s the truth.
Growing up, I experience a strong rejection of my physical self. This was too big and that was too small. I denied and punished my body through food restrictions and compulsive exercise. My mind had been conditioned to overlook its inherent beauty.
Now, I stand in reverence of the body. Of the magnificent lungs that move and wrap around the heart. Of my fascia and how it expands and contracts in response to my perceived level of safety. How my vision changes to protect me between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. I could go on. But where I’ve landed is on the soft cushion of understanding that whispers in my ear:
Your body is always working in your best interest.
And that’s a fact.
To consider this, then. To consider that in life, my nervous system is the container that holds me and guides me through. It makes sense that it would also seek to protect me as I make my transition out of the world that I know now and into the next. Whatever next may be.
When we have the good fortune to be in health, and our time has come to pass, our nervous system takes our hand and leads us towards death. I have never had the honour of working with someone in their late stages of life, but I have colleagues who have. People who know the body of the person they are working with well. They know their motor patterns and their mind.
And they all share the same story.
About 6 weeks away from death, they say, the motor patterns of the body start to change. The mind begins to change also. It’s the walk away from life as they know it now.
It’s not scary though. It’s beautiful. Our nervous system is protective of us. We begin to withdraw, but not in a negative way. We just become more contained. We require more rest. The body gradually moves further and further down the sympathetic chain, our sensory input from the outside become less and less until finally our breath leaves our body.
When we have what is now the luxury of passing away without pathology or illness (and even then), the body takes care of us. Even in death, it’s working in our best interest.
I find this to be a beautiful thought.
Regardless of your personal thoughts around the monarchy, the Queen gave us a rare public example of natural death. We witnessed the gradual withdrawal and until the announcement came that she was no longer with us in the same way.
What fascinates me is the press still ask for the cause of death.
The Queen was 96. Even when the cause of death is just the end of life, we still have trouble accepting it to be. There must be a reason.
We need that reason, perhaps, so we can believe it may not happen to us too.
When I’m greeted with news of death. When I’m greeted with thoughts of death, I do my best to sit with it. I don’t try to understand it or to have answers to it.
I allow myself to accept that there are some parts of the universe that my mind cannot know in its current state of being and my role is not to control that but to accept it.
But to think that my body- and yours- is always working in our best interest. That our nervous system is a support not only in life but in death is a thought I find very beautiful.
We are taken care of, even if we don’t realise it.