by Felix Chancellor
Death and Life go together, hand in hand, in an intricate and interdependent cosmic dance that forms the flow and cycle of the Universe. Stars, viruses and all in between are ruled by the dynamic, loving dialogue between Life and Death.
Yet, the avoidance and denial of Death forms the very foundation of our culture. Our habits, institutions, medicine, end-of-life and funerary practices all speak of our neurotic, dissociated relationship with the end of Life. We hold ourselves as somehow exclusive from Nature and its cycles; as if we hold dominion over Nature in that regard.
The mythic structure of our culture revolves around the individual as the ultimate unit of Life. This foundational myth has led us all to a dangerous, ugly place. We find ourselves separated from Nature, community, purpose, meaning, craft, calling, care, compassion, and, ironically enough, ourselves.
There is much to be said here about this. However, here I would like to explore Authentic Green Burials, a viable option here in San Miguel, as a practice to help heal these divisions.
In our vain, childish pursuit of control over Life and Death, we have forgotten that the soil, the earth, is a heap of carcasses: leaves, trees, deer, fungi, grass, bacteria, rocks, people, that has accumulated and been transformed by the earth and the Earth over millions of years. This transformation takes place elegantly, exquisitely, impeccably, with profound wisdom and poetry. Yet, because, according to our collective mythos, we hold dominion over Life, Death and Nature, we believe that we can do better.
Our every attempt at bettering, colonizing, domesticating, extracting, utilizing, mining, forming, manipulating the earth has come out woeful in comparison if not utterly catastrophic. Even our burial practices are as far removed from the natural order of things as they can be. We produce desiccated mummies encapsulated in metal and concrete, in some grotesque and desperate pantomime of immortality,instead of fertile, Life-nurturing soil. Even in the presence of Death, we costume our beloved dead in the guise of the living, making it look as though they are merely enjoying a quiet afternoon nap. In denying Death its place, we choke the wellspring of Life within ourselves. We would rather die with the appearance of taking everything with us rather than accept Death, Nature and Life.
The good news is that in recent years there has been a renewed interest in green burial practices, practices which facilitate the return of the body to the soil. Yet even here, we see our human dis-nature's compulsive demand to intervene, our belief that we can somehow do it better than Nature itself. There are numerous alternative, costly, "green" burial practices on offer now out there: compost machines that quickly and efficiently turn your loved ones into sacs of compost for you to take home; fungi suits; artistic coffin pods...
These "enhanced," "green" methods are all still founded on the belief that we are somehow better than Nature and Death; that I as protagonist of this story am too good to simply return to the source in a process that has been ongoing forever, a span of time that challenges my own personal sense of significance. And this is the cultural mentality that isolates and removes me from truly, joyfully participating in the grand story that is ever so much larger than just I. It prevents me from finding meaning in my life and in my death. It occludes my being able to accept Death as a part of my life with elegance, serenity and grace, so that my passing may be less of a final ending and more of a return. This ideology bereaves me of playing my part in the Cosmic Cycle, so that I must live as an Exile from Life itself.
The good news is that there is a radical new prospect, Authentic Green Burial, that is starting to arise across the globe. Ironically, this new prospect, the simplest, most elegant and least expensive, is also the most ancient and ancestral choice. It is the one in which we intervene as little as possible in the Earth's loving and impeccable process of Soilmaking. We simply consecrate our body or the body of our loved ones back to the soil to allow for the body to continue its cycle and nurture further life. The only rule and guideline to an Authentic Green Burial is that the body is left intact without any post-mortem chemicals and that whatever accompanies the body (clothes, death shroud, box, etc.) is biodegradable or otherwise organic (gemstones and metals from jewelry, for instance, are of the earth). The body can be dressed and prepared, anointed, honored, revered and blessed in whatever ceremony is in line with the beliefs and wishes of the deceased and their family as long as this basic guideline is kept. For instance, here in Mexico, it was the ancestral tradition to wrap the body in petate, a large and pliable weaving of plant leaves, which is now only commonly used as a floor covering. This tradition is fully in line with Authentic Green Burials.
Of course, people have been discouraged from practicing this because it is difficult to make large amounts of money off of it, such as one could make from a coffin and embalming process, which is not only completely unnecessary, but actually anathema to the Earth's natural processes. If the idea of merely placing a body into the ground without any intervention should raise your hackles, then this would be a very good opportunity to ask yourself why that should be so.
And, yes, this is, in fact, a legal process here in San Miguel, though many who stand to profit from unnecessary and complicated funerary and burial processes will try to convince you that it is not.
On March 18th of 2022, the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation México Centro celebrated the first fully documented Authentic Green Burial in San Miguel and possibly in Mexico in contemporary history. This was done quite openly and legally in a small communal cemetery, where various members of the community gathered to watch and learn so that they could practice this themselves and circumvent the egregious funeral costs inherent in the funeral services that they had been led to believe were necessary.
The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation México Centro, a non-profit organization based here in San Miguel, offers many services to our local community, as well as online services for the global community. These include courses that reimagine Death and our cultural relations, a certification program for Life, Death and Transition Doulas, pro-bono accompaniment of teams of trained doulas for loss, death, crisis and dying for individuals, family and communities, legislation advocacy and advisory regarding the rights around death, dying and burial, etc.
Central to our hearts is the ability to offer land to be used exclusively as an Authentic Green Burial cemetery as an option for any and all who might be interested, and to make this the most affordable option available. This would be a beautiful and natural space with only unobtrusive, minimal, ecologically friendly structures where friends and family can hold whatever ritual and ceremony they see fit in accordance with the Authentic Green Burial guidelines, or visit with their beloved dead in a serene and natural environment. Likewise, it is our ambition and intention to invite leaders from Mexico's various communities to come, observe and take back their community's rites and rights by also practicing Authentic Green Burials.
There is a very long way to go in our homecoming back to Nature. We are beginning to reconsider our cultural and individual habits. There is a strong yearning, from our very souls to reconnect with that which offers our lives meaning and grace. An engagement with and reimagining of Death serves as the most radical and foundational point from where we can heal this divide. Returning our bodies back to the Earth as naturally as possible is an act of gratitude. It carries with it closure; a sort of paying off of the life debt incurred by our physical manifestation. By returning the material from whence our body came, it challenges and matures our sense of ownership. And so it recenters us, away from being the protagonists of a story that only ends in tragedy, to being actors in a grand play beyond our wildest knowing and imagination.
Green Burial Events
Felix Chancellor observes and learns from human nature and soul. Based on these observations, he teaches courses that offer a deeper understanding of ourselves and the ways in which we relate to the world in order to gain greater depth and sincerity in our relationships (to ourselves, others and our environment) focused towards an understanding of profound interconnectedness. He was born in Mexico and raised in the United States and Canada. He is a practicing Jungian-Archetypal psychotherapist, a dreamworker, Mythologist and a Somatic Movement Therapist and Educator. He holds a 2nd degree black belt in Aikido and is the head instructor at Tamashī to Kokoro Aikikai Aikido Dojo in San Miguel de Allende. He has held an ongoing Mythology and the Soul class for more than four years, facilitates a dreamwork group and has been a lecturer at the Lifelong Learning Program on various occasions. He is a storyteller, storyweaver, storylistener and storyunraveller. He was an International Baccalaureate English Literature and Theory of Knowledge teacher. He made San Miguel de Allende his home in 2014.
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