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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Holmén

Exploring the Lessons of Death: How Mother Nature Teaches Us Through the Cycle of Life

Mother Nature teaches us that death is a natural part of life.


By Deborah Holmen, M.Ed., NBCT, published in Change Becomes You


A man sitting outside watching an aurora borealis in the sky.
Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Grief is a state that no one desires to experience. In fact, many individuals fear the idea of death so much that they avoid any conversations or contemplations about it altogether. However, just as plants wither and die in the fall to allow for new growth in the spring, all living beings will eventually confront death as part of the natural order.


If you’ve ever watched Animal Planet, or in my day, it was Mutual of Omaha Animal Kingdom, Mother Nature didn’t sugar-coat what life and death were all about. We witnessed the lioness desperately trying to feed her cubs and rooted in her success. Or, in the next episode, we’d watch the antelope bound desperately to escape the apex predator’s clutches. It brought the reality of life to our television in plain and simple truth: we all have an exit plan; we just don’t know when.


Perhaps it is a generational difference. Whenever the topic of death was brought up, my parents would avoid it. Maybe they were trying not to frighten us children, but it also meant that we missed out on a chance to learn about what our parents believed in and were afraid of. Discussing death should be a crucial conversation that you have, not just for your own welfare but also for the welfare of those you love.


Nature has a way of dealing with life and death. Even though we have seen animals in captivity express their sorrow in different ways, they also possess an extraordinary strength to keep moving forward. Mother Nature teaches us that we must learn to thrive in all cycles of life, even the cycle of death. With that in mind, here are some tips inspired by our ultimate Mother to help you flourish while contemplating what death means to you.


Renewal and Regeneration

Through processes like decomposition and decay, Mother Nature demonstrates that death is not the end but rather a transformation into new forms of life. Dead organisms provide nutrients for the soil, nourishing new plants and sustaining ecosystems.


There is a growing trend in the burial world where people choose to be permanently interred with a tree, their ashes nurturing a tree sapling for eons to come. This provides a symbiotic relationship with death and the continuation of life and a living memorial for loved ones to visit.


Impermanence

The changing seasons, the ebb and flow of tides, and the life cycles of various species remind us that nothing in nature is permanent. Death reminds us of the impermanence of all things and encourages us to appreciate the present moment.


One way to appreciate the present moment is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness involves actively focusing on the present moment and being fully present in the experience without judgment.


I taught my students to find something they had to do at home and didn’t like. For me, it was washing the dishes. When I cleared my mind of complaining about this task and ‘did’ it without judging it, I felt the stress melt away. I decided to buy some dish soap with the scent of jasmine, taking deep breaths to enjoy it more fully.


Simple activities like walking in nature and being aware of the sights, sounds, and sensations around you or practicing meditation to quiet the mind and focus on the breath. By cultivating mindfulness, we can learn to appreciate the small moments in life and find joy in the simple things.


Balance and Harmony

In nature, death is crucial in maintaining balance and harmony within ecosystems. Predators keep prey populations in check, dead organic matter is recycled to support new life, and natural disasters can create opportunities for regeneration after destruction.


While we all wish we could live forever, the truth is that we are only meant to be here for a limited time. We understand this intellectually, but our emotions make it difficult to accept. However, if we can come to terms with the fact that death is a natural part of the cycle of life, we can find a sense of balance and live our lives to the fullest.


Adaptation and Evolution

Mother Nature teaches us that death is often necessary for adaptation and evolution to occur. Through natural selection, species evolve traits that increase their chances of survival and reproduction, while less adapted individuals may perish.


When we experience the loss of a loved one due to an accident or illness, it can be challenging to come to terms with the reality of the situation. We cannot ignore or deny its existence; instead, we must face it head-on. Ultimately, this experience can teach us to value the present moment and make the most of our lives.


Resilience

Despite facing death and destruction, nature has a remarkable ability to bounce back and recover from adversity. Forests regrow after wildfires, coral reefs rebuild after bleaching events, and ecosystems find ways to restore themselves over time.


In my book, It Takes a Lot of Sh*t to Grow Beautiful Flowers: A Gardener’s Guide to Life, I give snippets of the shit I went through in my life and the process I had to go through to help me grow into the person I am today. Travesties are complex, but they grow a hardier person.

Interconnectedness

The web of life demonstrates how all living beings are interconnected and interdependent. When one organism dies, it can have ripple effects throughout an ecosystem, affecting other species in various ways.


Loss comes in many forms. The loss of a job, a marriage, a friendship, and even one’s health are all ways we are interconnected in the experience. You can discover a sense of purpose and fulfillment by reflecting on your place in the world and finding acceptance and growth.


Acceptance of Mortality

Animals in the wild exhibit behaviors that suggest an acceptance of mortality, such as caring for sick or injured members of their group or engaging in rituals around death. These behaviors reflect an acknowledgment of the inevitability of death in the natural world.


Death doulas are a growing trend that is finding a place in our society, bringing back the rituals to form a proper closure to the cycle of life through death. They are non-medical companions that provide holistic emotional, spiritual, and practical care, allowing the dying to embrace this stage of life.


Doulas play a significant role in normalizing death care by creating safe spaces for conversations about end-of-life wishes, which leads to better communication and improved spiritual and emotional well-being. Planning for death allows individuals to have greater control over their decisions, enabling them to clearly define their end-of-life preferences and wishes with their loved ones and family.


Natural Selection

Death plays a crucial role in natural selection, where individuals with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on their genes to future generations. This mechanism drives evolutionary change over time.


Somehow, society forgets we all have an exit ticket built intricately into our cells. Our genetic material, or DNA, serves as our timesheet. Exposure to stressors, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and a poor environment can activate a gene linked to chronic illness.


By studying and identifying the potential causes that could lead to our untimely death, we could take appropriate measures to mitigate those risks and increase our chances of leading a longer and healthier life. This knowledge would help us make informed decisions about our daily habits and lifestyle choices, allowing us to avoid or minimize the impact of factors contributing to our early demise. Ultimately, this would enable us to live a more productive life, with greater opportunities to achieve our goals and fulfill our aspirations.


Celebration of Life

Lastly, Mother Nature teaches us to celebrate life in all forms, knowing that death is integral to the journey. By embracing the beauty and diversity of the natural world, we can find solace in the cycle of life and death.


Taking a moment to pause and appreciate the beauty of nature can be a grounding experience. When we stop to breathe in fresh air and take in the natural surroundings, we’re reminded of the beauty that exists in the world around us. This can help bring us back to the present moment and give us a sense of purpose and connection to the world.


Our lives are full of challenges and difficulties of all shapes and sizes. How we handle them ultimately determines the kind of life we lead. We can either cultivate a garden of wisdom and personal growth or sow the seeds of regret and chaos. The choice is ours to make.





Deborah Holmén’s book, It Takes a Lot of Sh*t to Grow Beautiful Flowers: A Gardener’s Guide to Life, is due out Spring of 2024, where all books are sold.

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