“Journey to the Mictlan”
“Día de Muertos” or “Day of the Dead” is a Mexican multi-day holiday where families and friends gather to pray for and remember those who have died with the intention to help the dead in support of their spiritual journey. As part of an event organized for this day, I was invited to accompany a friend musically in a meditation called “Journey to the Mictlan.”
The Mictlan was the underworld of Aztec mythology consisting of nine distinct levels and as legend goes, most people at death went to this place. The journey through the levels was difficult and the dead had to pass many daunting tests, such as crossing a raging river, moving naked through mountains threatening to crash into each other, pass through land covered in flesh-cutting obsidian, traverse a long path of flying arrows, endure a jungle with heart-eating beasts, and wade through nine rivers in heavy fog and darkness. It took a tremendous amount of faith and courage to face any fears that arose on this treacherous excursion. Finally tired, injured, and exhausted the cycle would end and the dead would experience eternal rest.
This was the first I had heard of the Journey to the Mictlan and the more I became familiar with the story, the clearer it became that although it may be an ancient civilization’s belief about what happens at death, it truly is a perfect multi-level metaphor for what happens for many of us in life. Initially, I understood the symbolism in that we all experience situations outside of ourselves that are daunting or difficult such as enduring a stressful unfulfilling job, ending a long-term relationship, watching a loved one deteriorate and suffer through a critical illness. Life can seem heavy, leave us weak and wounded, cut us to the very core, and give us the sense that we are all alone in this vast universe.
On deeper reflection, it seems that this story is communicating something much more profound about how to actually experience ourselves in this reality. In essence, it is guiding us on the importance of dying to aspects of ourselves, our behaviour patterns, and our belief systems that are destructive, self-mutilating, and physically and emotionally depleting, before we experience our actual physical death and separation from our bodies. Personally, I spent the majority of this life telling myself that I wasn’t good enough; that I would not measure up; that expressing myself in certain ways would lead to rejection; or that I was undeserving. It was I, and I alone, who was closing in on myself threatening to crush out my own light, throwing the arrows of piercingly hurtful thoughts, and little by little devouring my spirit with the insatiable appetite of the heart-eating jaguar. This was so much the case, that my inner reality became my outer reality as my own cells turned on each other threatening to end this physical experience once and for all. Like experiencing death by a thousand cuts from the sharp blade of my own thoughts.
What is clear for me at this point, is that it is an option for all of us to experience the eternal rest that the legend speaks to without enduring years of injury and exhaustion or waiting until our physical death. It is possible to navigate the murky and uncertain waters and mountain ranges with confidence; to heal our cuts with gentle care and compassion; to offer ourselves and others unconditional love even when it feels like the heart has been ripped from our chests; and to move forward with faith and trust even in the height of uncertainty. Eternal rest is found in surrendering and flowing with life exactly as it presents itself. It is found in the peaceful recognition that all is well and in the gratitude for all that arises. As Eckhardt Tolle would attest, it is about being fully present in the moment. It is a journey from a self-sabotaging mind to a self-supporting mind, or even better – no mind at all. Ultimately, it is a choice each one of us can make as to the nature of our own personal “Journey to the Mictlan”.
*Photo by: Ashley R Guillory