Home' Nova West : December 2009 Contents CEREMONY FEATURE
your death before it happens. When one
of my relatives realised she was about
to die at 57 from cancer, she decided to
pre-empt her wake. She was a great cook
and famous for her parties. She invited
everyone to one last fling, a two day
celebration, while she could still enjoy it.
She told me proudly that only one of the
54 people she invited didn't come, and
that person was out of the country at the
When she actually died a month later,
only her three closest relatives were at
her cremation, and her transition from
death to ashes took less than 24 hours.
No standard funeral for her! She couldn't
bear the idea of people standing around
her coffin making lugubrious comments
about how wonderful she was.
At funerals, we can't help but consider
that one day we will take the leading
role. So what is this mysterious event, or
state, or non-state, or non-event that we
call "Death", and how will we experience
or not experience it, if it can be said to
have any existence at all? You can see
how difficult it is to grasp.
On one hand, there is no mystery
about Death at all. It is Nothing, pure
and simple, grand in its inescapable
majesty, the guaranteed end of every
structure more complex than an individual
atom. In the human context, it is the end
of the body, and of the superstructures
of memory, personality and soul that
depend upon it. There is probably no
fact in the world that is more certain
than Death, the eventual and complete
disintegration of each living thing.
And yet a mystery remains. Despite
our best efforts, we are incapable of
imagining ourselves dead. We have to be
alive to do so. My meditation students
often tell me they enter spaces of what
they call "complete emptiness". Of course,
these states aren't as empty as they
seem. There has to be an obser ving self
identifying them. Similarly, no matter how
hard we try to imagine the complete
nothingness of death, we have to be alive
to do so. We know we will die, but there
seems to be some fault in our cerebral
wiring that prevents us imagining what it
This mental incapacity easily converts
into an "intuition" that we can't "really"
die. The intuition goes something like
this: "I'm alive. For as long as I can
remember, I've always been alive. I can't
imagine any situation where I'm not alive.
Therefore I must live forever."
Although definitely lacking in
sophistication, this argument feels
"intuitively" right. Even though Death as
"Nothing" wins hands down according
to all the evidence, the idea of an afterlife
is actually much easier to grasp. In fact, it
requires little thought or imagination at
all. It is just more of the same. The afterlife
is like being alive, but with a change of
scenery and perhaps some convenient
alterations to the mechanics of the body.
Ceremonies invite us to contemplate:
"What does this mean for me?" Most of us
know in far more detail than we need to
what dying is like, but what about death?
Is it Nothing, as it seems to be, or is it just
a rather painful gateway to an afterlife?
It's worth thinking about.
'I now have no trouble
distinguishing between a living
ceremony and a dead ritual.'
© NOVA DECEMBER 2009 15
GE CROPS --
Raising the Stakes
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA- OCTOBER 1, 2009:
Greenpeace campaigners setting up a Biohazard
Research Center at a canola field near the city of
Geelong, about 100 km South West of Melbourne on
October, 1, 2009. Greenpeace has found commercial
beehives contaminated with genetically engineered
(GE) canola pollen near Geelong and are calling
on the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon to
use her powers to properly assess the health and
environmental risks of GE crops.
Image © Greenpeace/Luis Ascui.
We Aussies are a laid back lot.
Certainly, life r uns at a faster
pace than a decade ago, but to
outsiders looking on we're still rela xed and
easygoing. It makes us lovable, but maybe
we're a little too easygoing for our own
Consider this for a moment. In
opinion poll after opinion poll, we have
over whelmingly rejected the prospect
of eating Genetically Engineered (GE)
food. We've gone further. In a Newspoll
in September 2008, 90% of respondents
wanted all GE food to be labelled, including
highly processed ingredients and products
from animals fed GE feed. In just one
month, over 17,000 Australians signed an
online petition orga nised by Greenpeace
calling for the comprehensive labelling and
stringent safety testing of GE food. That
number has now grown to 30,000 at (http://
It seems that there are some things
that do stir our passions, and at a very
It makes it all the more surprising then
that the Western Australian Government
should choose this time, when other,
informed, voices around our country
are growing louder in their chorus of
opposition, to review its long standing
opposition to commercial GE crops. Just a
month or so ago, when WA was harvesting
its first trial GE canola crop and the
government reviewing its GM Crops Free
Areas Act, even more multinational food
companies were adding their names to the
growing list of major brands committed
to keeping their products GE-free. Nestle,
Fosters, Schweppes and Lindt are the latest
big names to join the Greenpeace True
Food Guide in its 2010 edition. Since the
release of first Guide in 2003, more than
half of Australia's top food brands have
committed to non-GE policies. That's a
very strong statement from the Australian
Read the full story by Margaret Evans at www.novamagazine.com.au/articles
Despite serious concerns and strong
community protest, GE is taking root
in Australia's largest source of non-GE
canola, here in WA.
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