Take a Walk Through the Wild Side

As I walked my dogs today through the cemetery in Bury St. Edmunds, I noticed numerous other dog walkers there.  People were using it as a short cut to walk from one side of town to the other.  Family members were sitting on a bench and kids zipped by on their razor scooters.  Few people were visiting the graves, as some seem so old that they are almost illegible. This vibrant activity in the graveyard is the norm in this British town, but this was also the case when I lived in Cambridge.  In fact, in numerous European cities it seems that the locals use the cemeteries as parks. They are a place where people do not just visit dead ancestors, but also a community ground to relax and stroll in.


In America, this does not seem to be our reality.  Perhaps it is only true in places like Los Angeles where they revitalized the Hollywood Cemetery to host concerts and film screenings.  People frequent the graves of celebrities in Los Angeles from Westwood’s forever home to Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood or Forest Lawn, home to Clark Gable and Walt Disney.  But what about the rest of the graveyards in America?  It appears the only times they are visited are lined up with the quintessential remembrance days: Memorial Day, Christmas, Mothers Day, and Father’s Day.  The rest of the year they are appear empty.


But why is it this way? Why do we not embrace graveyards in America?  Is it due to the fact that they are not in centralized locations where it is convenient to walk to? Are we not a walking culture and therefore have no need to stroll down places that house bones beneath our feet? Or is it something deeper?  Do we simply want to continue to immortalize youth, health, and life while not embracing the inevitable?  Our mortality.


In the Buddhist tradition, there’s acknowledgement that we as humans suffer due to old age, illness, and death.  Buddhists do not look away from this, but accept and turn towards it.  There’s a rehearsal to prepare for our own death. Traditionally five times a day, Buddhists may remind themselves that death is in their cards.   In fact, there is an app called “We Croak” that can do this for us.  If you purchase it, you will be notified five times a day with the statement “Remember you are going to die.”  As you click on the app when this message appears, a quote about death or inspiration will appear.  By continuing to keep death in the forefront of our brains, it serves as a tool to know we cannot escape this destiny.  Therefore, we have the opportunity of living an optimal life today.


I challenge you, wherever you live, to walk through a cemetery this week. Observe what you notice.   Read some of the tombstones.  How do you feel here?  Is anyone else there?  What is it like to linger here amongst those who have passed on and where we will inevitably be?  How does it put things in perspective?  Perhaps, you may notice that the problems you are facing today are minor to the values you are striving to live towards.  What shifts do you want to make in your life? Take action today.

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