Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Obituary Writing: the ultimate reflection

One's philosophy is not the best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

"Joss Paper" by Sjschen, Wiki Commons, CC-SA 3.0
This post doesn't really have anything to do with teaching, it is more about the nature of reflection itself. We are celebrating the Ching Ming Festival today in Hong Kong which is also known as Grave Sweeping Day (or Burn Down Lamma Day depending on your source). It's a time when Chinese families show respect for their ancestors by tidying up their graves, clearing away weeds and making offerings food  and wine. It is also common to burn offerings such as joss paper, also known as ghost money, so  ancestors may enjoy it in the afterlife.

What does this have to do with reflective practice? Well, nothing really, except that it prompted a conversation about rituals and death among some friends and colleagues. This was my chance to try once again to promote the idea of holding an Obituary Party. Okay - I know you have just paused and said to yourself, "A what?!?" I have seen this reaction before, in fact, it has happened every time I try to introduce the idea. The premise is really not that crazy. Imagine a group of friends sitting together enjoying each others' company and discussing what they hoped to achieve in their lives. It would be a supportive audience - a mutual sharing of ideas and strategies to help one another achieve their goals. An obituary party takes this concept and stresses the urgency of making choices that will ensure we achieve these goals; of committing to a life well lived. When you face the fact that you have a limited number of days on the planet, you are more keen to make each one count.

I know - I never get many takers and often find I have inadvertently upset and offended people. I am not a morbid person.  I do not worry about death nor am I overly anxious or obsessed about how I live every minute. Who wants to dwell on dying? I think an obituary party would help people to dwell on living, unfortunately most people I meet disagree. I think my vision of this party is different from theirs. I know this when the response is something like, "That is so creepy. I don't want to think about it." or "I don't care what kind of music they play at my funeral, I'll be dead!" That is when I realize that most people hear obituary party and start thinking 'funeral planning' and that is not what I am talking about (although - there is nothing wrong with planning your own funeral, but that is a topic for another day!).

Even when I am successful in explaining what an obituary party would entail, and what it would not, it amazes me how superstitious people can be about death ~ even now in the 21st century. Some people I have spoken to about the idea don't want to participate because they are worried this is 'tempting fate'; that by writing their own obituary they might hasten their own demise.

I see it as the ultimate reflection; the biggest picture thinking you can do as an individual; the epitome of backwards by design (how's that for a connection to teaching?). Really, at the end of the day, how do you want to be remembered? Are there certain accomplishments you would like to be associated with? Qualities that you want your name and memory associated with? I believe if you can get past the superstitious aversion to writing your own obituary, it is a chance to truly plan to live your life to the fullest.

What would you like your descendants to say about you as they sweep your gravestone?
Happy Ching Ming!

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