La Muerte; Musings on Creativity, Life & Death


La Muerte
Clarissa Pinkola Estes (an excerpt)

Here the busses rattle
Like buckets of bolts.
And the break drums are made
Stronger by prayers to Santiago.
And the paint of these busses,
Tierra y Sanguine,
Gift package blue,
Sunset red.

Up front, the old virgin mother rides lookout.
And it is the law that
All bus tyres must be square
And all drivers must be certifiable blind
And all riders must have
Springs in their necks and their hips.

And the men – they all wear their hats
Extra jammed on.
And the old women tie the live chickens together
Loosely – on purpose –
Just to make trouble.

And the old toothless one
Always sags next to me.
She has always just eaten a tub of garlic
And she has always just rubbed her
Armpits in her genitals
With vinegar and goats cheese.
And she is always leaning toward me –
Never away –
And I am always her seat mate
Or that of her older sister
Or her aged father.

And I am always sitting thigh to thigh
With Muerte.
Now this Muerte, this old one
Laughs maniacally at absolutely nothing –
And over and over again
And always right in my face and
Her breath fogs my vision and
Wilts my hat brim and
Makes my nose cry.

But I work hard to stay by her.
To love her, to love
The pain that I feel.

If I can love her.
If I can stand this pain
Of being near what others flee.
I will be able to write tonight.

When I was in California I participated in a programme called ‘The Max’ with Paula Shaw. I shan’t say much about this programme as it needs to be experienced to be understood, but it was a raw and intimate voyage into myself and who I think I am, using the tools of acting, communication, observation and creativity. Towards the end of the programme, amongst other things, we each had to share a piece of writing, a song or something that had inspired us. I chose this poem by Clarissa Pinkola Estes as, for me, it describes so vividly the creative process and also how intricately connected death and life really are.

In this instance, La Muerte is a mexican folk figure that represents both life and death. She is known as the ‘Lady of Death’ and, unlike other folk figures, she will unconditionally love who ever turns their attention towards her no matter what their background.

This poem paints a palpable picture of the writer sitting so undeniably close to La Muerte and yet, if she can learn to stay and abide with this presence that is so intense it makes her ‘nose cry’ and ‘wilts her hat brim,’ then she will be able to connect with her creativity and channel it into her chosen form – writing.

I have never been able to find this poem written down or online. I am not even sure if it is a poem. I heard it when I was listening to ‘Untie the Strong Women’ on audio by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I was immediately gripped by this piece of spoken word, so much so that I had to find a pen and I had to write it down.

In my own journey I have noticed how closely my creativity nestles with the sense of letting go, of death. I do not necessarily mean physical death, although knowing that that too could be around the corner at any given time is an impetus in itself to live more fully. I am talking about when things change; be it a change in lifestyle, a shift in a relationship, the dropping away of a belief system or the evolution of a thought or idea.

We are human and, as humans, we can be such creatures of habit. This is not such a bad thing and there are many healthy habits that support us to thrive on this planet. However, there are also many habits that we hold on to that no longer serve our personal development because we are afraid of who we would be without them. We can also be afraid to feel the feelings that arise when we gradually begin to loosen the grip. Again, I know this in my own experience. And, in my own experience, it is some of these feelings that have led me to my deepest creative inspirations.

It takes great courage to feel the fear, grief, sadness, anger and loneliness that can be wrapped around our creative hearth. Equally, it takes great courage to express the joy, happiness, excitement and playfulness that can also encase a creative potential awaiting to be freed to move.

Along this journey, I have felt so grateful to seek out and to find spaces where I can safely explore many of these core emotions and glimpse an energy at the very root of them that is so full of potential. It is something I find endlessly fascinating and something that I continue to explore and learn about.

This learning to stay that Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about is not about something foreceful and unnatural. For me, it is driven by a deep curiosity of what is at the core of what moves through me moment to moment. In my experience this can not be forced or controlled. It has its own timing. It is as much about learning to be receptive and wait to see what will be revealed as well as creating clear, conscious and healthy boundaries about knowing how much is enough at any given time. It is a dance between knowing when to sit back and listen and when to willfully engage.

In no two people does this look exactly the same so, while we can be inspired by others, there is no use in comparing ourselves to them. And, although outer appearances differ, when we can pierce through the outer form of our subjective experience we can connect through a common bond that can be understood across cultures and beyond belief systems as the universal experience of creativity flowing through us as it will. So, while we all may call this by different names and experience it differently, we can celebrate the shared unity within the diversity of our individual expression.

We are all human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum of emotion and are subject to being affected by life. Every day we have to let go. In big ways and in small ways. In ways that leave us feeling shaken to the core and, often, in ways that slip by our awareness. The beauty is that we never know what’s around the corner of the next moment. It is so full of potential.

So back to this relationship between life and death. I have experienced that which bursts my heart open with the deepest passion also leaves me hanging on the undeniable edge of grief, loss and ultimately death. They seem to go hand in hand. More and more life and death dance so intimately and unquestionable close with one another. The more I love, the more I seem to risk. Yet, I would rather take those risks than to become numb to this experience of life.

Walking this journey with death by my side, with the echoes of the unknown lingering in the space around me inspires in me a deep respect and gratitude for Life. And in those times when I touch the void, when there appears to be nothing there and no way out… I wait. And when I feel a flicker of a movement, see a shimmer of light, hear the echo of a sound, I allow curiosity to take me. I intend to stay with my experience and bow to it as a guide.

And when I feel resistant, fighting the things I do not want to feel, I also wait. I intend to stay to the best of my ability until something inside me, it doens’t matter how small, shifts and I can breathe again. Then life is free to move through me once more.

And when I feel joyful, I intend as much as I am able, to allow myself to open to that feeling. Because I know that to allow happiness is to embrace death, to embrace endings and also to embrace Life in her fullness beginning over and over again.

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