Day of the Dead Regrets


Till I was in my twenties, my experience of cemeteries had always been tightlipped and somber. All the unwound knots remained tangled in my belly, and if we spoke, we spoke in whispers.

So imagine my happy disorientation when friends brought me to my first Italian cemetery on November 1st, 1975, All Saints Day. When I walked through the gates of their Camaiore cemetery, my jaw literally dropped. It was a celebration! A wild, exuberant, joyful riot of flowers and family full of love and respect for their dead.

Since then, I have always celebrated this day by setting up a temporary altar with pictures of all my deceased family members (both two-legged and four-legged). I make it as beautiful as I can; and I let my love and gratitude flow to those who came before me to enrich my life. I light a candle that stays lit for the day and through the night.

For the past two and a half decades, yoga has deepened me in ways unimaginable. One of these ways is that am less held hostage by my regrets and more present for my Now. This has brought me much peace, but it hasn't been a tidy, straight line. I think back on the Italian cemetery, and it dawns on me: we could celebrate the Day of the Dead not only for those who have passed, but for our past itself, especially the past that won't go away. A Day of the Dead Regrets.

Think about it. We spend so much time wringing our hands over mistakes we made, or yearning for our former strengths. One valid response is, "Be here now." Yeah, that's a nice bumper sticker--but a much bigger challenge, if you're actually practicing it.

Here's an idea that might help. What if we could buy a gorgeous bouquet, and offer it to the gravesite of our past? What if we laid lilies of gratitude, respect, honor and love on the graves of everything we messed up? Everything we did right, but can't do anymore? What if we bowed with reverence to everything, without exception, in our past...and acknowledged the ways in which all those things pointed us more clearly toward home? Honoring our painful regrets and faded triumphs like we honor our dead. Really embracing them--no pride or shame, just gratitude.

Today, I turn November 1 into the Day of the Dead Regrets. I honor my living beings who have passed, and with them, my past strengths and failures as well. I invoke that Italian cemetery, brimming with beauty, joy and community, and love every single thing that I've been through. I bow, and leave my flowers there.

Happy Day of the Dead Regrets.

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