The Tree of Life, and of Death

The Tree of Life, and of Death, 2015

Oil on wood 8″ x 11″

At their most essential core all elements of existence follow the same pattern: life, death, and rebirth. The creative act births new existence out of the decay of the old and, after a time, the new phenomenon is undone to permit the next incarnation. This rebirth can be seen in myriad forms but its essence remains the same: the destroyed image is recreated in altered form, with time becoming ever more divergent and slowly approaching a unity as the lines of the specific blur into the universal.

This cycle is visible at all levels of our personal lives, from the stream of the ever present now, to the circadian cycles of oblivion and lucidity that dominate our conscious minds. Our personal deaths are likewise shadowed by eternal returns, both physical, through our relations, and spiritual, through our words and acts. Even as a collective we can witness a similar order, where our societies pass through their own cycles of decline, revolution, and renewal.

The universality of these cycles is even more clear in the natural world; spring and summer bring rebirth and life, autumn and winter, death. The prey that perishes, through its death permits countless lives to be born and exist. The fire that ravages the forest and scourers out the most resilient of life also rejuvenates the soil and nourishes new growth. Each aspect of the cycle is a necessary element, contributing equally to continuing existence in an unending, ever changing, work of perfection.

It is for this reason that the earliest forms of neolithic religion looked to the sun. Such sun cults saw in the daily journey of the sun a metaphor for all other cycles, especially our own human journeys. As the sun travels across the sky so do we pass through our lives and into night. And as the sun sets only to rise again in the morning, so too do we die only to be reborn.

Such cycles can likewise be seen in modern spirituality, where this understanding has itself been subject to the principles it describes. A such, death and rebirth are as central to religion of today as they were to our ancestors. Even the symbolism displays the marks of these cycles. In Christianity the elongated cross only mildly diverges from the sun-cross, and as both symbols share similar forms, so too do they express nearly identical concepts. Likewise, other versions of the sun-cross are nearly identical to the Wheel of Dharma and svastika, respectively symbolic of the karmic cycle of life, death, and rebirth in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Indeed, this symbol dates back as far as civilization itself; in the Indus Valley, the same symbol was used as an astronomical symbol, representing the cycles of the heavens.

In our personal lives the lesson that we must take away from this understanding is that death is as central to existence as is life. As beings in the throes of existing we naturally posses a predilection for existence, and yet for life to continue we must learn to embrace destruction as well, faithful that rebirth is no more traumatic than if must be. And indeed, when we have learned to see the cycle in its fullness we likewise realize that the trauma of undoing is most painful because we fear it.