A/Wake Ritual with the Nomadic School of Wonder (Galisteo, New Mexico 2015)

From Barbara Groth, Founder and Creative Director of the Nomadic School of Wonder:

This image is from the very first gathering of the Nomadic School of Wonder in Galisteo, New Mexico in 2015 where we explored the theme of “Death & Rebirth” with palliative care physician and teacher Alex Jadad. On All Hallow’s Eve, Alex and his wife Martha Garcia invited those who gathered for Day of the Dead festivities to experience their own deaths by stepping inside a pine box coffin, sliding the lid closed and then contemplating the moment of their death. Alex calls this an “A/WAKE.”

After everyone had their turn “dying” in the coffin, Alex & Martha led a processional with the pine box coffin. We walked outside under the milkiest Milky Way down along a path lit with luminarias to an altar dedicated to our loved ones who had traveled before us to the unseen world. The Milky Way acted as a ladder between the earthly plane and the heavens above. We assembled around the coffin, as Alex led us through a releasing ritual. “Now, that we have experienced our own death,” he asked “what is holding us back from living fully? What fears remain? What would we do if we had no fear?”

The School of Wonder was birthed from death. The original inspiration came from time spent along side loved ones as they neared the end of their lives. There was something about the winding down of their time on earth that brought them most to life in a way that was raw, vulnerable, present, wide-eyed and alive – a gift that often only death can bring. Everything becomes technicolor, time expands, senses are heightened, words and faces matter, touch becomes its own language, the sound of the inhale and exhale punctuate the ever present silence of the moment.

I learned so much from being with death and from the grief that lingers. The type of grief that you don’t want to let go of because it feels like the only thread left between you and the human you loved so much. You try to make meaning out of the unfathomable reoccurring realization that the one you loved so dearly is forever gone. You look for signs here and there, listen extra attentively to song lyrics and recall those moments when you felt most alive, connected, seen, accepted, understood and at peace, surrendered to the “what is” of life.

When you eventually raise your eyes to an outward gaze, you stumble over yourself a bit but find a way forward, little by little, drawn to a feeling, sensation, something that begins to pull you and calls your life forward. “Life begets life,” a friend shared with me at the time. This impulse to turn away from despair, to turn towards the life that is waiting for you. This happens slowly over time, it creeps up on you until you find yourself laughing again and realizing how long it’s been since you heard the sound of your own laughter. Soon, you allow your mind a little space to wander and new thoughts, ideas, and possibilities invite themselves in. One day in a meeting, you start daydreaming and jot down the words “school of wonder” that seem to fall from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Dictation from the universe. It’s a clue of what’s next, what’s waiting to be born, in it lay the seeds of your own healing.

More in this interview with Barbara Groth via the Open Div Summit.

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