El Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—is coming! This is a day (or several) filled with altar-creations, music, and offerings of flowers, sugar skulls, toys, alcohol, and food—all provided with the intention of remembering and convening with our departed loved ones. As we saw in the sweet movie Coco, this is not a sad day, but a time for celebration and remembrance. And anyone, regardless of religious or cultural heritage, can participate in this celebration.
In his new book, The Wisdom of the Shamans, Don José Ruiz offers another, beautiful way of observing this tradition, showing that el Día de los Muertos is an opportunity for us to become more alive—to shed the skin of old dreams and start really living—now.
He tells the story of a woman who hiked up a mountain with her beloved, to whom she was engaged. While laughing and enjoying each other’s company at the edge of a waterfall, her beloved suddenly lost his footing and she watched as he was swept over the waterfall and to his death. Each year thereafter, the woman would travel to that place and set up an altar to honor him, as she continued to be filled with regret and grief. But one day, many years later, her beloved appeared to her at that waterfall in the form of a shaman, and told her that if she wanted to honor the dead, she was honoring the wrong person—that he was very much alive, but it was she herself who was dead, because she was chained to the past by fear and grief. She got it, and understood that if she wanted to come back to life, she would need to let go of the past and be present for herself in the here and now. Upon that realization, she stopped her annual pilgrimage to the site of her beloved’s death, and set herself free.
Don José uses this story to demonstrate a deeper meaning of el Día de los Muertos: an invitation to come back to life. This is a time to renew our commitment to aligning with our Higher Self, our inner blueprint, the Divine life force that resides within us all. We are given the opportunity to consider how we are limiting ourselves and killing our creativity by: imposing self-judgment, following another’s plan for our lives, trying to live up to expectations that aren’t aligned with our true selves, and doubting our abilities. Basically, how we ignore that voice inside of us (our “gut feeling” or intuition) that we come to realize time and time again is always right. El Día de los Muertos is our opportunity to let go of old dreams, our old way of living, and connect with what is true for us right now. Once we do this, we find our flow, we find our joy again (or maybe for the first time). And this celebration is not just for happy times. We honor and celebrate the seasons in life, all of the ebbs and flows that come with being human. We become real. We become our true selves.
You can begin preparing for your own el Día de los Muertos observance now and then allow this time of reflection to culminate in celebration on November 2! Here are some suggestions, but do what moves you, whatever it is that makes you feel empowered, whatever allows you to honor your own beautiful voice.
Practice mad self-love. Practice unconditional love and release all judgment. Start with the “(wo)man in the mirror.” Establish this kindness and compassion within yourself, and you have no choice but to begin radiating that unconditional love out to others.
Tell yourself you are perfect (you are!). Right now. As is. You have everything you need. Look in the mirror and tell yourself every day. Every time you remember. Repeat it over and over. Think this is silly? How many times a day do you offer yourself criticism or try to “fix” something when you look in the mirror? Create a new attitude and dialogue with yourself.
Mind: Create a sacred space for daily meditation and reflection, start a gratitude journal, and begin reframing your thoughts so that they’re positive and aligned with a higher frequency (use sticky notes as reminders!). Breathe deeply as often as you can (more sticky notes!).
Create. This is so important to breathing beauty into your life, to resurrecting yourself! What have you been putting off? What have you always wanted to do, but haven’t yet—or haven’t done enough of? What makes you lose track of time? Where do you find joy? Think of this as a process—don’t even consider the end result, lest you become editor/critic and let the inner self-judgment run rampant. Be new, be messy, but don’t judge. Just play and have fun! And make this a top priority—every day.
As Don José suggests, el Día de los Muertos can be celebrated as a call to release judgments, criticisms, and negativity in order to reconnect with our own personal power and creativity. When we silence the voice that tells us what we can’t do, what we aren’t, how imperfect we are, and instead empower our own creative spirit by living fully as the beautiful, creative spirits we are in this moment, we come to realize… if we can dream it, we absolutely can create the life we want.
Prepare to stop sacrificing your creative self and welcome yourself back to life with an open heart. Then celebrate this re-emergence with a fun ritual on November 2. Set up an altar, bake yourself a treat, light a candle, buy flowers, turn up the music and dance, or start writing/drawing/painting/playing music/running again. Make a ritual out of letting go of what no longer serves you and enjoy breathing your creative self back to life!
Jen Sterling is an attorney, personal trainer, and lifestyle coach, serving Sacramento and the greater San Francisco Bay Area, where she has also taught yoga and practiced Ayurveda. She is a professional figure competitor with the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation and is an avid promoter of a fit and vegan lifestyle (which includes Nicora shoes, of course!). Nothing makes her happier than watching others thrive once they transition to more plant-based living. Jen supports numerous animal welfare causes, and is particularly passionate about ending factory farming.