A few months ago I was struck by a beautiful turn of phrase in an article on the Basimbi: “They filter and purify groundwaters, encourage proper decay, provide stability and foundation.” Encourage proper decay. I love that phrasing, and its many implications.
Last night, my partner Joseph Atreides wrote a brief piece about the sacredness of decay and its role in the life cycle. Simple, beautiful, and well said. And it brought me back to thinking about that phrase again.
I have not worked as extensively with the remains of the dead as my partner, or my other spiritual colleagues. I’ve had relatively little to do with that form of decay, though I am beginning to work more in that field. Yet I feel a deep connection, a resonance, with the Sîmbi Nkagi Mayamba.
To a certain extent, it is a role I have played for much of the past several years – from December 2012 to March of this year, I worked as a live-in caregiver for an elderly gentleman with Alzheimers. As his mind decayed due to the disease, I did my best to manage things so that he could have the best remaining time possible with his family and not harm himself or others. Finally, he reached a point where it was no longer possible to care for him safely in-home and I had to push for his family to place him in a suitable long-term care facility, and this too was a process of encouraging proper decay — of letting go when the time was right.
So often in our lives, and even in our spirituality, we do not make room for proper decay. We hold on to relationships, beliefs, and traditions which no longer serve us and which may even be damaging to us. Instead of letting them go and letting the experience become fertile soil from which to grow something new, or a stable foundation upon which to build something, we fear the loss and clutch it tighter to our core. Instead of proper decay, it becomes a source of infection.
As spirit-workers, we should all take a close look at what we believe, why we believe it, whether or not it is actually true, and how it serves us, our communities, and the spirits we work with. We should look at the people we associate with and whether those associations elevate us, or drag us down. And we should not be afraid to make room for proper, healthy, sacred decay in our lives.