The purpose, and the surviving power of the death defiance practice and its respective rituals, comes from an unspoken understanding.
A modern example would perhaps be the psychedelic counter culture. Neuroscience is making some really meaningful discoveries, and extreme physical experience can trigger in us the same sort of responses that psychedelic trips can, with sometimes a comparable persistence. The shock process makes parts of the human brain shut down, conserving resources (perhaps in case the body might survive anyhow) and prevents extensive brain damage from traumatic shock.
The reason death defiance might differ, from say the contemporary drug trip, is the context in which it occurs. The original rites of passage, many of which survived well into the modern era in African and South American cultures, didn’t just push consciousness to that twilight point. They put the seeker in contact with sacred ground and a cycle they held sacred. It was thought that they opened a very intimate communion with the spirits of the land that they lived with on a daily basis.
Our modern experimentation lacks this center. Even in the case of the psychedelic drug trip, the things they surround themselves with do shape what they experience in their hallucinations.
A trigger? Yes. I really do not wish to be disembodied, yet. And neither do those practising death defiance. They only seek to learn the lessons that confronting death has to teach.
What are those lessons? First, you begin to see the process of change more vividly. Everything looks more fragile so you place less stock in notions of prolonged persistence, and instead may seek what might be able to persist in an otherwise mortal world. A simple death defiance ritual would be the Buddhist practice of what they call sky burial. A monk takes the remains to a sacred ritual site and remains in attendance while the native vultures proceed to eat the body. They even assist the process, using ritual daggers to dismember the body as well as other tools to retain the proper focus in the face of what they are witnessing.
Sounds very Buddhist. But that doesn’t defy death. It accepts death as a natural process of life. Acceptance is defiance. Defiance: a challenging attitude or behaviour; challenge. Confrontation doesn’t mean rejection of the wholesome or sacred necessarily.
So by defiance you DO mean acceptance? I mean definition. You defy the fear and power of death by accepting it. And that is a multi-stage exploration. What you reject, rules you. Anything you cannot accept constricts your experience much more than anything you may have chosen to embrace.
What you resist constricts you. Yes, weakens you, robs you of energy and thus life. How much do you avoid only because you fear it?
So, love as much as you can from wherever you are? Accept as much as you can, totally.
The foremost face of fear is death, and that’s why these seekers confront death. After that, all other fears are simple affairs.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.