A Greener Way to Go: Returning to the Earth after Death


If the great yogis, sadhus, and monks of history have taught us anything, it’s that the more in-tune we are with the metaphysical plane, the more in-tune we are with nature.

Sufi mystic Hazart Inayat Khan said it best in Volume I of The Way of Illumination:

“To the eye of the seer every leaf of the tree is a page of the holy book that contains divine revelation, and he is inspired every moment of his life by constantly reading and understanding the holy script of nature.”

In the modern era, it’s no secret that spiritually-oriented people are leaders in the environmental conservation movement. They do things like establish ecovillages, practice mindfulness in resource consumption, and lead peaceful protests to influence policy-makers. One area in which the budding mystics of the US have yet to catch up with the rest of the world is in the way our culture handles death and burial. From the toxicity of embalming to the use of material resources, traditional burials are simply not good for the planet. Burial is all about having a meaningful death ritual. In order to preserve the Earth for future generations, we all must honor the dead in ways that do not harm future generations.

Be of the Ocean

If you feel you belong to the sea, resting in the ground just may not feel right. But now you can offer yourself to the ocean and literally become a nourishing part of the ecosystem. You can become a part of a reef. The process goes like this: your body is cremated, your ashes are mixed with cement, the cement is sculpted into a memorial feature, and then the statue is added to an underwater sculpture garden. The sculpture reef acts as a habitat for hundreds of sea creatures. One memorial reef off the coast of Florida boasts 195 colonies of coral, parrotfish, spiny lobsters, moray eels, and even a sea urchin species thought to be extinct.

For many families, it’s important to have a site where they can visit their loved ones. Most memorial reefs are free and open to the public. So instead of visiting a cemetery, family members can go for a dive to visit their loved ones. You can share the your love of the ocean with the people you care about most, even after you’re gone.


Be Fire

Another alternative to burial is to put yourself in a firework. Yes, a firework. Fire is loud, thrilling, and has a way of busting through even the stubbornest emotional barriers. Putting your ashes in a firework is a beautiful way to express your dynamic nature and break through the barriers between this life and the next.

The process itself is really simple. A portion of your ashes is poured into a large consumer firework, usually a cake or a barrage, and as each firework goes off, the ashes are scattered into the air and taken by the wind.

A quick note on safety for the loved ones who will take part in preparing the ritual. Putting your ashes in a firework is not the sort of thing to try and DIY, no matter how crafty they are. Since it involves dismantling the firework, this job should really be left to the professionals.

Be a Mineral

If you love healing gemstones, becoming a mineral could be right up your alley. Because we’re all made of stars, and when all’s said and done we’re a whole lot of carbon, your ashes can actually be compressed into a diamond. All it takes is the application of some serious heat and pressure, high enough to mimic the conditions deep within the earth, and a little bit of science. So far this has to be done in a lab. We haven’t figured out a way to mimic the process in the ground. But, maybe someday.

While natural diamonds are rated on a color scale from D-Z (clear to yellow-brown), memorial diamonds come out blue due to trace amounts of boron in the human body. For a bit more money, these lab-made diamonds can be dyed to be almost any hue, even colorless.


Be of the Earth

So far all these methods require cremation at the outset. If you’d prefer to be buried but don’t want to be responsible for the toxic by-products of burial, there are plenty of options available. For the most part, they fall into two categories: simple caskets and decomposition pods.

Pine caskets are an inexpensive, old-school way to be buried. The wood decomposes and your body becomes a part of the Earth’s natural cycle. Another cool green burial concept is the organic burial pod that uses your remains to grow a tree. The latter isn’t quite a reality yet because there are lots of legal issues concerning burial to sort out first. But it’s only a matter of time.

Be the Ether

Finally, if none of these feel quite right, one can always take a page from the book of Tibetan Buddhists and opt for a sky burial. It doesn’t get much greener than offering your body as sustenance to wildlife. In a sky burial, the body is wrapped in white cloth and offered to wild vultures, or “sky dancers,” who will take the soul into the heavens.

Traditionally, loved ones are encouraged to witness the ritual, openly confronting death and the impermanence of life. There’s beauty in death. And in grief.  It’s the light and the dark, the budding of a tree in spring and its falling leaves in autumn. The purpose of a death ritual is to make space for the full spectrum of feeling and to honor our transition into the big “next.” We can certainly do that while joining forces with nature to the planet healthy for future generations.


Amulets to Help with Death and Dying

Rose Quartz – a stone of love that activates the heart chakra and helps us tune-in to unexpressed emotions.

Onxy & Apache Tear – a stone of grounding that releases grief and acts as a psychic protector during the grieving process.

Moonstone – known as the stone of new beginnings, moonstone is useful for navigating times of transition.

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