November 1st, 2014. 6pm. Annual Dia de Los Muertos — Day of the Dead — festival. Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hollywood, California.
Only a few feet away, the woman with the blue-feathered headdress waves her torch through the twilit air, trailing thick smoke around the circle of Aztec dancers — then quickly, unexpectedly shoves the fire straight down her throat.
Startled, I fall back into the crowd. A young boy with a black-and-white-painted skull face steps hard on my foot. Somehow no flames burst from the woman’s neck. She takes a swig from a flask.
Hands pound animal skins, bells jangle on dancers’s ankles, the glister of sweat and everyone’s face a festive, painted skull. A bare-chested man in the center of it all blows a mournful horn.
Now the drumming speeds up, and so does my heart. The dancers circle and stomp the ground of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, spin madly so their feathered headdresses catch the moonlight and their skull-painted faces dip in and out of shadow.
Scent of copal makes me dizzy. I wipe my eyes at the wild beauty of it all. I can taste death and feel life coursing through every vein, every cell, every inch of night-chilled skin and rattling bone like I haven’t felt for days, weeks, maybe months.
Here at Dia de Los Muertos, we are at the crossroads. Fully alive. We are all dancing our stories while we still have time.
What are you most afraid of?
I’m afraid of death.
I’m afraid I won’t ever reach my full potential.
I’m afraid I won’t get out of my own way so I can share my gifts on the largest scale possible while I’m still healthy, still drawing breath.
That’s why I love Dia de Los Muertos. Day of the Dead.
One day a year, I face my deepest fear and it wakes me up.
On Dia de Los Muertos, we speak to the Dead. And the Dead speak to us.
Sugar skulls and churros, marigolds and Aztec drumming. Skeletons and coronas de flores – crowns of flowers. Death + life dance together on this day, and we all become a little braver.
I know I do.
Families spend weeks, months, designing + building shrines to their Loved Ones. Then, on the first Saturday of November, they open Hollywood Forever Cemetery to the public. They share their Dearly Departed Ones with us, right next to the graves of Hollywood legends from Rudolph Valentino to Janet Gaynor, Mickey Rooney to rockstar Dee Dee Ramone.
This year, most of the people I photographed were families. Mothers and daughters. Fathers and daughters. Whole families. All fully costumed, down to every detail.
Why do I photograph? Why am I drawn to this festival? Why at this time of year?
For years I fought it. It’s supposed to be a festive time of year. But for me, from Halloween on — this time of year is a challenge. A time of reflection. This season was always a downward spiral for my mother. So even though I know, yes, I don’t have to repeat that. Sometimes things happened, and you associate it with a certain time — and that’s okay! Give in to the truth of it, and the lessons.
There was Thanksgiving. Then her birthday on Nov. 30th. Then Christmas. Then — the worst of all for her — New Year’s. The night she ultimately died.
Many of you know, I lost my mother when I was fourteen. This loss shaped me. It used to hold me back from succeeding. Without realizing it, I tried to keep my brilliant, talented, troubled mother alive — by being her. But I am not her. I learned I do not have to be her. I do not have to give in to chemical imbalance, nor the enormity of life. To collapse under its weight. I do not have to work at nor get fired from iHop, nor use food stamps, nor live on handouts the way she did.
I can embrace success. I can shoot photographs in part because shes so loved photography — and celebrate her talent in that way. I can let the light she gifted me radiate through.
In this way, I honor her. I honor her, and claim my own path.
My mother never reached her potential. Does that mean I can’t?
Sometimes, our Old Selves and Old Stories get in the way of our business. We may be haunted by the dead without even realizing it. We may be repeating old patterns. Channeling other people’s fears. Playing small because they played small. This happens especially when we are poised for a breakthrough or big upleveling.
One way we can shake loose these types of blocks is by facing our deepest fears.
Where do you feel stuck in your business?
What or who is haunting you?
Get out a sheet of paper. Yes, paper people. And pen. Draw two columns. In one column, write LIVING. Write a list of the people who spark you. Who believe in you. Who inspire, motivate and make you feel alive with possibility. Then, in the other column, write DEAD. Write the opposite. Write a list of people who bring you down. Who don’t believe in you. Who undermine you. Who depress or bum you out, or make you feel bad. Small. Hopeless. They may not mean to — it’s not about intentions. It’s about the truth.
Don’t judge. You may be surprised by this list. It can be brutal. I learned this in my high-level mastermind and I am sharing it now with you. For me, it was profound.
It was shattering.
Then, it’s up to you. Now you know. What will you do with this information? If you’re committed to success in life and business, you may choose to let the people go in the dead column.
We are hurtling toward Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. Hannukah. The New Year.
Let’s do some deep-digging and soul-searching, root out what’s holding us back so we can start fresh.
If we step back, and see our lives and businesses as stories — then how can we choose a new frame?
In a world of alienation and distraction — what will you decide to focus on for your 2015 story?
Because when you focus like this, it helps bring meaning to a mess of experiences. It can bring out an epic adventure you never imagined.
I declare 2015 a year of Death + Sex + Elephants.
I’m not even sure how that will all unfold(!) More on my choices another time. Sometimes I trust my instincts. Just as I write stories to gain insights, to be surprised, I live for that, too. Facing my deepest fear can help me get more clear on how I am playing small — and inspire me, motivate me, to play bigger.
What do I have to lose?
What do you have to lose?
What do we both have to gain?
Our time here is short. Use the end of this year to master your own narrative.
I challenge you all to choose one, or two, or three words to help shape and frame your upcoming year.
Share them in the comments below. Know that you can live a life full-to-bursting with success, possibility — and epic scope — no matter what your legacy.
Yrs in truth,