Dumbo Feather

ZENITH VIRAGO IS A DEATHWALKER

SUBJECT Zenith Virago

OCCUPATION Marriage celebrant, deathwalker and facilitator

INTERVIEWER Nathan Scolaro

PHOTOGRAPHER Paul Bamford

LOCATION Byron Bay, Australia

DATE October, 2020

There’s a quote by the writer Anaïs Nin that seems to make time stop whenever I read it: “People living deeply have no fear of death.” I think of how completely warped our perception of life and death has become in western culture: how life has been reduced to staying safe and comfortable, something we seek to get through as unscathed as possible. And how death, subsequently, has become something we dread, something we must delay with all our capacities, regardless of the consequences on how we live. The invitation contained in that quote – to embrace what comes at us and attend to our suffering, to surrender to the cycles we are part of – just makes a lot more sense.

Thinking through these ideas is one thing. It’s something else entirely to embody them, which is what makes Zenith Virago so remarkable. The well-known deathwalker and celebrant from Byron Bay has a lightness of being and an expansive perspective that has come from a life thoroughly lived and attended to – a life, as she describes it, of “saying yes to deep knowing.” In her mid-20s, Zenith did what she believed was the best thing for her, her husband and their children at the time: she left them to meet herself in a deeper way, travelling from her hometown in the UK to New Zealand and ultimately making a home in Byron Bay, where she found her community. Over time, she learned how to live with ease in the world, not by running away, but by catching life’s waves when they came for her and riding them.

For the past 25 years, Zenith has dedicated her work to “walking” with people who are dying, and supporting those around them who are bereaving. She also facilities ceremonies for other major transitions in the life’s journey, such as birth and marriage, helping people to experience them more fully. I learned from her that rest isn’t just something we “do” in our days, it’s something we are – it’s a way of being that enables us to stay present to all the ups and downs of life, to make good decisions for ourselves and others, and to have a meaningful impact in the world. When we surrender to our selves, I realised, and to all the stages of life, everything around us starts to grow a little more beautiful.

NATHAN SCOLARO: So we’re exploring this theme of rest from many different angles, the importance of rest after a year like we’ve just had, which has really hit a lot of our nervous systems. Rest as resistance to the paradigms that keep us on the treadmill of doing, doing, doing. As resistance to capitalism and to colonial structures. Rest as access to the multi-layered parts of ourselves, rather than a reductive perception that we have in our linear conscious lives. I’m curious as to how this topic lands in you. I was thinking about these rites of passage that you’re so engaged in. The profound moments that you work with people on, they’re almost like a series of contractions and expansions of being. And I think rest plays a really important part in that contraction phase but in this culture we’re not tuned into those cycles.

ZENITH VIRAGO: Yeah. I probably bring a much simpler approach to things,

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