Embracing our Fear of Death (Abhinivesha)
If you have practiced Hatha Yoga at all, you have found yourself at the end of the practice stretched out on the floor, arms and legs extended, head and torso supported. Sometimes it’s just you and the floor, other times your teacher may place a blanket under your knees or neck, an eye pillow over your brow, and these days, a spritz of essential oil may come wafting above your nostrils.
If you are new to Yoga, this may be the hardest pose of all. It is the pose of doing nothing. Just lay there. Breathing. Feeling. Observing. Sensing what is present in you moment by moment.
Your mind circles around and around on the same thoughts of if onlys, what ifs, should haves, and your long list of to do’s.
“Just lay there and be still. Become the witness,” your yoga teacher chimes in occasionally. “If you find your mind wandering come back to your breath. Breathing in. Breathing out.”
“IF my mind is wandering?” your internal critic laughs. “Are you kidding me? My mind is a torrent of thoughts, memories, and projects ahead. How much longer do we have to lay here? Am I doing this right? What is the point?”
The point is you are learning the process of relaxation. You are learning how to let go. You are strengthening your ability to be fully present with yourself and all that surrounds you. You are sensing your connection to the Divine, the cosmic pulse of the Universe.
Wow – all this just by laying on the floor. And there is so much more.
The ultimate intention of Yoga is this:
Yoga Citta Vrttii Nirodhaha Sutra I.2 – Yoga is the quieting of the mind for the purpose of awakening the consciousness of the heart.
The mind is our biggest obstacle to inner peace. And the practice of Yoga and Meditation is a science of mind. Awakening our heart is the process of dissolving ignorance (avidya), which causes misconceptions and limited thoughts. Ignorance breeds unhealthy egos (asmita) that are constantly striving to be in control. Unreasonable dislikes and the grasping or clinging to pleasures outside of oneself often dictates control. We struggle in the paradox of attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesha), lost in our ego’s attempt to make us feel safe. Safe from our greatest fear of all – death. It is the fifth klesha known as Abhinivesha.
Can we stop this internal madness and let go? Can we allow ourselves to rest in a place of peace not knowing, not judging or comparing, not grasping or avoiding? Can we rest in the present moment and trust and accept life as it unfolds? This is the practice of Savasana - the corpse pose. It is the practice of transitioning from our identity with the bodily form to pure spirit. This is where our beliefs arise and either support us or cause conflict.
What are your thoughts around death?
Have you considered your personal perspective lately? Or, as I often hear, you just don’t want to go there. You’re going to skip that.
Skipping over death does seem to be an escape from reality that is so present in our society. Anti-aging, sustained youthfulness, reversing the clock all resonate with a belief that growing older is a disease and death is a failure to flourish.
Death is a subject that needs more attention as we could all benefit by learning how to be better prepared. Much like birth, every death is different. Although we may come up with a lovely master plan for our transition, more often, life unfolds in mysterious ways far from our expectations. Can we stay present and at peace within our self and with our loved ones when death comes knocking? This is cause for a practice that strengthens our ability to do so.
Death does not always come in the form of mortality. We also experience death of a relationship, a job, a home, or a dream, even death of a belief. We have stepping-stones of death affording us the opportunity to practice the art of letting go and being open to what arises, moment by moment.
Is there anything you feel yourself holding onto that is a cause of suffering?
Sitting around a dinner table last week, simultaneous conversations were flowing between travel, farming, writing, hunting, and gun laws when all of a sudden our host pipes up and asks, “Nancy, aren’t you doing a retreat on death?”
“Why yes, I am.” All eight pairs of eyes turned in my direction and I felt obligated to explain. “I find that we most often avoid the subject even though we are all going to die. We tend to fear death and this retreat is an opportunity to build a relationship with our beliefs around dying and to develop practices that allow us to be more present and accepting when death comes knocking. It also gives us tools for being in support of others as they transition.”
There’s nothing like the subject of death to quiet a room. Finally, our doctor friend piped in that she was very familiar with death in her line of work. Period.
Honestly I was as stunned as the rest of the group when the subject was thrown on the table, and I was curious to see where it would go. The answer is it went nowhere. No questions. No discussion. Nada.
Someone started up a different subject and death was left in the shadows confirming my belief in the importance of addressing the journey of death and dying. I felt even stronger about the power of the upcoming retreat. We need safe, supportive environments in which to address our fears and philosophies while speaking openly and listening deeply to others.
There are groups forming around the country known as Death Café where the objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'. It’s time we took death out of the closet to embrace this honorable, unavoidable occurrence.
Practicing Yoga and Meditation, hearing philosophical viewpoints from Buddhism and Hinduism, and sharing our unfiltered inner perceptions all help to strengthen our ability to face death with dignity.
Dedicating time for inner reflection offers us a practice that helps us to be fully present in the moment with whatever arises. Life and all things in it are impermanent. The Final Savasana is a retreat for evolving our rapport with death and the art of letting go.
By actively and courageously engaging our own fears and anxieties, we open our hearts and minds to a life more fully lived.
Are you ready for the conversation?