Gratitude: Abhinevsa’s Antidote
Recently I have been meditating on death and it has had an unintended result- overwhelming gratitude. This is an evolution from my past relationship with Death (read Denial), which included juvenile ruminations about my parents dying to paralyzing anxiety in my early twenties about myself dying. In the past few years, I have been experiencing birth and death (of my own children and dear friends respectively) which has culminated in deep work and investigation regarding my own mortality and the inevitable loss of those I hold closest.
Adyashanti said that “when we experience anything fully we also experience its opposite”, that vajra-wisdom struck my heart and has become a mantra in those moments when death thoughts intrude. When I fell deeply in love, i also fell deeply in fear, for opening my heart so wide to love also opens it to inevitable heartbreak– as with life– for “until we embrace death, we cannot live fully” asserts Stephen Jenkinson in the documentary Griefwalker (which follows his revolutionary palliative care work and can be watched online at http://www.nfb.ca/film/griefwalker ). Iyengar echos this in his commentary on Sutra II.9: “the Sadhaka perceives that there is no difference between life and death, that they are simply two sides of the same coin. He understands that the current of Self, the life-force, active while alive, merges with the universe when it leaves the body at death”.
As I attempt to face Death instead of rebuke it when those thoughts “intrude” I have begun to experience great space, deeper exhalations and my heart has opened more than I thought possible. That said, I have yet to lose anyone in my closest circle and the hubris with which my intellect writes this reflects that. But gratitude… this deep soul-stirring thankfulness and joy for the moments that I have been granted.. has been the ultimate antidote to abhinevesa, this inherent and universal fear of death. Do not mistake me, the fear is still there, merely the other side of the coin it shares with Love, but I have this empowering ability each moment to choose with which lens I view this precious human birth.
There is so much yogic wisdom addressing Death— Sutra II.9, Sutra 2.48, Savasana, the Katha Upanishads. In the Katha Upanishads the Seeker Naciketas pleads with Death itself to tell him what happens after he dies, Death offers him anything else instead, riches, women, success, “but about that don’t ask me” Death says. Then the author goes on to outline the numerous paradoxes we are asked to accept when we incarnate. Closing his exposition with the ultimate paradox: “Yoga is the coming-into-being as well as the ceasing-to-be.” Jenkinson says that Death is the ultimate crucible for making human beings- “it’s not success, it’s not growth, it’s not happiness, it is Death- that’s the cradle of your love of life, the fact that it IS”.
I suppose this investigation will continue for the rest of my life and challenge me when the grief arrives after the inevitable loss of those I love comes. I feel buoyed and incredibly blessed by the teachings of yoga, which require me to face death and by doing so live with more presence. So how can I let Kali and Durga cohabitate in peace? How can I open wide the doors of my own heart and surrender to its lessons in impermanence, fear and santosha? How can I embrace my children completely with the knowledge that we gave them life and at the same time eventual death? Now the yoga teacher in me asks you- what can you do to infuse savasana into every other asana?