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Insight on Death: The Ultimate Revelation and Radical Affirmation of Life

white tree with no leaves against a clear blue sky

Recently a friend of mine died of cancer. Even though over the years we drifted apart, many years ago, we both lived at Kripalu Center, and were friends. We had a shared experience of living the yogic lifestyle within the environment, guidelines, and practices of the ashram. Although having had a traumatic childhood, she overcame her obstacles and found a way to thrive, not in spite of her trauma, but because of it. I remember her as energetic, fiery, enthusiastic, and always learning and studying. I had a lot of respect for who she was and I will miss her.

 

Somehow, despite the distance in our friendship, my friend’s death had a deep impact on me. In my meditations I questioned, “Why did she have to die?” “What is this life all about?” “What am I doing here?” Her death sent me into a very deep inquiry about the nature of my own life.

 

When people with cancer heal from it you hear the praise, “They won the fight against cancer. They beat death.” I understand the sentiment in that statement. But with my friend, I heard someone say that she lost the fight against cancer and succumbed to death. This sent me into a tailspin. What? Lost the fight against death? Really? Does anyone really think we can win that fight? Death always wins.

 

In the Tantra, death is part of a continuous 3-stage cycle of birth, life, and transformation (death) – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In the goddess tradition, it’s Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Kali. Everything that is born, dies and is reborn. The cycle repeats. We see it playing out every day in nature, with trees, animals, the seasons, and all the stages of our life. Why then do we struggle so much accepting death as part of life?

man with head down on folded arms

We’ve been conditioned, mainly from our culture, to see death as the ultimate failure. We lose the fight against death because we are weak. Or worse yet because there’s something wrong with us. This view of death seems closely related to shame. In shame, we believe that we didn’t just do something wrong, we ARE wrong. So, when death happens, in addition to feeling like we made a mistake, we can also feel like we ARE a mistake.

 

Yet, there is no mistake. Everyone living will die. It’s only the timing of death that is concealed. We are here to complete the natural cycle of birth, life, and death. With the increasingly evident shift in funerals, from mourning the loss of someone to “Celebrations of Life,” perhaps there’s a growing acceptance that death is part of life.

 

In the Tantra, death is the ultimate concealment.


Life is seen as a continuous game of hide and seek that the universe has with itself. We see it, then we don’t. We remember our connection to the bigger energy, then we forget. 


Our true nature, which is pure joy, is hiding in plain sight, right in front of our eyes and under our nose in the form of the breath. The universe conceals itself out of its own delight, so that it can have the joy of revelation. This process is called Rahasya, which describes how the universe reveals itself by secreting itself. The revelation of death is the awareness to live life to the fullest. To stay present because our time here is limited. 

child peeking out through a shrub

What struck me about my friend is that she didn’t have much family left. She had a boyfriend and maybe a few close friends and clients. But in the larger scheme of things, in the 8.5 billion people on the planet, who’s going to remember her? Who’s going to care? I care and yet I was a distant friend. But after reflecting and grieving for a day or two, I moved on. I got busy with the rest of my life.

 

When we die, no one’s going to care except those closest to us. We arrive, live for a while, then depart. Life keeps moving onward. It doesn’t stop for anyone.

 

In some ways then, death doesn’t matter. Once we’re gone, we’re gone. The five elements of our body (earth, water, fire, air, and sky) return to their source. Can’t do anything about it. Yes, maybe our subtle body lives on in transmigration. But we know for sure that our physical body is kaput, done, finished. (I love the little joke that EST founder, Werner Erhard, shared in a workshop. On his gravestone, he wanted the epitaph to read, “Used Up!”)

 

And so, I asked myself, “Given the notion that death doesn’t matter, then what does matter?” And here is the pearl my friend gave me.

 

The only thing we have in life is this present moment. 


How present are you right now? How loving are you to yourself? To others? Are you listening to what others are saying? Do you care? Are you offering your heart in kindness and support? Are you flowing with grace?

 

Most of the time, we’re busy running from one thing to the next. We live a rushed existence with too many things to do, flooded with anxiety and overwhelm. This is the digital age. Everything is speeding up, which I don’t mind. I really love advancing my lifestyle and learning new ways to save time using technology. And anyway, science tells us that the universe is expanding and accelerating. So, to resist the increased speed of life is like going against the flow of nature, resisting the current and trying to swim upstream. 


a fish jumping upstream

However, I believe we need to seek the balance between digital and analog. We’re living in a digital universe, yet the body is analog. There are no computer chips or batteries. We need to learn how to slow down and relax. I’m not saying we should give up the speed, just keep it in balance.

 

But it’s so important to get into analog mode every day. I access my body twice a day – morning and night. In the morning, my practice gives me energy, centers me, and prepares me for the day. At night my practice calms me down and prepares me for a deep and restful sleep. During the day, if I find myself speeding too much, I consciously slow it down with deep breathing, or a nap, or exercising outside in nature. Monitoring the balance between digital and analog is the key to healthy yogic living!

man meditating in a succulent garden

Here’s a good example of what I mean. The day after I learned of my friend’s passing, I had a dental appointment. Just as I was pulling out of my garage, the gardeners arrived. This was their first spring clean-up and I usually like to check in with them. Because I was late for my appointment, I was tempted to just pull out and wave.

 

But thinking about my friend and the fact that all we really have is the present moment, I paused. I got out of the car and greeted the gardeners. I made eye contact with them and took a deep breath. I said hello and asked how they were. I listened as they shared. We commented on the beautiful weather and how the gardens were already blooming. We made small talk, and I was kind. I complimented them on their uniforms, they all had on a red T-shirt with their company logo. They looked great. I commented on how well they work together as a team and thanked them for coming to take care of the garden beds. They smiled. Then I went on my way to the dentist. I was 10 minutes late when I arrived but had to wait 10 more minutes because they were behind schedule! The universe worked it all out perfectly!

 

In reflection, I am so happy that I stopped to receive the gardeners. I felt completely fulfilled by my actions. I couldn’t have been more present. I really practiced being with them because it was the moment. And the present moment is all we have.

 

Yoga is the blossoming awareness that every moment matters, that every moment is a gift from grace and to not waste it or skip over it.


Whether you take the time to open your heart to someone or just speed on by, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is your capacity to fully experience your moment whatever you’re doing and accept yourself no matter what.

 

Life keeps moving forward. It doesn’t stop for anyone. We all live a “life-segment” then it's over.

 

Your life-segment might be short or long. In the eternality of time in the universe, which has no beginning and no ending, relative time (our time and how long we live) doesn’t matter if you’re present. We’re not here to try and extend our life segment. It’s quality, not quantity.

 

We can’t know the exact time of our death. If that were revealed to us, most likely, we’d be living to die, trying to squeeze in everything on our bucket list. Instead, we embrace the mystery and choose to live to live. This is yoga. This is being fully in the present moment. We practice present moment awareness because we never know when we’ll take our last breath. When you are fully present, you are doing the best you can which is perfect. There is no “better” in that moment.

 

This is a very special message that I love from Professor Douglas Brooks’ teacher, Gopala Iyer Sundarmoothy:

 

“Love life. You are here to love life. That’s what the Tantra is offering; the opportunity to step fully, ever more deeply, every day, in every breath, into the possibility of savoring the gift of embodiment; of realizing that the universe has gone through all of this trouble to make you. That you’re not here to get something, or acquire something, or achieve something; but merely to taste, to savor the gift of the conversation of the heart. And let that be enough to let this message of love in.”

 

To my friend and all those who’ve crossed over, I offer you my light, love, and blessings for a safe journey of continued awakening and growth, or whatever you may be present to. Thanks for the gift of your presence and your courage. I bow to you.

 

Namaste,

 

Todd


 

P.S. Here is a guided affirmation/meditation experience from the end of a morning sadhana class recently. Thanks to Cheryl Chaffee for transcribing this for us all to enjoy.

 

Affirm silently to yourself:

  • I am spacious, I am open, I am free.

  • I am as vast as the sky is vast.

  • The sky is in me, as me, I am the sky.

  • I am divinely guided, and I’m always going in the best direction.

  • There are no mistakes in life, only learning, only flowing, only going.

  • I am a conduit of universal bliss and light.

  • I allow myself to relax so much that not just one revelation happens, but a series of revelations happen moment by moment as I take greater and greater delight of the mysterious sky consciousness embodied in me as me, as my life, as my loved ones.

  • I realize the infinite vastness and unbounded freedom of my being.

  • I step into the Akhanda Mandala, this unbroken circle of consciousness, that is so full there’s no doubt, there’s no room for it. There’s no regret. And if I live in regret, I have too much time on my hands.

  • I remember that life has my back, and that I am the embodiment of the infinite. That I am the eternal light of consciousness, that I am the fullest expression of the sky’s delight to limit itself.

 

Closing Om:

  • Very slowly now, bring your palms together- one hand sky, one hand earth, and as they touch, feel the embrace and the recognition and in full revelation- the universe smiles when it’s known by you.

  • Just a moment of recognition fulfills the purpose of sky.

  • The sky is here completely for you to have the revelation, to remember life is about savoring the moment, not about accomplishing things.

  • Visualize earth and sky in a loving embrace until they merge in the ecstasy of being.

  • And from that place let’s join our hearts in gratitude for our practice, gratitude for the sadhana, gratitude for each other’s presence, and what we have in this life. 

  • Let’s chant Om.



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