Meditating on Death

So, just to get this out of the way, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon.  Tomorrow though, I will be thinking about dying a little bit, and how to practice the very act of letting go during Noell Clark’s workshop tomorrow, Yoga and the Five Recollections: Practicing Impermanence.  I’ve talked about Noell previously, as she is my special first yoga teaching teacher, and not only is she an amazing teacher in both lecture and practice, she’s also a fabulous person.  So, if you would like to contemplate impermanence with me, evidently there are still a couple of spots left for tomorrow.

This all brings to mind an odd time in my past.  I say odd, but it was actually very cool.  For unknown reasons, before I had my children, I went through a period of about 6 months where I thought of the possibility of my death regularly.  I’d just be walking along, or working, or cooking in my kitchen and think to myself, I could drop dead right now.  And you know what?  It’s still true.  I really could.  I have reached the age where people that I hung out with as a teen have started dying.  I’m of an age where it would be a tough break, but not a total surprise.  Anyhow, during that stage of my life, I felt liberated.  There was something positively tasty about thinking that this could be it…and it wasn’t.  I remember sharing this thought with some of my older friends who were in their 80’s at the time, and they laughed.  They said that when you are as close as they are, there’s no relish in that anymore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a mom of two wonderful young daughters.  I don’t take any pleasure in thinking about my own impermanence anymore.  I frame my life in terms of their needs.  Sometimes, I even think of milestones.  I heave a sigh of relief that my girls have been fiercely loved in their formative years, and I hope, Harry Potter style, that my love has infused them with super powers.  Then I think, well, they’ll need me in high school.  They’ll need me in college.  They’ll need me when and if they have children.  Is there ever a point in which a loved parent’s absence is A-Okay?  Kind of like the decision to have children in the first place, there’s never a “good time to do it.”  There’s always something else we need to do to prepare.

Well, tomorrow I am going to dive in a little, in hopes that I can get that “tasty” feeling again, and not take a single moment that I am still here for granted.

The Thief

When I was a younger yoga practitioner, first starting out, I constantly measured my progress and what I thought I “should” do by looking at the people around me.  “Oh, that person has their head on the floor.  Why isn’t my head on the floor?  I should be able to do that.  I am younger/been doing this longer/skinnier.”  Or, “I’ll never be able to do that, because that person is younger/been doing this longer/skinnier.”  As a result, I was really missing out on the depths of the practice.  The last couple of years, I practiced Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga.  If you aren’t familiar with that, well, here’s how it works.  You go into the studio.  The instructor isn’t instructing the group as a whole, but working through the room, offering individual guidance and instruction to each student.  While there is a led version of the class where you are learning corporately, the Mysore practice is individual as opposed to led.  You learn the sequence from the teacher, and you start when you get there with whatever poses that you’ve been given by the teacher, from the series, while the teacher gives the benefit of instruction as needed.  For more on Mysore Ashtanga, visit this website.  Each person starts with a series of Surya Namaskar A & B, and then moves into the held asanas (poses). When you do see someone, they are rarely in the same pose as you, so there isn’t anything to compare against.  That really cuts the opportunity for chatter.  Also, you tend to practice with the same rough group most mornings, and then you know how hard everyone is working.  So, when your buddy manages to break through to something new, it is thrilling.  A victory for one is a victory for all of you.  Also, it becomes evident that everyone has a struggle.  Everyone.  Some folks can’t open their side bodies so well (in poses like triangle), or some struggle in headstand.  (Well, most struggle in headstand.  Although I was just in a vinyasa class where this one guy held it for minutes, and seemed like he could have stayed there all day).

You can’t predict how someone’s yoga practice is going to go by how they look.  People will surprise you every time.  You also can’t judge what you will be able to do by how you look.  If you continue the practice, you will surprise yourself with what you can do.

Yoga is about finding union between your body, mind and spirit.  Your body, mind and spirit.  The breath links it all together.  If you are looking over at someone else, thinking of your shortcomings, or theirs, or taking pride in doing something that someone else can’t do, you are robbing yourself of the benefits of yoga.

Recently, I was in a gentle yoga class with Kyczy Hawk, who is an amazingly knowledgable, intuitive teacher, with a sense of humor that makes me bark out loud with laughter.  She is funny and wise.  During class, she said, “Comparison is the stealer of joy.  Stop comparing and enjoy yourself.”  While that is something I do know, it’s always good to have a reminder, and it has stuck with me all week, so I think I must have needed to remember it.

Expanding that concept outward, where is comparison your Achilles’ Heel?  Do you compare your house, car, kids, job, talents against someone else?  Let me know in the comments if you plan on taking action somewhere in your life.  And today, when I look at my old red couch with all the smushed cushions, I won’t think of my friends who are impeccable housekeepers with showroom ready furniture.  Oops…I already did.  I’m a work in progress, just like everyone else.