Death as my friend, death as my enemy


First off, I don’t want to scare you (hi, mom). I am after all a yoga teacher and yoga teachers are “suppose” to talk about light and love and compassion, not any of that dark, complicated stuff. In general, people don’t want to talk about death or suicide. If that stuff isn’t for you, it’s best you stop reading now.

For me, death had been a friend and an enemy. I made friends with death pretty early in life. Death was a welcome force by my side during my darkest days. I didn’t want to die but I liked that it was an option. I thought about it a lot. I wasn’t afraid. I liked the control, I liked having options. 

There was a chunk of my life when I was only about the dark, complicated stuff that no one wants to talk about. Obviously I didn’t kill myself and I never tried, but I'm lucky. Somewhere deep down in a place I could hardly tap into there was always a faint hope, a light at the end of a very long tunnel, that maybe things would turn around and that there were honest to goodness reasons to be alive.

I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me. No, dear reader, you don’t have to worry about me any more. I’m telling you this both for context and because I know for certain that I am not the only one who has felt death resting on my shoulder like an old friend. I’m telling you because ignoring the dark, complicated stuff isn’t always an option. The dark, complicated stuff is just as real as the love and the light - sometimes it's more real. We can’t leave our dark and complicated friends without the hope that I somehow already possessed in that dark time. We can’t pretend death isn’t real just because it is scary.

When I needed it the most, I found yoga. The light that kept me going got brighter as I started to practice yoga. I learned how to feel gratitude, how to love, how to be loved and how to see the world around me with brighter eyes. I was filled with less pessimism and anxiety. I felt good in my body. I found things that made me feel good on the inside. Still, my comfort with death has lingered. Perhaps because my depression still lingers in the form of something that looks and feels like Bipolar (number 2!). No matter how healed and "full of light" I feel, every few weeks, or if I am lucky, months, my friend death comes to sit by my side again. Unwelcome, it presents me with a way out. Sometimes it’s a tempting offer but time and time again I’ve moved towards the light. The light keeps growing brighter and brighter and when death shows up now I can turn away without hesitation.

It came as a surprise to me when over the past couple of weeks death has showed up as something else, as FEAR. Maybe you, dear reader, are familiar with this feeling. The yoga texts name fear of death as one of humans’ great obstacles. The texts lay out many different obstacles which get in the way of our happiness or of us seeing clearly, our achieving oneness. The bulk of these, the most important, the five which can be linked to every form of suffering and disillusionment are known as the Kleshas. Can you guess what the last Klesha is? The one that nearly all humans never overcome? The fifth Klesha is abhinivesha, the fear of death.

The texts say that in the moment of our death if there is even the slightest thought of “no, I am not ready” or “I don’t want to go,” we will be reborn into our current reincarnation instead of moving forward. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of feelings like not wanting to let go of this life. These feelings are of grasping and clinging to all the wonderful things that recently started popping up in my life.

This fear and attachment made itself known when four months ago my boyfriend and I were hurtling through the air in a car. Once the car landed and I realized I wasn’t dead, I hesitated to even look in the direction of my boyfriend. My first thought and my biggest fear, as I stared out the window at the swaths of bushes we just flew over, was that I would turn to the left and he would be dead. I feared turning and seeing one of the most important people in my life, someone I love more than I thought I could, I feared he would be gone.

He wasn’t gone. He was perfectly fine. We both were. This didn’t stop me from laying awake at night just waiting for him to stop breathing next to me or waking up in the morning in terror that I’d roll over and he’d be stiff as a board. Ever since that accident I can’t stop thinking about death; the infinite number of ways I could tragically reach the end of my life, the endless number of ways the people I love could die. For maybe the first time in my life, I am not only consciously aware that I am not ready to die but I am also terrified of the act of dying itself. This fear in itself feels narcissistic and pointless because everyone dies, no one is exempt, and most everyone is not looking to die any time soon. I’m finally part of the abhinivesha club, shouldn’t I be celebrating?

If fear of death wasn’t hard to overcome it wouldn’t be written about in the yoga texts.

Given enough time, yoga always provides me with answers. Sometimes it’s through the texts, sometimes through meditation and other times just from listening to my teachers and the people around me. I’m still unsure how to approach the recent development with my relationship with mortality. It feels new and unsteady. Like most relationships in my life, I’m unsure if I’m willing to commit to this new fear and let go of my “control” over death.  

Here's what I do know: I finally have people and things in my life that matter. I’ve created a life that matters to me. I matter. After being in the dark for so long, I’ve grown attached to my new life filled with a couple of best friends, a lover, a job I love, a healthy beautiful body and a wonderful place to live. Naturally, I fear losing this beautiful life. To be real, my biggest fear is of the darkness I once lived in. 

So what work is there to do? There is always something to work on when you walk on this spiritual path. I’m still working this one out but I think the work here is the same as every other time I have needed to learn a lesson. Ready? The work is to chill the fuck out. Let things be. Live moment to moment. Cherish what I have now. Stop worrying about what will or will not happen. Keep moving from darkness to light. Keep moving from darkness to light. Keep moving from darkness to light. Let go.