The Vinyasa of Death
I recently lost a friend to cancer. She was 40, a yoga instructor and nurse, an impeccably clean eater and a generally well balanced and healthy person. It was shocking, in fact, when she told me that she was living with stage 4 colon cancer and it had metastasized to her lungs and liver. Shocking. And what shocked me more was how easy it was to be with her. This is a testimony to my friend's kindness that she made everyone feel comfortable. Even when we spoke of cancer, it never felt awkward. I rarely thought of her diagnosis when we were together. I thought about her yoga practice, her bone broth, her sweet puppy snuggles and her thoughtful lessons on meditation and self inquiry. But, when we were apart, I thought about cancer a lot. I wondered if my thinking about her death was bringing negative energy to her life and I tried to shut off my thoughts. Instead I cataloged her amazing qualities, those that made it so that I was comfortable with HER diagnosis. I thought about her tenacious focus on continuing to learn about herself and her commitment to excavate the phenomenon of her own existence. And now that she is gone, I often consider those qualities. I ask her for help when I am feeling ungraceful, unskilled, or too cautious. And, at the risk of sounding heartless, the thought of her makes me feel happy, not sad. Sure, I wish sometimes that she were here with me in the flesh, but I also know that wishing for the impossible is a futile waste of my own potential, and I would rather do something positive with her memory, than remain solely focused on my own interpretation of life as lacking her presence in it. It's all perspective. I am not missing her. She is within me. She was just a projection of mine the whole time. A projection of grace, and beauty, kindness and generosity. Those qualities that she showed me, I have access to within my own self, as we project onto each other all the time. Because she showed me so much, because she helped me find more clarity in myself, she is with me all the time.
I lost another friend about three years ago to a red blood cell cancer that came on fast, and took her fast, and was a complete surprise to everyone. She too was young, and seemed healthy. She assumed that her fatigue was from having two small children, because in part, it was. But as it turned out, a much more serious issue was at hand. She was a massage therapist and one of the best mothers I knew. She was one of my top two go-to moms for advice. And probably due to the suddenness of her decline, the feeling of loss lingered longer. I still think of her often and have a giggle at silly massage situations that we would laugh about in life, or funny happenings from the gauntlet of parenthood that we would chuckle over as we watched our kids climb the jungle gym together.
This post is not a catalogue of all those that I've lost in this life. Don't worry.
In Sanskrit, the word Vinyasa means "to place in a special order", and it refers to a specific arrangement of postures in the physical practice of yoga. And in this flowing from one posture to another we get lost in the absorption of the mind in movement. I have seen this described as serving the purpose of teaching us that things are impermanent, they keep moving from one form to the next, thereby implying that to attach to any specific form is folly. My yoga teacher often globalizes this word to refer to any happening that is a dance, a sequence,...a flow. I love her liberal application of vinyasa, as so many things in life get placed in a special order. The traffic vinyasa, the parking vinyasa...you get it. So many things teach us that attaching to any one form is folly, yet it is our nature to attach. We assume that our projections are not only true but unchanging, and so we cling to them as real. That the way I saw my friends in my life is definitely the way they were, and that they would remain so for a long time, because that is how life goes. But this is flawed thinking - do you see? Because my friends were not always the way I interpreted them to be in those moments. I saw them as I am, not as they were. And there is no guarantee that anyone is sticking around for any prescribed length of time. If we are so lucky as to have a long life, we get each moment to adore anew, and if we choose to let it go by unattended-to, un-adored, well, that is the real loss in our lives. That is the take away, as I see it. The vinyasa of death is that of placing our memories and our actions in a special order. That of making us more understanding, kinder, more compassionate people because of what we have experienced and learned. We are here, and we have the opportunity to self-inquire, to excavate, to giggle, to lean on each other and to stand up for ourselves. One day we too will be gone - another fleeting moment in the vinyasa before we take the next form. I, for one, hope to leave a legacy of joy, laughter and inspiration, as those before me have left for me.
And so it goes, the vinyasa of life - handing us both joys and grief, freshness and loss all jumbled up to keep our minds and our hearts moving from form to form. All to mull, to compost and grow from. Of course, grief is a funny animal...it swirls around, never moving in a clear linear path toward diminishing. Sometimes it rhymes slow, sometimes it rhymes quick. It too, teaching that we cannot attach to it or push it away, as it always changes the game on us. The vinyasa of life. The vinyasa of death. The vinyasa of grief. The vinyasa of letting go. The vinyasa of being made anew. Scarred maybe, but with new vision and a deeper well from which to give.
The loss of the people whom I've lost has given me the gift of grappling with how to live up to the best qualities that I saw in them. Just as those whom you've lost have done that for you. We have the opportunity to use our hurt, our memories, our conscious awareness and our hearts to raise our vibration. We can become more compassionate through our tears. The vinyasa flows on.
The wound is the place where the light enters you."
- Jalaluddin Rumi
In loving memory of Jenn Morey and Kai Conroy.
6/10/2017 08:11:10 am
This is beautiful Alex. Love and miss you
6/10/2017 09:37:16 am
Thanks Mendi. Miss you too 💖
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As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!