If Death is Kind
Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.
We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.
I have had the privilege of participating in the famous Module Three, better known as mod 3 of the Kripalu 500 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, not once, but twice. Once I experienced it as a participant, and just recently as a program assistant. This ten day intensive is about transformational teaching. It is comprised of yoga practice and various provocative and compelling exercises that push the students to the outer limits of their comfort zones and into the stratosphere beyond. Guided by the master teachers Devarshi, Vidya, and most recently Jovinna, who each bring a unique form of charisma, brilliance, depth, intensity and even humor to material that can and does create conflict and triggers highly charged emotional responses, they artfully stir the cauldron. There is method to their madness.
Transformation in yoga is sacred work, it is the work. Shiva (the Hindu deity and archetype of transformation) dances in a ring of fire, fire that destroys what is no longer useful, burning away ignorance and illusion. This work takes ultimate courage, it is an invitation to upheaval, chaos, and destruction, that results in the reordering of the universe that lives within, in order to change the world without. Mod 3 is a call to leap into the fire, to trust these guides, to surrender, to burn, to awaken.
"The curriculum of this training is you. You are it, your life, your experiences." Devarshi informed the students in my most recent go around. Such a true statement, our lives are our curriculum, experience is showing up, moment to moment, to teach each of us just what we need to learn. It is clear then, that these teachers and students of yoga show up to this module aligned in unique ways to receive its offerings.
When the schedule is handed out on the second day of the program, some have heard and some haven't, of the shocking one word description filling the box for the activity on Sunday evening. When they look and see that word, the responses, though varied, are all intense. There it is, Sunday evening, one word; death. "We are going to do death?! What does that mean even?" I remember clearly, that being my response on my first go around several years ago as a participant.
"You are eternal, infinite, and whole, or not." Devarshi would continue to put this inquiry out through the whole ten days, but for me it resonated most strongly in the death experience. As a student in the process I felt an urgency in that statement, almost like I had been delivered an ultimatum. "Come on, decide! Are you or aren't you?", my inner voice questioned. Fear bubbled up, a fear that had been percolating in me for years. Fear of death had been haunting me, a specter, a monster. I could sense its shadowy fingers stalking me. I spent hours in therapy on this subject all the way up to module three. Yoga is transformational indeed.
In the death night experience I began to change, to heal. In terror, I stepped into the room, and into the fire. The room was set up with blankets, sheets and cushions, which we would find out were to serve as death beds. We began though, sitting close together at the front of the room, for a talk from Vidya and Devarshi on the matter at hand. Devarshi shared a story of witnessing the death of a friend as a little boy. His story shook me, his vulnerability touched me and his clear strength and faith affected me deeply, instantaneously. Moment to moment, life curriculum arriving, teaching, transforming me. I had brought my life curriculum to the training, but here was life too, in that very moment, like a lightening bolt, and never to be the same again.
The next part of the experience brought it home, to the body, the mind, heart and soul. Full on fire! We each took a spot at a blanket, and the meditation began. Devarshi lead us through a narrative in which we go to the doctor for tests, we are informed that a rare and aggressive disease has been discovered and we only have days to live. We were then instructed to begin some writing, first thinking of four things we love in life and writing them on index cards, and then to write our own epitaph. As we wrote the epitaph, staff would come and replace our "things we love in life" cards with cards that would say something like, "you can no longer walk" or "it is getting hard to breath". This might all seem hokey or ridiculous, but in the moment, in the atmosphere that had been created, I found it intense and profound.
Finally, we were told to end the journaling, that the time had come. We all laid down and Devarshi guided us through our last breaths, the moment of death, being covered with the sheet, moving into the light, being told it was not our time and returning us to life. Again, maybe this sounds silly in a way, or too contrived, but to meet death, to look at it, and shake off the denial of mortality and dive into the reality that this will be an experience we will all have someday is eye opening indeed.
Acknowledgment instead of denial of death is a call to wake the hell up and live!
Several years have passed between that first mod 3 as a student, and the second as staff,which was just a month ago. In those years I have had many more opportunities to learn and process around life and death and matters of faith and God. I have witnessed and received miracles. I have become more sensitive to, and aware of, divine guidance in my life. Miracles can be seen all the time in life, if you are looking in the right places, in the right light, with the right perspective.
Those experiences and revelations translated into an ability, in my second experience of death night as staff, to hold space and witness. I revisited my fear in the act of beholding it in others. I revisited that urgent question, "Infinite, eternal and whole, or not. Which is it?", as I held the energy of it for others. Most importantly, both times, we went in together, shed tears together, lived that moment of life curriculum together. That is a beautiful thing to be, to behold.
As I said, I am still afraid of death sometimes, but I choose to trust the miracles, the deep and unexplainable inner knowing, my soul intelligence.
Infinite, eternal and whole.
Next stop on my dancing with death tour, I will do the practice in the book "A Year To Live" by Stephen Levine. I loved it so much for one night, why not a whole year?
Anyone want to join me? Awwww, come on, you know you do!