November 7, 2010

Corpse Pose and Fear of Death: Reflections of the Post Election Season.

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I’m lying in savasana in the veiled shadows between life and death and I really don’t like it. Corpse pose is not a depiction that makes me want to assume the posture. I’m with Woody Allen here. “I am not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” While meditation gives us glimpse of ourselves as the embodiment of an underlying nature, savasana helps us confront death while life is in full flow. Corpse is not the fullness of meditation that comes easily and leaves me refreshed. It is surrender to a void that leaves me breathless. I think you really do need to be in a safe place to practice letting go.

In this season of crossover I’m thinking of the blur between living and dying. Halloween began with the Celts who marked this day as an end to summer abundance and the beginning of winter and death. Their conviction that ghosts returned to not only make trouble but to open a door to the future reveals the belief in the cyclical nature of time. There is a whisper of truth to that when I lie in savasana like Hamlet; ghosts gathering to make mischief in my mind that does not want to know the future.

The hard light, the whoosh of leaves, the shock of chill after a suffocating summer usually heralds a delicious respite with friends and family. Life slows down and we make a tighter weave into the comfort of warmth and light. Lately I am not sure I can close the door on the darkness. Corpse feels like more than a posture these days. It feels like a country’s stasis. While emptiness is still abundant with possibilities in this moment, this moment, this moment it feels like the moment before falling off a cliff. Economics, self interest and the soul of this country are inextricably entwined and the state of neither motion nor development which comes from opposing forces balancing each other in our governing body at a time that needs to be a transition to sanity is unsettling at least. Behind the mask of one nation there are individuals struggling for survival. So much energy in the air is threatening to one in the void. It is the oppression of a pressure system coming with the storm.

Sage Patanjali had insight to our nature which may reflect what is happening to us now. He notes five kleshas, basic causes of human suffering, in The Yoga Sutras. Spiritual ignorance keeps us from knowing our true nature. This leads to misidentifying oneself by one’s personality. That in turn leads to desire and attachment to whatever re-enforces our ego and aversion to what diminishes it. We fear death because we identify with our individuality and fear for its destruction. As a country we are confused about our true nature. We believe ourselves to be a people who cherish freedom and opportunity for all but we are clearly conflicted about that. The governing parties are identified by an ass and an elephant and they both appear to be foolish and overweight. Those governing parties and governors are devoted to their individual survival above all things and will do whatever they need to enforce that. We people as individuals fear for our individual destruction.

Our sense of self depends on relegating unwanted experiences to the corners of the psyche and body and perhaps it’s that internalized stress that is causing so much illness. It is a symptom of powerlessness. In savasana we can observe patterns of attraction and revulsion that keep us out of the present. The void is left when the self is absent and I for one cannot surrender my Self but must keep vigilant watch. Though I am a teacher of Yoga I am a poor student. Give me an F plus for failing but trying.

Freud says that we can’t know the experience of death because as an observer we are clearly alive. What we do experience when challenged to confront death is guilt, abandonment and unresolved conflicts which get mixed up with death. This is the challenge of savasana. This is what it’s hard to be present for. We have an attraction to fearful things because it is a desensitizing that leads us eventually to a state of equanimity. This is the practice of savasana. I don’t think it’s that we want immortality. We just don’t want the unknown. We want to feel safe. In the twilight between waking and sleep, between living and dying, between what is here today and gone tomorrow we have our greatest challenge. There is so much material world and we are so invested in it in this moment and this moment and this moment. We don’t fear death. We just can’t bear loss. We were raised to be individuals and we are programmed to survive as such. If we are ignorant of our true nature it is largely because there is much between us and it. If we identify as our personality it is because that is what endears us to the world. If we are adverse to that destruction and diligent to protect it, that is our job in this country, in this world, at this time. If we as individuals fear our destruction it is because it is ever present. If we cannot let go it is because we are programmed to hold on.

Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock”. We are a country divided standing like rocks. We are a canyon of walls facing walls with a chasm in between. In the absence of Self, in the place where past and future are one, the ghosts that arise are the ghosts of humanity ever trying and failing to accept ourselves as a common spirit. We are in the chasm. I for one cannot shut my eyes.

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