April 17, 2015

We Must Die Before We Die, to Really Feel Alive.

Alexa Torontow's yoga photo

I had the most liberating experience of my life, in the last place I ever could’ve imagined.

When we endure an injury or an illness, there is wickedly sweet way of life’s priorities making their way directly to the surface. All those small things we often stress about become irrelevant and the most important things take top priority. Our daily routine may change, we may need to adopt new things into our life and we may need to renounce others.

Sometimes the transition can be painful and frustrating. Or—to my absolute surprise—it can wake us up and change our life in the most unexpected and amazing ways.

Starting March 1st, I cried every day for 25 days.

I cried with my friends and I cried with my family.

I cried during meetings and I cried running errands.

I cried in public and I cried in the safety of my own home.

I woke up crying and I went to sleep crying.

Every day I woke up in hope that my well of tears must be almost dry, yet it continued.

Every day for 25 days.

But on the 26th day, the tears stopped.

Something happened. I came to the most liberating realization in my life thus far. Although it took a good smack to the head to realize it (literally).

On March 1st, I was stopped in my tracks (again, literally). I took a tumble snowboarding, which resulted in a concussion.

Undeniably some of the tears were from the physical pain, but there was an additional cause for my tears that stemmed from something much deeper. It was uncomfortable, extremely frustrating and a total mystery to me until that 26th day.

I cried for my inability to continue with school.

I cried for my inability to teach yoga or do any form of work.

I cried for my inability to be even somewhat physically, emotionally or mentally stable.

I cried for my inability to clearly translate what I was thinking into words.

I cried for my inability to hold a conversation without forgetting what I was talking about.

I cried for my inability to practice yoga like I was used to. I cried for my inability to balance on one foot or to do a simple downward facing dog.

I cried for many reasons, big and small, but on that 26th day I received the most painful yet beautiful lesson: we must die before we die, to really feel alive.

I received this lesson through the simplest, yet most the most incredible experience. It was absolutely life changing.

When I woke up that morning I looked at the palm of my hand. I observed all the lines and creases and the complexity of our fingerprints. I flexed my feet and wiggled my toes. I was in a state of awe and admiration that I haven’t been in since I was much younger. Revelling in how intricate and beautifully complex we walking, talking beings really are.

I then noticed my ability to see my hands and feet and everything else around me. For the first time in my life I truly appreciated the gift of sight. The ability to see color, to perceive depth and to appreciate contrast.

I placed my hand on my heart and felt my heart beat like I never have before. I felt its gentle life-giving beat that occurs without thought. As I closed my eyes, a different quality of gratitude washed over ever cell of my being.

I felt my breath; I really felt it. I felt it fill me up; I felt the nourishment. I was amazed and humbled how the breath truly breathes us.

I left my room and stepped outside on the deck. It felt like for the first time I really felt the gift and sensation of touch. I experienced the warmth of the sun like never before. A crisp breeze blew through my hair and across my body; it gave my whole body goose bumps. It was absolutely exquisite.

I softened my gaze and let the universal orchestra of sight, sound and sensation have me.

It was then I noticed the ability to notice of all of these things. I basked in a state of wonderfully overwhelming gratitude.

I smiled. I smiled for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

More than I have ever experienced before, I felt alive, I felt happy, I felt free.

I realized on that 26th day that I held such strong connection and shaped my identity by what I can do.

When I fell, it was like I became a stranger to myself in that swift moment. I lost every bit of comfort and familiarity. I lost my ability to do most of the things I was used to doing. I felt like I had lost myself completely.

I was comparing what I could do last month to what I could do today. I was trying to replicate a recipe I have used in the past with present day ingredients that don’t currently exist.

It was a disaster, and I was a mess.

What I came to realize was that all those tears of frustration were ultimately tears of loss; they were tears of mourning.

It was a mourning of all my self-created labels. It was a mourning of attachment to my what I can and cannot do. It was a mourning of my individual identity.

The 25 days of tears broke me down, shook me to my core and taught me the greatest lesson so far in my life:

We must die before we die, to really feel alive.

There will inevitably be the ebbs and flows of life, of creation and destruction, of acquisition and loss.

We are all unavoidably aging; we won’t physically be here forever. Wherever we’re going, we can’t take this physical body, social status, job title or our self-created labels with us. We will each eventually have to shed these individual identities and merge with something much greater.

The sooner we see past the external identities, the sooner we can recognize ourselves in our friends, families, neighbors and strangers.

The sooner we acknowledge that we are not our individualized selves—that we are not what we do or don’t do—we as a global community can shift from a place of competition and comparison to a place of eternal gratitude, love and freedom.

I think we may as well do it now, in this moment. There is no time to waste pretending these impermanent things are permanent, or that we’re not all in this together.

We are not our jobs, our current mood or our abilities.

We just are.

We must remind our friends, our families and each and every person we cross paths with. We must remind ourselves of this often. As life can get busy and we may forget.

We must die before we die, to really feel alive.

I’m not saying it will be easy to experience the pain and discomfort of mourning in our lives. Yet, life’s uncomfortable emotions and experiences often contain the highest teachings. Pain and discomfort are here to wake us up.


“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”  ~ Jim Morrison



Remember Who you Really Are.


Author: Alexa Torontow

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Ralf P

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