Death, Yamantaka, and The Byrds
Thank you for reading,
In less than two weeks, I will be leaving Washington DC after nearly 25 years in this area. After nearly 12 years of teaching yoga in DC, I will teach my final in person class on Saturday July 10th (details below).
There are many things I could say as I enter into a new chapter of life. I could recall many points at which transitions shook me, and where I had to search for steady ground within myself. But as I sit in the quiet of night, listening to the sleeping sounds of a 6 week old, I am aware of the fleeting nature of my life. At the intersection of my life and the heart of this journey into yoga/spirituality sits death.
As a young person, I was both enthralled by, and deeply ashamed of my fear of death. As I became a young adult, and I watched many friends lose their lives to choices, accidents, or circumstances I played perilously and foolishly with my own life. I barely valued the time I was given, and even found life unbearably boring at times. The idea is laughable now. Every year that passes, I can tell how much of life there is to live. This world, in it's enormity and variety, I will barely know before my time to leave.
I can understand why, in the context of yoga, one of the obstacles to liberation is "clinging to life." But no, the preciousness of life is not antithetical to death. It is by virtue of our mortality that we can hope to enjoy life at all. Death is not a villain or usurper, but the constant reminder that all things are forever changing. To openly face death, and to embrace the fear and grief that accompanies all such transitions is the core of leading a spiritual life.
Whatever might keep us from experiencing the joy of being alive, is the dross that we must encounter and cut through with the refined sharpness of awareness and discernment. Spiritual practice is the means to disentangle ourselves from the heavy burdens of separateness that keeps love out of reach. It is not change, or death, that keeps us from loving life. No. It is our own ideas, habits, identifications, desires, and beliefs that keep us from love, awareness, and wisdom.
This may all sound very philosophical and heavy, but it isn't really. This approach to embracing the discomfort, and messiness of life, through deliberate, skillful means, is a kind of "tough compassion." In case you're confused what that might mean, check out this article.
For me, this practice of embracing change, discomfort, and uncertainty is the water that makes all the seeds of my life's intentions grow. At the beginning of this journey into meditation and yoga, when I was not certain about whether I should be a monk in a monastery, I found solace in the embodied depiction of ruthless compassion: Yamantaka - The Destroyer of Death. I would be remiss if I were to attempt a one sentence description of Yamantaka and the historical context of the teachings and practices associated with this figure. Instead, here is a beautiful article from Buddha Weekly if you want to understand why this speaks to me: Angry Wisdom.
It is humbling to reflect on the very fact that there is a historical lineage devoted specifically to practices exploring the dissolution of the obstacles that keep us from recognizing the presence of joy, grace, and love.
This long letter is my way of letting you know, that although I may not be present in DC, my practice, and teaching will continue. It will continue to change, as it has. I encourage you to remain committed to whatever practices you have found that have brought you closer to your own loving presence. If you choose to continue to practice with me, from afar, I will be at your humble service.
This song that nicely captures the feeling of the piece above: They Byrds - "Change Is Now"