For many years I was afraid of death. There was something about the idea of not existing anymore, that it was possible for this entity known as “myself” to suddenly vanish and be forgotten, as if not a single moment of the life I had considered so important had mattered at all. It was frightening to think that within a few years of my death, any tangible record of my existence would be swept away leaving not even a whisper that I was once here.
It became very important for me to leave something behind, a legacy so powerful that even the gods couldn’t wipe it away. But legacies are tricky things, and pretty soon all men who pursue such a single-minded aim are left more with despair than prosperity.
The truth is that following our deaths most of us will slowly fade away leaving nothing to remind future generations of our existence.
Many try to create legacies through their children, hoping in some small way that the perpetuation of their genes will ultimately grant them immortality. The problem is that children, too, are mortal. Eventually they will grow old, ponder the same issues we did, and then fade away.
It doesn’t matter how many children or children’s children or children’s children’s children mankind sires; eventually, at some moment in the near or distant future, when the great universe has run its current course and returns to the singularity from which it came, we will all die, and there will be no one left to remember anyone. There will only be silence.
Death may be postponed, but it is ultimately inevitable.
Now that I have sufficiently depressed you, enter SAVASANA.
Yoga is a celebration of life. Yet it must never be forgotten that a celebration of life is equally a celebration of death. When we move our bodies through the various poses that make up the different sequences of postures we practice, it is a movement through life, a celebration of animation. Yet, at the end of every practice lies savasana — there is no yoga without savasana. And after the celebration of life comes the acquiescence to death.
Acquiescence, what a beautiful word! It means to accept without protest, and isn’t that what savasana is about?
Savasana is the forgotten posture. It is forgotten in the sense that most people don’t pay as much attention to it as the others. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say savasana is my best posture and have everyone laugh. The misconception is that anyone can practice savasana without having ever practiced it at all.
However, if you’ve ever stood at the front of a room as a sea of bodies lay before you in “savasana”, then you know that few people truly practice savasana. After a few seconds of tightened stillness, the micro-movements begin. Suddenly, that bead of sweat must be wiped, the stray strand of hair must be put back in place, and that itch must not go unscratched lest it tell its friends and a thousand itches come in its wake.
These things are distractions, and like all distractions they are designed to conceal the truth. In this case the truth is that you are going to die. One day, despite your best efforts, beyond all your attempts at healthy eating and careful living, your body will finally say “enough, it is time for me to go,” and no amount of pleading or technologies or medicines will sway its made up mind.
But it‘s okay. Death, I have slowly come to see, is not the enemy. Death is not the boogieman who springs from our closets and snatches life away just as it was getting good.
Rather, Death gives life meaning. Death and life go hand and hand. Life cannot be without death. I don’t mean this in the manner we typically hear it, in that platitudinous way we are told when someone we care about dies. No. I mean it in the literal sense that life could not have come into existence without death riding in its wake. Life is defined by death. Try it now. Try to define life without some–overt or implied—recourse to death. It can’t be done.
What thrill can be had from any of life’s activities without the shadow of death in the background, no matter how far back it may be? What joy is there in jumping out of a plane, or swimming with sharks, or holding a newborn, without some possibility of death? What point would there be to anything?
When I know that what I value, what I love, can be lost in a single flap of a hummingbird’s wings, ah, then that thing becomes all the more valuable. Every breath, every thought, every tear, every kiss, becomes as rich and as valuable as the rarest of earthen elements.
Savasana teaches you this. It teaches you that the movements of life are only important in contrast with the stillness of death. So next time you find yourself in Savasana, surrender yourself to it, treat it as if it were as important as any of the other asanas you practice. Because it is.
What are your thought on savasana and death? Does savasana help you deal with your mortality?