Death & Breath

20140211-160143.jpgA friend of mine died this week.

She was 41 years old and left behind two small boys and a husband.

Some months ago I invited her to come with me to a Yoga for Cancer workshop. She had advanced stage cancer and I was pregnant. Our seemingly opposite points in life didn’t seem so opposite at the time.

More like two sides of a coin: The beginning of a life and the end of a life.

Even though we knew she would pass, death never fails to strike a tender, heart-wrenching chord. I think this is because it is an inevitable part of each of our lives. It is the other side of our coin; and whether it happens to our spouse or a stranger, it always hits a little too close to home.

I find something so stifling and sickly about the way we as a society deal with death. It’s like we try to be polite about it, as if an invitation to a funeral was an invitation to dinner. I am just as guilty of perpetuating this pattern as everyone else.

When faced with death our hearts are ripped out of our chests and handed to us in pieces; yet we try to hide the blood and guts under a black suit and tie and think our chosen brand of religion or belief system will change the raw, wild, fearful thing that is death into something packagable, something palatable, something acceptable.

Belief systems don’t change death. What they can change is life. This raw, wild, fearful thing that is life.

To the extent that we let death inform our lives, empower our lives, and inspire our lives, it is not the end of the road. It may be the end of our road, but it can be the beginning of someone else’s awakened, enlivened, empowered road.

As someone who has held both death and life in my arms and watched the breath exit and enter a human body, I can tell you it’s a doorway.

It’s a doorway for those of us still living. We can choose to walk through it, but more often are pushed through by the crumbling ground beneath us. It opens up for us the possibility of a more authentic, focused, meaningful life.

I like to think every breath is a doorway, not just our first or last breath on earth.

Modalities like meditation and yoga focus on the breath as Prana, or our life force. To the extent these practices teach us the value and the power of each breath we take, they are useful and life-enhancing. They are called practices because we must keep practicing. We must keep remembering. We must keep tuning in to our life force because it is so easy to forget, to take it for granted, to think we will check death off our list when we’re good and ready.

May each precious breath propel us deeper into our fragile, full, tender lives with our hearts, arms, and eyes wide open.

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