It was about time to feature a skull picture in this blog.
I couldn’t wait.
I adore skulls, since childhood.
As it turns out, most children seem to have an attraction for the dead and the creepy. And the entertainment industry has finally realised it, releasing products like Monster High, where a bunch of teenage vampires, zombies, mummies and frankensteins (all of them dead creatures) gather up American High School style.
My daughter is mad about it.
Or perhaps it’s not such a recent thing after all. All traditional fairy tales are populated by sinister creatures whose close relations to afterworld forces are more than obvious.
Skull T-shirts have been a craze since 2012, when prompted by Mayan advisors and the outbreak of smartphones we all started to feel that Doomsday may be about to come after all.
So there’s plenty of choice for the young and old. Only the Yoga industry seems to be immune to the charm of death.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Present day Yoga teachers never talk or write or offer demonstrations about the end of life.
I really wonder why.
Could it be because they believe death doesn’t sell much?
Oh, but that’s not true! Horror movies, costly funerals, aforementioned skull t-shirts… you can make tons of money with death!
Or is it because corpses don’t look good in colourful leggings?
I don’t know. But I find it so peculiar that a mass movement claiming to bear some spiritual significance is so determined in skewing the death and decay topic at all costs, that I just need to inquire further.
Spiritual traditions of all times, on the contrary, have abundantly prayed on the corruption of flesh issue as their main source of power.
What were the Pyramids but gigantic tombs?
Faraos were believed to draw their unquestionable authority from a privileged relationship with other worldly gods, and their mummification and massive-effort-requiring burial were the physical evidence of this state of things.
While ancient Mexico was embarrassingly in love with brutal murder rituals, contemporary Mexico has developed a more intriguing and presentable form of death cult around the Calavera icon.
Christianity, in its turn, by choosing the the very instrument by which its founder was tortured and killed as its main simbol, has put death once more right at the core of its system of ritual and belief.
Islam and Judaism bear no lesser claim to possess means to describe the destiny awaiting us after our final transition and intercede for us with heavenly judges.
Salvation – that is the destiny of our soul after departure – is actually widely accredited among academics to be the defining trait of a religion.
Now it comes to my mind that perhaps, the reason why contemporary yogis prefer not to speak about death, is that the spiritual sources they refer to, i.e. Hinduism and the Indian Yoga tradition, are not concerned with that at all.
WALK WITH THE DEAD
Weird, though. As I also recall having visited such place named Varanasi, which is said to be the holiest place in the whole of India, the most sacred spot in the world, the most ancient temple-town, where people were not afraid to deal with death at all.
I remember walking along the river-shore from dawn to dusk, and it was nothing but burning corpses one after another. And then funerals after funerals after funerals…
Death in Varanasi was not just an idea, a vague possibility that we may once in a while give a thought or two. It was a palpable presence like never and nowhere else in my life I had ever experienced.
I actually realised only at that time how in the world I come from death is permanently removed from sight, denied and sanitised as it was nothing but a medical concern. And how this is sick.
It’s sick because in Varanasi, as I walked across cremation grounds, I didn’t feel sad or disgusted at all. I actually felt good. So good I had to go back there again and again every day, and whenever I went there I felt this immense, unexpected smile open up inside my heart again. And there was nothing creepy about that. There is nothing strange about the fact that confronting death as a natural occurrence makes us feel suddenly very alive. And that life becomes more meaningful, and thought becomes more focused.
I feel sick instead, when I see old and sick people in hospitals who are forcefully kept alive by machines that do nothing but prolong their agony by months or years.
I felt sick at my aunt’s death bed four years ago, when I saw a person stubbornly clinging onto her fading life as she had always been clinging onto all of the junk of her possessions whose accumulation had been the sole purpose she ever knew.
But when there’s the ever lasting bond of affection for the departed, and an adult mind-frame has been setup throughout a whole lifetime preparing for the great letting go, there is nothing wrong or sad about that final leap. And we should’t be afraid to talk about it.
You don’t really need to have something amazingly brilliant to say about death to make it part of your world view. I mean, nobody here is claiming to know what’s going to happen afterwards. But hey, one thing we do know, and it’s the fact that we die. And we also know that at that point all the effort we have made to learn to do splits and handstands won’t matter a fucking dime.
THE EMPTY CULT OF WELLNESS
So my uncomfortable question is: what do intend to be ‘spiritual’ if you are not prepared to deal with death?
If you have nothing to say about death, you have nothing to say about spirituality at all. You have no right to call yourself spiritual in any meaningful sense.
It is perhaps Yoga’s curse or karma, as ancient yogic sects boldly claimed to achieve magical powers that would allow them to overcome death, to leave its legacy to modern yogis who have ruled the issue of death entirely out of the picture.
But my best guess, seriously, and sadly, is that contemporary Yoga is a religion that does not want to believe in itself. It does not dare to. It’s a religion with no guts.
On one hand, the great worldwide success story of yoga is based on the downfall of Christianity, following its progressive failure to provide credible answers to more and more informed and sophisticated minds of the modern middle-classes. The consequent rejection of its core values created a void that needed to be filled by something providing a higher dose of rationality and was more experience based than the preacher’s sermons.
At the same time though, the traumatic divorce from Christianity has left an open wound that is still hard to heal and leaves the majority of today’s yogis hanging between two worlds. At one level they are desperately seeking for a framework providing answers to their big questions, at another they are even afraid to ask those questions as the new framework may prove to be further disappointment.
And of course we’re all strangled by the fear of being manipulated, and anyone who gets proximity to the reign of darkness immediately gets charged by an aura of mystical power that triggers our delusional-guru-detector alarm. And that’s all good and wise and probably appropriate for our time.
But the outcome is that YOGA, the greatest source of mystical knowledge of all human history, has ended up finding a comfortable niche in gyms and health clubs, where it hides like a cricket under fireworks attack.
And of course, yes, wellness and death are at a first glance mutually exclusive ideas. But this may not reveal entirely true after all.
OBITUARY: A SUCCESS STORY
Life is made up of small facts and great facts. They are all as important as they shed light of meaning on each other. But of course, the great facts are harder to deal with than the small facts.
Let’s not be put down by the trouble and courage it takes to deal with the great facts, as it’s always worth doing it in due time, before events collapse and smash the crude reality right onto your faces.
Death is the greatest fact of our life.
Of course the idea of departing from this world is terrifying to all of us. But including it in your daily cogitations is not just essential to avoid reducing your journey on earth to an endless series of trivial events, it may prove to have practical benefits too.
As billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani affirms: if you want to be successful, start today by writing your own obituary.
Featured image: source, futurity.com