Death has not been as proximal to me as it has been to others. I have never lived in a war zone, I did not have friends succumb to violence in youth, my grandparents, parents, sibling, and spouse are either alive or have transitioned at a ripe old age. However, this year two friends, both in their middle thirties and who I had been very close to several years ago, passed away. Whenever death makes a showy appearance it causes me to reflect on impermanace and transition.
My husband, one of my greatest teachers, refers to death as the great equalizer–it is the one experience we are all guaranteed to partake in. However, it is also the one we have no concrete information on… we will only know when we arrive.
Here arises the question, how do we best prepare for this unavoidable journey? One place is with an understanding of the concept of avidya— the primal ignorance of identification with what is not who we are.
The Himalayan Tradition holds to the belief that, to the uniformed individual, what we appear to be and what we truly are is often misunderstood. What we are, according to this nondual tradition, is eternal, perfect, pure consciousness. What we appear to be is temporary, greatly flawed, and governed by the laws of the physical world–avidya is this misidentification.
How do we begin to dissolve the grip of avidya, the first step is knowing of it’s existence. The second is through our meditation and adjunct practices.
In meditation, we, initially, set down the false identities that are closer to the surface: teacher, student, asana instructor. Gradually progressing to the deeper ones: wife, mother, woman. Eventually to the deepest ones: human, fearful, temporary.
Many traditions discuss practicing for death– I particularly resonate with the sibling tradtion of Tibetan Buddhism and their “Death Meditations“. The Himalayan Tradition explains we must be a scientist “an interior researcher“– we musn’t subscribe to a belief because of blind faith– we must develop experiential knowledge. We can lightly knock on the entrance to deaths door by moving into the causal plane of consciousness with Yoga Nidra in savasana (the one asana that no one seems to translate into English “corpse pose”); or, we can move into superconsciousness with meditation and experience the Silence of the Center. Although these are temproary states, little by little one develops a knowing that these states are closer to our intrinsic one.
I have no intention of belittling the grief that we experince with the “passing” of a loved one through the veil. However, as this transition is inevitable for all of us it would behoove us to be as comfortable and unafraid of this journey as possible.