"Everything teaches transition, transference, metamorphosis: therein is human power, in transference, not in creation; and therein is human destiny, not in longevity but in removal. We dive and reappear in new places." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
My dad passed away peacefully before I arrived in Bangkok on August 24th. I headed straight to his funeral right after the 20-hour trip. The event began with a long dharma talk on death by a buddhist monk followed by chanting and parading of the coffin with me and my sister leading, and ending with the cremation. In addition, my uncle and sister shared my dad's life stories and a touching poem written by the same monk who gave the talk. The 4-hour event was grand and dignified yet personable much like my dad. His favorite music--western classical, a rare experience in a buddhist temple, was played during the recesses. The next morning we had a more intimate ceremony of blessing (and being blessed by) the ashes and releasing them into the Chao Phraya--the main river in Bangkok near his house. During the cremation the sky changed from blue to gray, the wind blew dramatically, and the rain poured. The similar weather pattern occurred as we got in the boat and carried his ashes to the middle of the river. Thais are superstitious. My family thought dad was giving us a blessing through the rain. I was there to witness his elemental passing from flesh to dust and returning to water and soil. I was also there to hold the space for my family, particularly the closest relations--my mom and sister, for a closure that catalyzes renewal and growth within us. Without transformation our lives would be meaningless and a curse.
"Are we fallen angels who didn't want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved?" -- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Teaching my first class after being back last Saturday grounded my mind. I felt centered and energized despite the jet lag. Unwilling to talk about his death before the class I soldiered on. All of my energy was needed to hold the clear space of teaching. I held the grief tightly in my heart until early this morning. Finally, I felt ready and asked myself "what is this inside my chest?" And there it was a black hole--full and heavy yet an empty void. I held it with my left hand and felt a tremendous release as the tears came streaming down, and a deep gratitude for all the passing moments converged with the present. For the last couple weeks I focused on holding a safe and loving space for my family and the yoga participants in my classes while my dad went through the dying process. I became vigilant of my own lack of mental discipline, emotional tension and unkindness, as well as the physical depletion. The old reactive unconscious pattern--complaints, grudges, and general self-centeredness is slowly burning away. I feel a sense of renewal. Death is a rebirth. Elements turn into new forms. Energy rises up as the old cells and beliefs are sacrificed and the heart-mind is refined and evolved. Practicing embodiment through yoga I come to realize that to think and do without the awareness of feeling is the opposite of action. It is apathy and inertia. One can move the body and mind busily by thinking the same thoughts and acting the same way without being aware of the movements, much like a dog chasing its tail. Mindfulness is the mind that sees the thoughts and feel the experiences. It abdicates unconscious thoughts and actions. The insight--inward seeing awakens the cognitive control of the executive functions in the prefrontal cortex allowing us to think and act intelligently. We are either fallen angels or awakened humans.
"Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action." -- B.K.S. Iyengar
Unconscious action is death without upward rebirth. It is devolvement as opposed to evolvement. Throughout this past weekend I shared the above quote by Iyengar. It points to both the significance of the Labor Day as well as the deadly heat in California and the catastrophic flooding in Texas. Unconscious actions are generated from the disconnection within--between the mind and body. The disconnect itself is a toxic state. It leads to wasteful and ineffective labor. It causes pollution and environmental--internal and external devastations. Mindfulness unites the mind-heart and body. The lack of mindfulness causes our energy to burn outward. We become the blasting orange flame that scorches living beings on our path and burn ourselves down. To be a renewable clean energy source we learn to move the body and mind consciously from the heart center and allowing them to flow with and not against one another. When the fire of digestion in the gut and the transformation in the heart-mind burns inwardly through the light of awareness we are like the steady blue flame at the center of the light. We burn away food into nutrients for the body. We burn the ego--frustration, anger, jealousy, hatred, and greed into kindness and compassion. We build new cells and neuronal pathways that foster physical ease, broaden perspectives, deepen social connections and dedication to the welfare of all beings. The memories of my father live on in me. He was a man of great ability and responsibility who was much loved by so many whom he had helped in his lifetime. Yet, he was deeply flawed and human. Through the embodiment of his humanity I found my life purpose and am deeply grateful for his gifts. May we find liberation through death and renewal in each and every moment, and live a truly transformative life.