Living, Dying and Mandalas

It often happens when I am in shavasana pose, lying flat on my yoga mat gaping at an inverted universe. In that interlude, everything stops for a brief eternity. My mind leaps to the highest branch of a neighboring tree watching my stationary frame. And I get a tiny glimpse of lifelessness. Maybe this is what death is like! My monkey brain whispers from a distance. Maybe it is.

Clear and void. Distant. Monumental.

It makes me anxious and then I blink my eyes. I get up and return to the world of washing dishes, doing laundry and raising family. I fall into to a world of planning and order. I get sucked in a bubble of invincibility.

The book by Sogyal Rinpoche‘ – Tibetan way of living and dying was my introduction to death and dying. Before that like most, it was a concept I never cared to bother or know about. Talking, thinking about dying  was depressing, it was sickening and morbid. Who in their right mind would discuss death while living? And once you are dead, the story is over – one cannot go back and edit it. The book came and opened a small window in my mind.

We have our entire lives to prepare for death, yet we meet it unprepared. ~Sogyal Rinpoche’

Something stirred within me – preparing for death, how? The book talked about mindfulness, letting go of fear and holding a constant core of spiritual practices that would enrich,open and strengthen the mind. I did not get it. I closed it and moved on but the window failed to bolt on this time.

A few years later, a very close family member died. My father followed and then some others. (I will purposely refrain from going into the pathos of the solemn moments) While standing next to my dad’s rigid body, I was so still that I forgot I could move; that he and I were in proximity but apart in light years; that his energy has translated into something beyond my understanding; that in spite of my immobility – I was living and he was dead. All I could sense was the loudest bang of silence, the failures of words and the overwhelming grief. And this enormity of his absence scared me. I felt like an alien surrounded by the horrifying, unknown emptiness of a new planet that had digested the only ounce of invincibility I’d been nurturing all along. I was fatigued, instantly.

Since then, I have recovered but I still go back to that space of overwhelming blackout. It manages to glue my feet to the ground, even if momentarily. I realized it was time for the book to come back. The window was wide open by now. A lot of fear had made its way in. I read more, understood little. Even after the personal experience of loss, I felt more connected to my grief than reality. The painful world of attachments and ego became my center. I closed the book again for it was not helping. That is when I acknowledged my fear of dying and death and decided to become a hospice volunteer – to serve, to learn and to be fearless.

Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality. ~Pema Chodron

I haven’t accomplished much as a volunteer yet, but it has helped me enormously. Most of the people I have talked to, have same bruises, similar fears and unanswered questions about suffering. This is how far I have reached:

We start dying as soon as we are born. It is like how Buddhists construct a Mandala. With all their patience, diligence, waiting and effort – they create a breathtaking snapshot of the cosmos, the universe and the subconscious – the ones that constantly manifest themselves in infinite forms and within each form is the birth of another and the death of previous. Later, these designs evaporate as dust as if nothing existed before. A new mandala begins. The pause of death and the stir of birth get absorbed in the eternal movement.

Dismantling the mandala
Dismantling the mandala

We are nature’s mandala. While we have no consciousness of our birth, we collect grains of color, sand and space while we are built. We consume time. We get detailed to perfection by our creator. We are filled with light as we are hollowed with darkness. When the picture is complete, the stab of death makes us realize of our entire design. In that instant, our consciousness mixes with the divine dust. Only a body stays behind.

It is a strange feeling to realize awareness only to begin from scratch again. It is a mystery that infinite permutations of wishes, hopes and much more brew in our head all along but reality stays fixed, futile and finite. We can soar all we want and be wherever we like or be the most creative designs of our generation but the end remains unstoppable and immovable. Life grinds us into dust. Death collects us.

Perhaps, it isn’t death that we fear, perhaps it is suffering or perhaps we are afraid that we will never realize who we are and everything will remain the same – the feeling of hopelessness, anxiety, ego and pain.

But it is all we have and to lose it to fear is to die every moment. So what if life is only an ambiguity? So what if it lets us down now and then? You and I have made into this world after countless combinations have ignited the key of evolution. That is the miracle to hold on to.

Knowledge does not mean mastering a great quantity of different information, but understanding the nature of mind. This knowledge can penetrate each one of our thoughts and illuminate each one of our perceptions. ~Matthieu Ricard

In my last yoga pose of the day, I look up. The sky is overcast with moving clouds. The mandala is different today but it won’t be there tomorrow. I smile in acknowledgement. I shiver with slight fear. Suddenly a burst of inactivity hits me.

It will be peaceful, like falling asleep no matter how difficult it will be to get there – my disjoint mind says. You’ve made it so far – live the enigma of life so that you can be certain and prepared at death.

a childlike life is a mindful life
a childlike life is a mindful life

I think about death once again. A small, dark space shuts me in. But the next instant, light walks in abundance carrying me with it.

I blink and return. Nature continues with my mandala.

…when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings. ― Sogyal Rinpoche

Image credit : Google images

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