As I was walking away from the graveyard, it began to occur to me that this entire trip has been a preparation to die.
I had some business at the grave of Madame Laveau. A friend asked me to, while I was down in New Orleans, return an item to the Voodoo Queen’s grave that “belongs to her.” I first thought I was going to ask something of her while I was there. People often do. Then, it occurred to me…when one gives a gift to a significant other, they do not say, “But you’re buying dinner next time.” Why would anyone make bargains with the dead in this fashion?
Krishna has this to say about sacrifices and how to give them:
The good who partake of the remnants of a sacrifice are freed from all sins; but those sinful persons who cook for their own sake, partake of sin.
~Bhagavad Gita 3.13
I left the graveyard feeling a lot cheerier, for I hadn’t entered into any bargains with dark powers. However, it occurred to me at some point while I was walking that this lighter feeling came from leaving behind things. Along with clothing and bathroom stuff for the trip, I brought with me trinkets, totems—little objects that served purposes throughout their stay in my company. And one by one, I was ridding myself of them, lightening the load on my soul.
Before I left for New Orleans, I balanced my accounts with the IRS and student loans. This isn’t anything peculiar; everyone does it. But, I remembered some of the things to watch for when it comes to suicide. One of them that almost always comes up is the settling of debts. By giving things away, we sever our connections to our old selves, the way snakes shed their skin. The snake does not weep for its lost skin, nor should we weep or bargain for our sacrificed things.
Having just engaged in the largest spring cleaning of my life, I understand what it’s like to part with things that hold memories (don’t think me tabula rasa yet: there’s still four boxes and more in the storage space I have yet to address).
In the East, willfully engaging with the end of one’s own life carried far less taboo. In Savasana (corpse pose/final rest), the yogi assumes the posture of death. The Japanese practice of seppuku was an acceptable and even honorable form of ending one’s own life. We consider(ed) this practice backwards and barbaric, but if the actions of the dying helped the living to better themselves and respect life…I cannot so swiftly and blindly cast a personal judgment on their actions.
What freaks me out a little is that, with seppuku, the warrior would write a “death poem” prior to the act of disemboweling himself. While I was writing to Madame Laveau, I felt inspired to compose a short love poem. It was nothing to write home about, just a short couplet that tripped nicely off the tongue, but as I was doing my research into the above paragraph, that fact did not escape me.
The further irony is that I’ve never shared any of my poetry with any living being. Except for that one play I wrote in rhyming couplets…but we’re going to ignore that that ever happened.
Recently, I’ve been touched by death in different ways. Before I began really blogging, I was introduced to a blogger who writes much like I do. He hung himself in his jail cell. I would perhaps not have been introduced to his writing were he still alive or were he treated with justice. Social media has brought story after story of people who heard of a terminal illness and made the most of the last of their lives. I would be denying them honor if I did not cite them as inspirations for my taking up not just writing, but yoga.
I saw in those accounts pure, unabashed happiness from those who saw so viscerally the end of their lives approaching. The knowledge of the end of their life perhaps brought despair, but it opened the pathways for them to truly enjoy life. I believe this is one of the secrets of yoga.
It is no secret that we will die. I am not at all eager to speed up that process. But on this trip, in this past year, I have come to accept this fact. Along with that, I gained a sense of purpose and perspective: what I do not write shall go unwritten. What I do not say shall go unspoken. What I do not do shall go undone. So many people go from their lives with things unaccomplished and unspoken, things they do not have the opportunity to realize they will leave unaccomplished and unspoken until it is too late.
I will make it my business to try to alleviate some of that negative energy. But in order to do so, first I must clear out my own. I returned the medallion to its keeper. I’ve returned the bracelet to its owner. I will send my seashell to the ocean. These things I do not for myself, but for the universe, and I am preparing to make myself available as its instrument, so should I be stolen from the world today, or tomorrow, I will not walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death fearing evil.
“I feel myself driven towards an end that I do not know. As soon as I shall have reached it, as soon as I shall become unnecessary, an atom will suffice to shatter me. Till then, not all the forces of mankind can do anything against me.”
This week, may you settle an old debt.
May you shed a layer of skin.
May you return or give something to whom it belongs.
And may your actions contribute to the peace and happiness of the world.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. Om shanti, shanti, shantih.