Tag Archives: death

Loss Lessons


With the passings of some of modern culture’s most influential and prolific artists like David Bowie and Prince, I’ve had some students asking me what I believe is going on and how to deal with such immeasurable losses. 

I do my best to see the symbolic meaning behind literal events. I also spend a large portion of my time and career discussing topics that we’re only collectively encouraged to discuss at the end of life. I choose to talk about these topics in the prime of life because I believe that in doing so, we are more apt to focus on what really matters in this human existence as opposed to the noise and distraction that typically pull us into the superficial and fear-inducing. In keeping with my spiritual teachings and beliefs, the following is my take on why the collective consciousness is taking such a harsh series of blows with the loss of our most seemingly-immortal artists and trailblazers.

The idols we celebrate and hold in the highest of esteem, on some level, are not expected to die, because we, on a very unconscious level, believe that they are immortal. When they die, we are violently yanked back to the understanding that we will all die, that we are all, in fact, dying with every passing second. And that scares the hell out of us, largely because today’s culture does not encourage us to look closely at the mystery of life and death, the miracle of the energy that sparks these bodies into “life” and which, when it leaves the body, results in “death.” 

The fact that this life, for each and every one of us, is a total and complete mystery is not something that the masses are interested in. This age of money as the ultimate deity, combined with the insatiable desire to photograph ourselves and act as if we were the stars of our own reality show, pull us away from examining anything other than the appearance of it all. This is the age of the image, so fix whatever you need to and filter until it you’ve produced the masterpiece selfie, but don’t look past the appearance. Our culture is self-obssessed. And dealing with our own deaths isn’t cute and it isn’t sexy, so why would we bother? 

I think we should bother. I think that to examine how we are living this life can lead us to reassessing what we are doing with this time that we are blessed with, time that is not renewable. I believe that these celebrity deaths are occurring at a faster pace and more dramatically than we are used to for a reason, and that reason is simply universal source letting us know that it’s time to start making the most of our own life-time.

I say this incessantly in lectures, classes and workshops, but I’ll run the risk of repeating myself: if you are spending time in a job you hate, leave it. If you spend your time in a relationship that drags you down instead of elevating you to a better place, get out of it. If you spend a lot of time doing anything that that you’d rather not do, then stop doing it. If you spend your time adhering to the rules of our society but feel suffocated by them, if you do what everyone else is doing but find unhappiness plaguing you, then it’s time to make your own rules and step out of the shadows. If you really understood that there is only one of you in all of time, then why wouldn’t you stop doing what doesn’t allow you to live your way?

We are here to be ourselves, authentically and unapologetically. We are here to follow the path that our intuition is constantly directing us towards. We are here to take care of ourselves and each other, not to ruin our health in the name of keeping up appearances or in the pursuit of money. We are not here to waste time judging each other and spending more time in darkness and negativity than in light and positivity. We are here to choose life, love, togetherness and purpose. And yet we don’t, not as a general rule. 

I see all these high profile deaths as a reminder to live. I see every day as an opportunity to ask if it might be the last one I get in this body, which gives me the fuel I need to get it all done, said and accomplished. I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of not living. And so I live this life rejecting appearances, not placing more importance on money than I need to and prioritizing love, laughter and inclusiveness as opposed to hate, judgement and division.

We are being asked to wake up from this dream of superficiality and live like this day may be our last. And you know what? It just might be.

To Prince, Bowie, Glenn Frey, Joan and all the others that have slipped off this mortal coil in recent weeks and months, I thank you all for the example you have left in your wake of individuality, purpose, authenticity and brilliance. 

May we all wake up to our own individuality, purpose, authenticity and brilliance and realize that a life lived in distraction is a life half lived, and we are not here to do this half-assed. We are here to burn brighter than we can imagine. The time is now.

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Fess Up and Get Real

Ask yourself: Am I afraid of living or am I afraid dying?

Most people would say they’re afraid of dying, but live their lives in fear. Fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of others, fear of illness, fear of being fat/thin/short/tall, fear of not fitting in, fear of heights, fear of water, fear of spiders, fear of closed spaces, fear of hurting themselves, fear of drowning, fear of flying, fear of wide open spaces, fear of being crazy, fear of getting to know themselves. The list goes on and on.

Now ask yourself again: Am I afraid of living or dying?

Enter The Devil

I got into a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about spirituality and faith, and it got me thinking.

Some of the questions I was asked by my friend were:

– do you believe in God?
– do you believe in luck?
– how do you reconcile being born into privilege versus being born into poverty in a third-world country?
– do you believe in reincarnation?
– do you believe in ghosts?

Midway through last week’s yoga retreat in Bali I got into another conversation with one of the students there who had been a teacher and who told me about the fallout she experienced by bringing the first Harry Potter novel into the classroom to read with her students. She told me how visceral some of the parents’ reactions were to having their children exposed to magic and sorcery, and how these parents equated the concepts of magic and sorcery with the devil and with hell.

Our beliefs dictate how we live, what we cling to, and, more importantly, what we recoil from in fear-based judgement. Personally, I believe that the devil, the embodiment and gatekeeper of hell, is simply the mystical figurehead of living a life based in fear, based solely and specifically in the lower chakras, based in attachment to and sole belief in the tangible, the material world experienced through the 5 senses. I believe that living in fear and doubt as a result of being afraid of the existence of more than the physical is literally hell on earth.

Enter the devil. Watch yourself cling to him for dear life. God forbid we should maintain open minds. God forbid we should pay attention to and trust our intuition, or sixth sense. God forbid we should know ourselves as contracted forms of God and reside in that Awareness and witnessing as a seventh sense. God forbid we should let go of the devil we know so that our faith in something else can carry us to a place of awakening, knowing, connection and deep spirituality.

My friend who asked me all the questions mentioned earlier is also a student of mine who has participated in classes and retreats. I understood that despite being privy to my take on things in the classroom environment, she still had some fundamental and relevant queries that needed to be asked to help guide her closer to her own understanding of spirituality and connection to forces greater than us. And so we got into it. God, ghosts, luck, work ethic, life, death, karma, reincarnation… It was a great exchange. We discussed our beliefs and allowed them to be challenged as the conversation evolved, and eventually walked away from it deep in thought and contemplation.

And so I ask you: what do you believe? How would you answer the questions I was asked? Have you ever considered what your beliefs are and what your answers would be about birth, death and everything that happens between the two? What about what happens after death? Do you believe in karma and reincarnation? Is luck everything to do with success or do we earn our glory? Why are you alive today and how do you think your time on earth is supposed to be managed? Is the path you’re on already set out for you or do have any degree of influence on its trajectory?

I bring these types of questions up at every possible opportunity because I know the meaning of life to be the unifying force behind these topics, and I want to help focus others to the issues that matter so they can begin to see past the literal to the symbolic, replete with underlying purpose.

This is an opportunity for you to do some work, work that will matter long-term. Go ahead and ask yourself some of these questions and see what you come up with…and if you feel like sharing, the forum is open!

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Good Grief

As many of you know, I laid my long-time canine companion Oliver to rest last week after having him by my side for almost 15 years. Oli was a long-haired Jack Russell Terrier whose intelligence bordered on the inconceivable and whose penchant for anxiety rivalled that of Woody Allen. He was faithful and loving, and could convey the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language through a single glance. His absence, as I’ve mentioned to those around me, has been overwhelming…and as time passes and the wound of saying good-bye to him slowly starts to heal, it is also providing incredible insight into the process of death, loss, and recovery from the shock of that loss.

I had previously gone through losing another dog – Sally was added to our family 2 years after Oliver showed up, and she was with us for 6 years before her health failed and we had to say good-bye. It was the first time I had ever lost a pet, and the shock of it was traumatic, to say the least. I had severely underestimated the weight of the energy that an animal brings into the pack, and even more severely underestimated the size of the hole that is left in our hearts when that energy passes onto the next stage. I have lived through the deaths of people as well over the last 37 years of my life, and as jolting and traumatic as they have been, none of those people were with me day and night for years on end, and losing Sally was a huge shock, one that has paid me another visit over the last week. This time, however, is proving to be different.

Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, in human, canine, or any other form, can attest to the fact that there is an element of the irrational in that suffering. One minute they’re here, the next they’re not. That suffering doesn’t necessarily depend on the length of time spent with him or her, as the strongest bonds can be quickly formed between those with like-minded ideals, points of view, and emotional frames of reference. I can safely say, however, that after continuously being with Oli for 15 years, I have been seeing him everywhere I look. The irrational element of not being able to make sense of his loss, as I also felt with the losses of my family members and friends, was always one of those things that I accepted as being part of the process of dealing with death. It was also something I had understood as not being explicable or definable, but something that simply was…something that could not benefit from analysis as it would constantly bring me back to a place of no answers or insight. Oliver’s death has changed that.

What has become clear to me over the last week is that the inability to understand the mystery of death is based in the ego. The ego is relentless in its drive to claim proprietorship – Oli was MY dog, this person was MY friend, this relative was MY grandparent. And on levels conscious and unconscious (perhaps even subconscious), losing those we love is an inarguable blow to the ego, one whose effects are non-negotiable and permanent. The shock we experience at losing them is mainly based in the fact that they were never ours to begin with, that we don’t own anything or anyone…we simply manage it all. We manage the relationships we are blessed with to the best of our abilities, as we do all other aspects of our lives and careers, but the second we believe that we own them, then the ego has won and we have placed ourselves in a place of suffering. We need to accept the blessings that are bestowed on us in this lifetime, as we do the pitfalls and traumas that we are faced with, but we need to understand that we are all simultaneously co-existing and that we need to let go of the constraints that immediately form when we try to claim ownership over anything or anyone. We all are. It’s that simple.

And so after the past 14.5 years of being blessed with Oliver, and after being taught innumerable lessons about unconditional love and the bonds that can be formed between members of different species, Oli continues to teach me. I’m so grateful to this universe for allowing Oli and I to spend so much time together…I owe so much to that little guy, and I know that more revelations will unfold over the next little while…and I’ll be sure to share them as they reveal themselves….

Instinctually Speaking

Our annual Centre Luna Yoga Spring yoga retreat has come to an end, and now that I’m back home, languishing in the drizzle of cold rain and misty fog (beach? did someone say beach?), I thought I’d share one of the most interesting insights I brought back with me from our time in gorgeous Tulum, Mexico.

I remember from my past career what inevitably happened every time I found myself on vacation or with time off – my body would somehow break down, usually to lesser degrees than are insinuated with that expression…a cold here, a flu there, etc…My trip to Tulum started off with a similar, albeit shorter, physical reaction: I passed a kidney stone within 2 hours of landing. The first inkling of trouble was detected as we made our way to the retreat centre in our shuttle bus. The pain was new to me, the worries of possibly having to spend time in a hospital stressful (to say the least), but once we got to Retiro Maya, it all resolved itself. I suppose I may be responsible for setting the tone for the other retreat members, because as the week progressed, some of the participants went through other physical tests including gall stones, an outbreak of eczema, an eye infection, and a plethora of mild digestive issues. My reaction to the kidney issue, the gradual onset of fear and worry, seemed to jump from person to person as each situation arose, and as it travelled onwards, I could stand back and objectively examine exactly what was going on.

I spoke to my class on the retreat about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and one evening I highlighted Sutras 7 & 8 from Book Two, the Portion on Practice that discusses attachment and aversion. Attachment is most commonly defined as identification to those experiences that we deem as being pleasurable, and aversion as identification to those experiences that we deem as being painful. The second each of us who felt our physical bodies offering up something less than ideal became aware of whatever “problem” we were dealt, the aversion kicked in…the irritation, the worry, the fear…all by-products of the greater fear, that of death. Our own mortality was offered up to us in the guise of our ailments, and as opposed to the concern we each felt in the moment, I have walked away from the experience with a deeper understanding of myself and ourselves as a collective unit. That fear of death is the underlying fear of all fears, the instinctive desire to grasp onto life and never let go, our survival mechanism. It is exactly that fear of death that is now under examination in my life. I believe that once this fear is delved into and deconstructed, it will have less of a hold on me and my life will be freer to have a clearer outlook on that which is temporary and fluctuating, regardless of how it may affect me on a physical plane.

With all that in mind, I once again found myself deep in the Sutras, a reference that has never failed me yet. Lo and behold, I found what I was seeking, the source of my information embodied in Book 2, Sutra 9 – Clinging to life, flowing by its own potency (due to past experiences), exists even in the wise. The interpretation of this Sutra (by Sri Swami Satchidananda) is excerpted as follows: Many Westerners don’t believe in reincarnation. They feel, “It’s all over when we die.” But the Yoga philosophy reminds us that all our knowledge comes through experience. Without experience we cannot understand or learn anything. Even books can only remind us of something we have experienced in the past. They help kindle a fire that is already in us. That fire must be there first for the kindling stick to kindle it. ..Yoga says instinct is a trace of an old experience that has been repeated many times and the impressions have sunk down to the bottom of the mental lake. Although they go down, they aren’t completely erased. Don’t think you ever forget anything. All experiences are stored in the chittam; and when the proper atmosphere is created, they come to the surface again. When we do something several times it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct…In the same way, all of our instincts were once experiences. That’s why the fear of death exists. We have died hundreds and thousands of times. We know well the pang of death. And so, the moment we get into a body, we love it so much that we are afraid to leave it and go forward because we have a sentimental attachment to it…if your old body is taken away…you must get a new one. Many people do not know this and cling to the body even when it gets old and dilapidated. That constant clinging, breaking away, clinging again, breaking away is why we are mortally afraid of death.

Need I say more on the subject?

Despite the aforementioned tests, our retreat was a full week of joy, light, love, and bonding. A literal re-connection to the earth and all its elements was experienced by each and every one of us…the stars and planets close enough to touch, the ever present, constant roaring of the ocean, the mighty gusts of wind, the almost-magnetic energy of the Mayan ruins and all the surrounding land, and the non-stop laughter we were privy to made this retreat a series of perfect moments, a true reminder of everything we are blessed with in this life.

And so I emerge from this retreat with a deeper insight into life, hungrier than ever to continue learning and being able to share whatever I come across…all bringing me back to where I began, back to the source.