When one of my spiritual mentors, Swami Bramadeo, suggested I try the art of dying, daily, in order to learn about my Self and ease my anxiety, I was apprehensive to say the least. Dying was in direct opposition to my life goals, which were to live, laugh, and find peace.
To me death was synonymous with giving up — something I had spent my youth running away from. I was a survivor, not a quitter. I had known many quitters in my life — at one point I put my own mother in that category, since she tried to commit suicide three times. The third time came when I was a baby; she locked the doors, took a bottle of sleeping pills, and got into bed, ready for the long sleep. Luckily, my father got to her before it was too late. She survived, and today, more than 40 years later, is healthy and happy. So I was not about to become a quitter.
Swamiji suggested I begin right then. He asked me to lie down in Savasana and close my eyes to see what I could learn about dying. I smiled, took a deep breath, and said, “Okay.” With his instruction I breathed through some of my distractions, like the warm cup of chai that was waiting for me, the hike I wanted to take through the jungle where Swamiji lived, and the long meandering discussion I wished to have with him before it was time for me to leave. I tried to focus on my breath, and a heavy feeling began to come over me, as if I suddenly weighed 500 pounds and the pressure of that weight was pulling me toward the center of the earth.
Shortly after that, I drifted off somewhere — I was still vaguely aware of my surroundings, but my body had become light, as if I were floating on a cloud. When I finally sat back up, I felt relaxed and attentive and energized, and I said, “Can I have my chai now?” Swamiji smiled. I have come to understand that quitting and surrendering can be similar in outcome, but are very different in intentions. When one quits, there is no hope left; there is a feeling of defeat, and death becomes heavy upon one, suffocatingly so. When one practices surrender, it is a hopeful task, and the heaviness it brings gives rise to energy, breath, and life. I continue to practice dying every day — and, of course, to drink chai.