How Do You Want to Die?
I grip the stone with my toes, press my fingers on its rough hot surface, push myself up to stand on a big rock. I am on top of a mountain now. I squint my eyes under midday sun, watching horizons, counting other mountain-tops. I raise my arms, spread my leg, face the sky. I think of a Walt Whitman verse, which I learnt in Dead Poet Society: "I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world." I take a breath in my belly, open my mouth, and scream as barbarically as I can. This is splendid, being a free woman.
We make our way down the mountain as the sun rises higher on the azure sky. Though it is midday, the heat and the sunlight are still pleasant on the skin. The fresh mountain breeze helps. Leaning in from the sidewalk, bamboos pour shade on my exposed shoulders.
Out of the blue, my yoga teacher – who I respectfully call Guru Ji – utters "How do you want to die?"
I ask back to make sure I hear him right “How do I want to die?" "Yes," he says. "This question can be a good discussion in the family."
I imagine bringing up this topic during dinner, and the blank, widened face of my parents. We don't talk about death. Doing this brings bad luck. When I was little, mother made me spit 3 times if she heard any babbling about death. “Cleanse the mouth! Cleanse the mouth!” she urged. But now I have grown to be somewhat obsessed with death. A healthy kind of obsession, the one that teaches me how to live.
How do I want to die?
I think of my grandfather, who is dying right now. Few days ago, I came to his bed to say hi. His eyeballs, at first glazed over, slowly moved and met my eyes. His dry throat let out a sound so distorted and weak that I could not understand. I looked at him, my heart crunched. A plastic feeding tube hung out from his right nostril, it brought the soup straight to the stomach; his tongue had tucked back to his throat, he could not close his mouth; a big napkin under his bare bottoms. So much suffering. “I don't want to die like this,” a thought crept in my ears.
Why some of us die fast and easy, some die slow and hard? I could not help it; out of love, I prayed for his soul to be released from this rotten prison that is now his body. To be liberated from this suffering and dance to the next planet.
How do I want to die?
It is early winter. In a pine forest, there is a cottage. Inside the cottage, I lie on the bed, I gaze out the big window and see a snow flake – the first one this season. The moon has come out, still young, blurred, and shy. On top of the thick range of pine trees, the sun says its salutation to the life of day, begins to die.
The room is filled with fragrance of pine cone and cinnamon. A pine warbler sings. I raise my palms to embrace my face; fingers smell like tangerine. I rest my palms on belly to touch its rising and falling as the breath move in and out of my lung. This life force has provided and loved me all along. Gratitude surges over me. Thank you, Life.
I gaze at the moon again, and the orange sky, and the sun, and the falling snow. This scene contains all of life.
"Let go of everything and see what's left," words of Yoga Master Erich Schiffmann come to my mind. Let go of everything. Of ambitions and goals. Of failure, of success. Of pride, of regret. Of philosophy, of concepts. Of the struggle to make sense of life. I understand now. That life does not need to be made sense of. Life does not need to make sense. Life simply needs to be lived.
What's left now is the young moon, the orange sky, the dying sun, the twinkling snow, the pine tree, the bamboo bars of my window, the singing of pine warbler, the smell of pine-cone and cinnamon and tangerine. Nothing else matters. A wind slides in the open door. “It’s time.” To leave this body and change into another. Nothing to fear. Because body ages, soul doesn't.
Smiling at the corners of my lips. I bless my body and mind for they have allowed me to express, and create, and taste the richness of the human experience. I bless my Life for it has been grand, with all of its triumph and falling, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow; for it has fulfilled the reason why I am here: to learn greatly, feel deeply, create wildly, love fully.
I close my eyes. In-breath, I taste the air once last time. Out-breath, I’m gone with the wind. Dance my way to another planet. .
I miss blogging. I do. In the last few weeks, I have been so busy with Yoga Teacher Training, TEDx talk, events, and travel - this is the best excuse I can come up with for not publishing any article. On the bus coming back from the very mountain where I wrote this article, I read a book about Art and Fear. The author quoted Stephen DeStaeble: "Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working." How true. This morning I woke up at 4:30, did 3 pages of longhand writing, practiced yoga for 3 hours, and now typing these words. Imagining my death bed brought tears to my eyes - which is a good thing. Imagine yours too, it will gives light to the way you live your life.