Carrying On in the Face of Death and Life and Beauty

Every breath is a gift. This exquisite life is nothing short of terrifyingly beautiful. Not beautiful in the sense of pretty and nice but beautiful in the sense of pure beauty like an artist might try to depict: mysterious, transcendent, light, dark, abject but alluring, true. True like the dying process. True like the only thing we will ever know for certain, that we will all one-day die.

My mom passed away 9 months ago in March. This past year, I felt an array and fusion of emotions like never before - of disbelief, of wonder, of heart-wrenching grief, of numbness, of happiness, of apathy, of anger, of inspiration, of not wanting the world to go on because I didn’t want one more day to go by without my guide, my nurturer, my inspiration, and my best friend. In the weeks leading to my mom’s passing, my family and I were home with her, caring for her, laughing with her, crying with her, and breathing with her. She was still breathing, although it became more and more labored. Her elegant but stoic surrender and her dying process was the most beautiful process I have witnessed – beautiful, as I have defined it above. I saw what it meant to let go, to be free from suffering in a wrecked body. But believing that the cycle of life and death is beautiful has not made it any easier to move on in the face of this immeasurable loss. 

The thing I have held onto since the moment my mom’s spirit left her body, is my own breath. Despite doing yoga for most of my life, I never fully realized the significance and preciousness of my own breath until that inert moment I stood in my parents’ bedroom and, for the first time, saw the subtle forces of life slipping away from her motionless body. In that moment all I had was my breath and a love so deep it was paralyzing. I don’t know that I have fully mobilized from this loss but I have sat and watched my breath daily; and as time goes by I gain more perspective.

My mom taught me to care for my body, mind, and soul. As I fumble down my life’s path, yoga, wellness, and mindfulness keeps leading me back to the breath. We agonize to control our lives and defy death when impermanence is the only constant. So long as we are breathing, I am inspired to live my life well and purposefully and am learning about vulnerability and being able to continue to love fully. And when it feels as though our lives have been torn apart, I know I have my breath to come back to, at least while I am alive.

It’s like the story of the phoenix rising from the ashes. We build ourselves up, we fall, and we rise up and try again. There seems to be something at the core that does not dwindle; it might be love, or beauty, or something true. I am approaching this something through watching my breath. If we can observe and be present with our selves and the world around us, we can begin to see the patterns that are both meaningful and at the same time meaningless.

In observing, in presence, in failing, in trying again, in sorrow, in glee, in chaos and calm, in living, in dying, and doing it all over again, contrasts are drawn. We make out these thoughts and meanings. They are also just musings. They are nothing. But I also now feel how precious life is. Perhaps when we feel great loss, then we can appreciate life more. We struggle so much with loss but at the same moment who cares? (Who cares?) What is all this for? For nothing… or for something tremendous but that's beyond comprehendible. And so what do we do? We come back to the breath because it is somehow part of the truth and the beauty and the living and the dying. And if we're lucky we learn something about love and the terrifying beauty it invokes.

So we love if we are strong enough because it's so hard to care unconditionally. If we open ourselves to the possibility of hurt, to vulnerability, then maybe in the end there will be less pain and suffering in the world. And maybe at some point before we leave this body, we realize the gift that is our breath and it can become our teacher. Each time we face and become present with our inevitable loss, we learn more wholly what a blessing each breath is and begin to live more fully because of it.

With each huff and puff, we live a little more and in the same instance move one more breath closer to death. And somewhere at the root of all of this there might be love. And maybe with each beautiful breath into life and out of life, we are just stardust of once upon a time. But for whatever it’s worth, here we are, we are breathing and that is purpose enough to carry on.