With the end of the year coming, I find myself reflecting a lot over life, death and the turns that both take and I am more certain than ever that in order to live you must embrace death. About three years ago my father was diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to the great knowledge of the doctors in the hospital in Houston Texas, he survived. Today he is doing quite well, though he has to return for monthly check-ups. I am grateful that I had the resources and capacity to leave my students and practice here in Seville for a month to cross the ocean and visit him.
However, the land of my birth is not the land of my soul. Throughout this trip I came into contact many positive things as well as very painful. I am absolutely certain that over 13 years ago I had to leave the country of my birth to find and know myself. During my time away, living as an immigrant in one country or another, always with a sense of instability and uncertainty about my future and identity, I am grateful that the only thing that kept me grounded and offered a bit of peace and desire to keep going and healing, was my Yoga practice. It is the same evolving practice that gave me the strength and peace to continue and finish this visit to the land of my birth.
I am not going to enter into the details about the turbulent waves of my family life, the dark, weird and totally bizarre things that I lived while growing up in a religiously fanatic and isolated home. It is enough to say that during my trip back to the states I realized on a very deep level that we are all going to die. You, your family, your friends, your pets, all of us are going to die and we need to recognize and accept this at a soul level in order to live to our fullest capacity. Death is a gift that helps us to live as it allows us to untie ourselves from the heaviness of the past and accept the lightness of the present and the infinite possibilities of the future. If you think that you have all of eternity to do what you wish, it is very likely that you will never take the first step to do it. The concept, ´Work Expands to Fill the Time Available´ developed Betty Friedan proves this. It shows that when a person has limited time, for example 4 hours instead of 8, to start and finish something, they will do it in a much more effective and concentrated manner than when they have double the time.
As an example of this, I include the observation and life of my own father. My father is a man who had great dreams and according to his religious perspective, he literally thought that he was never going to die. As a consequence he always thought that he had time to finish his many unfinished projects and develop a relationship with his wife and children. The result? An unfinished house that he had to sell and a distant, somewhat difficult relationship with his seven children and wife. It was only with the diagnostic of cancer that he realized that his time on this earth is limited. He then began to experience a huge sense of regret for not spending more time with his family and never finishing his great life project.
Applying this concept of ´Work Expands to Fill the Time Available´ to life in general, one accepts that there is an end to this life, to this body of flesh and blood. With this acceptance of death the fear and the resistance to get out of ones comfort zone begins to disappear. The worries that we have about what others think, including people close to you, like your parents, partners or children begins to transform itself from something of fear into a sort of comedy. You begin to laugh at yourself and with life. Things that were once so serious, all of the sudden, areńt and instead of leaving your dreams in the emptiness of ´tomorrow´you begin concentrate and focus your energies, not in distractions, but rather towards the activities and people that truly make your happy.
Joseph Campbell, the great writer and expert on world myth and religions, documented in his book, ´The hero of thousand faces ´ the points of similarity among various cultures, religious, regions and time periods and their hero stories. According to Campbell, the ´hero ´or protagonist of these myths always had to encounter a situation that pushed them forward and out of their comfort zone and into the reality of death. This is what he termed the ´hero ´s journey ´
In this journey the hero or heroine always has to confront death. Confronting and accepting the reality of his or her death, this hero or heroine lets go of being a victim to circunstance and finds within themselves the most valuable thing in the universe, their true self. A self that exists beyond external conditions. In this realization they then becomes the warrior and leader of their own life. This does not mean that things will always go the way that we want them to go, but the great lesson of this worldwide myth is that we always have the option to choose to either be the hero our life experience or the victim. We always have the option to stay in a frozen state of fear, complaining and blaming others, or we can look for solutions and use our own creativity to enjoy our limited time upon this Earth.
During my time in the U.S.A. I observed a place where going out to eat was super expensive and never fully enjoyed because you had to quickly consume to allow the next consumer in and start the next activity. This stands in stark contrast to my experience in Europe where food is the excuse to meet with friends and family and should be enjoyed without pressure and with time. Food and the social rituals around it form an important part of our existence. The rush to eat and get on your way I saw as a microcosm to what the typical US citizen experiences in other daily activities. Everything is in a rush with consumption (of both people and things) being the number one value. It is no great surprise that depression is one of the most common and diagnosis in the USA accompanied with a massive epidemic of addiction to opioids.
From a social construct perspective, I believe that a society so centered on producing and consuming causes its citizens to center their identities on things or an imagen that can only be bought and sold. These identities that are based upon external affirmation do not require the work and time that is required to develop an identity based upon the internal characteristics of integrity and deep and meaningful relationships. These internal characteristics have no price tag. The consequence of an identity always based upon the external world creates fear that one will always lose what they have obstained. Consequently, the USA is a country full and totally controlled by fear. Fear to walk the streets. Fear to lose your job. Fear to go to the hospital. Fear to lose weight. Fear of gaining weight. Fear of losing your partner. Fear of commitment. Fear of guns. Fear of losing your gun. Fear of the police. Fear of terrorism. Fear of whites, blacks, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, women, men…etc. and behind all of this varied fear is the fear of death.
I still have not arrived at such a level of Yoga to be able to sit with so much fear and feel calm. On multiple occasions I felt myself getting irritated and almost rabid when listening to random conversations of strangers, the radio or from my own family. So many things spoken were fear based, illogical and negative that the only thing I could do to calm myself down, was to return to my yoga mat. In between screaming nieces and nephews, relatives and associates criticizing a world they do not know, spitting out racist, sexist and nationalist phrases, creating a level of energy heavy and super negative, on my old Reebok yoga mat, I found peace. More than ever I felt gratitude to have learned this ancient and wise practice. I could feel how the stress and heaviness of so much fear and negativity literally disappeared with each inhale and each exhale. Each second that I held a pose I felt myself fall into the peace of the present moment, into the role of observer. I could feel my entire nervous system calm down and I felt a peace overcome my entire body and mind. I observed on a very deep level, like never before, the power of Yoga to release stress and blocks held deep inside on both a physical and emotional level.
I see this trip to the other side of the ocean as a refining fire with my Yoga practice continuously cleaning off the ashes of that fire. With this experience and the face of regret of my father fixed firmly in my mind, body and soul, I returned to Spain and opened my own Yoga center. In doing so I had to confront the great fear and challange of being both entrepreneur and self-employed, made doubly difficult here in Spain. I did this in order to provide the proper space where I could share and teach this ancient discipline to any person, independent of their physical or psychological capacities, so that they too could reap the benefits of the wise and incredibly healing system of Yoga.
Thank you all who have walked this path with me, who are walking the path with me and to those who will begin. See you in the new year in the classes, courses, workshops and trainings at the Karmuka Yoga International Center!