Death, Yantra and Ecstatic Rejuvenation
Today Charley Patton (co-founder and owner of the Yoga Barn) interviewed me for the Bali Spirit webpage. He asked me the typical questions such as “when did I start yoga and why did I come to Bali?” Yet he also asked me “what did I enjoy most about the Bali Spirit Festival?” and it was my answer to this seemingly straight forward question which transformed as the day progressed, and now at midnight I am overflowing with gratitude to all of the festival organizers, volunteers, presenters, performers and participants.
This morning I gave a pretty unoriginal reply to Charley’s question. I had hardly slept; my head was spinning and my eyes still stinging from the seemingly endless tears which have been uncontrollably and selfishly liberating themselves. Last night I found out that a dear friend of mine had passed away. He was only 34 years old. He died of a brain tumor. And he died far away from me in his home town in Italy. The shock shook me down to my very core of my being. And yet this is ‘Life’ – Death. I am grieving for his spirit, his smile, his loving kindness, his wish to be a father that will never be fulfilled, his lust for exploration to places he will never see. I can’t seem to get my head around the fact that he is no longer in this world in a practical physical and tangible sense. I will never receive another email from him telling me of his increasing confusion, or a phone call reminding me of his unconditional love of friendship. I can’t comprehend reality.
So I told Charley about how much I was enjoying the festival because of the opportunity to practice with so many different teachers, because it brought people together from all over our amazing world, and because it was outside – a proper festival – next to a sacred river, dotted with Balinese Temples, and open to the fresh lush rich air. But it wasn’t until I had felt the sincere support of strangers, friends and teachers that I realized what a magical community has been created for us to lean upon and learn from for these precious five days.
After my rather uninspired replies, I wondered around wanting to celebrate the life of my dear friend but still digesting and mourning his disappearance from Life. Yoga surrounded me – Kundalini participants were chanting loudly on the Lawn Pavilion competing with the ancient tantric seed mantra’s vibrating out of Uma Inder’s Arousing the Serpent workshop. Part of me was frustrated for not having the discipline to join a class, but I felt weak, and ruled by my unruly tears. I stopped to watch Rachel Zinman carefully build a sacred yantra. A small group of people were crouched over the cream colored material, which had the outline of the sacred shape of a mandala penciled upon it. Inside, the vibrant reflections of freshly laid petals brought the yantra to life. As the shape took its form, the co-creators chanted a mantra to Laskmi the Goddess of abundance. It was a meditation and tribute for the people of Japan, and I was immediately drawn to kick off my sandals and to sit down the grass, hands reaching for petals as my lips formed around the ancient Sanskrit sounds.
I thought of my dear friend – of Davide – and of the 20,000 other unknown friends which I would never have even a whisper of an opportunity to know. I felt the fragility of our lives and at the same time, I felt held by the sacred space Rachel had expertly woven. For the first time since checking my in-box last night, my mind was able to focus. I felt a semblance of peace, I felt a single pointed focus as the yantra allowed me to do something to honor my friend. Alongside me, a fellow Yoga teacher from Japan chanted with steady determination. I saw him here yesterday morning, and I know he will be there tomorrow: The yantra is an opportunity to meditate on death by creating something beautiful. And when the last inch of cream fabric had been dissolved by color we all sat and stared at the image until our eyes watered and the eyelids closed, leaving the powerful imprint of sacred geometry persistently shining through, almost as if nothing had changed, as if the eyes had not been forced to close and sink us into darkness. I thought of my memories of Davide of how real his presence still feels as distance through geography, time and the pulsing heart beat of life all seem to melt.
In ancient spiritual practices it is believed that by internally visualising a yantra the devotee would become the deity and embody its attributes. Rachel explained that “no matter what their purpose yantras are potent tools for transformation and liberation as they connect us with who we naturally are: an energetic web of beauty and light, which is formed from a single point spiraling outwards.”
The daily yantra at the Bali Spirit Festival is Rachel’s way of providing an opportunity for real healing and rejuvenation. Unlike asana, there is no window from which to escape from feelings but rather a commitment to devotion as every petal is laid like a prayer. It is a process, an opportunity to sit side by side with others feeling similar pain, and ultimately to create something so delicately beautiful it is as dazzling as it is healing.
Rachel’s morning yantra creations not only provide a physical aid to the people of Japan as she collects donations, but in her words it is “an opportunity for us to hold them in our hearts as we would out children and to send out a very real vibrational support.” It is this support which accompanied me through the day, as tears continued to roll down my face and friends held me with warm loving arms, empathizing with the fear of death and suffering that is so challenging for nearly all of us to overcome.
I had meant to be assisting Cat Kabira with her Get Rooted workshop but being unable to give any love but only to receive, I guiltily side stepped my way out and into Mark Whitwell’s, Heart Yoga – an exchange which could not have been more perfectly choreographed as Mark guided us through a receiving inhalation and a strengthening exhalations. The physicality of the asana was surpassed by the penetrating fluidity of the breath movement coordination. It was a penetration which surpassed the physical body and tapped into a meditative state so deep it was almost as if the breath was moving the body.
With a stem of sorrow, I found myself sitting in front of Yogeswari, taking Mark’s gift of flowing movements into a full power celebration of Life in a Jivamukti Flow sequence. Feeling the moment of each breath, I experienced a rare sense of total embodiment as every muscle seemed to come alive and move in response to Yogeswari’s verbal ques. She led us through Warriors, heart opening backbends, focused handstands, and soothing inversions. Time disintegrated as I found myself listening to a closing mantra, during a Savasana where I seemed to be transported off my yoga mat, flying high, above the clouds, above the limitations of our physicality. The tears now washed out a new emotion – a shadow of liberation, of freedom.
So yes, it is now midnight. I am so late writing this blog, because distraction called me to the Arma museum for the final gift of today. Shanti Mission. It was the second song which did it. The Ganesha mantra. Shanti Mission’s Kirtan call and response brewed a vibration of sound that was so contagious that the music picked up my body and danced me; in a room full of seated spectators. I couldn’t help but respond to my body’s need to move. I couldn’t help but honor this body of impermanence, to feel the incredible sensations of our humanality – of our vulnerability. For the second time of the day my movements were guided by the sacred sound of Sanskrit mantras, but this time my tears were replaced by a joyous ecstasy of celebration; of feeling of living of experiencing. The Shanti Mission brought me back to Life. They gave me no excuse to not use my body, my voice and to begin the vital process of celebrating Davide’s amazing life and to do so with the whole of my being.
I can’t wait to tomorrow – for the opportunity to continue to give thanks for each breath, and to do so with deep gratitude and reverence for the loving arms and smiles which have carried me through today. I am going to bed hoping that Charley will interview me again tomorrow….
Tomorrow Rachel will be teaching a Mudra workshop at 8am followed by an opportunity to join her in the creation of a yantra for Japan at 10.30am. On Saturday she will be creating the yantra at 8am, and on Sunday she will build a giant tribute with 10 kilograms of petals!
photo by Ulrike Rienhold
Written by : BaliSpirit Media Team