We're all going to die. How shall we live?

Less than 2 weeks ago, I was in a car accident. The most commonly asked question I've gotten from the people I've shared this with  is, "Was it serious?" Well, my car was totaled, but I walked away intact, and there were no major injuries that I know of to any of the people involved. So, in one way, it wasn't too dire. But as I faced what felt like my impending death, it felt very serious indeed. (That's not actually a picture of my car- I forgot to take a photo of it after the accident, and it's still at the tow company.)


I was alone in the car (I thank the Universe again and again that my 19-month old was home with his daddy!), driving along and saw a car looking to turn in front of me. She stopped, realizing there wasn't enough time to clear the two lanes of traffic to do so, and I kept going. Unfortunately, another car slammed into her and pushed her car into the driver's side of my car. From the impact, I was headed head-first toward a utility pole. As I swerved, I remember hearing screaming and realized with a bit of surprise that it was me I was hearing. I was thinking how much I wanted to be alive for my family, for my little boy. It felt too soon to leave him. I realized that I might die right there and wondered if I be able to be fully present with that? I remember feeling strangely accepting of this possibility, although I felt a piercing grief at the possibility of leaving my son without his mother. All these thoughts and a few more raced through me before the other side of my car smashed into the pole. I was able to turn the corner a few yards ahead and get out of the way of traffic. After realizing I was still breathing, conscious, and intact, I put my hands together and offered thanks.

Earlier that week I taught on Memorial Day, the day we honor our fallen warriors. I talked about the soldiers we typically remember on this day, but also talked about the fact that each of us will face death- the big one as well as the many little deaths that happen as we traverse through life: the death of our loved ones, the death of a job, the demise of a relationship. I talked about the Bhagavad Gita, a profound text on yoga philosophy as well as a treatise on life, death, and what it means to live a life of meaning and authenticity. The protagonist, Arjuna, looks at the impending fight as he gazes over the battlefield. It's inevitable that many will perish- perhaps even himself- and Arjuna, the heralded hero, is wondering what it all means: what is the purpose of this life and what truly is this battle all about.

As a healthy woman who is mindful of food choices, exercises, meditates, takes (in general) good care of myself, it was easy to be lulled into forgetfulness of the tenuous nature of life. And then the crash happened. And had my swerve not turned hard enough, had I been going just a bit slower so that the car hit my driver's door rather than just behind my seat, had her tires been turned just a bit more so that the impact hit in a place that was more direct, had the pole been closer so that swerving wasn't even an option, I may not be writing this contemplation. I'm grateful they just towed the car away and not me.

If life can end so quickly, with not even much pomp and circumstance- just seemingly random and in a blink of an eye, it seems all the more imperative that we take advantage of the time we do have and ask the big questions: am I living fully? Is my loving restricted by conditions and expectations or am I working to love more unconditionally? Am I really honoring this short rental of the body or am I taking it for granted? If I die today, will I leave feeling regret over how I treated myself and others or can I be at peace with my life as I have lived it? In this short time I have here, how do I orient myself to act from a true place of generosity and wisdom and compassion rather than from a place of reactivity and sense of lack?

Of course in the days following the accident, I was drawn to review my choices in life- from the large to the small, to the profound to the mundane.  Although there are indeed a few things (that for now I'm keeping close to my heart) that I intend to refine, in general, I'm feeling very grateful for the yoga and meditation that I have been taught and have worked to integrate. The technology of the practices have connected me deeper to my heart, have softened many of my edges, revealed to me many of the tender sweet places. It has connected me with a deep relationship to The Ineffable but Palpable MahaShakti, that feeds, nourishes, and supports me in living as authentically and honestly and kindly as I can.

But this isn't a static state of mind. Each day, life asks me to be more resilient, generous, patient, kind than I think I am capable of.  Each day life offers each of us opportunities to either respond from a place of love or to react from a place of frustration, a place of lack, a place of fear. From my own experience, I think it's actually easier to just react than to reorient and act from a place of compassion and generosity. It often feels like it takes a warrior's strength to operate from place of skillfulness and love. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krisha, Arjuna's guide, friend, and also the Divine Incarnate, teaches that indeed, "Yoga is skillfulness in action." The yoga practices help me come from that desired place more often than not. I certainly have my moments, but I can say with surety that my sadhana (yoga practices) have helped me live more from the place of my heart where I wish to act from.

And because I regularly feel connected to that oceanic support and presence of Shakti, I can also feel when I'm not really connected with it. For me, that experience takes the form of feeling depleted, reactive, frustrated, needy. Today in fact, I was feeling many of these, and I had a recognition that in fact (gratefully), these states of mind are not usually my daily and regular reality. I was feeling a bit taken by surprise by them.

It's such a powerful teaching to have this experiential connection between the well-being of the physicality and the well-being of the mind and the emotions. As a result of the shaking, slamming, crashing of my spine and other insides around the container of my body, I definitely feel my mind, my sense of center, my emotional body, all shaken and out of sorts as well. The yoga teachings of the Koshas address this connection. Sometimes it's referred to as the subtle bodies. Here's a picture of how they're described. For more on the koshas, Bill Mahony has a great section in his book Exquisite Love about them. You can read about them in Light on the Yoga Sutras by BKS Iyengar and also in Georg Feurstein's The Yoga Tradition.


This week was a powerful reminder for me that we will all die. And most likely, we won't be in charge of when. But we can be in charge of how we live. In this short time I have, I want to live as much as possible from a place of appreciation and act from a place of conscious response. I think that perhaps on my deathbed, I'd regret not the things I didn't accomplish or attain, but the opportunities to love more fully and deeply that I may have missed. May we find the support, the practices, the nourishment to live from our authenticity, our courageous heart, and our True Self.