photo by author
Squeeeee!!!!! Its the eve of All Hallow’s Eve. I am practically vibrating with excitement! Or maybe that’s the sugar.
I was running out of the house today to get to a yoga class I’d been planning to take. But while rushing across the schoolyard beside our house, I was overtaken by the primary grades Hallowe’en costume parade. Stopped me in my tracks. A train of fairy princesses, superheroes, space ships, ghouls and witches unfolded before my very eyes. Missesd the yoga class. But Hallowe’en is its own kind of yoga anyways, and one of my most favourite holidays EVAH!!!!
Just what does all this have to do with yoga?
Well, for starters, there are all those delicious reminders of death. But in a nice, fun, playful way. We pull out the skeletons, plant fake tombstones in our front lawns and let our kids dress up like the Grim Reaper. Its a good exercise for a society that for the most part does its best to pretend that death just doesn’t even really exist. Its baby steps towards the realizations of impermanence – and most importantly our own impermanence – that are foundational to the teachings of the Buddha. A classic Buddhist meditation is a contemplation on 3 facts about death:
1) Your death is coming. No one in a human body has ever escaped death – not even the Buddha, not Jesus, not Mohammed. At some point, you will shake off this mortal coil. And every day you’re closer to it.
2) You have no idea when you’re going. Most of us behave like we’ve got forever, or at the very least, we’re going to die sometime in our late 90’s, at home in bed, in our sleep, with the cat curled up at our feet. Oh, and of course, painlessly. But no one knows when the hour of their passing will be. The Zen Buddhists say you might not make it to the bottom of that cup of tea you’re drinking.
3) You can’t take it with you. When you go, you take nothing with you except the contents of your own mind. At the moment of death, nothing else can help you – not your job, not your money, not your house, not your possessions, certainly not your body, and not even your loved ones. So it behooves us to start considering just what the state of our mind is.
“Oh those Buddhists – what a bunch of downers! They really need to lighten up.” But that misses the point. If we could truly realize these facts about death – not just in an intellectual way, but in our bones – it would give to our lives an immediacy, an urgency that is liberating, not condemning. You see it sometimes in people who are terminally ill and know they don’t have long to live. I saw it in my mother-in-law Vita last year, as she fully and completely enjoyed life to the hilt in her last few weeks with us, filled with joy and gratitude. We’d get down to what’s really important and letting go of anything that wastes our precious time here.
Hallowe’en is also the number one season when we get a glimpse of the possibility of a magical realm that may be lurking just beneath a very thin veil in our mundane, day to day lives. Can we really be so sure that’s its not? Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” So which are you going to choose? I go for miracles. Its way more fun. Maybe there really is a nymph or a superhero living under your roof with you….
There is so much to love about Hallowe’en, and as Ram Dass says, its all grist for the mill of practice. I do love snack size Snickers bars and even those weird molasses Hallowe’en kisses. But the number one thing I love about this holiday is, of course, the costumes. I still love to play dress up. I’ve always contended that deep down, if you’re really honest with yourself, everybody secretly wants to wear glitter eyelashes, sequins, feathers and have pink hair. But maybe that’s just me.
I so love to see other people dress up too. Watching the grade school kids tramp around the damp autumnal field in their costumes filled me with joy. Seeing how happy and free they are to really BE a princess, or a cheetah, or zombie, as they prance or slink or float across the schoolyard. You see the amazing creativity of parents who’ve helped to fulfill their child’s dream. There is always the costume that no one gets – except the kid that is wearing it. And that kid feels like a million dollars. Because all of a sudden, she IS Candy Girl. Or the heroine of her favourite, but obscure, novel. Or the High Priestess of Zod.
Yoga means union, to yoke, to find communion – with the divine, with our truest self – which is divine. Making that connection requires that we loosen and eventually completely drop our current small sense of self, in order to allow space for something much, much bigger. Its not that we will be without an identity altogether, but rather discover who we truly are. If we take up the mantle of Hallowe’en, and stop taking ourselves so damn seriously, we can enjoy the fluidity of our identity. And perhaps find that we are no more (or less) any of the roles we inhabit day to day – Parent, Employee, Spouse, Artist, Successful, Depressed, Workaholic, Disorganized, Broken – than we are Green Lantern, Angel, Clown or Pirate. We can let go of who we think we are, and who we think we’re supposed to be. Hallowe’en gives us license to fully embrace and quite literally embody our deepest desires about who we want to be. And that is a yogic practice.
So…… who are YOU going to be for Hallowe’en?