Today is Día de los Muertos, the Mexican tradition of looking across the steady river to the land of the dead. Thank you, ancestors, for all you laid out before us. Thank you for your mistakes, as they guide us to grow and transform, honoring your stories. Thank you for your teachings, your genes, and for leaving a legacy of yourselves for us to dust off, and peek into. In a cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth, autumn is the season of dissolution. In a northern hemisphere cycle of a trip around the sun, the deep pause of winter comes on the tail of a proper autumn’s letting go. Seems a sensible way to begin a season of holidays to me; start by looking back with reverence and respect, and dive into the end of the year with a link to the past.
Our culture is more lonely than ever. Despite the intended celebration at the root of any holiday plan, for so many, this is a season of sadness and solitude. Memories of years and loved ones passed, of missed opportunities and misunderstandings all well up with familiar decorations, songs, and obligations. Healing the deep wounds of a culture untethered from its history is going to take some time. But each of us has an opportunity to reconnect with our own family record, and get to know a bit more about our people, and so, ourselves. Día de los Muertos may not be your tradition, and that is fine. I admire the customs of a holiday that so fiercely acknowledges those who have come and gone, but wholly discourage mindless appropriation. Find your own way!
Right now in this country, we are learning together how to walk with respect for each other, and that includes for each other’s wounds, beliefs, and silences. Only with forgiveness for all that was left undone, and for all the horrible things that humans have done to each other, can we heal and make attempts to avoid the same errs. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the organs of the lungs are affected by sadness and grief. This speaks to the common cold becoming more prevalent at this time of year not just as a result of cooler weather, but of collective losses and untended grief.
As the year exhales, blowing the leaves away, our branches are bared. Our bodies carry not only our own stories, but the history and allegories of our lineages. Sometimes the links are blatant, like postural and gait patterning that can be traced through generations. Other issues present in more mystifying ways, but I believe what wasn’t taken care of and let go then works its way into our today. Remember, we are each a part of a blood family, and also a much wider circle of shared humanity. We are all dealing with each other, all the time, always have been. It’s this kind of stuff we can be working with on the mat in asana practice and through analogies like the cycle of the breath as the cycle of the year. It’s subtle, and you have to be willing to use your imagination a little to work with what you cannot see.
A piece of this self-care work is to recognize that right in the middle of a season of slowing down and deep self-inquiry, can be other cycles of rebirth and full glory, happening all at the same time. Perhaps all this talk about death and dying and grief feels out of sync for you. It is totally possible that your life is gathering steam with new relationships, fresh ideas, or newfound freedom as the year closes in. Yay! We are in the middle of many cycles all at once.
Gather, process, and release.
The exhale of the breath makes room for more of itself. Cutting this part of the cycle short wreaks all kinds of weird havoc on our equilibrium. Surrendering to the exhale portion of the year, as life-force slows and turns inward in the plant world, can be bound in fear. I get it. There is much to be said for fighting the current of what is (read: speaking up for what is right, VOTE!, deconstructing paradigms that are bunk and no longer valid, etc…), but resisting the natural descent of a year into its culminating fires and big fat compost pile for 2019 isn’t one of the best ways to exercise your right to subvert the powers that be. This is a pick your battles kind of an overture, and a call to preserve your “rage, rage against the dying of the light” energy for when the light in question is your own spirit’s lustre. Let the days go dark, but keep your internal brazier burning. And remember that this, too, is passing. Already.
I’ve learned oodles from the brilliant minds and hearts behind How To Survive the End of the World podcast, sisters Adrienne Maree Brown and Autumn Brown. Recently, in their “The Impossible Things About Us” episode from September 26th, 2018, Autumn said “Burnout comes when you are in wrong relationship to your mortality.” It’s so good. We are not flawed to be overwhelmed by the brevity of our lives. It’s a quick burn, and so much of it happens beneath the surface of our skin, utterly lost under the circus facade of our egoic pursuits. It just gets weird when we absolutely at all costs resist, ignoring the inevitable things that come with the gift of living. It is ultra important to let the whole story unfold, and in the tale of life, this includes death. Take the whole ride, and make it count.
Exhale. Exhale. Exhale a bit more completely.
In honor of the closing of a cycle, things you can do that fully express autumn’s falling away:
- exhale fully, with every breath
- connect with your ancestors by simply thinking on them, through prayer, sharing/receiving family stories, investigation
- take time to seriously slow down
- surrender to deep emotions and find new ways to express and embody them
Pause ever so briefly.
Things you can always do to support where you are in any cycle:
- remember to breathe
- get enough rest
- eat foods that you enjoy, and that make you feel good
- integrate gentle exercise into most days to keep circulation and the flow going
Fill back up again.
Things you can do that show you will not be held down by the pressure of a closing cycle:
- inhale fully, with every breath
- eat mushy, warm foods with warming spices (pumpkin spice is actually a thing that makes sense! The mush and heat are all about being the opposite of cold and dry)
- wear bright, cheery colors and play dress up
- make plans for the holidays that you are excited about, even if it breaks tradition
Phupphusamocana mudra translates to chest-opening, or lung freeing, and speaks to the breath as a keystone to keeping your home fires burning. It’s all about keeping full on the inside, even when the what’s going on around you speaks to burnout and overdrive. This mudra practice speaks to the inhalation, as it stretches the lineage lines of the breath along the inner arms to the upper chest. Place pad of the pinky to root of the thumb, ring finger to middle thumb, and middle finger to tip o’ the thumb, index fingers extended straight out, palms facing away from you “as if pushing two imaginary walls apart.” (from the Mudras of Yoga Card Deck , Carroll). Direct from the Mudras of Yoga cards, benefits of the practice include: “clears the airways, opens the chest, and improves elasticity of the ribcage, facilitating ease of breathing, strengthens the immune system, specifically reducing susceptibility to lung-related complaints, helps the processing of grief and sadness, helps lift the heaviness of depression. Boom. A practice for all of autumn’s issues. Hold the mudra with your arms extended out to your sides for a few minutes and let the life force roll in, gathering breath with your hands.
A deep bow to all of my ancestors,
A deep bow to all our ancestors, y mucho respeto,