Life After Death

We can die to each minute in a continuous surrender.

Nothing could have prepared me for Varanasi.

Varanasi, India (January 2017)

Also known as Benares, the spiritual capital of India is situated on the banks of the River Ganges.

It is the India of your imagination.

Colorful and chaotic. Mystical, exotic and timeless. Holy cows scatter about, walking on the ghats. A yogi bends into a contortionist shape. A saddhu drinks from a cup made of human bone. “Connection to the afterlife”, he says.

Devotees bathing in the River Ganges at sunrise (Varanasi, Jan 2017)

It’s dawn and a bell tolls loudly as devotees wash themselves in the river. We’re in the middle of winter and cool mist fogs up the air.

On a boat, we cut through the morning fog as seagulls squawk loudly. We can barely see the ghats — if not for a faint outline.

Across, fire burns on wooden pyres. Dead bodies are wrapped in white cloth and are engulfed by flames.

Death is celebrated here. It is transparent and raw.

200 cremations happen here everyday as Hindus believe that dying here brings salvation.

A saddhu dries his loin cloth on the cremation fire. A grieving man stumbles away, as the fire burning his beloved is lit.

I watch as more bodies arrive. Dogs gather around the ashes for warmth.

Life and death flourish along the ghats, as if in a dance with one another.

It may seem ghastly, but the city is far from morose. When you look closely, it is actually teeming with life.

Surrender

I can’t help but notice a strange feeling in my chest, like a heavy wet sack. It’s getting a little hard to breathe.

Things haven’t been going the way that I would’ve liked them to. I decide to just go with it. I have no more energy left for resistance.

I walk into several temples across the city. It feels close to home, having studied yoga for several years.

Divine masculine and feminine energies permeate my soul.

“Well, what a wonderful way to cap off this trip,” I thought. Somewhat disappointed at not feeling fully restored.

I had come in search for some solace. A month before, I had closed down my first business. I was still reeling from the loss, but somehow my worries seemed small in the grand scheme of things.

It was far from over though.

The evening chants drift in through the windows. Dusk has fallen and the Aarti ceremony had begun.

Aarti Ceremony in Dasaswamedh Ghat

Outside, throngs of people gather around this Ganges Hindu worship ritual. Young priests draped in saffron circle large flaming lamps of fire, synchronised to the rhythmic chants of the hymns and the clang of cymbals. The scent of sandalwood thickly permeates the air.

This whole experience resonates with something deep in my core.

Tears start to well up in my eyes and out of nowhere, I am bawling uncontrollably.

No wonder I had felt so heavy. I think back to what I saw reflected in that man’s eyes on the train.

Suddenly, a deep sense of reverence washes over me, along with a feeling of utter surrender.

I know, without a doubt, that this life is not my own. What a relief to know that I don’t have to do it alone.

Love is what we are when we give up everything that has been weighing us down. Love is all there is.

As I watched the fire burn that evening, I see the finiteness of life. And the infiniteness of Self. And how, we all just change form.

Death is not the end, it is another beginning. In the continuous cycle of death and rebirth, who’s to say where one story starts and where one ends.

To truly celebrate life, we must accept death.

To accept death is to transcend it.

We can die to each minute as it passes, in a continuing surrender to life itself.

Only then can we be truly alive.

And in this wild abandon, we open up to a plan that is much bigger than ourselves.