003 Exposure to Extremes
I like to think about the fact that I’m going to die a lot. That we’re all going to die. And not in the way that’s morbid or depressing, and also not in the way that’s like, “I need to live like each day is my last”.
Firstly I don’t think we talk about death enough. It’s one of the only sure things out there, but many of us hide from the subject... maybe not even really knowing how we feel about it, or about what we think comes after it (if anything).
One of my favourite quotes from Shakespeare is Hamlet’s, “The readiness is all”. So simple, and so perfect. I think yoga is a lot about preparation and being ready. Couples read countless books on giving birth and bringing up children... so why don’t we put in the same amount of effort into being prepared for death?
Of course, it just simply isn’t in our contemporary Westernised culture to do so. Our lives have become so sanitised. But I feel like if we explored this subject more, it could greatly increase the quality of our lives in a couple different ways.
Fear is about the unknown, the imagined, and about losing something we’re attached to… and what epitomises that more than death? From a certain view point, you could argue that death is the ultimate fear, and that all fear stems from our fear of death in some way. In this way, death is an extreme. It is an extreme on the spectrum of triggers for the emotion of fear.
Let me change the subject for a moment, and create a metaphor to help us understand where I’m going with this better. There is this sport I love, which may be very familiar to some of you, and it’s called CrossFit. As an actual competitive sport, it’s pretty extreme and demanding. Most people who have tried it will remember their first CrossFit work out very well. It may have only been 10 minutes, but they would have been the hardest 10 minutes of their life. There’s a reason why so many high quality athletes from other sports get into CrossFit. Initially it really helps them with their fitness for their other sport, and then they eventually realise that their other sport doesn't challenge them as much as CrossFit does, and so it becomes their main thing. And that’s something I totally get, as - albeit at a very amateur level - I love playing a couple other sports, too. As, arguably, an extreme kind of fitness, CrossFit has made the effort I have to exert in all the other sports feel relatively easy.
So you might be there already, but how does this example carry over into the extreme that is death? Well, say all our fears do ultimately stem from death, and fear-based action is one of the most destructive things in our lives, what do you think getting more comfortable with this extreme would do? I definitely think there would be a beneficial knock-on effect into our day-to-day anxieties, as well as some of our greater fears in life. You’re basically creating a greater perspective, whilst also getting comfortable with your own mortality.
To continue with the metaphor from before, I don’t think any athletes would ever say that CrossFit becomes easy; you just get incrementally better at it. In the same way, I don’t think death necessarily ever stops being scary when you’re truly faced with it… but if we can get incrementally more and more prepared for it, more comfortable with the idea of it, and better acquainted with out thoughts and beliefs surrounding it, then this process has the potential to give us an amazing inner confidence that we can carry through life. It has the potential to make our actions come from a more purposeful, and less fear-based place.
Put simply, exposure to the extremes of life - at whatever level - gets us really good at living within our middle ranges.