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Thoughts on Śavāsana; a meditation for troubled times

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

“Uttānaṃ śavavadbhūmai

Śayanaṃ tacchavāsanam

Śavāsanam śrāntiharaṃ

Cittaviśranti karakam”

“Stretched out like a corpse on the earth

That act of rest, Śavāsana

Taking away fatigue

Creates rest in the mind.” (Haṭhapradīpikā 1.32)

Śavāsana (corpse pose) invites us to let go. The imagery of a corpse, in which everything is surrendered, let go, and returned to earth is a potent and often disturbing one, especially in this time of sickness and sudden death. But it can also be a comfort; after all death is certain and by trying to avoiding this certainty we live in denial and bury our fear, which will bubble up to the surface as stress or turn into its shadow, into depression.

Śavāsana invites us to ponder our mortality, and with that to give meaning to our lives. There is a powerful Buddhist meditation, in which one is required to bear witness as a dead body decays, as is begins to melt and ooze back into earth. It’s hard, but this fate awaits all bodies.

Bhagavad Gita chapter 2, v.27

"For one who has been born, death is certain

And for one who has died, there is certainly birth.

Therefore in this unavoidable concern

You should not grieve"

To practice Śavāsana is to let go, to cease possessing and trying to control the situation. To live according to the yogic yama or discipline of aparigraha, which means non-hoarding or non-grasping, and always remembering that there are no pockets in a shroud. Whatever material objects you hold dear, you can't take them with you when you go.

In the present crisis caused by the Coronavirus disease COVID-19, many of us have lost all our work, all our income and with that our sense of security. What we do for a living, in many cases, is taken to define who we are. I am witnessing a lot of desperate activity as people try to reconstruct a livelihood, as they try to adapt or diversify in order to maintain their standard of living and support their families. Others begin to stock up as if there will never again be tinned tomatoes, pasta or lavatory paper in the shops. But this is also an opportunity to pause, to take stock and rethink who we really are and how we might live. A chance to enjoy the time that we have (if we have that luxury) and to be grateful for the many things in life which remain free. Easy come and easy go. Nothing remains ours. Nothing that is born will endure.

Lie down, breathe deeply and remember who you really are. You are not this body. Be grateful for this temporary home and be prepared to relinquish everything one day quite soon. Let go of the fear of loss, because in truth you lack nothing. You are already complete.

Pūrnam-adah, pūrnam-idam

Pūrnat pūrnam-udacyte

Pūrnāsya, pūrnamādāya

Pūrnam evāvaṣiṣyte

That is complete, this is complete

From the completeness comes the completeness

If completeness is taken from completeness

Only completeness remains.

Wake up now, be grateful for this life and for this day, and do something with it that will make you proud to be human.

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