This Friday, I leave for Rishikesh, one of the heartlands of yoga in India, to participate in a sacred ritual. My friend’s mother passed away at the beginning of the summer this year, and they want to place her ashes in the sacred river Ganges. We will travel together and be able to offer this amazing experience to his mom in her afterlife. I am very much looking forward to this time that feels so visceral, so fundamental to a life well-lived on this planet and I am completely honored by my friend’s requesting me to be there with them.
It is inescapable that we all eventually must die but it is something we as a western culture rarely talk about. Different societies and cultures have different ways of handling the departed and even though the three of us — hailing from California, Texas, and Virginia originally — do not have any Indian blood, we all practice yoga and this ritual is the meaningful thing to do for his mother. Some may say this is cultural appropriation, but I say that the principles involved in yoga philosophy are universal and transcend culture. The three of us, my friend and his wife and me, are sincere in our desire to offer his mother a smooth and celebrated transition to whatever comes next for her.
This article talks about the ritual that occurs in Varanasi, another famous place for offering one’s ashes into the Ganges. The author uses a phrase, “the rawness, the simplicity, the completeness,” and I think that about sums it up. The article is not pretty, but it is honest. I have been studying yoga, meditation, and real-ly speaking, Indian culture since the early 1990s and this event feels like a summation in a way of all that I have learned. I’m excited to bring back photos and memories to share with you when I return.
One of my teachers would always end a yogic discourse in this way which seems like a nice blessing for us all right about now:
May you be healthy
May you be happy
May you be free from want
May you always see the bright side of everything