Yom Kippur comes once a year – if it came twice, we might fold up for good. But the dress rehearsal for death is a surprisingly supple notion, and the release back into life, the uplift, the ecstasy, is so welcome. It returns us to life with a shock; a shock of beauty and a reimmersion into the world with sharpened senses and a sense of acceptance. The dust, the cobwebs, the gloom, the brooding have been swept out, and a new space is open for pure contact with reality. This is a poetic dimension, and it might be raucous laughter as much as dewy-eyed poetry.
This death-in-life thing, this surrogate, symbolic submerge and re-emerge comes surprisingly often in small packages throughout the year. We humans leave cats and their nine lives in the dust. If you practice yoga, you are rewarded with a symbolic death experience everytime you finish a cycle. Pamela Warner Weber reminded me that, in savasana, practitioners of yoga make of themselves a corpse (“corpse pose”). The breath moves in and out, and we “practice” letting go for that final exhale. And then we breathe in another breath.
A rousing conversation, a powerful poem or theater piece about the state of the world might cause a similar knock out. I was recently talking with a close friend about war, humanism and art under siege, of loss of nuanced dialog to black and white extremism. After an hour, she and I were depleted, exhausted, and about to say goodbye, still half in the hole. Then I began showing her pictures of an Indian gypsy dancer, Suva Devi who performs with the Rajasthani Gypsy Caravan. The swirl, the pinks, the beauty, the continuous life! We were exhilarated. My friend later wrote that we’d gone so far and deep in thinking through the abyss and yet somehow come back to life and beauty.
Even the notion that it was all so fragile seemed too fragile.