An article by our Yogi; Svetlana Iyer
An u “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true”
“She’s gone”. My best friend’s mother sent me a text on a September morning a few years ago. I knew immediately what it meant. My best friend of nearly 20 years (my college roommate) passed away during the night. She battled breast cancer for 8 years and finally her body left the fight. We all knew it was going to happen soon. We were all ready and she was ready too. In fact, her wish was to die before the summer ended. It was granted. None of the preparation or knowledge of inevitable took away the grief or dulled the pain for anyone…I miss her and it’s making this very hard to write…
My friend’s death is not the story, however.
I hadn’t seen her for a few years prior as we lived in different countries for a long time. When we moved back to the US, I came to visit, but at that point, the doctors gave her a few months to live. She was just skin and bones. Some days her face would swell – she looked like a balloon; taking a shower was a chore, forget about the house, kitchen, laundry, etc.
She would not bother to eat as morphine was nourishment enough. But worst of all, she was extremely angry. She was just 38-she had a loving husband, 4 year old daughter, good career- her life just started. Why would God do this to her now?! She tried it all – the chemo, prayer, Vipassana meditation, ayahuasca, art therapy, hormonal therapy, you name it. But nothing worked to save her life. So, she was angry. And that is not the way to die.
I came to her house almost every day. We did a lot of laughing, crying, some drinking was involved. We talked about reincarnation, God, religion, our husbands and our kids. She was about to leave her family for good…My daughter played with hers, while I would put my “yoga skills” to work. I tried to share with her all things I learned in teacher training – that matter is energy and when we die, the energy transfers, but it doesn’t die. I drew word pictures for her to visualise her death as metamorphosis – a butterfly leaving a chrysalis is not death, it’s just a natural transition.
I tried convincing her that “she” is not her body, her body is just one sheath out of the 5 that make up our “existence”. I told her everything I learned about koshas: the Annamaya is the grossest one – made of our flesh and nourished by the food; the Pranamya – the energetic layer nourished by our breath; the Manomaya is our thought body that’s operated by our mind. Then, there is Vijanamaya – our intuition, deep perception or awareness, and finally, there is Bliss or Anandamaya kosha – a causal body, which I don’t really comprehend myself. What I do understand is if a human being were an onion and koshas were the onion layers, Anandamaya is the thinnest membrane separating (or connecting?) “us” to our souls. These concepts and ideas were so mind-blowingly exciting and inspiring to me, but somehow she was not buying them at all! (My first attempt and failure as a yoga teacher!)
So…change of strategy. Instead of sitting by her bed and talking to her, I thought I’d help by taking care of cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery runs. It’s much more useful than philosophy, for sure! My whole entire summer went like this: get up, cook for my family, pack lunches, drive older daughter to her camp, take younger one to my friend’s house, cook for her family, clean, eat something, talk to my friend if she’s awake, grab my daughter, drive to pick up my older one, drive home, cook, clean, repeat. I was exhausted and close to burn out. I needed to do something for myself. What happened to MY yoga?! I totally forgot! I had no time for my own practice.
One day, my husband went to work late and offered to take care of the children, so I could finally go to a yoga class (I think I was getting too cranky and he needed his “normal” wife back). The plan was to still go to my friend’s house, but after “me time”. Before I started class, as we often did in Total Yoga, I thought of setting my intention. My friend was on my mind, so I set my Sankalp for the practice – to share my energy, so my friend’s pain is less. I headed over to her place right after practice and as I was getting closer to her town, I got a call from her. “Where are you?!” She sounded confused. I said, “I’m taking your exit off the highway; will be at your place in 5.” She said, “you mean you aren’t here?”. I said, “no, sorry, went to yoga class, but I’m almost there.” She paused and asked again, “You mean you weren’t here in the morning?!” I said, “No, I went to YMCA for yoga class. Are you ok?” My friend said, “Weird. Ok, come home. I’ll explain later.”
I went up to her bedroom and asked what happened. She looked disturbed. She said, “The cancer metastasized to my brain too.” Now I was puzzled – what did the doctors say? She said, “it’s not the doctors. I think I was hallucinating. I saw you here at 8:30. You came as usual, but this time you gave me a massage. I was in so much pain, you pressed my pressure points, and I fell asleep. I just woke up and called you thinking you were downstairs. When you didn’t answer, I called your cell. You told me you weren’t here at all today. So, clearly, cancer is spreading to my brain.” And then she added, “but I FELT your hands!”
I sat with her and massaged her pressure points. This time, in person. But what was going through my mind is this – I was in yoga class at 8:30AM, setting my Sankalp that hopefully would help my friend. Is that what actually happened?! Did my thought, somehow, magically manifest here in my shape?! That is impossible! The energy I wanted to pass on to her to feel less pain…this couldn’t actually happen! Right?! The Sankalp – that’s just a thing we do in yoga class. It’s just a thought. It doesn’t really work!
For a long time, the scientist in me had been in a dispute with the believer. Science relies on things observable and measurable. Repeatability is its experimental tool. And, clearly, I cannot repeat the feat of appearing in a different place while doing yoga elsewhere…How can you repeat something you didn’t actually do in the first place?! This wasn’t anything I did.
My only work was setting an intention.
I do not purport to possess any yogic siddhis. My only superpower is predicting when my husband is about to get “hangry” and kids about to start a fight – I can do those things with great precision! The scientific law of parsimony dictates that there is a simple logical explanation to all this- it probably was my friend’s cancer spreading to her brain. We all know correlation doesn’t equal causation. My Sankalp, energy gibberish, my friend’s hallucination – all coincidence. Mystery solved. Case closed!
Buuuuuuut not exactly…
So much is unexplained! I still have questions. So many “What If’s”!
What if the Manomaya and the other koshas really make up who we are? What if our thoughts can and do take shape and manifest in visible reality? What if the stuff I learned in teacher training is not just an inspiring concept, but the real deal?! What if we’re all capable of making magic happen?! What if it’s just a dormant skill?! What if, we, as human beings, are really just stores of “potential energy”, our brains serving as capacitors for our minds’ electric energy and thoughts are the conductors? What if I am completely nuts?! I can’t confirm or deny either possibility…
As human beings, we know a lot of things, yet there is so much more we cannot even fathom! Our education and collective knowledge still feel inadequate and miniscule compared to what we do not know- compared to all the “what ifs”.
So… as of now, the believer in me chooses to win. Life is so much more interesting with mysteries unsolved! Whatever you choose to believe, however, is your choice. But, just in case…Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it!
(PS. I really wish I could see and hug my friend one more time. Wouldn’t that be a great hallucination?! )