Vail Daily column: Face the mystery of death | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Face the mystery of death

Anahise M. Shoukas
Valley Voices

The full-wall mural painted in Vail has left people upset at the image they perceive. Some of the community is uncomfortable and maddened and others are embracing the unfinished mural. The artist, Eric Lavigne, is not only a painter but a yogi, a mediator and a father upon many other things. Ever since meeting my husband, Eric, he speaks to me about the concepts painted in this mural, two of which are our precious human birth and the impermanence of life.

The mural thus far depicts a flowering cherry blossom tree, two monks embracing, the chakras floating in air and a girl holding a balloon of a skull. Yes, a skull balloon. This particular image has caused many people to feel uneasy, which brings me to write about death. If impermanence is unavoidable, then why do we not take time to think about it and come to peace with it before our dying day?

Through Eric’s teachings, I realize not many things are guaranteed in life with the exception of three: aging, sickness and death. These are inevitable. We may get married, may have children, we may even become rich and famous, but no amount of money or fame can stop the process of aging and our mortality.

As a physical therapist, I have worked in hospice and with the sick. I may have the remedy to treat aches and pains, but I cannot stop one from aging, becoming sick and ultimately dying. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is part of the Four Noble Truths and it is believed that contemplation on these life guarantees can turn the mind towards liberation.

Eric’s intention is introspection; to allow an opportunity for one to look at their aversion and attachment, to delve a little deeper and to look at our impermanence.

“We create the form based on our thoughts. It’s another form of energy; it’s full of love,” Eric expressed regarding people’s distaste of the image. Even a skull, the symbol of death.

Due to the community’s conflicted opinion of the art piece, the mural will be repainted; it does not fit a form people are comfortable with or would associate as “yoga.” Yoga is not intended as a workout to become buff, albeit you may have that as an outcome. It is an ancient medicine and art form to create unity of the mind, body and soul, but there is also a lot of challenge and discomfort physically and mentally while pursuing this union. Surprised at people’s reactions of the girl and her balloon, Eric asked me, “Are you just exercising or are you taking the opportunity to look at your mind” while practicing. Part of yoga is birth and part is death. Yin and yang.

Day of the Dead celebrates those souls that have passed this lifetime and embraces them. The concept of impermanence is not taught nor celebrated in our culture. If we do not stop and take the time to look at our fate of worm meal now, then when the time comes, it can be very scary. While working with the sick, I have found it gives those people a “step up” on the rest of us who stick our heads under the ground ignoring our fate. “It’s hard to look at those thoughts,” Eric stated over the phone the day he was asked to paint over the girl with the balloon, “but if you look at it before (you die), then you’re not surprised and it brings peace to it.”

Erasing an image painted on a wall is only a Band-Aid to avoid one’s discomfort. You can try to ignore that you are aging, but one day you will not be able to erase your discomfort of dying and have to face it. I’d rather take time and prepare now so the mystery of death is not so scary and seeing a picture does not anger me. For that awareness, I thank my husband for his teachings. Maybe, if our actions continually reflected this remembrance of impermanence, then we would be a much kinder society.

Anahise M. Shoukas is a physical therapist, yoga instructor and the wife of Eric Lavigne. Eric has been teaching yoga and meditation in the Vail Valley for over 20 years and practices Vajrayana Buddhism. He is available for murals, private yoga or meditation sessions by contacting 303-775-4373 or anahise@fastmail.fm.