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Yoga Sutra

Decoding Sutra 2.11: Obstacles Can Be Overcome Through Meditation

While experiencing the near-death of his wife, Aadil Palkhivala channeled meditation to release ignorance, ego, and attachment.

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Patanjali notes that each klesha (obstacles to the path of yoga) can be overcome through meditation. Abhinivesha (the fear of death) is the last klesha, and it’s one that can be particularly difficult to conquer. I struggled with abhinivesha on a cold night in 1993, when my beloved wife, Savitri, was dying of a chronic illness. All her systems were failing, and doctors had given up hope. I sat beside her bed, holding her head in my hands. A deep inner fear started to seize me. I prayed. I prayed hard. She could barely speak a word, her breath was failing, her skin was turning blue, her eyelids were fluttering, and her limbs were as limp as wet rags. Was she really going to die at age 30, in the prime of her youth? No, I thought, redoubling my efforts to hold on to her tightly.

She took a sharp breath and groaned in a labored whisper. I bent close to her mouth to hear her soft words. In an agonizing attempt to speak, she moaned, “Let … me … go. Love … me … let … me … go.”

Let her go? My ego was suffering. I was completely averse to the idea of letting go of control. Would she die if I let her go? I started to meditate deeply. Abhinivesha crept in. I continued meditating. Then, I slowly realized that I had no control. Conquering death was beyond my grasp. With a heavy heart, I took some deep breaths and gently pulled away from her. She was right. I had to let go of my arrogance—my attachment to her.

After a tangible eternity, her breath jerked. She was coming back! It was not in a glorious rush, but rather slow and painstaking. It took weeks for Savitri to fully return, but she did. It was a miracle.

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The obstacles to the path of yoga (klesha) were taught to me by Savitri that night: Avidya (my ignorance), asmita (my ego), rāga (my attachment to her), dvesha (my aversion to letting go of her), and abhinivesha (the fear of her death). I had to learn to surrender my ego’s desire to make things happen my way. It had to be surrendered to the true owner of the body: the Spirit. My wife says that the way to bring the Spirit into the body is to connect with your Pillar of Light, the sushumna. Using Heartfull Meditation techniques that she had created, such as Mental Centering (in which you focus your thoughts and senses, offering them to the Light in your heart), she saved her life. She said that after I let go, she was able to connect more freely with her Pillar of Light, and her Spirit chose to return to her body. But it had to be her decision. It could not be my decision based on my own attachment.

When I asked her about the experience of nearly dying that night, she told me that the only thing that kept her alive was her own Light. What’s more, not only did all of my attachment, fear, and worry do nothing to help the situation, it actually blocked Savitri from uniting with her Light, preventing her soul from deciding its story. “The energy of the room needed to be filled with true, genuine love—not with fear and attachment,” she told me.

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Join Aadil Palkhivala, founder of Purna Yoga, for a healing workshop for stressful times at Yoga Journal LIVE! New York City, April 19–22! Register here.