Today we will reflect on our journey of awakening through the story of the Phoenix. We will do this because awakening ironically has as much or more to do with the descending journey as it does to do with the ascending journey.
The phoenix is a mythical story of rebirth and resurrection. According to the parable the Phoenix is a one of a kind bird dressed in a plumage of yellows, oranges, red and gold, corresponding to the colours of a fire. The bird itself lives a 500-1000 year life cycle. At the end of its life the phoenix builds nest of aromatic branches and spices, uses the sun to ignite the fire and his own wings to fan the fire. The mythical phoenix marks its death; plunges itself into the fire, is consumed by the flames and burns into a pile of ashes. Out of the ashes a new phoenix is born with renewed youth to live through another life-span.
The phoenix, like our higher selves is a beautiful bird that lives forever. In the story, many people were attracted to the beauty of the phoenix, the sun even claimed the phoenix as his own giving it the ability to live forever. Although this would seem like a gift, over time the phoenix grew old, tired, and lost its strength. One day it said, “I can’t live this way anymore.” The same thing happens in our lives.
Just like you, the phoenix knows when it is time for its death. Just like the phoenix, we know when things aren’t working, when a certain aspects of ourselves that might have worked at one point, no longer serves us. There is always a deep inner knowing when some aspect of yourself is ready to let go, move on, and plan its funeral.
When the phoenix recognizes the time for ending has come, it creates the ritual fire. A ritual is a set of actions performed for their symbolic value, set apart from everyday life-tasks. Generally rituals are powerful and beautiful. Our yoga practices, meditation, journaling, these ritual spaces apart from everyday life can be a useful to navigate the period of transition.
The question arises, who would actually want to plunge themselves into the fire, inviting their own death? That does sound pretty scary. The fear of death, of endings runs deep in our North American, Western, culture. The death process is nothing to be feared. It is something we do each time we finish our yoga practice with savasana (corpse pose) and each time we exhale or breathe out. In each of these situations there is a letting go and we are reborn, or take our next breath entering into life a little differently.
So too many people fear fire, afraid of being burned (please excuse the pun). Throughout history fires have caused great devastation, death, and suffering. In our Judeo-Christian culture fire is linked with hell and damnation. In certain societies, female witches were unjustifiably burned at the stake.
There are however, many positive aspects of fire. The fire of the sun, for example, gives life, light and warmth. Fire invites transformation. Forest fires are a case in point. Forest fires are necessary for the well-being of the environment, because they burn off old, dead material and stimulate new growth. Forest fires cleanse and purify and without them the forest would become stagnant and die. Fire is alchemical as it separates the dross from gold. Fire offers the embers of awareness.
Many people fear this fiery process of endings, cleansing, purification wanting to avoid struggle, choosing instead stability. Better the devil that you know than the devil you don’t, as the saying goes. Most would rather deal with the familiar, even if it is not ideal, than to risk the unknown.
Regardless, our personal fires are times of transition: an illness, an injury, a troubled relationship, discontent in the workplace, financial difficulties, death of a loved one, starting a new endeavor, or relocating to name just a few. The good news is, there is a resurrection; life after death. If the dying phoenix symbolizes the setting sun, the phoenix rising symbolizes the dawning of a new and brighter day. We rise wiser, better, stronger, more focused on our life’s mission. And we’ll get to that, but not just yet.
The descending journey is a necessary one and in my experience it always lasts longer than we think it will. This is called the time in the ashes.
My teacher and director of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training center, Elissa Cobb, speaks of the importance of honouring the time in the ashes – the time of transition. Elissa describes this time in the ashes as a moment of pause, a moment of note quite yet being sure of when or where the new growth will occur. She admits that this time of “being in the ashes” can be challenging, confusing and messy. In the ashes we might sometimes find ourselves wandering, lost, not sure of what action to take – if any at all.
According to Elissa Cobb, “Arriving on the other side of the ashes allows for another moment to pause and reflect back on the process of growth and change.” It is a time to honor how that part of ourselves that we are saying goodbye to once served us. It is healthy to have a period in the ashes in order for new growth to begin. It is often necessary to bring in outside support to help you in navigating your time in the ashes, the important time of transformation and growth. The time in the ashes is a time to care for the person you are ever becoming.
Ultimately the phoenix represents an enduring sense of hope and redemption. Because the phoenix is reborn from its death, the phoenix represents the archetypal regeneration. There is life after death, a resurrection from the ashes. There is ultimately an awakening. This is the ascending journey. Through the transformational process we are reborn anew to live again, and thus a process of renewal. The renewal stage is important because it represents a recycling and an interruption of the status quo. The purifying fire burns the path for the awakening to take place. Just as yoga is a process of personal transformation, the myth of the phoenix rising a is about that metamorphic renewal, birth of Self and ultimately our awakening.
Yoga Postures/Asanas: Supported Backbend, Foot Series, Garland Pose or Malasana, Parivrtta Malasana or Revolved Garland Pose, Pigeon or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, Dying Warrior or Wounded Warrior, Breath of Fire/Kapalabhati Breath, Dhyana Mudra, Breath of Joy, Dancer or Natarajasana, Upavista Konasana or Wide Legged Seated Forward Fold, Savasana or Corpse Pose
Yoga Props: yoga block, yoga bolster, folded blanket, meditation cushion, or chair
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Question for the comments: What deaths can you recall experiencing in your journey of awakening in your life?
If you want support in going deeper in this process of awakening through death and rebirth then I would highly recommend our membership community. Ivy is doing an incredibly powerful series right now in our devotional section on Rising Strong and Redefining Fear.
Namaste Yoga 300 Photos of Yoga Poses