The Unescapable Truth death, suffering and the gift of life


Photo of the Mekong River by Jessica
Photo of the Mekong River by Jessica


February 16, 2014

Jessica Magnin, founder and co-director of O2yoga, is one of GatherYoga’s newest emissaries, and today she shares her thoughts about death, suffering, and the gift of life.

It was past midnight when my father came into my room to announce the tragic news. He had just lost one of his closest friends. I was just barely twelve. It was the first time I had ever seen him really cry, and the first time I had experienced the pain of witnessing the grief of someone I loved dearly. I desperately wanted to relieve his pain, because it was his pain that caused me more suffering than the actual loss of his friend.

Death was rarely ever spoken about in my family, and we were lucky: I had only witnessed first-hand the loss of a goldfish, a few gerbils, and a fern. The unspoken truth didn’t prevent visits of endless questions about life and death in moments of silent play. Those secret thoughts were kept under my pillow for monologues as I lay myself down to sleep.

My family’s closest friend, a devout Catholic, whispered in my ear during one sleepover that my family would burn in hell because Christ was not our saviour. I never shared this with my parents in fear that this “truth” would cause them to worry and therefore suffer. I would often hold my breath in fear of facing the suffering of the ones I cared about, and even the suffering of those I had never met beyond the movie screen. My heightened sense of helplessness was so overwhelming that at times I would play the game of Maya, not fully choosing to understand the true temporal nature of life, but covering my eyes to the world, convinced that it could not see me. This was my way of dealing with that monstrous pain that I felt in my heart when I witnessed the suffering of others.


Some decades later, crouched with my knees pressed against my chest, I held on for dear life to the flimsy sides of the wooden speedboat. My nails had gone white and cramps formed in my fingers. I clenched my jaw as the driver picked up speed, navigating “blindly” through the treacherous labyrinth of hidden rocks under the current of the Mekong River. My heart skipped 100 beats as the boat skipped a wave or two. I secured my helmet for the tenth time as I saw visions of us crashing into the rock formations, the wooden boat shattering into a million pieces, and me being thrown into the air, still clutching for dear life. I glanced over at my Lao companions, some nodding off, others enjoying the buzz of adrenalin. Their serenity only amplified my exaggerated fear and my inability just to enjoy the ride. It suddenly seemed ridiculous, I seemed ridiculous! I burst into laughter. I knew that all this excessive control on my part was my only way of offering myself some solid ground of security. No matter how hard I clenched my jaw and dug my nails into the sides of the boat, there would be no guarantee. With a deep breath, I threw my arms into the air and screamed at the top of my lungs! If these were to be my last moments here on earth, then ”let go and enjoy” would be my mantra.

Somewhere on the Lao peninsula of Luang Prabang, a ceremonial celebration of endless eating, drinking, and chanting carried on day in and day out for a succession of four nights and five days. There were three spirit houses ornately decorated with flowers, a black and white photo of the deceased, rice, kip, and other symbolic offerings. Candles burned well into the night and throughout the day. There was a continuous flow of lay-people and monks passing by. As night fell, many would camp out on the cold tiled floor searching for warmth against the unusual winter chill. The music continued. Food was served. People laughed. Some played cards and many drank. The sangha, the local Buddhist community, bonded once more.

This is the Buddhist tradition. Death, as well as life, are prevalent, and all sentient beings, without any exception, will inevitably experience suffering, loss, and yes, death. Abinivesha, the root of all of our fears, causes us to desperately cling to life and deny the existential truth of our brief, transient presence here on earth. Micromanaging our illusory permanent existence and our fear of suffering just causes more internal suffering. Surrendering to Buddha’s truth, that suffering exists,does not mean that we no longer care about life or about others. Instead, suffering could become a homeopathic remedy for feeling the preciousness of life, including its joys as well as its sadnesses, and the inescapable end. We can take this ancient wisdom to heart, letting it split our hearts wide open, feeling the inner connectedness with others and life’s fragility.

Death is always lingering. In fact, we are all moving one step closer with each breath, with each passing moment. As scary as it might seem, there is no escaping. Through total acceptance, we crack open the illusory door of permanence to wide open freedom, experiencing the gift of life not in fear but in celebration! Maybe, this is the practice.


Synchronicity Somewhere between Heaven and Earth and O2yoga

My next-door neighbor, a sandy haired girl, a few years older than myself, taught me about being in the right place at the right time. I grew up in the corner house of cul-de-sac in a residential area. Nine homes created a horseshoe shape and were backed by a thin alley lined with over-stuffed trash barrels. My parents had banned this area as off limits for any adventure, discovery, or even peeking as it was considered to be dangerous. My neighbor believed differently and promised me that at certain opportune moments during random days, hidden treasures could be found right in the middle of our neighbor’s trash! She explained that in order to uncover these hidden treasures I had to be acutely attentive with the full palate of my senses.

On hot summer days we would slip through the back wooden fence and enter the kingdom of possibilities. Moments of anticipation and excitement overflowed into fantastic findings from tiger eyed marbles, to plastic jeweled rings and even shiny coins. The possibilities were endless! At 7 year of age, I had never heard of the word serendipity and probably couldn’t have pronounced or spelled it correctly even if I had. Serendipity is defined as having the knack or a natural talent for finding the unexpected or finding something by accident. Were these findings accidental, strategically planted or part of life’s greater plan? At that age, I was mystified by the magic of life and never thought of tainting the excitement by the logical mind.

Even though this game of treasure hunting in the back alley of my home came to an end by the age of 12, my capacity for being attentive never ceased, and actually continued to grow. My neighbor, without knowing it, had taught me the art of watching for signs that lead to hidden treasures. The more I was aware, the more I noticed how encounters and experiences began to reveal themselves as stepping stones leading me exactly where I needed to be at each moment of my life. At fifteen, I came to the conclusion that nothing was accidental in my life and the word serendipity could no longer describe the perfect coincidence of events that streamed together like a golden thread.

Thirty-four years later, just weeks after Entre Ciel & Terre’s move was finalized, I found myself walking in the midst of a bustling crowd in Bordeaux’s train station. My mind was occupied, processing the ‘’letting go’’ of the new name for our new center that had manifested after numerous early morning meditation sessions. For weeks we had been toying with the idea of a total change, not just a move. Mutual synergy was important for us and for the energy of the center and therefore we needed to agree wholeheartedly on the new name. It was obvious that the name that had surfaced in my mind was not the right one for both of us and I trusted that something else would appear at the right time, in the right place.

Back to the over-crowed train station in Bordeaux, lost in the thought while still processing the ‘letting go’ of the name, my phone rang. Startled, I dug down into the pocket of my rain jacket. Alex, the host of the retreat center where I would be leading 12 students through a transformative 7 days of seeing the truth, called for our whereabouts. I stopped in my tracks in hopes of finding a marker or a sign that would allow him to easily locate us. A sign, larger than I could have ever imagined was there, right before my eyes. A flash of synchronicity, the art of being in the right place at the right time communicated louder than any doubt. In bold emerald green letters was the name O2 café. I had never seen O2 associated with anything but oxygen from my freshman year of chemistry. Ironically, O2 was the same name that continuously kept popping up in my mind like a broken record again and again and the same name that I had just minutes before ‘’let go.’’ My heart skipped a beat but my breath was steady and a moment of deep knowing, called pragnya revealed itself. It would have to be O2 and no other. This was who we had become and would carry our students and us on our continued journey of uncovering the Self, the spark of life.

So, why O2 yoga? They say that it’s all in the name. O2 guides and animates you 24/7 and is the quintessence of your being. It is what we constantly nag (inhale, exhale) you to do in each class, with each asana, between each thought, on and off your mat. Whether you can do the splits or handstand in the middle of the room has little importance to us but your breath does because it is the spark of your life, your spirit. The ancient yogic texts called the Upanishads, state, ‘’Breath is life and life is breath.’’

Breathing in draws life deeply into your heart and your soul and within each breath there is a galaxy of inner wisdom, of infinite love, compassion and stillness. Your next inhale sparks your inner fire, the unique light of YOU so join us in breathing life at O2 yoga.



Sengphete at school, LaosSengphete left Wat Khili in early August 2011 by exchanging his saffron robe for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. As a layperson, his first concern was to find an inexpensive place to live that was in the vicinity of the university. He found a small room just big enough for a single bed and a small dresser. Although there isn’t a kitchen and the toilet is outside, he is happy with his new home, which he shares in good company with other university students. Panee, his landlady generously offers him the use of her motorcycle that he has learned to ride and which allows Phete greater freedom to discover Luang Prabang.

While living in the monastery, he never had to be concerned with food. The monks receive 2 meals a day from local lay people. Therefore, Phete has had to learn to cook simple Lao dishes on a small gas flame in front of his room and take advantage of the local market for inexpensive dishes that they serve up in small plastic bags to ”take away”.

Phete’s days are spent working at a local guesthouse where he works as a receptionist and helps out in the restaurant when breakfast is served. He apprenticed in August and as of September earns 50SFR a month for 12-hour days.

He completed his final exams at the monk school scoring 87 out of 93 and completed his entrance exams for law school, which he currently awaits for a response. Though his life is quite different, he carries the teaching of Buddhism in his heart and is adapting well to this new way of life.

Message from Sengphete

My life as normal person was very different from life as monk especially how to spend time in every day. When I was a monk I usually spent my time with learning Dhamma and meditate and how to become peace and how to teach people have a good heart and make a good thing. But after I stopping a monk, my heart still live at the temple and would like to do at the same thing but I am so sad that I can do it sometime because I have to work hard and learn how to live at outside world and keep my learning at law school.

I always think that if I don’t have you to help and support me, I won’t have this day because life at outside everything I have to pay.

I got support and help from you so I can find somewhere to live or sleep, have some food to eat every day and have school for study and improve my poor life to good life.

I always feel that you treat me like a son because you give me room and food to me for grow, you shown the light of love on me, you give me hope and future and you give me like air so I can breathe. This is all my feeling to you.