A satangi had a party for her seventy-fifth birthday last summer. Her children amassed a substantial group of family and friends who had known her at various times of her life. They gathered at a favourite park and shared stories from her past. There were pictures, her favourite music, and good vegetarian food for all. “It was great fun,” she reported happily, “like attending my own funeral!”
Death is a fact for all of us, aging for the lucky ones. For a satsangi, death has special meaning since we court it daily in our meditation. So, too, aging can acquire special meaning, as it becomes a living metaphor for letting go of the world.
Our Incredible Shrinking Universe
When we are young, everything is new. Each experience is a learning experience, and for the first half of our lives our universe of experience expands. Stuff happens. We marry - or not. We have children that become our joy and the bane of our existence. We engage, we join, we develop, we make progress, we accumulate - oh, how we accumulate. We are persuaded to save the tigers, rainforest, whales, historic sites, trees, to vote for the candidate of change, and to sign up for any cause that will ‘make a difference’.
Somewhere past middle age a sense of ‘been there, done that’ settles in. Eventually it becomes clear: nothing we do in this world really changes it; nothing we do really makes much difference. We can’t wait to see how it all turns out, until we realize it never really turns out. It only goes on. Our sphere of interest gets smaller. Soon, leaving our comfortable home for yet another festival, rally, or cruise hardly seems worth the effort. One morning we look in the mirror and see a vaguely familiar but shockingly gray and wrinkled visage looking back. What happened? Life happened. Age silently crept in and has taken over our lives.
Somewhere along the way Master calls us, and we rearrange our lives to accommodate what becomes our guiding light. Multitasking is replaced by the quest for seeking one-pointed attention. Engagement is abandoned in the search for silence and simplicity.
Over time our meditation waxes and wanes with the mind battling all the usual suspects. But the battle of age is less likely to be with raging passions and more likely to be with aching backs and leg cramps. What about the slave drivers, the senses? Age affects them too. Eyes dim with cataracts; hearing softens. With time the most enticing sensual pleasures begin to fade and reveal themselves to be toothless and flavourless and more easily tamed by a mature and disciplined mind.
By the time age and wisdom arrive, we have learned to sort out what is important and what isn’t. And this path certainly helps with that task. The excitement of constantly new stimulation has been replaced by a new appreciation of peace, quiet, and contemplation.
Carrot or Coffee?
This parable points out the nature of our human condition:
A grown daughter came to her mother in distress over the vicissitudes of life. After some comforting discussion, the mother took her to the kitchen and set three small pots of water on the stove to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs (I guess they weren’t satsangis), and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners and served the contents up in three bowls. Turning to her daughter, she said, “Tell me what you see.” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the daughter replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After removing the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.
Then the mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.
The carrots went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, they softened and became weak. The eggs had been fragile. Their thin outer shell had protected the liquid interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, the insides became hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. As they were in the boiling water, they changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
Are we the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do we wilt and become soft and lose our strength? Are we the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but solidifies with the heat? Did we have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have we become hardened and stiff? Does our outer shell look the same, but on the inside are we bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or are we like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour. If we are like the bean, when things are at their worst, we get better and change the situation around us. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do we elevate ourselves to another level?
Satsangis will understand this parable as karmic debt playing out. With an attitude of gratitude we will remain firm and resolute. In practicing forgiveness we will remain resilient. With acceptance of Master’s will, we will enjoy the coffee.
In Living Meditation the discussion turns to a similar theme of attitude and altitude:
Attitude is the point of view we apply to life. There is a connection between attitude and altitude. The higher our point of view or perspective, the more detached we become, and the better equipped we are to do our meditation. Meditation helps our attitude by giving us the altitude or cosmic perspective to see the big dramas of life as small or insignificant, rather than as gigantic, unsolvable problems.
It’s Not the End of the World, But -
When we cross the invisible line that defines us as “old” we begin inevitably to think more about the end of this game of life. What begins as simple downsizing becomes a pledge to “get our affairs in order.” The traditional sitting position of meditation becomes more difficult, but there is more time for simran, and simran comes easier. Another satsangi friend, now in her late eighties, is confined to a wheelchair, her hearing pretty much gone, her eyesight fading. “It’s perfect,” she says of her situation. “I spend most of my days looking out the window watching the light change on the tree in the front yard, doing simran.” We wonder, now and then, exactly how this endgame will play out.
Great Master in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I, says:
Death is not to be feared. It is only the name given to the phenomenon of the soul leaving the body. After discarding the physical body, the soul ascends to the astral, causal, and higher regions…. It is merely the withdrawal of the soul from the gross senses, and its entrance into finer regions. It is merely giving up the present garment, namely, the body. It does not mean annihilation. There is life after death, although we may not be able to see it.
The saints have solved the mystery of death. They leave the human body every day and travel into the astral and causal regions. In their company we learn the means by which we too can triumph over death.
That is the promise and comfort of Sant Mat. Gradually the garments that were lent to us at our birth - our bodies - get shabbier and a little more worn at the elbows despite our efforts to keep them clean, wrinkle-free, and mended. Eventually these coats, these garments, will wear out for good and we will get to turn them in for the radiant ones the Master promises. The lessons we learn as we age, the lessons of this path, assure us that we will arrive in great shape for our next great adventure in the higher regions.