Don’t Look Back
The sky is so blue that even an atheist would have to believe in heaven. Cherry blossoms drift overhead, the sun is shining and I am breaking down; breaking open. The greatest pain we have is to love and to lose the loved one. It has been said that “for every hello there is a good-bye.” Even to anticipate that separation is painful. “I object,” a friend exclaimed about the whole sorry state of loving and losing that comprises our life in this temporal world, and this after 50 years on the path. And yet, as Baba Ji said to a heartbroken sister: What do you mean your loved ones leave you – they were never yours to begin with.
One of the greatest paradoxes of spirituality seems to be that in order to restore our faith in the path, we have to be torn, sometimes forcibly, from the charms of the visible world. But do we have to feel the cutting edge of deprivation or the fog of grief to hone our longing for him? Or can we actually choose to let go, to rise up and appreciate what we are given? Can we agree to say good-bye?
Baba Ji has talked about the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two towns were being destroyed, buildings were burning, people were crying and dying. Then some angels came to save some of them and told them only one thing: “Don’t look back!” Baba Ji explained that those who looked back became stuck (rooted by their attachments), but that those who just kept walking were saved.
So: What is our particular Sodom and Gomorrah? What is causing the burning in our comfortable world? Is it the current events of war and pandemic? Is it political upheavals and loss of faith in our governments? Is it the parting with our dear and familiar companions? Is it the inevitability of our aging? Is it the fear of dying despite our pledge and stated desire to “die while living”?
What should we do? Let it burn. Don’t look back. Keep walking toward our goal. To do this we have to stop fighting the inevitable. After all, we can’t walk away and fight at the same time. Fighting takes energy; it inflicts pain on us and others. Walking is easy, simple and natural. Walking away from our own personal Sodom and Gomorrah is letting go of our pain. Baba Ji has told us that if we are gripping a burning hot iron rod, we would not think twice about letting it go. He reminds us that we are responsible for our own well-being, for our own peace of mind, and he exhorts us to never indulge in self-pity. He asks us to learn to move on.
In a question-and-answer session, a sister asked Baba Ji for support: her husband had recently died from Covid. She felt that she could neither move forward nor go back; she was stuck, and terribly lonely. Baba Ji listened compassionately and then explained that people come to us only through the give-and-take of karma; it is the Lord who takes care of us.
Maybe, just maybe, the Master knows what he is doing. He is allocating our karma for our best spiritual interest, even when we don’t like it. Maybe, just maybe, we are never alone. Here is a thought: infinite attention. If the Lord is infinite, then so is his attention. His attention and guidance are always with us. That guidance provides us with the opportunities that we need to make spiritual progress; to grow into our divinity. Baba Ji often tells us that if one door closes, others will open.
The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson concurs, and in his famous essay “Compensation” wishes us this truth as “a star in many dark hours and crooked passages in our journey, that would not suffer us to lose our way.” That star is the awareness that the Lord’s grace is always with us, that there is a purpose for everything that he does and that “a certain compensation balances every gift and every defect.”
And when we lose sight of that star, that understanding, it’s not that we are weak or bad; we are just deluded. We have stayed in the movie theater of the world’s illusions for too long. In the darkness we have mistaken the reflections on the screen for reality. We have fallen in love with shadows; we have given our hearts to phantoms.
The saints come not to fulfill our desires but to shatter our illusions. We have to leave the theater to see the sun. To know God’s love, we must attend to meditation. That meditation is supported by all our life events, as they are doled out to us by our Master. Emerson writes:
The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius…. It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances and the reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect of the gardener is made the banyan tree of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighborhoods of men.
Grief is a contraction, a folding in over what is lost; love is an expansion, a celebration of what we have – the Lord himself. When we close our eyes in pain, they can open to the consolation within us. First the dark tunnel, then the open field where sits our one true Friend.
We love our dear ones; but we love them most truly when we love the Lord within them. That love surpasses all others. Then we are loving their true selves, their biggest, most expansive selves. Then all these loves are blended into one love – our hearts have been kneaded, softened, tenderized by their love; opened to the love that encompasses us all. All rivers find the ocean, and the ocean refuses no river. As Emerson writes in his essay “Love”:
Thus, are we put in training for a love which knows not sex, nor person, nor partiality, but which seeks virtue and wisdom everywhere…. We need not fear that we can lose anything by the progress of the soul. The soul may be trusted to the end. That which is so beautiful and attractive as these relations, must be succeeded and supplanted only by what is more beautiful, and so on forever.
The Lord works in the sweetest, most wondrous ways. Yes, we see him most easily in the bluest of skies, the wonder of the stars, the faces of flowers, the kindness of the wind that stirs and shakes and washes us clean. But he is also in the darkest, most silent depths of the night, in the absolute loneliness of our existence. And he is in every creature that we have loved and lost. We need not look back to find them, because we will all ultimately become him.