A spiritual journey
Spirituality can help you accept the changes in life and even death with equanimity, says Dr Anil Chawla.
The advantage of spirituality in aging is that this is the one and only thing which can help you prepare to go and finally go peacefully, nay, even joyfully, jumping with joy in fact. Because it is only spirituality which tells you that you are immortal. And once you know well before going that you are immortal, won’t you jump with joy? Especially if all your life you lived under the gross delusion and haunted by that fear- the fear of death! Now you know that the death is not yours, only of the body who you are not. So then you can leave this all very peacefully; no heart-breaks, no sorrows and no sorry states.
What is spirituality? It is not hard to define. What begins when all materiality stops is spirituality. World and its things are material, the body and all other bodies are material, thoughts and emotions of the mind are also subtle material, hopes, beliefs, rituals, concepts, precepts, tenets, behaviors, events and happenings, all are material. Basically all that can be perceived by the senses and grasped by the mind is material. What is just beyond and behind that is spiritual. Anything that changes is material, not otherwise.
It is easy to understand that a person is not the body because a dead body doesn’t function; the person in it has gone. The body is there but the life has left, the person is no longer there as a person. Life has left, the light has left; rest all is intact, but what is the use? So, we have to burn the body or bury it. From earth it came; back to earth it must go; for Nature’s recycling to go on!
If you ever thought that you are the body, then the question arises which body you are- the infant, the toddler, the adolescent, the adult, the middle aged, the old or the very old? If you really look, you will find that none of these. It is very easy to see that you have been witnessing the changes going on in the body from infancy to the very old age. You are the witness of the change, not the one that changes. Life is the unchanging witness, nature is the one that changes. So let it. One day the body will be ready for recycling and you will still be the witness.
That we are not even the mind may be a bit hard to grasp because the subtle nature of the mind and our total identification with our thoughts and the mind-made image of ourselves, our personality which we start calling as us. When we are in deep sleep, the mind and the personality are no longer functional and yet we are still there very much alive. So the real me can’t be our thoughts, emotions or beliefs etc which being the content of our minds and even when not in operation, doesn’t affect our essential nature, which is life itself.
Just as you have been the witness of the changes in the body, you have been the witness of perpetual moment to moment changes in your thoughts and emotions. Haven’t you observed how the mind changes? No one can deny that. A little look within shows that so clearly. Over the years, haven’t you seen your concepts, thoughts, ideas change? Once again which thought or concept you will say you are? None in particular! Obviously, you are the witness and observer of the changing thoughts and concepts.
You are the unchanging silent and spacious and live witness of all the change. Isn’t that what our real nature is?
So the million dollar question is: What is our essential nature? I am not the body, I know. I am not even the fickle and ever changing mind, I know. So, who am I then? Who is this guy who is the ‘I’ in this body? These questions need to be enquired about and explored and the best is to find the answers on our own. Most often we simply believe what we are told. But belief is never as effective as discovery and experience. Even if we have a glimpse of the experience we can begin to jump with joy. But belief can also lessen our burdens and anxieties somewhat. It is certainly better than living in fear and dying in fear which is natural if we simply believe that we are the body or our personality.
Spirituality is said to be a science too. Science basically means something verifiable by anyone who is prepared to check the authenticity of the spiritual saying and put in enough of the required input. Experiments can fail but if one persists enough truth is ultimately revealed to the perseverant individual. Our essential nature, they say is of light, which is camouflaged by the cover of our personalities and the bodies, so we can’t see it clearly.
The camouflaged light!
In class ten in Physics, we did an experiment,
We passed through a prism, a ray of light called ‘The Incident’.
The colorless incident ray of light goes through the prism,
It divides into a spectrum of colors as it comes out of the prism.
Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red;
That is the spectrum of light visible to our eyes naked.
The invisible goes beyond both sides of the spectrum,
Ultra-violet and Infra-red are parts of the invisible spectrum!
One colorless light, the incident ray dwells in each of us,
This is the one which says, ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ in each one of us.
When this light goes out one day, there is no ‘I’ left in us,
This ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’, the incident light is the same in all of us.
How come? How come? How come? We’re so different, you see;
The dispersed colorful light you see; the colorless incident, eyes can’t see!
The variety and our differences are visible to our eyes,
The colorless, pure light of the ‘I’ in all is invisible to the physical eyes!
As the light of consciousness passes through the prism of our personalities,
It causes our apparent differences for we are all multi-colored personalities.
The light is one in all, howsoever different we may seem,
For when light goes out, all differences get buried, again become unseen!
When we see it thus, Unity in diversity seems to be possibly real,
But while living we’re deeply convinced of differences, unity seems far unreal.
This seems to be some sort of a phenomenon like the one we call a ‘mirage’,
Where illusion appears real and the real remains covered and camouflaged.
Now, the trouble often is not that we don’t know who we are, but somehow because of our prolonged conditioning we get too attached to the visible world. That attachment works stronger on us than spiritual knowledge which has not yet come into real experience. This attachment makes leaving the visible world painful, even though often we have seen that the visible world is like a mirage which just appears and is illusory and fools our senses.
It just appears!
The sky is blue; well, only a child will say so!
To a scientist it just so appears; it isn’t truly so!
On a sunny day on the road ahead water just appears,
It’s just mirage; for if you reach closer it just disappears.
The crop that stands there, seems real, but so it appears,
The trees, the buildings seem solid but so they just appear.
Keep watching and soon all that will cease to appear,
There is nothing solid or steadfast here, what appears disappears!
A man is standing there; you might deal with him,
But before long he won’t be there don’t search for him.
The man just appears solid; he is disappearing; he’ll disappear,
If you watch long enough in front of you he’ll disappear.
Name anything that is there- it isn’t there, it sure just appears,
It just appears; don’t like a fool try to hold it, it’ll soon disappear.
Trying to hold on to an appearance, only deluded fools, yes they do,
Taking appearance for real they suffer pain; yet they often do.
Pleasure? You think there’s pleasure in the object of your desire?
Pleasure just appears; disappears soon on getting what you desired.
How long will you keep running for the apparent pleasure in objects?
When will you finally learn, pleasure just appears, it isn’t in any object.
Beware, don’t give your heart, everything is a transitory appearance,
Heart breaks are frequent here, for we try to grasp an appearance.
Appearances are deceptive, they have been saying for long,
Blinded by appearances we thoughtlessly run in to them head long!
Now you see it, now you don’t, that happens in a dream,
Know that even while awake you are living a dream.
Dreamer, you may act in this dream but don’t get stuck to the dream,
Taking dream for real is the bane of existence on this planet of dreams.
And you know what? Another cause of trouble is that we hold our everything so very tight that leaving it at the final call becomes so painful.
At the final call!
His feet were half already in the grave,
Within him he felt the resolute pull of the grave.
And yet he wasn’t willing to call it a day,
And yet he thought he had a full field day.
The charm was great to stay; a little more stay,
The world had totally involved him in its play.
He was drawn out by it at every other corner,
Its magnetic pull got him stuck in each and every corner.
Look; he has name and fame, what have you? You’ve lost,
Look; he is great; you could have been too, you didn’t pay the cost.
Look; he is running a business and service; to show, what have you got?
Look, he has a great family; I tell you, you’ve lost, you’ve lost!
All he had done or achieved came to a naught,
‘Comparison’ was the disease in which he was totally caught.
He was restless; always looking at life’s Toms and Jones,
The world was always ahead of him in each and every zone.
The final day was approaching but peace was nowhere near,
New desires arose and kept pushing him from his rear.
He was getting exhausted and shaky but never felt fulfilled,
The world had so entrapped him, yet he felt incomplete, unfulfilled.
He was now haunted by the question: What is the way out of it all?
He began to realize his folly of taking the world too seriously at all.
He realized soon in joy, that all this running around was a drama after all,
He tried to forget all the roles and rested in inner peace at the final call!
It is one of the most surprising facts that we hold even slippery things tight. Aren’t we fools sometimes.
Whatever you hold, bewares, it holds you too,
Whatever you grab, you get grabbed too.
The tighter you hold something in your grip,
Your heart will be squeezed with a similar grit.
Your notions, opinions, concepts, ideas and all,
You think you hold them but you are held by them all.
You can’t think beyond your concepts at all,
Thinking ‘out of the box’ is a hard job after all.
The stronger your beliefs the harder their grip,
They block your free thinking, they won’t let you slip.
Your view is covered by the curtain of your belief,
Your vision is narrowed to the hole of your belief.
You think you possess all that you possess?
You too are possessed by all possessions you possess.
Your freedom is lost up to the severity of your hold,
Your heart breaks on their loss to the degree of your hold.
In the journey called life, we are told to hold lightly but little,
Everything is acquired here we will take with us little.
Hold nothing tight here and be ever ready to loosen your fist,
Losing and leaving is painful with a tighter grip.
Whatever you see and you hold is also on a journey of its own,
Here today, there tomorrow; everything is on the move, it’s Nature’s own.
Walk carefully through life; learn well the lessons it teaches,
Holding is un-natural, keep leaving; this is what nature teaches.
So, in a nutshell, to go peacefully, one should know the truth of the world as unreal, slippery, changing, temporary, unpredictably autonomous, unreliable and unreal through and through and yet so entangling, enamoring, artificially glamorous, fooling simple human beings till the end. Once you know the truth of the world appearance the way it is, you not only avoid getting attached to it, while leaving, you call it: “Good Riddance”. When your attitude while going is like that, no wonder you go happily, jumping with joy, especially when you know the other truth of your own immortality, you really go jumping with joy. So spirituality in aging encompasses both these elements: utter detachment from this phenomenal, deceitful world and utter awareness of one’s true nature to be one with the Master of the Universe. That is then liberation. Need nothing more. Amen!
Spirituality like any other science has two portions: one theoretical which imparts knowledge of the spirit and second practical which involves experiments and exercises to give an experience of the spirit. Both are essential here too, like in all sciences.
And equipped with these when one approaches old age, it doesn’t remain so painful as it is made out to be. It rather becomes a time of one’s life when the joy is real, internal, perpetual and independent of what happens or doesn’t happen outside. This is the joy when full of this you can bless the world with your presence, your demeanor, your few words and your little actions. And you now need or expect nothing from the world which only enhances your inner joy. You are free, you are liberated. What more to ask? What is left to ask? You feel thoroughly fulfilled.
About the author: Dr Chawla has 37 years of experience in the medical field. His work has ranged from being a full-time senior consultant in Medicine at IBRA, Oman; Royal Hospital, Oman; Salmaniya Medical Center, Bahrain to being a lecturer-professor at reputed institutes like Oman Medical College; AIIMS and Maulana Azad Medical College in India. He is M.B.B.S, M.D (Medicine-PGI, Chandigarh), M.R.C.P (U.K), F.R.C.P(Glasgow)