I was driving home when I got the call. All I could hear is “terrible” “accident” “dead”. It took me a whole day to put some kind of cohesion between those words.
“What is going on?” – My mind kept reviewing a list of names. Names of friends, some very close, some not so close that passed away in the past 12 months.
I had difficulty sleeping that night. So I picked up a book that was on my night table in hopes of diverting my attention. As I flipped through the pages my eyes stopped on a sentence:
“There is an Egyptian proverb;
To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” I thought. Over the subsequent days friends and family got together to give support and to remember.
Yes, the dead are very much alive. We never truly stop loving, the past is alive within us. The dead become part of the living… and the truly dead are the forgotten….
There is a fog like quality to mourning a loved one and unlike sadness from another cause this one we wish to hold onto and linger in the fog. Yes, the Egyptians were absolutely right. Just the sheer idea of not remembering, not being this heavy with thoughts can make one feel even worse. It’s like we are desperately trying to hold onto what is left of the person and sadness makes us feel that we are closer to our memories, so we cling, we cling onto the sadness. Of course eventually life literally shakes us up. One must go on, there are things that need to get done. Thank goodness life has a very much relentless quality that demands our attention.
Wallowing in sadness is necessary to a point but after a while it is purely destructive.
I was having lunch with a very dear friend whom I also consider my spiritual guide, as we were sharing our emotions and trials in life she said;
“You know Dora, the questions is never “Why Me”, and the question is never why suffering happens. The true questions is always; you were given this trial, this adversity, this loss. Now what are you going to do? How are you going to channel suffering into serving?
I dropped my fork and gazed at her as she sat smiling. Gosh darn, you are profoundly right again.
It is good to be aware of where suffering originates. To some degree we also must give our body time to digest our emotions. But we can only truly find a way through if we step into action, step out of our small self-centered self and reach out to serve other humans, to work in a meaningful creative environment and to give love and attention to someone else other than our own mind.
One must keep moving and keep productive. Productivity and contribution to family and society is what lifts us out of sadness.
There is a contradictory element to human existence. The individual organism, the self, wants to stay alive so our mind keeps referring back to “me”. The organism, is the “selfish gene” that needs to survive. But we only thrive and live in joy if we contribute to the well-being of others, if we contribute positively to society with meaningful work. The second that we focus mostly on the survival of our individual self, if we are self-absorbed in our own thoughts and individual goals we find nothing but misery. Of course we need to take action to take care of our own health and existence, but it is surprising to discover how little we need and how much capacity we have to give.
One can look at this fact multiple ways. The atheist may declare that “serving others” is a logical choice if we want to live in joy. The Christian mystical will see suffering and serving as a connection to Jesus and his message of serving the less fortunate, and in yoga it is our dharma to serve and to complete our given duties in this world.
Yoga is most often translated in the yoga community as union between mind and the body. I have studied The Baghavad Gita with Professor Jay L. Garfield, a Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Smith College. His understanding of the word “yoga” in the context of the Bhagavad Gita is “yoga is discipline”. He summarizes Krishna’s message in the Gita to Arjuna in the following way;
“We gain significance in our lives through our relationship to the whole, but it’s the whole that’s the source of meaning.”
The Bhagavad-Gita represents the universe as a vast, organic unity that is itself divine, it is not something that stands between us and the divine. Our duty is to recognize our relationship to this whole and to serve with discipline in a meaningful way.
No matter what the point of view, we all experienced this fact. To illustrate I will give you some examples; we are lost in our thoughts, all tangled up, a friend calls needing help. We jump up into action. Our small self disappears and we get joyfully lost in the call of duty. Alternatively imagine how you feel when you are given a gift. How long does that joy last, versus giving a gift and watching the face of your loved one lit up? Which one is a deeper joy?
We were created for each other, we were created to share and to give. Alternatively for my humanistic atheist friends, we have evolved to exist more perfectly with each other and we have evolved to share and give within a society or a small group. – It is ALL the same, same message no matter how you look at the subject.
As my mind lifted out of a weeklong fog from mourning this message solidified within me and I was jolted with sudden burst of energy. From seemingly nowhere I went from lethargy and pain to energy and life. After all, our loved ones would wish us to continue and thrive not to sit and marinate in sadness.
The gift of the dying to the living is the realization of the preciousness of life. How precious each and every relationship is in our life.
How many people have you lost touch with or tried to forget? How many do you take for granted? According to the Egyptian proverb, the forgotten ones are the true dead. We all have a list. It is so easy to avoid that uncomfortable conversation, it is so easy to avoid saying sorry, and equally easy to spend time with someone without pausing and giving them gratitude. It is only when we take time working through our relationships that we grow and learn. If we avoid interpersonal conflict and deep quality conversations we make our world smaller and we make ourselves small. To quote my dear lovely friend again, “Either everything matters, or nothing does.”
So go out there, sit and meditate, do yoga every day, just long enough to know where your heart lies, but then live in action. Awareness in action is meditation in action. Don’t just sit there, do something! That is right! I just turned that nice yoga saying on its head! Go, get up, serve, work and contribute. Reach out to that family member or that friend that you have forgotten, help a stranger with groceries, anything, just take a moment every day do to do something for someone else and you may just find heaven on earth.
In the memory of Melissa, Kim and Zandy – their memory will live within us as an inspiration for selfless, joyful living.