In the soul’s journey from ego-involvement to freedom, everything of this world has to be taken away — or, as our understanding grows, given away freely — so that the soul may be an empty vessel to receive and become the joy that God wants for us. One great disciple of our Master was heard to cry out, while under anesthesia for yet another of what seemed an endless succession of operations, “Take it away. Piece by piece. Take it all away.” Such joyful, cooperative surrender to Divine Mother’s working in her life — what Divine Mother, acting through the surgeon, was taking — this great soul was willingly and unhesitatingly giving.
A dear friend and gurubhai, facing her “final exam” (as Swamiji has taught us to see the soul’s transition from this physical realm into the astral world), focused her spiritual intention on a single goal: “to die consciously.” Questioned more closely, she explained her meaning: “to feel the presence of God.” Holding to that single intention, she released into God’s hands every outer connection to life on earth. Health, outward forms of service, formal spiritual practice — all fell away. The more deeply and joyfully she offered what was being taken away, the more fully God’s presence flowed in to fill her being. Thus, do we learn that our truest way of giving to God may be to welcome, to embrace, to flow with what Divine Mother asks of us — through personal loss, through illness, through the diminution and, finally, loss of human capabilities, physical and mental.
Of the ways in which Divine Mother can separate a soul from its delusory identifications with this world, surely one of the most challenging is dementia. Memory slips away, simple tasks become impossibly difficult, old friends are barely, and then not at all, recognized, habitual ways of dealing with life on earth are no longer accessible. There can be intense frustration, confusion, depression. There can also be, shining through the crumbling structure of the mind, the true light of the soul. A longtime friend who recently left his body in a state of advanced dementia, though recognizing no one who came to visit, yet responded whenever someone would speak Master’s name: His face would light with joyful recognition, and his eyes would turn lovingly to the photograph on his bedside table. Imagining this tableau, I seem to hear Yoganandaji’s thundering voice speaking God’s immortal promise from Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”: “All which I took from thee, I did but take, not for thy harms, but just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.”
A gurubhai and friend since the earliest days of Ananda has for some years now been becoming increasingly forgetful, disoriented, confused, his mind day-by-day more unreliable. His human ego runs a gamut of emotions — longing to be with family (almost all of whom are no longer in the body); railing at being unable to drive a car, do meaningful work — to live and function in the familiar ways that worked for him for most of this lifetime. At the same time, through increasingly thin veils of personality shines something wonderful — a pure soul, childlike, loving, joyful, transparent. What is falling away is, as Swamiji said of the late-life dementia of Master’s great disciple Kamala, “only a mind”—not the divine essence within.
Some years ago, at a monks’ retreat, as each one spoke his spiritual wish, our friend sat silently, then blurted out, with great energy, “I just want to feel God’s presence.” And so it must be — for this one deeply loves God, and yearns to feel Him, and such love must draw a divine response. At this year’s Spiritual Renewal Week Kriya Initiation, when our friend and I returned to our seats after making our offerings at the altar — fruit, flower, and donation — I noticed that his fruit offering was still in his hand. Driving home later that evening, we passed the herd of goats and their protector, a donkey named Lily. Chuckling happily, our friend spoke quietly, with profound tenderness: “I was saving that apple to give to the donkey.” In the childlike simplicity of his heart, he had cut through the outward ceremony to its true essence — a way for each one to offer himself to God and Guru. The apple had become a loving gift to life itself — to the natural world, for it is there that our friend feels God most closely. Surely his gift was acceptable to the Lord, the Lord Who watches the heart. Speaking of the simple devotion of one young monk, Master smiled blissfully and said, “Ah! That is the kind God loves best!”
One evening, on the way to a meditation, our friend burst out, “What a beautiful blue light I see right here [thumping his forehead]. . . . It’s everywhere!” And then, “I can see it whenever I lock in to the right place.” That evening passed with deep peace and quiet happiness. Another day, driving to noon meditation from work in the forest, our friend turned to me: “Can you stop the truck a minute? Do you hear that? It’s so beautiful. No, never mind. Go ahead. I can hear it all around now.” His face, not long before tired and strained, was now relaxed into a rapt inner attentiveness, his eyes sparkling, his mouth curved into a gentle smile.
“When we need You, Lord, our Beloved, You descend. Our human griefs Your love alone can mend.”
In divine friendship,