“Celebrate!” those were Bella’s last words to her husband and sister before she passed away. Another woman, Paula, spent the last three days of her life joyfully phoning friends and clearing up karmic “loose ends.” She, too, passed away in peace and joy.
The time to prepare is now
What did these two women have in common, and what can we learn from them? Both of them, as long time members of Ananda Village, spent their lives practicing the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda — meditation, selfless service, and love for God.
The teachings of yoga are full of lessons on this very important process. Not coincidentally, the practices that prepare us to leave this earth in freedom also give us a deeper, more dynamic spiritual life right now.
Call to God inwardly
Mahatma Gandhi was heard to say, “Rama, Rama” as he fell to the ground after being assassinated. A friend, on hearing this story, told me that he hoped for the presence of mind to call to God when he dies.
Did Gandhi merely think quickly as he fell to his death? A study of his life shows that he spent most of his waking hours talking to God (as Rama) and chanting his name. We can start preparing now by inwardly calling to God throughout the day — practicing “japa” as it’s called in India.
Tie up karmic loose ends
Secondly, we can begin tying up all of our karmic loose ends right now. Paula phoned a few people in her last days apologizing for misunderstandings. To one friend she said, “That was weighing heavily on me. I’m glad we’re both big enough gals to put it behind us.”
Bella asked her sister near the end, “Have we worked everything out between us?” After her sister answered yes, Bella said, “I think I’ve worked everything out with everyone.”
Growing up, I had a difficult relationship with my father. I was the rebellious hippie, and he was a lifelong conservative who never was able to express his love for his children. As I was preparing to leave on a long trip, I said to him in the middle of a mundane conversation, “I love you.”
Even though his personality wouldn’t let him respond to me verbally, he later wrote a note expressing his own love for me. I never saw him again, as he passed away suddenly while I was traveling.
Overcome your fear of dying
Thirdly, don’t be afraid. Talk with people who have been around those who have died with freedom and joy. Watch the beautiful video, “Life after Life,” which interviews people who have had near-death experiences.
It was obvious watching Bella and Paula during their last days that both had long overcome any fear of dying. Paula comforted a hospice nurse who was there to comfort her by saying, “Tell the world that death is nothing to be sad about. Death is joy!”
The path of meditation gradually cuts the karmic bonds that tie us to our body and to this earth. By offering our little selves each day into the light of God in meditation, we gradually overcome all fears.
“So this is what death is like”
My own fear of death was diminished greatly by an experience I had shortly after beginning the path of meditation. One day I was swimming in the ocean — a relatively new experience for someone who had spent most of his life growing up in the farmland of the Midwest. I was suddenly caught in a powerful and unrelenting rip tide. I didn’t even know what a rip tide was at that time. I just knew that I was in big trouble.
The more I struggled and fought the current, the farther I was pulled out into the ocean, until I was far from any help, tossed like a cork on crashing waves. After many minutes of the most intense struggle, I finally ran out of strength. Exhausted to the point of collapse, all I could do was turn onto my back and accept what I thought was the end of my life.
Lying on my back, I gazed into the vast, blue sky and offered my whole self into God with complete love and surrender. I was suddenly engulfed with an extraordinary bliss. At that moment I thought, more with intuition than words: “So this is what death is like.”
After floating in this bliss for a couple of minutes, I found myself being washed up on shore. Later, I learned that fighting a rip tide doesn’t work — swimming parallel to the shore and getting out of the current is what will save you.
Apparently, that’s what God did for me as I lay exhausted, and in bliss, floating on my back. That experience forever made me know, just as Paula knew, that “Death is joy!”
This world is not our home
I had an unforgettable experience with Bella during one of her last days. As she was slipping in and out of consciousness, it seemed that her soul was already experiencing some of the freedom of the astral world. Late one night she was awake and throwing up. While throwing up, she was singing with joy!
Bella knew she was going to her true home and she was celebrating in song. Paramhansa Yogananda once said that when a soul leaves the beautiful astral realms and is born in a body, it enters this world crying in pain, while everyone watching is cooing with joy at the newborn baby.
He also said that when the soul leaves this world at death, the soul is smiling with deep joy while those watching are crying. Remember this always, and your fear of death will diminish.
Offer up all attachments
There is a popular bumper sticker that says, “He who finishes with the most toys wins.” For the yogi, it’s just the opposite. The yogi who finishes with the least toys (attachments), wins (finds freedom).
If we leave this world with strong attachments, those attachments will draw us back to this world. We are compelled to reincarnate when we die with desires, such as desires for material possessions, that can only be fulfilled here on earth.
Every night offer all attachments, all regrets — everything — into God’s hands. The more we do this, the freer we will be when it’s time for us to leave this earth.
The few of us sitting with Bella at the end felt such joy that her husband brought out glasses and bubbly water, and offered a toast. We were “celebrating,” not only because Bella told us to, but because we all felt her freedom and joy.