One of the notable characteristics of most elderly people is the pace at which life happens for them. Responsibilities diminish, the body slows down, and life slows down with it.
Taking care of my parents at the end of their lives was often a test of patience. To walk at their pace, to speak so they could follow my thinking, to make decisions in such a way that they didn’t feel I was racing out ahead without regard for them. It wasn’t a question of intelligence. It was about rhythm.
Recently I saw a documentary about a man who had a stroke in his late sixties. He was left paralyzed on one side, and his ability to speak was greatly diminished. He could still communicate in words. But previously before he had been a fast talker with a quick wit, and now every word had to be retrieved from a chasm somewhere in his mind.
(Photo: If we truly understand others, Yogananda said, we cannot help but love them. Image credit: Joy Ito, Wikimedia Commons.)
As it happened, this man had been his own father’s caregiver. Often he had been impatient with the snail-like pace at which his father moved during the last year of his life.
After the stroke, the man said, “I am now seeing what my father saw.” He was walking in his father’s shoes. He saw his years of taking care of his father from the other side of the lens.
An American man whose wife was from Thailand asked me for advice about how to get along with her. Because she was from another culture, he found many of her responses puzzling. His situation wasn’t very different from what other couples face, but it had the added twist of combining cultures.
“In a sense, everyone in the world inhabits his or her own unique country,” I told him. “Marriages often crash on the rocks of false assumptions. But the cultural differences between you and your wife could work to your advantage. You won’t be able to fall into a comfortable state of assuming you know all about her. You will always have to keep an open mind.”
Every married couple has to find a way to reach across the “cultural gap” of being separate individuals.
In the early years of our marriage, when David and I lived at Ananda Village, in the hills near a small town in California, our weekly “town trips” were part of the lifestyle. There were few services at the Village, and a long list of errands would add up.
Every week, just before going into town, David would say, “We have a lot of things to accomplish, and we need to start early to make sure we can meet the challenge.”
I would always counter by saying that the trip would be an easy one, there was no reason to feel pressured, and we could sleep in and start late.
After several years, I happened to read in a popular western astrology book a description of our respective sun signs. I don’t want to make too much of it, but at the time, it was an eye-opener!
David is an Aries. According to this book, Aries delight in confronting new challenges. In fact, they will often re-frame their ordinary life experiences to make them more challenging and therefore more fun to experience.
I am a Cancer. Cancers, by contrast, like the familiar and are often intimidated by too much challenge. So Cancers tend to reframe new experiences in terms of something familiar that is easy to deal with.
David’s enthusiasm for the difficulty of the town trip was the last thing I wanted to hear. My description of it as the same old trip we’d taken many times was equally unwelcome to his ears!
We were being true to our inner natures, but our respective “countries” have different cultures. That simple realization turned what had been, at times, a tense dispute, into an amusing—eventually, even charming—difference between us! A great victory in marriage!
In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda gives the following advice for understanding and communing with other people:
“Withdraw deeply to your own center; then think of and focus your mind at his center. You will see that, from your center to his, there forms a connection—as if your two islands, seemingly separated by ocean water, were connected more deeply by the earth underneath. Everyone who is not you is simply your own deeper Self, manifested differently, in different forms, and even at different times.”
We can dissolve so many difficulties between people through this simple exercise. Swamiji continues:
“A sense of the oneness of all life helps the meditating yogi to approach God inwardly without fear or tension: to relax completely in divine love. Whatever happens in your life, you are one with the great sea of Truth. No one, however viciously he may treat you, can take away your love for God, or God’s love, in all eternity, for you. God, and God alone, is your true treasure.”
Swamiji’s commentary is an expression of the commentaries that Paramhansa Yogananda wrote, more than half a century ago. When Yogananda completed that manuscript, he exclaimed, “A new Scripture has been born!” Then he said, “Millions will find God through this book. I know – I have seen it.”
One may naturally ask, “How can a book bring people to God?” The answer is: scriptures are not ordinary writing. Most books communicate words and ideas. A scripture transfers states of consciousness.
All of Yogananda’s writings, and most of Swamiji’s are, in this sense, scripture. The ink and paper are simply a means for transferring a high consciousness which is the true message.
When you attune to that consciousness, you see reality as great yogis see it. That attunement is what transforms our lives.
The unifying culture for all life is the Divine Self within.
Blessings and joy,