Meet Lisa, a YA living in San Francisco. We heard from Lisa at the beginning of the blog, and this week she writes about how satsang (spiritual fellowship) has impacted both her practice and her everyday life.
Most of us have experienced moments when one isolated incident – a chance encounter, a near-fatal accident, the death of someone we love, even a tragedy read about in the morning paper – suddenly brings into sharp focus the central questions of existence. Why am I here? What happens after death? How ought I to live? We turn inwards in reflection; but if we cannot go deep into ourselves, the surface pattern of everyday living soon closes in again and the questions are forgotten. (Essence of the Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran)
I’ve always been able to take satsang a bit for granted. Growing up in a household where both my parents meditate, and my siblings – though not meditators – are fully versed in Easwaran’s teachings means I’ve always been around people who speak the same spiritual language. I’ve also always been able to attend BMCM retreats a few times a year, forging great friendships with other YAs. I’ve definitely been lucky that I’ve never felt starved for spiritual fellowship. Because of this, I think I never fully appreciated how powerful satsang could be, until this past year.
Lisa (seated on the floor – center) with the YA Cohorts at last summer's weeklong retreat, July 2014.
Last summer a friend of mine passed away suddenly. This was the first time that a close friend had passed away without warning and it was hard.
As I navigated my personal interactions surrounding my friend’s death I observed something very interesting – many of my non-meditating friends didn’t know what to do. Mutual friends of my friend who passed away were really struggling with how to “make sense” of our loss, full of anger, and increasingly overwhelmed. I found that friends of mine weren’t sure what how to comfort me, or how to express their sympathies, and many of them couldn’t bring it up.
On the YA eSatsang (YA email fellowship group), YAs on occasion will write in requesting mantrams for a personal crisis, or an ill family member. I wrote in and asked for mantrams for my friend. I found so much comfort from the emails that came in reply, many from YAs I’d never met. I was amazed at how much they helped! My email request led to emails, texts, and chats from YA friends I’ve made over the years all of whom were quick to lend their support.
Mantram art sent to Lisa from a YA friend.
Easwaran writes often about death – and he’s always incredibly direct. But he writes this way for a reason! I’ve found in myself, and observed in others, that (even if we’re not trying) this practice gives us tools we can use to deal with death, a time that can be scary and full of uncertainty. Having a mantram gives my mind something to hang onto when I’m agitated, and an easy way to say a prayer for someone else. Putting others first means that even when I feel awkward or unsure, I’ll try and find a way to reach out to someone who might need it. And, of course, there’s always meditation.
Over a retreat last summer I memorized the passage “What is Real Never Ceases” from the Bhagavad Gita. When I learned the news of my friend’s death they leapt to my mind:
The Self dwells in the house of the body, which passes through childhood, youth, and old age. So passes the Self at the time of death into another body. The wise know this truth and are not deceived by it.
What is real never ceases to be. The unreal never is. The sages who realize the Self know the secret of what is and what is not.
Know that the Self, the ground of existence, can never be destroyed or diminished. For the changeless cannot be changed.
This passage continues to be a great comfort to me.
Easwaran’s message about death, and it’s place in our everyday life, is often so opposite to what we see in our everyday media:
Death should never be faceless; death is always personal. Whether it is someone in our home, or a child on the other side of the globe, or even one of God’s creatures like the elephant or the fox, all of us love life; all of us fear death. This is the unity that binds us all together, and as our eyes begin to open to it, we shall see life’s transiency everywhere we go. (The Undiscovered County by Eknath Easwaran)
This practice gives us powerful tools to deal with death when it touches our personal lives, but also to lend support to others around us.
I thank the many people who supported me, and encourage all of us to reach out wherever we can to help others.