Wisdom in Practice

Offering Service to an Aging Parent

“May God grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change, COURAGE to change the things I can, and WISDOM to know the difference.”   Although this famous prayer has always been an inspiration to me, I rely on it now more than ever as I helplessly watch my beloved 95-year-old mom fade away.  However,  it is only through the study of Vedanta/Tantra and devotion to the personal God that this little prayer has become so powerful for me.  Above all, I take refuge in Sri Ramakrishna/Holy Mother, for although through the guru/Guru, I am shown in infinite detail how to lead my life consciously and selflessly with its only goal being to reach the Truth, I often fail to follow.  All teachings are met in Them.

When I am with my mother it becomes a kind of karma yoga, albeit in a very intimate form, and I am sometimes filled with the pride of service, if only in a subtle way, that Holy Mother guards us against.  Samskaras of the past, such as feeling the rebellion of a teenage daughter (even though I am in now my 60’s !!!), sometimes cloud my vision, as do other obstacles, or kleshas, making me feel impatient or frustrated.   I am so grateful to have had my mom’s loving companionship for all these years, but I realize it has not been so for many others.  Therefore,  although this is one of the most difficult passages in my own life, it has been an opportunity to open my heart to all who suffer, starting with my mother herself.

It also is a source of ceaseless amazement to me to see how the One has become the many, with all their unique feelings and experiences, and to see how the dual opposites and the gunas of nature unfold in our lives.  I find comfort in the lesson of the Bhagavad Gita (Chap. 12) where Sri Krishna grants compassion for our weaknesses.  He says that even if we cannot yet keep our mind on Him in every moment,  we can take time to reflect on Him after our service is done, which I strive to do after emotional times with my mother.  The teachings of Vedanta explain so completely, as nothing else ever has for me, what life is all about and, therefore, death as well.   By knowing “who I am,” and knowing the nature of the world, I can put everything in perspective.   

Akshaya-bhaktiOne of the hardest things to deal with has been my mom’s depression, which proceeds from her feelings that the world has changed for the worse, and that in her debilitation she has now become useless  While I am relieved that she is not clinging to life, it pains me to see that she has come to the end of her life without drawing any positive conclusions.  She has no sense of her true Self and ultimate worth as pure Consciousness.  By contrast, I cannot fall into such delusion, since Vedanta has taught me that we are not the body, and that it is only our attachment to it that brings us suffering.  By the same reasoning, I should not be attached to my mother as a body.  I have learned to accept the world as it is, with the understanding that it is Maya, whose very nature is change, and yet it is eternal; and to know that all is insentient except for God.  True Reality is unchanging.  I can even find joy here on earth if I witness it as God’s Lila and know that all is Brahman.  I have tried to share this wonder with her in general terms, but she is now beyond all consolation.  May she find Peace in her own time, and her own way.   

As I finish this reflection it is Kalpaturu, or the Wishfulfilling Day (also New Year’s day), when Sri Ramakrishna granted illumination to the devotees.  I pray to Siva Mahadev (in my own words, but as first heard in the Ode to Siva on a Jai Ma Music recording) that as I age, and my mind grows weak, to please never let me forget You and Your wisdom teachings!