My guru once said to a visitor complaining about her suffering, "I love suffering. It brings me so close to God." In this same way, I've learned that the incidents associated with aging - including this stroke - can be used for our spiritual healing, provided we learn to see through new eyes.
Although my outward life has been radically altered, I don't see myself as a stroke victim. I see myself as a Soul who's watching "him" experience the aftermath of this cerebral hemorrhage. Having accepted my predicament, I'm much happier than I was before. This troubles some of the people around me. They have told me that I should fight to walk again, but I don't know if I wanted to walk. I'm sitting - that's where I am. I'm peaceful like this and I am grateful to the people who care for me. Why is this wrong? Though I can now stand and move around with a walker, I've grown to love my wheelchair (I call it my swan boat) and being wheeled about by people who care. They carry Chinese emperors and Indian maharajas on palanquins; in other cultures, it's a symbol of honor and power to be carried and wheeled. I don't believe it's all-important to be what our culture calls "optimal."
Before the stroke I wrote a great deal about the terrible things that can happen in aging, and how to cope with them. Now I'm happy to say that having gone through what some would view as the worst, it's not so bad after all.
Getting old isn't easy for a lot of us. Neither is living, neither is dying. We struggle against the inevitable and we all suffer because of it. We have to find another way to look at the whole process of being born, growing old, changing, and dying, some kind of perspective that might allow us to deal with what we perceive as big obstacles without having to be dragged through the drama. It really helps to understand that we have something - that we are something - which is unchangeable, beautiful, completely aware, and continues no matter what. Knowing this doesn't solve everything - this is what I encountered and told about in Be Here Now, and I've still had my share of suffering. But the perspective of the soul can help a lot with the little things, and it is my hope that you'll be able to take from this book some joy in being "still here."
Recently, a friend said to me, "You're more human since the stroke than you were before." This touched me profoundly. What a gift the stroke has given me, to finally learn that I don't have to renounce my humanity in order to be spiritual - that I can be both witness and participant, both eternal spirit and aging body. The book's ending, which had eluded me, is now finally clear. The stroke has given me a new perspective to share about aging, a perspective that says, "Don't be a wise elder, be an incarnation of wisdom." That changes the whole nature of the game. That's not just a new role, it's a new state of being. It's the real thing. At nearly seventy, surrounded by people who care for and love me, I'm still learning to be here now.
Slipping Out of Zumbach's Coat
Birthdays were never traumatic for me, largely because I tried to ignore them. They came and went, I aged and forgot, and went along my merry way until I arrived at 60. That year, for the first time, I began to take notice of how old I was. In India, where I've spent a great deal of time, entering one's seventh decade is a defining moment, the threshold to a stage of life when we're meant to turn away from worldly things and focus attention on God. This seemed like a momentous passage, and during that birthday week I surrendered to three different parties, in three different parts of the country, each celebrating my coming of age.
For about six months, I tried "being" sixty, thinking of myself in that context. I wondered about how my life should change, who I should work toward becoming now that I was officially old. I thought about winding up my worldly affairs and, though most of my life had been devoted to spiritual matters, retreating even further from worldly temptations. But after a half-year, this notion began to seem like a bogus mind trip. Nothing had changed inside me; I didn't feel at all like sixty - or any age whatsoever - and as for giving up my outer activities, I was busier than ever. I decided to give up on being an old man and returned to the life I had before, forgetting that I was aging.
Reprinted from Still Here by Ram Dass by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Ram Dass. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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