There are times when life seems to bear down on us. It’s difficult then to remain positive amidst the challenges in our life, and that we see in the lives of others, and in the world at large. Yet in this world of duality, the alternating waves of joy and sorrow are a constant. It’s how we deal with them that keeps us either forever tossed on the crashing waves of maya, or resting in the unmoving peace of God.
We had a very dear friend at Ananda, Nayaswami Maria Warner, who battled cancer for many years until her passing in 2010. In the face of repeated surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, she never lost her resilience, nor her desire to serve and seek God.
Finally, in the last months of her life it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain. As her husband, who was struggling with the thought of what lay ahead, pushed her in a wheelchair into the hospital, she looked up at him and calmly said: “Detach yourself. Control the reactive process. Live the teachings.” These profound words have become known as “Maria’s Mantra,” and have offered guidance and solace to many in the midst of their own struggles.
How do we find the wisdom and strength to rise above life’s challenges? Try to see the bigger picture, of which we are only an infinitesimally small part. In other words, put yourself in the context of a larger scheme of things, and live in life’s longer rhythms.
Once Swami Kriyananda needed to have some painful dental work done, and declined anesthetic because he didn’t like the feeling of dullness it caused. He later told us that during the procedure, he thought, “I’ve had a long, rewarding life filled with many happy memories. This present pain is just one moment in the whole scheme of my life’s experiences.” Everything went smoothly, and Swamiji ended up composing music in his mind as the dentist worked.
It’s also good to take time out and absorb yourself in the vast vistas of nature. Jyotish and I just spent a week by the ocean walking along beautiful coastal trails. We were filled with joy at the power of great, crashing waves, and with wonder at the amazing diversity of life in the tide pools. It was wonderfully refreshing and uplifting.
Go into nature and gaze at scenes that expand your consciousness: mountains, the ocean, or a star-filled sky. Remember, however, that what we behold outside of us is only a reflection of what lies within.
Swami Kriyananda used to enjoy describing a cartoon that he’d once seen in The New Yorker magazine. It showed a pompous businessman with his wife gazing up at the stars. She had obviously asked him a question, and his reply in the caption was: “Make me feel small? Not at all. I was just made regional manager for my company.” Life’s wonders are lost on the self-absorbed.
To see the big picture, we must first expand our consciousness through meditation. Feel joy within, and then behold it in the beauty of flowers. Feel love within, then behold it in the great diversity of life. Feel calm expansion within, then feel the peace of the infinite reach of stars. Feel unmoving stillness within, and see it reflected in the mountains. Feel God’s limitless power, and see it in the crashing waves and ocean deeps.
Ultimately, however, it’s not enough only to see the big picture—we must become it. This is the way of self-transcendence.
Master expresses this in so much of what he has given us. There’s his chant: “I am the bubble / Make me the sea. / Wave of the sea / Dissolve in the sea.” And his poem “Samadhi” concludes with the words:
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.
That is the whole journey of life in a nutshell: Find the tiny bubble of joy within you and expand it until you become the ocean of unlimited bliss. Then, whatever life brings, you know you are a part of something much greater, of something eternal.
Your friend in God,