Yesterday I went to my local work place for the last time as a paid employee. I felt a sense of sadness at the end of an era. Accentuating the sense/feeling of melancholy was the title of the document I had to complete, a “Separation Form”. I joked with my team leader about the up-coming divorce, a divorce from the organization, the activities, and my colleagues.
There were many personalities I had worked with over the years, almost always in a mood of friendship and cooperation. (Not always of course, for instance, I recall going to work wearing a witch’s hat, which I had made up the night before, to lighten up mood and help me keep “face” as I apologized, because I’d been that other thing ending in itch.) Being in a wide spread organization, I had not seen some of them for years already, and now the chances of seeing them again was further diminished.
As I had been there for nearing two decades, quite a number had either retired, or moved to other jobs, other organizations, and other cities. Some had moved on to another life altogether, bowled over by the ball that hits us all sooner or later.
This contemplation on all these personalities who had come into my life and were now, in the main, fading out, expanded to looking at this pattern throughout my life. My family moved around more than most, so I went to a number of schools in the primary years. I barely remember most of my class mates. Perhaps this is so for many others, but it does contrast with someone who has gone through school years with the same cohort. Some even identify themselves with this label, “Class of ‘76” for instance. The advertisement for a class of ‘76 reunion at Cornell University reads: “Reunion. Then. Now. Always.”
This is intended to pull at the heart. Not only does the label “class of ‘76” become my identity, letting me know who I am, giving me a place in the world, and in this case, a relatively privileged one, but I have relationships built around this identity, and these relationships are permanent. Then. Now. Always.
But this is not the case. Whether, at one extreme, one lives as an itinerant, moving from place to place, rarely making long term connections with others, or lives in a small stable community, a village or town where everyone knows your name, and you live and die within 50 miles of your birth place, the same framework applies.
As the song goes, “All we are is dust in the wind.” Or as the yoga texts describe we are like twigs in a stream. The twigs come together for some time, and then the currents of time separate them. Maybe they will come together again, maybe they won’t.
The song gives a melancholy, even desperate, view of life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If we identify as these temporary roles, belonging to class of ’76, part of this one family, whether nuclear or extended, citizen of a particular village, town, country, a particular ethnicity, gender, age, and if we therefore consider our relationships are created around those identities, closest with others in the same group, like the twigs that have come together in the stream, then we will also experience the pain of being torn apart by the currents of time. But there is a solution.
We need to learn our real identity as eternal living being. “Atma” is the Sanskrit term, and denotes the living force, me, the actual awareness within the flesh and blood temporary body. We need also to become educated in the bigger picture, that this ever changing, dust in the wind world is also only temporary. We can transcend both the body and the world. We can realize that we have relationships with all living beings, not just those from the same class, or in the same type of body. We can develop an attachment with the Eternal, and realize all living entities as part of that Eternal. We can learn to relate on the eternal platform.
In such a state, we may experience melancholy and grief when we are separated from those we have become attached to, but our understanding of our eternal connection on a spiritual level can soothe or even override that pain, so we are not overcome by desolation. And I am speaking to myself here too. I recall when my sister died I was just that, desolated. One day I let the team know we were open for business, speaking over the PA, “If we can’t die, we might as well work.” They understood. But it is possible to come to this position where we mourn but are not in misery. We can continue to care for these persons—even for those whose material identities we no longer clearly recall.
So I send out my best wishes to all those from my past: those who I remember well, those whose names escape me, while the freckled faces, or long black plaits of their school yard bodies are still clear in my mind, and those who I cannot recall even on peering at yesteryear’s monochrome class photos; those with whom I worked with a year ago, a decade ago, or longer; those who worked so hard I felt inadequate and guilty; those I made cry and those who made me cry, those of us who laughed together; those I remember and those of whom the memory is misty water colored and fading, and those I forget completely. No offence is meant if I forget, and please excuse offenses that were made both now or in the past, and may all come to the happiness of knowledge.
Namaste folks. My journey with yoga and meditation has been a long one. I first did asana practice with my mother in the 1970’s, but this external practice did nothing to answer the deeper questions I was beginning to ask. Soon I was fortunate enough to meet someone who could, and to learn the process of meditation from him. Since that time, despite a tendency to get distracted, and stop and start, meditation has remained my central interest. Later in life I trained to formally teach asana classes, with a focus on alignment and teaching beginners. While I do not conduct asana classes as regularly these days, I do spend time mentoring teacher trainees, and find myself being drawn more into passing on the jewels of yoga philosophy and meditation. Hence these blogs!