I thought I understood the nature of Aatmaa, your Divine Self. It made sense to me that “the formlessness of your inner Essence, Aatmaa, is eternal and never decays. You are an infinite being, having a human experience.” Yes! However, I now realize that what you learn with your mind is nothing compared to what you experience in your heart. You may think you understand something, but until you experience it on the inside, it remains a theory.
I recently had the privilege of tending to and being present with my mother through the last week of her life. Day by day, I experienced the truth of Shankaracharya’s Vivekachudamani:
“Aatmaan is birthless and deathless. It neither grows nor decays. It is unchangeable, eternal. It does not dissolve when your body dissolves.”
As her body systematically shut down, she shed her limitations; the radiance of the One Self being her expanded exponentially. I sat in awe. I chanted mantras. I lay beside her in bed and read to her, and did mundane things like manicures and looking through photos. I listened to her process, how she was figuring out what was left to be resolved, as she shared her vivid dream life and random thoughts. She was shifting in and out of God’s time, the Eternal Self.
I stayed steady in my own Self, going along on an amazing cosmic ride through time and space. This openness utterly took me by surprise. Fear of my mother’s death had haunted me since childhood. As a dear friend reminded me, I’d told her to expect me calling in hysterics when Mom passed. Yet, when she did, I was sad yet fearless, and grateful for it all. Even as I was surrounded by other’s deep grief, I felt full inside, closer to my mom than ever. What happened? How did she cross the ocean of this world without me being shattered?
First, I was aware that Aatmaa was not born when my mother was born! Aatmaa is being all that exists in form, and beyond form, while being you, me and everything. This Self that you are is sustaining you, bringing your mind and senses into existence: making your eyes able to see, your ears hear, your tongue taste, and your mind think. Yet when each of these senses dissolve, which I witnessed happening in my mom, Aatmaa does not die. There is no death, even as the physical body decays and expires.
As my mom’s desires and identities faded away, there was only Presence left. It didn’t feel like our relationship was slipping away, but actually solidifying. There was more of me with her than ever before. I was experiencing svaroopavidya; the experiential knowing of my own Self.
Most people view death as a transition into a better “place,” moving into the light or finding God at last. But a yogi doesn’t wait until death for the liberation of the light, of God, of knowing the Self. The purpose of a yogi’s whole life is to live in the Self NOW. Teachers take it to another level, spreading that inner effulgence into the world. Without the practices of yoga, I would not have been was able to abide in such peace during my mom’s transition.
I was also given the great gift of time (years of caregiving with my mom) and a supportive and loving husband. And throughout it all, I felt cocooned within my Guru’s grace. I realized that without Shaktipat initiation, I would have been burdened by the weight of my past karmas, stuck in my head, stuck in my “stuff.” Instead, I felt clear and present. Without mantra repetition, my mind might have spun into old limited fears around death. And without the foundation of meditation, I would have been lost! In Swami Muktananda’s book Does Death Really Exist?, he describes it this way:
“When we meditate, we become established in the seat of the inner Self, and then we are liberated from death.”
I will be learning from my mother’s departure for many years to come. It will be an integral part of my sadhana, and of what I know myself to be, Consciousness-Itself. On the day of her death, my family and I walked along the beach. It was a glorious Indian summer day. The monarch butterflies were everywhere! “A sign from mom” they said joyfully, “there she is!” I said to myself, “Yes, and there I am”. For in yoga, there is no here or there, no you or me, no beginning and no end. There I am, there you are, being Shiva, for there is only the One, being All.
OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah