I grew up in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. I didn’t know that we were poor. Except for a couple of families, everyone I knew was poor. I never felt deprived of food, clothing or shelter. My life was neither sad nor happy — it just was.
Once I moved away to a bigger city, I was too busy just making a living and taking care of family. But somehow very deep in my being, I knew there was SOMETHING MORE to Life — something I was missing.
The ancient sages of India say there are four goals in life: fulfilling responsibilities, creating and utilizing wealth, enjoying pleasures and ultimate freedom/enlightenment. There are also four stages of life: student, householder, retiree, and renunciant. Together, these provide a useful overview of life: where we have been, where we are now and where we are heading. There are patterns in the unfolding of our lives, just like seasons in a year.
In each stage of life, you experience all four goals of life, yet one becomes the focus. Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way:
How beautiful that the four stages give you a chance to focus on each of those strands in sequence, yet without losing the whole. You could think of it as a balanced life – to enjoy pleasures while being careful with your money, fulfilling your responsibilities, and developing your spirituality. It’s a rich and full life.
As a student, your focus is on learning your responsibility to family and society, yet you live within your allowance and enjoy activities. Yet there are times when you wonder, “Isn’t there something more?”
As a householder, you ensure financial security for your family, handling many more responsibilities, all the while enjoying some pleasures. Still, there are times when you wonder, “Isn’t there something more?”
As a retiree, you focus on pleasures, still having responsibilities to others and managing your money for a comfortable retirement. And there are times when you wonder, “Isn’t there something more?”
As a renunciant, your focus turns to this question, “What is the something more?” You still participate in life, with responsibilities as well as managing money, and you still get to experience pleasure. But the external world does not have the same appeal any more. You turn your attention inward; you are ready to discover who you really are. The Self.
Life must be lived. In your first three stages, spirituality takes a back seat. In the last stage of your life, it becomes the most important thing.
I was born wondering, “Isn’t there something more?” In my first two stages of life I felt something was missing. I had no idea what it was, the feeling just hung somewhere in the back of my being. It wasn’t until my third stage of life that I found yoga, first yoga poses and then meditation.
Now I am so very grateful that yoga is here, both for me and within me, always. With my developing spirituality, I am now leading a more balanced life. It is, as Swamiji says, a “rich and full life”.
To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.