Lord Krishna says the Atma or soul is indestructible. That it has neither birth nor death. He consoles Arjuna on the battlefield, telling him not to mourn those who die since they are merely giving up one body for another, shedding it like a worn out pair of clothes.
We had a serious discussion about this point. It’s not an easy one to accept or implement in real life. As women, we are compassionate by nature and especially attached to our family and friends, our children and our pets, and yes even our bodies, of which we take great care. It is hard to imagine just letting go, celebrating the fact that the soul has discarded its old shell and is off to new beginnings.
Sometimes, though, the soul that is passing makes that moment easier by rejoicing in it. One of the group members shared the story of her mother’s passing from cancer, which devastating as it could have been at a time when her children and grandchildren were still relatively young, was made beautiful by her mother’s complete faith in God, her obvious detachment to the world she was leaving behind, and her joy at the prospect of a new beginning. Such passings are rare, however. Most of us go out kicking and screaming, fighting for one more breath, one more day, leaving behind agonized family and friends who must cope with the loss.
We talked about what it is we mourn when those we love move on. Is it for them, or for us, that we grieve? The dead are gone, and we grieve our loss, as our member said, she missed the opportunity to share things with her mother, to have her around for her grandchildren. She grieved for her own loss.
We came to the conclusion that loss is what we all fear most, and loss is what causes us to grieve. So while Lord Krishna urges us to let go, it is not love or compassion or empathy but the sense of loss that we have to relinquish.
I had a chance this week to practice letting go. We had a scare with our dogs, both of them were sick and we were running to the vet nearly every day for a week. It occurred to me as I sat in the waiting room with my trembling dogs that if things turned out to be serious, I could easily lose one or both of them. And though they are my most precious babies and I adore them, I was able to step back and think about the idea of them discarding one body to move on to the next, the Atma remaining unchanged and eternal. I was able for a moment to envision the loss and not be overwhelmed by it, but to bid goodbye and good luck to my fur babies if it was indeed their time to go. I am grateful, I thought, for these years with you, and I wish you well on your future journey. It is selfish, even foolish for me to grieve. Fortunately, things were not as serious as I had imagined but I was proud of the fact that I had faced possible loss and remained calm.
Our homework for the week was to identify not with the temporary body but with the eternal Atma.
Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons