by Lyn Kriegler
Life is like a ring. The ring is like the heart; when that is given, the gift is the heart itself. That is the sacred bond between husband and wife…Love is the only comprehensive code of conduct. Love is the very stream of truth, a river of wisdom. Let it not emanate from the head, or the tongue. Let it emerge full and free, from the heart. This is the highest duty; the noblest Godliness.
~ Sathya Sai Baba
This simple yet hard-hitting dictum of Bhagavan's had always captured my attention. Little did I know it would provide a timely lifeline when I would need it most in my later years.
My first marriage was built on youthful impetuosity and a simmering sense of rebellion. I had a deep desire to run away from it all -- meaning my family, my country, a comfortable but becoming-predictable job as a fashion illustrator, and running toward what I fondly thought was love at first sight. The attractive, adventure-loving man who proposed to me coaxed me into leaving everything behind and running away with him to the other side of the world. Accompanying him to his home in a far-flung Pacific country meant that I had to quickly learn a lesson in detachment at a young age. It was romantic, it was completely unacceptable to my family, who did not like my fiancé; it appealed to my inner longing for a real adventure. Altogether it was something to prise me from a comfortable, predictable existence in life in middle-class America.
One day, I simply walked out of my beautiful office in Washington, DC; sold my much-loved car to a friend; gave my adored cat to my sister; put a few treasured books, clothes and possessions into a couple of bags, and boarded an aircraft with him. I jetted to the other side of the world to a remote island of breathtaking natural beauty. I have made it my home for thirty-five years.
Our marriage, exciting at first, quickly became stormy and heartbreaking. It did not last. After four years of tears, one day he simply walked out, saying he no longer wanted the responsibility of being married to me; leaving me without funds, without a home, without anything but a suitcase full of terrible memories and unspeakable regret.
Somehow I picked up the pieces. I stayed in the island paradise. The beauty of the sea, the mountains and the golden beaches helped immeasurably. I relished long walks in the magnificent surroundings and glorious sun, the ever-changing cloud formations, the rainbows and sheets of color in the sky. The night skies were filled with brilliant galaxies of stars, shooting comets and constellations. The world of light. A friend in publishing, who had just returned from India gave me a book, Gita Vahini, my first introduction to Bhagavan Sathya Sai Baba. I found rewarding, well-paid work as a writer and artist.
Eventually I found the man who became my loving second husband -- the perfect match, and the balm that gradually helped to heal my broken heart. Together we studied the teachings of our beloved Bhagavan Sathya Sai, who brought us to His Feet in Prasanthi Nilayam, spoke with us intensely in interviews, and guided us through the looming pitfalls of our second-time-around-for-both of us, and strengthened it into an enduring spiritual marriage as well.
I thought I had well and truly buried the past. We were too young, my first husband and myself, I reasoned. He had his problems, and I was immature, overly trusting, naïve. It could happen to anyone. Everyone makes mistakes. Nothing lasts forever.
Twenty-nine years later....
My parents were clearing out their attic. They found a box of my old possessions, including a box of jewellery; left behind on one of my infrequent visits "home". I said I wanted it, so they put it in the mail. When the box arrived, the first thing I opened was the jewellery box. Out fell a pretty silver and turquoise ring that my first husband had made for me, years ago, when he was apprenticing as a jewellery-maker. I had forgotten all about it. I tried it on my little finger. I still liked it; it was very attractive. The gracefully bevelled, almond-shaped turquoise had a dark-green seam in it that looked like a little bird. There were no feelings towards him at all -- my first husband was a long-lost memory, sooner forgotten. So I was happy to wear the ring; it did not represent any attachment.
Or so I thought.
Two speakers from Prashanti Nilayam, Arthur and Poppy Hillcoat, came to our city and gave a stirring talk. Arthur mentioned that it was most important, in the days ahead, to work on any negative energies, feuds, ill-feelings, regrets and so on --unwanted baggage -- that might still be in our hearts. He mentioned that in these fast-moving times, spiritual knowledge without devotion is merely scientific investigation, interpretation, exploration, and hallucination. Swami has not said what is coming in the future, but that we should all be ready, as a huge awakening in human consciousness is not far away at all. Seek this knowledge now; get the answers to Who Am I? You are not the body, you are not the mind, you are the Divine Atma, resident in the spiritual heart. At any time, you can lose everything -- partner, health, children, money, friends, job. At any time you must be ready to let go, and realise that the only property is Who Am I. Then suffering and hardship cannot affect you. Devotion to God is your major priority. Devotion to God comes with true spiritual wisdom. If you are feeling frustrated, angry -- your devotion needs attention.
After their inspiring talk, I had a good house-clean in the more hidden regions of my heart. Did I still harbor any ill-feelings toward anyone? No. Well, yes. Him. My first husband. I was in for a very unpleasant surprise. All the old emotions, pain, anger, fury, heartbreak, sorrow, and grief, came flooding back. It felt like an eruption in my heart; it was like being at Baba's ashram, where all sorts of long-hidden emotions can suddenly break the surface and one is reduced to tears. What is happening to me? My mind went into overdrive, reliving old scenes, old arguments. In the end, I decided the memories were much too painful.
I remembered Swami's words on marriage: It is to kill the ego that two souls are brought together. They can learn to adjust to each other and forget their egos. Well, we had both failed miserably in that department, I thought. So I mentally wished him well, mumbled something about "I forgive you" and left it at that. Finished, all sorted, I thought. Bring on the Golden Age.
Things are not always that simple. Bhagavan has a way of making you conduct a thorough cleansing of your heart -- no half measures. He has always said He is the best dhobi (washerman): He gets your laundry whiter than white. And now I was unknowingly being readied for the heavy-duty cycle.
I was invited to a birthday party, which was also a reunion of sorts, with friends from my early days and my first marriage, who I had not seen in years. I ran into an old friend of my first husband's. We did not mention him -- but chatted animatedly, catching up with all the news in our lives. A few days later I received a letter from this friend -- and a jolt.
It was such a nice surprise to see you after so many years. Here's another surprise, but not such a good one. I got a call the other day to tell you that your first husband is in hospital after having a large tumor removed from his brain. It was malignant; they cannot remove it all. He is paralyzed down his left side, and is partially blind.
I phoned him today. He is in a recovery unit for people with brain damage, and about to begin chemotherapy. He is coherent, and he cried quite a lot, talking about his friends, beauty and kindness, his children (he had remarried). He has at most eighteen months to live.
It seems so interesting to have seen you so soon before I heard this news and talked to him. He asked if I could let you know what happened. I know he'd like to hear from you. I'm sorry to be the bearer of such news but it seems to be the right thing to do.
It took awhile for the words to take hold. I frowned, and tossed the letter on the floor. Serves him right. A little later, I picked it up, folded it carelessly, and put it in my purse. Later, I read the letter aloud to my beloved husband. In the middle of the night, troubling thoughts kept coming to the fore. Paralysis. Rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, inoperable tumor, eighteen months to live. A thankless, painful end ahead for him -- Stewart, that was his name -- no doubt laid up in a rest home or hospice. Go away and leave me alone. Where are all these terrible thoughts coming from?
Love is giving and forgiving; self is getting and forgetting.
A devotee friend, and long-time resident in Swami's ashram, remarked, surprisingly, "Well, don't forget that Swami fulfilled Easwaramma's last wishes before she passed away. Otherwise the person has to come back again in another life to have their desire fulfilled. Maybe you should fulfil this fellow's desire that you contact him."
Well, I could not accept that. After all, Swami is a Poornavatar, and the situation with His mother was quite different from this one. Wasn't it? Why open up a new chapter? Why say anything at all? Why let my mind agitate needlessly? Why start a new cycle of attachment?
There was quite a range of reactions going on, all simultaneously. I watched my mind darting hither and thither, first one conflicting thought, then another. One negative emotion after another. Like a monkey, picking up different pieces of fruit, I thought. Mind is like a mad monkey. Follow the God within, the spiritual heart. Swami's advice made it easier, at least, to tease out the giving, forgiving thoughts from the getting, forgetting thoughts.
If you are feeling frustrated and angry, your devotion needs attention.
My devotion needs attention.
When devotion develops, one resorts to the path of action. And then, one starts enquiring into what is transient and what is permanent, what is real and what is unreal… devotion should also be the unified expression of love for God, action in the service of God, and total surrender to the will of God. True devotion is a combination of selfless service and love. Devotion involves complete dedication. Not even a wisp of ego should be in you. True devotion is the love flowing from a pure heart unpolluted by selfish motives.
A pure heart. My heart was certainly in need of a thorough scrubbing.
I repeatedly asked Bhagavan, Help me. That night, He came in a powerful dream. His eyes were pouring into me, full of light. I heard Him saying Aum; He spoke; He touched my mouth and tongue. He showed me His Feet -- huge, strong, powerful. I grasped them for dear life.
When we begin to go through the process of finding our dream partner, our soulmate, I believe we are in fact looking for a physical form of God. In fact we expect our perfect partner to have divine qualities. We want someone with whom we can live in bliss -- total understanding, never a cross word, absolute compassion and sympathy and support in times of grief and loss. We seek perfect companionship, we want someone who will make us a complete person, a whole person. My better half. It is in fact a selfish position to take.
In fact, it is devotion to God that we really want to practice; we simply look for Him in the form of a human being who we can welcome home, touch, give presents to, celebrate life with, argue with, be devoted to…
So how do I deal once and for all with this recurring reminder of a long-over, nightmarish relationship? Action. Swami says there here has to be action. What kind of action? I felt drawn to a book where Swami defines prema, Divine Love.
In a worldly life, love between a husband and wife is infatuation, delusion, fancy, infatuation, moha. Love towards God is devotion. Love which gets tied up in one individual is called kama. That kind of prema has limitation, which is narrow and is confined to one place. It cannot be called prema in the real sense… the language of the heart is the same but when it comes to the tongue it takes various forms. When prema is fixed on the Lord, your mental makeup will slowly and steadily undergo a revolutionary change. Then you will share in the sorrows and joys of your fellow beings. When you love ME, you love all, for you begin to feel and know and experience that I am in all.
I could actually feel a movement in my heart when I read Swami's words. I felt He was guiding me, faultlessly, through another necessary spiritual lesson: Love all beings. See ME in each one. I am no different from them. I live in the heart of every being. Consciousness is the God within.
I still had no final answer within. I decided to do nothing, to wait for Bhagavan to give me an indication as to whether I should "do" anything. Somehow all this self-introspection was helping; it was painful, and I was beginning to feel a new emotion for a change: compassion. My thoughts were becoming a little less vitriolic. It had been a torrent, in the beginning, like a volcano letting off steam; it had all been about me. All that had been lurking in a deep, dark recess of my heart, so well hidden that it had fooled me for all those years. It was time to wash it out, once and for all. I could feel the spin cycle winding down; maybe it was time for the fabric softener. The fabric of my heart. Bhagavan is washing the fabric of my heart. The threads of cloth, of old lost loves whom one loves no more. Old regrets, bitterness; old hatreds and resentments unspoken, feelings of revenge and retaliation…
It was beginning to feel like a well-worn piece of cloth, my heart. As a result of all this introspection, it began to feel stronger, resilient, ready to put on and wear again. It was cleaner now; it felt lighter, colours brighter, stains all gone. I sound like a commercial for laundry detergent...there is a warmth there now. I don't have to write Stewart a letter, I don't have to make a phone call. I feel I can do everything from the level of my heart and my thoughts. Bhagavan has said many times: thinking is the most powerful thing you can do. I send loving thoughts to that long-lost man. Love is giving and forgiving. I forgive you for the hurt you caused me, I forgive myself for all those bad thoughts I had about you. I see you so differently now. When I think of you, I see only beloved Bhagavan. I can move forward. You can move forward. I wish you well.
That worked fine, for a couple of days. No more thoughts about him, at least, nothing like the torrents that haunted me the week before. But something was still niggling; like a very small ant, nipping me inside. You should send him something… I was actually beginning to feel as though someone was nagging me. Except that someone was inside me.
Help me, Bhagavan. Here are all my jumble of thoughts, wrapped up in a package just for You. I can't tell which is my mind, and which is You. Please take.
I picked out a photo of Baba, an article from an ashram magazine on the spiritual heart, put them in an envelope (no return address) and a short note to Stewart. I told my husband about it, and read him the note. He approved.
Your friend has told me about your situation. Past is past, don't feel you have to say a thing, you don't have to apologise... You are not the body, you are not the mind, you are the spiritual heart…and I let Baba's words, in the magazine article say the rest. I made sure, that night, to offer all I had done to Bhagavan.
That should do it.
Your nature is Divine. What happened along Life's way was that delusion covered it up with dust. When your dirty laundry goes to the washerman, he doesn't make your clothes white. They are actually white to begin with; only dirt has hidden the whiteness. All he does is to bring out the brightness of the colors. To do this, he needs two pure items: soap and water. He cannot manage without either of these. Similarly, in the case of the mind and the dirt covering its purity, two cleaning items are needed: the soap of Principle and the water of Practice.
The weekend came around. I had neglected the laundry all week. As I headed for the washing machine, laden with at least four loads, I enjoyed the sight of the sea, sparkling below our beautiful cottage; the bright marigolds in the garden, the pure air. I'm happy to be alive. Like a thunderbolt, I heard Swami's voice: CALL STEWART. NOW. "No, Swami. That's not Your voice", I began to argue. It's my mind again. No way would I ever, ever want to hear that mocking, teasing voice of his, ever. CALL HIM. CALL HIM. CALL HIM NOW.
I put the laundry in the machine, set it on extended wash cycle, and walked very slowly to the phone. I mentally said one of my favourite prayers, one that Dr. Jack Hislop taught me many years ago. If this is not Your Will, please prevent it from happening. The connection was direct and immediate. The groggy, croaking, parched voice I heard on the other end of the line was barely above a whisper.
I heard Swami's voice inside me, unmistakeable this time, clear, sweet: Hear him as AUM. See him as Light. Put him at My Feet.
The dream. The dream I had of Bhagavan two weeks before.
"How are you?" I asked.
Stewart cleared his throat. "Well, not so good, actually. The operation didn't heal very well. There's a blood clot in my leg now, too…brain cancer…the outlook's pretty bad. I have two lovely children.. I gave them names meaning Hope and Star..their mother is Fijian Indian...they don't look anything like me, beautiful teenagers now.."
"Did you get my note? And the picture? Did you read the article on the spiritual heart? You are not the body, you are not the mind; you are the spiritual heart, the Universal heart…"
His voice became a little stronger. "Yes, yes, I did. I know about Sai Baba, I've heard about Him…"
"I can send you some books if you like, but it may not be your kind of thing."
"Yes, yes, it is. I want you to take me to India, I want to see Him, talk to Him…"
"You'll have to talk to Him yourself, heart to heart. You don't need to go to India. He is there, right there in your heart. Look at His picture, talk to Him as if He is your dearest friend…I'll send you another package."
I could tell from his voice he was getting tired. I could hear a nurse in the background with the lunch tray, cheerful, matter-of-fact. I told him I wished him well. The nurse gave me the address of the rest home, nestled at the feet of a glorious, snow-capped mountain range, nine hundred miles away.
I sent another package, a simple one. A packet of vibhuti, recently arrived, with simple instructions on how to use the sacred ash. Two more photos of Swami, with hands raised in blessing. A copy of a much-loved book, blessed by Bhagavan, and written by a dear, departed friend, Mata Betty: Sathya Sai Baba: The Universal Heart.
The story may not end there, I know. Things feel as if they have come full circle, like the little turquoise ring I still wear on my little finger. I have since laid the story, and my actions, at Bhagavan's Feet – like the final scene in my dream. At present I feel no more need to call; there is only a quiet thankfulness in my heart. I heard recently that he has since passed away.
If there was ever a reason why we had to come together all those years ago, even for so short a time, maybe it was all leading, in the end, to this... when devotion develops, one resorts to the path of action. Devotion should be the unified expression of love for God, action in the service of God, and surrender to the will of God. Not even a wisp of ego should be in you. These are intertwined like the brain and woman's tresses... Principle, Practice, soap and water. Life is like a ring.
Love is the basic nature that sustains man and strengthens his resolve to march ahead. If you have no spring of love in you, dig into your heart with the instruments of worship and adoration, and it will start to flow. ~ Sathya Sai Baba
One of our regular contributors of both beautiful art and lively articles, Lyn Kriegler, decided to share portions of a very personal reflection with us. Lyn is a long-time devotee who is steeped in Bhagavan's Teachings, and this is really a story of how His Teachings, if we follow them faithfully, rescue and protect us from life's troubles.