I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of happy retirees enjoying themselves in an exotic faraway place, or enjoying a comfortable life at home. I suspect the thought of wanting to be a snowbird after retirement has at times crossed your mind. But, have you ever thought of the opposite situation in old age – such as one of some serious medical affliction, or of the loss of one’s spouse to death or dementia?
In speaking with people in such dire conditions, and with some caregivers, I have wondered if an antidote exists to the loneliness and immensely crushing burden such situations can bring. Especially if there is no immediate family nearby, if there are no close friends with whom the pain could be shared. Sometimes, even the support of family and friends may seem to bring only temporary relief. Is there something that can bring longer lasting serenity for the tormented?
What do most of us do when faced with turbulent events in life? We pray. Even those of us who have had lapses in going to a place of worship, even those of us who have not remembered the sacred higher power in the universe for a long time – we pray with faith and fervour. Why? It brings some calm and some comfort; and perhaps feelings of re-assurance that we are not alone in this arduous journey.
As we age, the need of a connection with the higher power becomes more and more important. Why not cultivate this all through life?
That is one of the basic teachings of Hinduism – to nourish not only the body but the spirit as well throughout life – right from birth all the way until death liberates the soul from the body. It is this spiritual nourishment that gives us the strength to face the severe and sometimes unbearable blow of an event such as I mentioned earlier. It even helps us face death without fear, but rather with peacefulness and acceptance.
Setting aside the need for well-developed spiritual strength to face dark circumstances and their consequences on our mind, body and spirit, the cultivation of spirituality all through our lives helps us become a better person. We Hindus firmly believe that daily religious worship, service to others, and devotion to God, elevates us to a higher level, eventually enabling our souls to achieve moksha – which is the liberation of the soul from the trap of worldly existence in a human body undergoing trials, tribulations and suffering. Even if our soul does not achieve moksha at the end of this life, we have opportunities in a future life; we have laid a strong foundation in this life with our spiritual work.
Another thing that needs to be mentioned in this discussion is the changing attitudes of youngsters in relation to the elders. In Hinduism, we believe strongly in respect for elders, which apparently is somewhat in decline, even in India. Of course, we are unlikely to go back to the ancient ways when elders in general, and parents in particular, were considered worthy not only of respect but also of worship. Hindu mythology has many stories of such high regard for parents by their children. The care and respect that children show towards their parents, and which youngsters display towards elders in general, can be a great source of comfort and peace for the elders. Care in the past also included children taking care of their ailing parents instead of sending them off to senior residences or care facilities. But in present day societies, that has become impractical, and many times impossible due to the scattering of family members away from each other.
In conclusion, being alone and facing the tsunamis in life does not have to be daunting or debilitating – the spiritual strength that we have built up throughout life always carries us through.