Vanaprastha-Where Should I be in my Life

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I was recently talking with my son who is a monk in Self Realization Fellowship.  He will be 31 in May and is quite wise, continually advising me.  He surprised me by asking when I wanted to “retire?”  As I will be 60 in October, I’ve thought about this and said probably when I’m around 67 in order to maximize my social security benefits.  However, having always been a very active person my thinking was that I could go on forever, doing what I’m doing, giving it my all, without a need for rest.  But I’ve come to realize this isn’t the case. 

In an e-mail, my son quoted the following to me from Paramahansa Yogananda:

‘If you continually write out checks without depositing anything in your bank account, you will run out of money.  So it is with your life.  Without regular deposits of peace in your life account, you will run out of strength, calmness, and happiness.  You will finally become bankrupt -- emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.  But daily communion with God will continually replenish your inner bankroll.

Too often we write out checks of energy and do not replace energy funds.  If we write out checks and keep on putting money in the bank, our account will always show a balance in our favor, and we will not miss what we spend.  But if we keep on writing checks and do not deposit more funds in our bank account, it will soon be overdrawn.  So it is with the body.  If we write out checks of energy and do not put back any more energy, we will become weak.  But if we replenish our bodies with energy, we will never feel tired.  Nothing can heal but life force.  The whole purpose of true exercise is to awaken the inner source of energy which we have ignored throughout our lives.  How to awaken that inner source?  By sending life energy into the body by will power. (Referring to the Energization Exercises)

This quote feels very relevant to my life as for most of my career I’ve worked as someone wanting to make a difference, which means I’m typically outward focused and always writing out checks.  I’ve especially done this living in India and Nepal for more than seven years without much focused rest and on some level this now seems to have taken a toll on me.  I have no regrets about changing my life in my early 50’s but maybe I should have been looking more towards where I was at in my life.  Maybe I should have tried to be much more balanced and not as focused on the work, whether it was volunteer or paid, which has actually never been a lot.   After all, given our world, and until we really focus on eliminating poverty, there will always be those who have less. 

My son also recently sent me an article The Four Ashramas: A Spiritual Life-Plan for Success and Fulfillment by Brother Satyananda which appeared in Self-Realization magazine 2013.  I am in the third stage of life in the Vedic framework which is known as Vanaprastha -- retirement or contemplation.  This is a time of stepping back a bit from active life.  The essence is: restructure, rejuvenate, renew, aim toward a deeper spiritual life, centering lifestyle increasingly around sadhana, cleansing heart and mind to awaken divine inspiration.  We can reboot ourselves now, and create a fresh start -- not by getting rid of our physical forms but by shedding as much as we can of the useless baggage, physical and emotional, that we have been carrying in this life.

Vanaprastha is all about refreshing our dreams -- and connecting them closely with our spiritual aspirations.  So refashion a life to match the highest aspirations of your soul.  Your dreaming now can be more powerful, more wise, than it was when you were young.  And you will be setting a course that goes beyond this life.  Your dreams have that power. 

Visualize a new you.  Visualize a modern yogi-disciple with a new lifestyle.  What would it be like?  What would your day be like?  Make it realistic.  Make a timeline for yourself.  Dream about these things, even if it seems impossible.  Because the impossible starts with a dream.  "Imagination is not unreal," he says; "it is the borderland of what is yet to be real.  Everything you imagine can be created by a will that is guided by wisdom." 

For whatever reasons, I haven’t taken the usual route, possibly making things more complicated then they needed to be.  Maybe this is my karma or maybe this had to do with having lived what I thought was a typical life until I was shattered by a divorce, causing me to rethink everything.  Maybe this had to do with realizing that I could totally change my life.  It doesn’t really matter because here I sit, many years later, approaching retirement.

If I was Nepali I would have already retired.  Being in one’s 60’s though is typically the time to retire throughout the world.  Of course if one has enough resources then one can retire sooner, however I never really thought about this as in this life I haven’t focused on money.  Should I have?

Although I enjoy my work, as it has the possibility to really make a difference, I seem to have reached a wall.  My body is telling me to maybe start thinking more about Vanaprastha and give way to younger people with more energy.  What more should I hope to achieve and why should I continue to push so very hard when my bank account seems to be approaching empty? 

A major part of this is acceptance as to where I am in my life.  Although I’m not a grandfather, there is always this possibility. One of my friends just became a grandmother, but for me this is very strange to think about especially given society’s focus on maintaining youth.  In Nepal, I still go out on the basketball court and play against young men who are younger than my children because people my age don’t play. 

I’m trying to think of what might be down the road, to visualize a new me but this isn’t so easy.  I’ve made a spread sheet, looking at what might be next when the time is right.  But I do know that I want to be part of a community, something that I haven’t felt part of for a long time.  I also know that I need to deepen my spiritual life and maybe that will help with feeling more connected. I also know that I need to find more happiness so that I can continue helping others with a maximum amount of energy.  I want to have a life partner and also want to do more yoga.

I get that life is full of challenges and certainly I continue to be challenged.  Nothing is straight forward and maybe I didn’t totally realize the difficulties involved especially in my work life.  But I do feel that there are solutions, although they are probably many years in the making. 

I think though that a lot of this comes down to being comfortable with Vanaprastha and doing what I can to step back, even a little in starting to create who I will become. 






Position: Lover of Life-Change Agent

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