As the anniversary of the New Life period of Baba’s advent draws near, I find myself thinking of Baba’s familiar message “This New life is endless. . .”, in particular, the line where Baba describes one of the conditions of the New Life for the disciple: “. . .and who, without being upset by calamities, bravely and wholeheartedly faces all hardships with one hundred percent cheerfulness,. . .”
This idea of cheerfulness became enlivened in my mind years ago because of something that happened to me at the East West Gathering in 1962. During one of the early morning sessions when western followers were sitting with Baba, He began asking different ones about their health, their work, and their families back home. Suddenly without warning, Baba turned to me and gestured: “Always keep cheerful in My Love.” I remember nodding happily simply because Baba had noticed me. At the time, I was aware that Baba had given me a direct order but I was eleven years old and had no understanding of what ‘keeping cheerful’ meant.
As a result of this seemingly simple exchange, cheerfulness became an ongoing theme in my life. Needless to say, as I trekked through my daily existence, I began to realize that cheerfulness was something that actually required effort on my part. Heaven forbid! Sounds a bit naïve, I know, but when I was young, I was by nature an outgoing and happy person. So cheerfulness was kind of effortless. It seemed quite wonderful that Baba would give the ‘cheerfulness order’ to someone who was already cheerful! The spiritual life didn’t look so difficult; what was all the fuss about? In an adolescent way, I thought that certain attributes and strengths, such as surrender and trust, would just come naturally, without any effort on my part. Of course, I was an adolescent when this spiritual view had its hey day. Not surprisingly, after a while, I began to realize that if I really wanted to please Baba, I would have to work at my inner life – including inner cheerfulness! I’ve come to believe that being cheerful means not allowing myself to be brought down by what Baba brings up. And, that this inner attitude of cheerfulness comes from relying wholly on Baba. It is He who is stirring me up, and it is He who wants me to focus on Him in the midst of the hailstorm.
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges to cheerfulness is depression, something I’ve encountered on and off in my life. When the darkness descends, the effort it takes to rise above those feelings of unhappiness and even despair can seem insurmountable. At those times, the only thing I can do is call out His name. Usually, nothing changes in that moment, but if I keep doing it, eventually the inertia of the dark mood begins to pass and slowly I begin to pull out of it.
On one of my visits to India, Baba’s sister, Mani, shared a personal story with me that has given me much solace through the years. One day I was out at Meherazad, visiting time was over and everyone was making their way out to the bus. Somehow, I found myself standing alone under the archway by the caravan. Suddenly, Mani appeared by my side and stood with me; it was just the two of us. She asked me about a friend of mine, someone she knew well. It so happened that I had just spoken with this woman before leaving on the trip. I told Mani truthfully that my friend was depressed. I, too, was feeling depressed but I didn’t tell her that. To my utter surprise, Mani began telling me about an experience she had had a few months before. She had had a very serious case of the flu and was bedridden for two weeks. She described how she was so ill that she found herself filled with despair, so much so, that she had no desire to even stretch out her arm to get something off the dresser next to her bed. After about a week of feeling completely miserable, one day, two images came unbidden into her mind.
The first was a memory of Margaret Craske and the day she was teaching the “girls” how to swim at Ventura beach near Bombay. The women were, of course, laden with clothing that pulled them down repeatedly beneath the surface of the water. Consequently, Mani was becoming more and more frustrated. Finally, she became so angry that, when she came up sputtering for the last time, she yelled out angrily: “Margaret: How do you come up?!” Unperturbed, Margaret replied with a smile, “Mani dear, just keep your head up!”
The second image that came into her mind was one of Baba’s hands holding an open book. Baba was pointing to a page, saying, “Look, Mani, see the story?” Then He turned a few pages and pointed again, saying, “See Mani, see how the story is different?” He continued to turn the pages, stopping to show her how the story kept changing. She then heard Him say, “Remember, dear sister, I wrote the story.” Mani felt deeply comforted by these images, knowing they came from her beloved brother. Immediately, her despair began to lift. I was deeply touched that Mani shared this with me, not only because she wasn’t often personal, but also because she was one of the most extraordinary examples of cheerfulness in my life.
Another constant example in my life was Kitty. Outwardly, she appeared almost always cheerful. However, as she would tell Buz and me, inwardly, that wasn’t always the case. In the early days, when she lived in the ashram, she often fell prey to moods. She didn’t even realize it until Baba would see her and say, “I don’t want garlic-faced people around Me. You must make an effort to be cheerful. Don’t be garlic faced.” For Kitty, pleasing Him meant making this effort. And what a great impact this effort had on so many people who were touched by the lives of these amazing women – Mani and Kitty.
Often times if I take His name and just begin to act cheerfully, even though I don’t really fell it, my actions will begin to awaken a lightness within me. Like some Divine improvisational theater exercise, feelings follow action. And, in turn, responses from others towards me are lighter and happier as well. I know I often feel fortified by the cheerfulness of others – it triggers an uplifting heart exchange within and between us.
As time passes, something that has become wonderfully apparent to me is how when we try to develop any one aspect of the spiritual life it reflects and calls upon every other aspect, like facets of a diamond. Take honesty, for example. To be cheerful, one has to be honest with oneself. In my experience, honesty requires calling on our ability to root out those feelings and thoughts that are false and admit that everything He brings to the surface is but the play of the ego.
To be cheerful, one has to have trust in Beloved Baba’s love. We have to trust that He accepts us with all our weaknesses and faults; trust that every experience is for our spiritual growth and designed to bring us closer to Him. Trust that as our Master, He will never let us down.
To be cheerful, one has to be patient with oneself and forgiving of one’s so-called “mistakes”. To be truly cheerful, one has to surrender everything to Baba.
For me, the most important aspect of the spiritual path is remembrance. Baba says this over and over again in various ways: to remember Him more and more, to hold on to His damaan, to take His name when we awake and go to sleep, or to dress our soul in Baba, first thing in the morning. It is through remembrance that the lover is reminded to make an effort to be cheerful, both inwardly and outwardly. It is through remembrance we can surrender and let go.
I’ve come to experience that the interplay between the demands of the ego (which He stirs up) and our efforts to remember Him (which is what He wants) is the only spiritual path I really know. At this point, it’s more a path of ignorance-realization than God-realization. And my so-called weaknesses are the very stepping-stones of this path. Without them, it wouldn’t even be possible to love Him or to long for Him. So, if it is Baba who is stirring us up, it is only natural that we become a little garlic faced from time to time. In those moments, when the claims of the ego turn to ignorance-realization and despair, with Baba’s help we can follow with remembrance, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, patience, surrenderance, and, oh yes, cheerfulness.