Finding Treasure at the Garbage Dump
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For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me." [BG 6.29-30] Surrounding the land fill, as I prepare to dispose of some waste products from our throwaway society, a small mountain range grabs my attention, displaying sensational rocky cliffs, and providing a strange contrast to my business at hand. As I put on my work gloves, before I begin my tossing, I look down in the dumpster to find an extremely stained, beat-up set of couches, once someone’s prize possession, now waiting to be squished and compacted. This has given me a dramatic commentary on the material world of impermanence and transformation! Looking up into the sky I see a beautiful sight: huge puffy white clouds gently floating by in the deep blue sky, seemly closer than at home due to this higher altitude, yet feeling more powerful and thus prominent.
No matter how many times I see clouds, I am in awe of them, and I wonder, especially today, how to share my inspired vision. Although clouds are in everyone’s experience, many wonders can be lost by narrowly focusing on our pressing needs for living, while being oblivious to the larger context of life which surrounds us. Yet to me, clouds and the wind which moves them, are really inconceivable, reminding me of the Supreme Law Maker. (Sky and clouds in an old children's song, are colored like Krishna and Balaram.) Science may be able to describe the mechanics of the wind and clouds, but certainly not how they seem so esthetically pleasing to me, or the brilliance of this system to distribute water. To top of these thoughts, higher in the sky and directly overhead, are turkey vultures, one of the largest birds I know of, enjoying their gift of flight, beckoning us all to soar in our unique contribution to the world, and for the glory of God.
The beginning of my spiritual life was to a large extent simply noticing my environment for the first time, or we could say, being given new eyes to see it uniquely, causing me to question the status quo of the day. I was drawn to spend time in the peaceful, instructive natural environment of the redwood forest of Muir woods by the urging of a friend. Many devotees of Krishna experience that at a certain time of their lives, it loses its charm, and they are drawn into an existential crisis about the meaning of life, which takes precedence over everything else. Thus, personally, I gave up work, college, a girl friend, and most of my possessions to make self-realization my profession. Although my spiritual search was fueled by my burning yearning to find meaning and to discover the reason for my dissatisfaction, the simplicity of my life with the great opulence of time, greatly facilitated this. I can’t stress this enough. We make time for what is important to us, and are rewarded accordingly. Successful people in any field become obsessed, or one-minded with their goal, though they are often criticized for this until they obtain their heart’s desire.
I recently read an article by an English professor who assigned novels to his students by an author from the early twentieth century, who beautifully, elaborately, and painstakingly described the observations of her characters about their surroundings. Although the professor was pleased that students loved these novels, he was dismayed to notice that as soon as the class was over, they all powered up their hand held electronic devises—iPods, cellphones, or what have you. He wondered about the future of creative or descriptive writing, when so many young people are plugged into to their artificial reality and not present as they live their normal life. Advertisers promote this culture, where it isn’t “cool” to merely walk or be around ordinary life without a personal sound track in the background, or taking to someone on the phone, about—anything. ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) seems to be modern mental health disorder brought about by in part by overstimulation in youth.
In our modern culture of encouraged busy-ness and “workaholicism”, few people make the time, or know about the importance of, simply observing their surroundings to look for a deeper meaning than utilizing it for some material purpose. The natural time for questioning life’s purpose is in our youth when our lives are not too complicated, and we are not mentally locked into a college degree, career, or family responsibilities. Of course, some people after having a family and profession, discover their dissatisfaction with life, and also awaken their spiritual search. If we are spiritually blessed, we will at some point detect something missing in our lives, and embark on a spiritual search for meaning and purpose beyond the body and mind.
In today’s educational system and culture run by advertisers—when everything is about making money—spiritual inquiry and questioning the values of materialistic culture aren’t part of the curriculum. We tend to notice what we are focused on. Beginning with the premise that our identity is only material promotes an outward focus with an emphasis on accumulation of material goods, while understanding we are a soul promotes an inner search for reviving our spiritual nature, and a natural detachment from the temporary. This is why such books as Bhagavad Gita are so important since they facilitate the waking up of our soul, especially when heard from thoughtful, experience bhakti-yogis, who live these transcendental teachings every day. By this knowledge we can see God, or Krishna, and His service, even at the landfill. Gradually we will understand that there is no place God isn’t, and thus we can make the most of whatever we are required to do to maintain our body. Devotional service or bhakti, is a state of mind, and we have the opportunity to practice remembering Krishna in all times, places, and situations, and that makes all the difference in our lives.