The Mundane and the Mystical

Jan 19, 2022


It was four years ago this week that I got the call that my father, who was 84 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, had passed away. I got in the car right away and drove to my parents’ home on Long Island.
That same night, the rabbi who was to speak at his funeral shared his view about what happens to the soul after death. He likened it to being in a limousine with darkened windows. The person inside the car can see out, but those on the outside can’t see in. The departed soul, he explained, is just on the other side of the window. We can’t see them, but they are so close. This was my experience of my father in the days following his passing. 
As I helped to carry out the myriad details of the funeral arrangements, wrote the eulogy I would deliver, made the playlist of the songs he wanted, and attended to everything that had to be accomplished quickly so that the service could take place according to Jewish tradition, I felt his presence so close. It was, indeed, as if he was right there on the other side of the window.

The feeling of my father’s subtle presence brought so much purpose to the tasks I was performing in those intense hours. Even in the deep sadness and grief, I felt the sweetness of the love we had for each other supporting everything I did. It was one of the most sacred and meaningful experiences of my life.  
Reflecting on this, I realized that I had experienced what the Bhagavad Gita teaches in the verses of chapter two that express the eternal nature of the soul and the possibility of holding that expanded perspective even as we go about performing our dharma, our duties. 

In chapter 2, Krishna explains the eternal nature of the soul to Arjuna, whom he is advising, this way:

2. 17 The presence that pervades the universe
is imperishable, unchanging, 
beyond both is and is not: 
how could it ever vanish? 

2.18 These bodies come to an end,
but that vast embodied Self
is ageless, fathomless, eternal.
Therefore, you must fight, Arjuna.

—translated by Stephen Mitchell

Krishna also addresses dharma, or duty, by encouraging Arjuna to do his duty (he is a warrior so his duty is to fight), even if it is hard, and says:

2.31 Know what your duty is,
and do it without hesitation.

—translated by Stephen Mitchell
Previously, I had understood both of those notions – the unchanging and ultimate nature of the Self and the importance of honoring one’s dharma in life – but I had never really grasped the connection between the two. In the days following my father’s death I had lived it. 

Here's what I learned: Fulfilling our responsibilities and playing our roles in life, as fleeting and temporary as they are - while holding the awareness of that part of ourselves that doesn’t change and never dies – brings greater meaning and purpose to life. It allows us to experience the sacred in the mundane, and to bring the love that yoga tells us is the most enduring part of who we are, to all we do.



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