While convalescing in my childhood home, solicitously cared for by my dear mother, unable to run my customary 60 weekly miles, having a lot of free time on my hands, in bed all day and night, unshowered, wearing a hospital gown, I had lots of time to think, and to meditate, and to read.
First came the books which for months or longer I had been meaning to read. Huxley’s Point Counterpoint and Eyeless in Gaza. His Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. The Perennial Philosophy. Novels by Vonnegut. And since I had loved the movie, I read Cloud Atlas.
Some books I read on Kindle, others I purchased, usually the used version. To save money, because my reading habit was becoming rather pricey. My friend came to the rescue and brought over Sam Harris' Waking Up, which I devoured in a day. I needed more fuel for my philosophic fire, and so I turned to what has become my magic bookshelf.
This bookshelf stands just across the hall, in what had been my brother Justin’s room. Justin, 16 months my junior, died of a rare cancer of the cartilage in his hip shortly before Christmas in 1996, at the age of 22. His room had thereafter become first a shrine to his life, and then a guest room, which I’d often use while home from my studies and my travels. Then it became a sort of work-out space-slash-storage site. I put my stationary bike in there, and my mother would get her massages. She also transferred the books that she and my father had amassed during their 30 or so years of married life, a life which had ended around the time that Justin passed. They say death in the family brings people closer or pulls them apart. In the case of my dear parents, Justin’s passing proved to bring about the latter.
But they had been quite a power couple together. My dad had been an atheist, but through association with my mom he had morphed into a monk. She had taken him to see a psychic who said he had in a former life been a great mystic who had fallen, and in this lifetime he had chance at redemption. And true enough, after meeting this psychic he embraced a spiritual path, and began collecting books on philosophy, mysticism, spirituality. This had been in 1968. Many people were doing the same. And on that shelf I saw the product of his search. My mom on the other hand, gravitated to astrology, tarot and other occult fields. Of interest to both were books on diet and anti-aging. Their interest followed them into the 70s. The New Age movement was on the rise.
They say there is magic in human association. Two people come together and become more than either could be on his or her own. The beauty of synergy, the quality of being greater than the sum of the parts. And so it was with my parents.
I began reading some of these books. And I found that many of them were books I had at one time or another put on my own reading list.
William James' Varieties of Religious Experience
Howard’s Mystic Path to Cosmic Power
Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness
Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous
Books by Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Yogananda, and the mystics who came before them: Patanjali and Shankara
A Course in Miracles
A book entitled Self-Realization (which my dad had bought prior to my birth and which I had happened to buy from a Hari Krishna as a twenty something at the airport on the way home from Brazil)
Tolle’s Power of Now and Ruiz’s Four Agreements
Books I had placed on the shelf intending to read some day and finally had the time to do so, like The Gift, poems by Hafiz.
Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Pointers and Nectar of the Lord's Feet
The Hindu scriptures (Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasistha, Ramayana, Upanishads)
When my father found the holy man Sai Baba, it represented the end of his spiritual search. In Sai Baba, who reiterated the Vedas in a language more suited to modern living, my dad had found the one. He took countless trips to India, and immersed himself in Baba's teachings (which are aptly encapsulated in the book Unity is Divinity, also found on the shelf). Strange how many gems survived my parents' break-up. I remember when, in 1998, my mom had me take boxes of books down to my father. My dad and I have discussed going through these books, which he keeps in a shed outside his house, together at some time. I'm sure many great finds await. With Sai Baba the journey could be said to end for me as well. I was raised on the teachings, the culmination of my parents’ search. And how many of the teachings had been ingrained upon me!
Engage in self-less service
Work without concern for the fruits of your actions
See God in all and all in you.
Modern science has confirmed this with epigenetic changes. An obese person by eating excessively can change the expression of their DNA in such a way as to increase the likelihood that their children will become obese. Viewed in this light, all that my parents had read in the years prior to my conception and during my mother’s pregnancy could be said to have influenced them at a genetic level, had become encoded in or around their DNA, which was then passed on to me. Which is why perusing my parents' bookshelf is so second-nature to me. Having never before glanced at their pages, I nevertheless felt as though I were reading these books for the second time. Granted, mom and dad raised me in accordance with Sai Baba’s teachings, which is another reason they were so familiar. But I am inclined to believe that the information was also communicated in this mysterious way.
And so I ask you to remind yourself that you are not just living for yourself. Everything you do is encoded at the genetic level, and should you have kids, you will pass it all on, in information, tendencies, propensities and inclinations. If you have children already, then what you read, and do, and think will be conveyed in less subtle ways, as in how you raise them, and by example. Even if you never have kids, your thoughts and actions spread to everyone in your midst. We are all connected. The human race is one family.
For as the Vedas say, “Tat tvam asi”: All that there is I am.
Therefore, as Sai Baba says, “Love all, serve all.”
Now back to that bookshelf.