I’m getting old. I admit it – the hair is disappearing, the back is failing and the glasses are coming. Materially speaking, it’s a downhill story. Spiritually, however, the passing of time should deliver a range of invaluable gifts – more maturity, more experience, more knowledge and more opportunities to serve. Maybe, but in recent months I’ve come to the painful conclusion that with spiritual ageing I’ve also lost something invaluable. Somewhere along the lines I veered off track. I’ve lost my simplicity, my childlike innocence and the humble sincerity that I started this journey with. Over the years, abilities were developed, achievements came and accolades were received, but with it has surfaced a mentality that is calculative, complicated and corrupted. How can I turn back the clock? Like other things in life, I never really appreciated my innocence till I lost it.
I remember days when I would sing and chant in serious meditation. Nowadays my mind is drawn to melodies, beats and the faces surrounding me. I remember hearing lectures and feeling every word significant, applicable and enlightening. Nowadays I half-heartedly pay attention, do critical assessments of the speaker and jot down the interesting points that I can impress others with. I remember the days when I would eagerly seek out any opportunity to serve. Nowadays I weigh everything up, analyse the costs and benefits, and calculate what is really “worth my time.” I used to feel honoured and humbled in meeting any other devotee. Nowadays I reserve judgement until I’ve sized them up in terms of background, history and credentials. What happened? It feels like I’ve lost the plot.
Some say it’s a question of practicality – with age, we have to exercise intelligence and discrimination in spiritual life. Some feel that this youthful enthusiasm and childlike eagerness is reserved for the very fresh stages of spiritual life. Some may say that life is complex, and a simplistic approach is neither sustainable nor effective. I’m not so sure. I’m not saying we should be childish, but I’d really like to be childlike again. I’m convinced that there is a way to find that innocence and simplicity without being naïve, foolish or artificial. There must be. It does, however, require immense spiritual depth. The great teacher, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, drove this point home in a power-packed sutra – saralata ei vaisnavata (“simplicity is vaisnavism”). Simplicity, he said, means no duplicity; a complete absence of pretentiousness, deception and artificiality. It is these simple-hearted souls that Krishna eagerly seeks out. If we fail in this, we miss the essence.
Please keep reminding me to find that inner child. We live in hope. I pray it won’t take too long to become young again.