I was christened Robert Hobbins, but for decades now, after marrying Anjali, I took the name Aarit, which means ‘one who seeks the right direction.’ And I tried, despite my fears, to live my life accordingly.
Paradoxically, my two greatest fears have been of wide-open spaces, and of being trapped in a small confined space. Debilitating fears that have limited my life have sent me shivering in bed or vomiting at the mere thought. Psychiatrists gave the fears names, but no help. After years of living a tortured life, I found a behavioral psychologist who convinced me that the only way to overcome my fears is to face them.
So, I fought my fears one by one by challenging myself, forcing myself to face them. My fear of heights I conquered step by step, working in high-rise construction on concrete skeletons during summer breaks from high school, the street below so far away. My fear of large open spaces disappeared hitchhiking across the Great Plains, empty for as far as one could see. My fear of lightning, poof, dissipated by sitting on the porch during storms, watching the celestial fireworks. One by one those childhood fears fell away. Or so I thought they did.
My fear of confined spaces lasted well into my 30s but that, too, regressed, with me taking a job on the 45th floor of a skyscraper along elevator trip up and down, at least twice a day. And for the longest time, though I rode the elevator or flew long distances in small planes, my stomach would clench and bile would rise each day I went to work, or knew I would be flying to attend a conference in another city. But that, too, disappeared over the years; victory proclaimed. I thought all of my childhood fears had disappeared.
With my marriage to Anjali, I, over time, accepted her faith and eventually, she and I embraced the spiritual teachings of his holiness, the Swami Dr. Avadanada, and followed the path he showed and tried to act goodly. My blessed wife left this spiritual plane three years past, and I know that I wish to join her, her hand reaching out for my own, but reach as I will, I know I will not be able to meet her.
My sons are good people also, attempting in their own way to make the world a better place. However, despite the model that my wife and I displayed, they turned to the religion of my youth, becoming followers of what some call THE book. I know not whether they are Jews, Christians, or Muslims because, to me now, the differences that loom so important to the followers of those religions are, to my eyes, minor permutations. But here, now, in my current state, my sons’ choices have landed on me.
His holiness Swami Avadanada teaches us, at death, the fears of some people force their souls to stay attached to what he calls the ‘gross body,’ lingering over their mortal remains, forever enclosed, forever estranged from the cosmic unity they can see but not attain. I had put that teaching behind me, thinking it irrelevant, but as my days were winding down, I realized then that my fear of both confinement, and of open spaces, had not been conquered but merely had retreated into the background, out of consciousness. The thoughts, both of being trapped in a coffin and of the infinite space to reach cosmic unity, terrified me. I started to imagine my spirit hovering above my decaying body. The clenching of my stomach, the rise of bile that had defined my youth returned every time I passed a mirror and saw my aging face reflected back at me. I could not sleep. I lost weight with a diminished appetite. I started again spending days shivering in bed, vomiting in the washroom.
Finally, I took action. I rewrote my will. My earthly goods were of little interest to me, and I knew my sons would not fight over them. I gave them copies so they could amiably divide my earthly estate in leisure. My new request was that I be cremated. I knew that free of my gross body I would be free to ascend to the cosmic unity without being attracted to my decaying body, like a black hole fueled by fear of the dual horrors of open space and containment. This action on my part freed me from my nightly fears, and I finally slept peacefully once again.
Peaceful, until that day in the hospital, attached to tubing, as my earthly existence slowly ebbs away. My sons come often to my bedside at the end. I know they love me. I can feel the warmth of their feelings, of their impending sense of loss. The last words I heard from them as I lost my ability to talk or move, were that they could not follow my wishes for cremation. “We love you too much, Dad, to be parties to the desecration of the vehicle in which the Holy Spirit had resided. We cannot bear the thought of you being forever cursed.”
So I lie here in a coma, unable even to vomit from the fear that encompasses me. I wait for the end with the dread of knowing that my soul will forever be entrapped in a small casket, watching my body decay, my hand reaching for my wife that I cannot grasp, the light of the cosmic unity infinitely above me shining down, forever unattainable.