Make a new plan, Stan

Swami Vishnu's cave in Gangotri, Himalayas
Swami Vishnu's cave in Gangotri, Himalayas

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”.  ˜John Lennon

Or rather, always have a plan, but be ready to let go of it at any moment. In fact, to me, this is exactly what it means to live a spiritual life – to be able to recognize our path when it appears before us. This may well mean letting go of what we had planned for ourselves. Where it becomes spiritual is in the willingness to let go or to surrender. We tend to hold on too tight and can be most stubborn.

A student happened to snap this photo of me as I was stepping-into Swami Vishnu’s cave in Gangotri. The photo reminds me of a story told by Ramana Maharishi about a king who experienced enlightenment in the split-second fraction of time as he was getting on his horse; one foot in the stirrup, he swung the other leg up and in that moment of time his perspective changed and he saw the world differently. At that moment I was thinking, “let’s do this”, meaning, we’ve come all this way, this is the important part. Let’s go inside and see what happens. Something did happen in that moment however in terms of my connection to Swamiji and to my lineage or tradition. I felt deeply honoured to be stepping into the cave as a woman and as a yogi and certainly as a teacher. Almost as if I were meeting Swamiji at last; that I’d come all this way to greet him properly and to affirm my faith in the tradition of which I am a part. A beautiful moment certainly. I am open to the next step, the next stage of my path, whatever that may be.

Swamiji spent much time in the cave, meditating, doing sadhana, chanting and reflecting. He experienced moments of bliss in the cave, but he also suffered there, frostbite and illness. While in the cave you feel you’ve entered the earth itself, and while it may be tempting to say that you are within the embrace of the earth, it is a cold and lonely place. It requires great strength to remain there. In fact the Ganges herself, just outside, is icy cold. The river, seen as female, is loud and relentless.  Here are his words, an exerpt of a letter he wrote from the cave in 1986:

“Time is fleeting. Life is being burnt like an oil lamp and many of my childhood friends are gone. So also this body is waiting to finish its karma. Do not waste time. Use every minute in Japa, Pranayama, and other spiritual activities. Maya is waiting to push you from the spiritual path. Before you know you are in the old rut, only grace of God & Gurudev will help you. Your own effort is successful only when God’s grace comes. So pray, pray and pray. For me day & night are all same. 60 years of my life is gone just like a dream. Life is like a two days play. Born, grown up and now in old age many things only exist in past memory. There is difference between the time I spent as a young swami in the Himalayas and now at 60 an old swami. Those days body is under control walking, climbing etc were easy but turbulent mind. Now the body is weak but by the grace of God mind is calm and strong. Younger days mind used to plan too many things. But now mind wants solitude. Those days physical discipline was easy. Now physical body can do very little. Those days I thought only physical action can bring success. Now it is opposite. You can do everything by the thought alone and the thought is the only reality. Body, you feel like a worn out shoe. But with the mind you see now the world in a different way. That concrete world now only looks like a mirage. …People, you see, like phantoms moving in shadowy world, do not see that their existence is only the darkness. When the light comes, their phantom body & world will disappear like a mist when the light comes, it is beyond any description”.


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