Good lives and good deaths

July 2003

For me it becomes clearer each day that living healthfully keeps us fit and free from ailments and doctors, energetic and clear-headed, and free to achieve our dreams

I was always a serious child. while other girls of my age played with dolls, I organised puppet shows, started a lending library from the loft of our modest flat, and raised money for jawans (after the Indo-Pak war) by organising a fete in the building’s garden. No picture of mine is a smiling one; all solemn and forthright. I remember wondering what the drama of life was all about until the question was forgotten. Years later in 1996 at the feet of Ramesh S. Balsekar the question was answered by pure chance, which led me into the wisdom and peace of Advaita. More on that later.

Being as serious as I was without frivolous pursuits, from a young age I concentrated upon how best to live one’s life. That’s how I stumbled upon the merits of health foods, nutrition and organic farming — about which I’m perennially being asked questions. Even if not directly, I can see them in people’s eyes. Most people can’t imagine changing their food habits or trying to eat healthfully to feed their bodies’ needs. And not a few of them feel sorry for me and wonder why anyone would ever want to be so strict and not enjoy life.

But for me it becomes clearer each day that living healthfully keeps us fit and free from ailments and doctors, energetic and clear-headed and free to achieve our dreams. In addition, living eco-consciously makes us feel good about giving and not merely taking. Though the growing number of the greedy around the world seem unaware of it, there is a social contract which enjoins all people to leave their patch of God’s good Earth a little better than when they found it. In another dispatch I will discuss how we can be givers instead of simply uninvolved takers.

When I speak of all of the above, the riposte I usually get is that we want to enjoy each day without dos and don’ts, we don’t necessarily want to live long because the important thing is to live freely availing all the luxuries (what advertisers want us to believe are necessities) for instant gratification. Such hedonists don’t care about how they feel because there are medicines to pop to alleviate problems of living carefree. But even everyday ailments such as acidity, flu, diarrhoea, and constipation which are the price of carefree lifestyles can lead to chronic problems for which there are medical solutions no doubt, but not without side effects which accentuate problems. It’s strange to see so much pain, discomfort and suffering which is regarded as the inevitable, normal price of ageing. Worse of course is the environmental damage caused by the widespread inability of people to live eco-conscious, healthy and aware lives.

Witnessing all this as a growing girl and before I stumbled upon the secret of natural nutrition, I lived a less-than-happy life. I accepted the popular viewpoint and argument that as one grows older some ailment or the other is inevitable. In fact I remember a couple of months after the birth of my son when I lived in Bahrain, an elderly aunt commenting on my newly acquired backache and attempting to make me accept it as the fate of all women and the price of motherhood.

I had just turned 24 at the time. It made me even more cynical about life. But you can imagine my joy when I discovered soon after that these old wives tales were just that — old wives tales. Suddenly I learned that it’s up to you to decide how well and healthy you choose to be. Nothing is inevitable. It was not only a liberating insight, it made me happier to be alive. Though there were — and still are — many aspects of life that make me wonder why, this existential conundrum having been sorted out, I not only ensured that my son was kept away from allopathic medicines and their prescribers but that he grew up as close to nature as possible. 

Naturally I set an example by practicing what I preached. And to cope with the pollution and occasional problems created by stress, I turned to the wealth of traditional Indian medicine. Not only did my back and other aches disappear, I began feeling better in every way. To the extent that to this day I feel energetic and am free of acute or chronic problems. In fact I often feel better than when I was younger, and contrary to popular perception, growing older has been an invigorating experience for me.

But this is not the only reason i am happy to have acquired this knowledge. I was fortunate enough to acquire it from some of the best teachers in the world. Of course life isn’t all about becoming fanatically involved and being fit and healthy. But with passage of time I have become aware that how we choose to live, usually determines the manner of our death. Yes, one could argue that dying by accident nullifies this theory. But that is the exception rather than the rule.

Generally speaking, living healthfully and eco-consciously usually leads you to an end (or a beginning depends on how you see it) which is calm and peaceful. There is a natural justice which ordains that those who live in harmony with nature and the environment and respect its unwritten laws are blessed with a good end. Such individuals develop an inner peace and contentment which facilitates their passage from this life to the next without remorse or regret.

My grandmother who was the environmentalist I grew up with, had a wonderful passage to the other life with her children and grandchildren gathered around her in her home to see her off. Fortunately, she left this world for the next without being subjected to the impersonal attention of doctors, nurses, hospitals, tubes, tests, medicines, ICU beds, etc. Her life and death provided me with the answer to people who ask: “Who wants to live so long?” Now I know that it’s not about how long one lives — that’s destiny — but how well one lives and perhaps more important, how well one dies.



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