“And as far as disease and old age are concerned, everyone gets practical experience. No one wants to be diseased, and no one wants to become old, but there is no avoiding these. Unless we have a pessimistic view of this material life, considering the distresses of birth, death, old age and disease, there is no impetus for our making advancement in spiritual life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.8-12 Purport)
1. I used to run for miles without getting tired
“There was one period in my life that I remember in particular. It was during the college years. During one of the extended breaks, I made it a goal to try to lose as much weight as possible. Get myself back into shape. A little more attention to detail, with what is consumed during a given day.
“Well, I remember that I would run four miles a day. This was soon after waking up. Not on a treadmill. Outside, under the hot sun of summer. Four miles in a row, without stopping. This was after eating a light breakfast. Then I would only eat dinner.
“There is no way I could do the same today. My body would not allow it. If I could run one mile, that would be an achievement. Neither do I have the same motivation. Life is too stressful to go in that direction of austerity.”
2. I could get up early and travel a long distance
“I have talked with people who did something similar, for thirty years or more. We are talking about as long a commute as you can get. Wake up at the crack of dawn, hop in the car, and get ready for a lengthy journey.
“Maneuver the traffic, navigate through distractions and stoppages, stay awake, and pay attention the entire time. Arrive at the office and acknowledge that the travel was just the beginning. Now comes the working portion of the day.
“After putting in the requisite hours, you have to repeat the experience on the way home. When you do finally make it to a time of rest, there is the lingering reminder that tomorrow will be the exact same process.
“I could never do the same today. I need to rest. I get tired more easily. I have this anxiety while falling asleep. Every extra minute that I am awake, I know that will take away from energy needed for the subsequent day.”
3. I could eat whatever I wanted
“Seriously, I never paid attention to this stuff. I used to laugh at anyone who consumed a beverage with ‘diet’ in the name. Perhaps because I ate in moderation already, but the whole concern never made sense to me.
“Just eat whatever is available. I didn’t care about timing, either. If the friends wanted to go out for a late-night snack, I would join them. I would consume any soft drinks that were around. I never cared a bit.
“As you can probably imagine, that is not the case anymore. I have the eating down to a science. I know exactly what foods will trigger cold and sickness. I know what to eat during the day in order to be more relaxed at night. If I slip up in the least, there are negative consequences, which I would rather avoid.”
4. I never worried about bodily metrics
“Blood pressure. Glucose levels. Acuity of vision. Total weight. I never stepped on a scale. Who cares how much you weigh? Isn’t it more important to gauge how you feel, if you have sufficient energy?
“Well, now I know why people pay attention to these things. The readings on the instruments matter. Too high in a certain direction will lead to long-term health problems. It could be no fault of your own; just old age. You have to pay attention.”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the miseries of a material existence begin from the time of birth. As graphically explained in Shrimad Bhagavatam, the living entity within the womb is anything but happy. They suffer so much, only to forget the experience due to the trauma of birth.
Then there are the obvious and demonstrable changes in the negative direction caused by old age. A wise person should take stock of the transformation, taking the time to study the issue. If they simply ignore it, then they are doomed to repeat the suffering in the future.
This is one way to understand spiritual life. It is the process of studying the miseries of a material existence and trying to avoid them. Spiritual life is eternal, which means that old age will not be an associated misery.
The explanation from the acharyas is that time still exists, but it takes on a different nature. For instance, today that all-devouring time gradually diminishes my abilities in the current body. In spiritual life, we accept time as a great servant of the Almighty.
Thanks to that time, I am able to renew my devotional connection. The bright, rising sun of the morning is like an alert to wake up and chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The important dates on the calendar, triggered by time, remind me of the glorious victory of Shri Rama over Ravana, of the appearance of Shri Krishna in this world, of the birth anniversary of the spiritual master, who is the representative of Vyasadeva. In the devotional culture, time is my friend, and I know that it is sent from above, to keep me safe from the miseries of a material existence.
When to spiritual consciousness awaking,
Time a different way taking.
Turned into well-wishing friend,
Glorious opportunities to send.
Where rejoicing on appearance days,
And constant chanting and kirtana plays.
Such that even when getting old in age,
Not making futile battle to wage.
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