The Great Safekeeping
When I was a few days shy of the better part of three, I became very ill with the reigning viral malady of the day. Trembling with fever and drenched in perspiration, I lay in my parents’ bed, parched and shivering beneath a wine-colored satin, comforter convinced beyond any shadow of any doubt that I was a rickety, dust-covered Model T Ford barreling across the midline of a deserted country road never again to still myself and rest.
My father sat on the edge of the bed keeping watch. All the routine sick-child rituals failed to calm me. Unsure of what to do next, he gathered me in his arms, laid me atop his heart, and began to croon "Toora Loora Loora," the old Irish lullaby I eventually came to think of as our song. In this holy place, my fever broke and I quickly fell into a sound and dreamless sleep.
Though I did not realize or understand it at the time, the memory of his Great Safekeeping—the certainty of it, its benevolent and generative power—left an indelible, unconscious imprint on me. Safekeeping became something I searched for—at least superficially—throughout my twenties. I married and had two beautiful daughters, had good friends, used my native talents and skills to their best advantage, and acquired my fair share of the baubles the contemporary zeitgeist swore would keep me up with the Joneses. But the deep sense of Safekeeping I experienced as a child in my father's arms eluded me.
In my late twenties—as if I were living in a parallel universe only I knew about—I gradually became aware that many of the things I believed about myself and the world were no longer “operational.” A motley crew of edgy little particulars—doubts and fears that had roamed the corridors beneath my thoughts for years—picked up steam. I kept them at bay for a while, but they grew impatient with me and insulted I was not paying attention to what they had to say. It soon became clear that ignoring them kept me from becoming my Fully Resonant Fully Operational Best Self. I began to pay attention to the "crew," and began to ask The Big Questions: Who am I, really? What is my purpose? What is life all about? I longed for my “holy place,” my place of Great Safekeeping.
As things in the world and in my life grew more uncertain, the day came, when—quite to my surprise—the dust momentarily cleared, the push-pull stopped, and I heard the words inside my head, “Let your soul be the boss of you.” It was a call to action. I made the commitment to listen to my Inner Voice. I followed the breadcrumbs. I asked the questions and initiated the conversations I needed to have. Eventually, I read Autobiography of a Yogi, by the great yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, and began to meditate. Thus began the most fascinating, the most creative, the most nourishing and stalwart adventure of my life.
Recently, this little story rose like the mythological Phoenix from my now brighter mental corridors to live through another cycle of transformation in this blog. It seems a fitting story to tell now. The uncertainties of the past two years, and now in the Ukraine, leave every one of us parched and shivering to some degree; dust covered, careening across the midline between past and future, unsure whether we, too, will be able to still ourselves—and our planet—and rest. We long for a Great Safekeeping, for ourselves, our loved ones, and our world.
In the midst of uncertainties that are unimaginable to most of us, the Ukrainian people are showing us what it looks like to let your soul be the boss of you, and how to take refuge in the safe and holy place that lives inside us all. Their vulnerability has become their greatest strength as they live their answers to their Big Questions. I am, indeed, indebted to them for their example.
In the 1950’s, mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz discovered that a tiny and inconsequential event in one part of the world—such as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings—can cause large scale, unpredictable changes in other, distant systems—such as a tornado on the other side of the world. Known as the “Butterfly Effect,” Lorenez’s theory teaches us is that even the smallest things we do matter, and that we are all connected to a bigger global system. In 1937, Yogananda said, “Don’t think that the contribution made by your spiritualized consciousness is small. Your part may mean very much.” He later said, “Everything you do for your soul, you do for the collective.” There is a sense of Safekeeping in what these great men of science and religion can teach us about how our individual small efforts influence and call in the Greater Good when we begin to open to and court new and bigger possibilities.
Mediation has helped me to do this. Likewise for the people I interviewed in my latest book, “Coming Home: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda." Swing out there! Let your soul be the boss of you. We all need all the help we can get.
Margaret Wolff is a writer, storyteller, art therapist, and retreat leader. Her work celebrates the ways in which the collective wisdom and storytelling reveal the truth and beauty of our inner lives and connect us—heart to beating heart—to each other.
COMING HOME: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda (White Pearl Press, May 20201), is a curated collection of 14 modern-day stories of spiritual awakening that reflect “the most creative and transformative experience life can offer—developing an intimate partnership with the invisible God of one’s heart.”
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