About a year after moving from Miami, the place from my childhood, to start my own family in New Mexico, my wife, and newborn child made a visit back to show my parents their new grandson. One night my wife and I went to visit my grandfather, MM Nankin. MM was a hardworking kind man who did not seem to have any hobbies, did not take vacations, and I never saw him laugh. He was not an unpleasant man, he just focused his life around running the family retail shoe business. MM had been in a vegetative state for many years following a series of strokes, heart attacks, and other health challenges. It had been years since he spoke or reacted to anyone’s presence.
It was 1977, a time of great awakening for many on the spiritual path. I loved my grandfather and wanted to offer him a relief from his current situation. In my yoga training, I had just learned of the special mantra that one chants to both help people to face death and in their journey after death. It was all new and in truth, a bit strange. The mantra is AKAL and it simply means undying. Chanting this it reminds the soul it is eternal. Yes, the physical body dies, but our soul continues. It is a belief many traditions share.
In my grandfather’s room, my wife and I each took one of his hands and then we joined hands making a circle. It was a private room so we could do as we wish. We started continuously chanting AKAL. During this time I had a conversation with my grandfather through our minds. I said, MM, you can go if you wish. You do not need to hang around any longer in this body. He responded that as the elder, he needed to take care of the family. I pointed out that in his vegetative state he was not taking care of anything. After some time he said he could not go because we would forget him. I insisted he was in our hearts and could not be forgotten. Some additional thoughts were exchanged until there was just the sound of the chanting filling the room.
After about 45 minutes of chanting, we finished with a prayer and I said good-bye. In the morning my father called to say that my grandfather had died in the night. For the last nine years, he has been unable to perform his normal work and for most of that time, unable to even speak. Then he dies. At first, I was shocked with the idea I had caused this. Then amazed the effect of the mantra seemed to have. Then grateful for the experience.
From this, I strengthened my respect for the power of words, both spoken and silent. I have used this understanding in my continuing work as a yoga teacher/trainer and spiritual guide. It is written that in the beginning was the word. As we can embrace this simple truth, we can access the power of the universe.
20 June 2017
Photo from l to r: great-grandfather Harris, father Frank, me, MM.