Monday, May 24, 2010

Atlanta part 1

Dear friends,

There's so much I want to tell you about, but I don't know how. I don't know if I can. There are experiences so complex, and so intense, that I can barely recall them clearly, much less commit them to 'paper.' But I'm trying.

Friday night, April 16th, I yelled at Ma. This was in Atlanta, of all places, at her daughter's ashram, with 180 people in the room. I was called on to ask a question, and in the exchange that followed, I lost myself. I was hurt, and I wanted help, and I thought Ma was denying me. I felt unheard, so I spoke louder and more forcefully than people should ever speak to the Guru. I tried to make her understand, she who already understands more than anyone.

At some point soon I'll tell you what I was yelling about, and why, but it's a distraction to this thread of the story. This is a story of how I messed up, and how Ma helped me, and I messed up by thinking that Ma was wrong, and I was right, and yelling could change her mind. You don't yell at the Guru, the Goddess, the Mother. You don't ever speak without perfect respect. I messed up by choosing not to control myself.

Ma put a stop to it lickety split. She shouted me down, the way mothers and Goddesses can. She made it abundantly clear that I was not right. She asked me how I'd feel if someone yelled at my father this way, and I was speechless. He would help, I thought but didn't say, he wouldn't rebuke. But my father is not a Guru. So I stood there speechless, and shocked at my own behavior, and hurt. Still angry, already ashamed, and utterly unsure what to do.

Ma being Ma, she knew what to do. And she did help. She called me up to the front of the room, and I came, walking carefully in the small spaces between lotus-posed devotees. I knelt at Ma's feet and wept silently, while she told me again how disrespectful, how rightly forbidden it was to do as I'd done. She pointed to the scores of people in the room, she pointed to her daughter, the swami of this ashram, and she told me how much I had hurt all of them, as well as herself. She told me to turn around, and face the community, and apologize for yelling at their Guru.

(It's a good thing I was crying, too. I hadn't cried all week, and I was worried I might break my weekly regimen.)

While I was gathering my words, Swami Jaya Devi, Ma's daughter, had me turn back to Ma to apologize to her first. I did, and Ma took me into her arms and hugged me. She let my tears fall on her shoulder. She told me she loved me. Then she kicked me out of the room.

In the hallway, I sat with Ma's two lieutenants (also the Tae Kwon Do instructors) Acharyas Rudra Das and Durga Das. These men have lived on the Ashram since they were kids. They're disciplined, stern, and completely devoted to Ma. I sat on the floor with them, still crying, still speechless, while they lectured me about humility and respect. I knew they were right, and I knew I was wrong, but the raw, torn edges of my heart and the sheer intensity of Ma's presence made it hard to do anything with that knowledge. I listened and nodded and agreed, and continued to weep. They asked me questions I couldn't answer honestly, and cut me off with the responses they had wanted. I didn't know what they wanted from me, and I couldn't see past how lost and hurt and confused I was. 

I felt totally denied. I couldn't get my attention away from my pain, and I couldn't get their attention to it. I yelled for a reason, for good reasons, I thought. Even though I was wrong, I still wanted some sympathy and got none. 

I'm not trying to say I was right - I wasn't. I'm not trying to say I couldn't possibly have been true to my pain without yelling at Ma - I could have. But at that time, I didn't see it. The whole thing was childish. I was in a totally immature moment. I felt ten years old, at best, the whole time they were talking to me. I had yelled like a child, I was weeping like a child, and these two were telling me to stand up and show respect like a man. I had no idea how to do that. So I cried and nodded and struggled to listen. On some level, the in-charge level, I must have thought that if I was just pathetic enough they'd be nice to me. I'm only seeing now how much affection went into their sitting with me at all, instead of kicking me to the curb.

Finally, just before they had to go, they each gave me a hug and I was able to act like a human being again.

Ma and her Acharyas had each given me an instruction, and I followed them in the wrong order. Ma had told me that, instead of yelling at her, I should be doing what she had done and quietly beg God for help. Rudra Das and Durga Das had told me I should write her a letter that very night to apologize. I wrote the letter first, and I wrote it all wrong. It was an attempt to appease her by parroting back key words from the Acharyas' lecture, instead of offering my neck to her sword. It was the kind of letter that looks like an apology, but really isn't one.

After that I started to pray. Please, God, bring me close to you. Help me love you. Help me feel your love. Take me out of this pain. I'm so sorry, God. I'm so sorry for what I did wrong. Please help me. Please help me see you. Help me be forgiven. It's fair to observe that this was still prayer for my own peace. I know I prayed to be forgiven, but I'm not sure if I prayed to make it right. I asked for help, but not for a chance to help Ma.

I'm a thoroughly imperfect individual.

Praying this way helped to soothe the pain at the bottom of all this, but didn't really resolve it. and my shame at what I had done, by and large, was unaffected.

On my way to sleep that night, I read the very last passage in my prayerbook, and that started to get us somewhere. I'll leave you with that, for now: 

Master of the Universe,
I hereby forgive whoever has hurt me,
And whoever has done me any wrong;
Whether it was deliberately or by accident,
Whether it was done by word or by deed,
In this incarnation, or in previous ones.
May no one be punished on my account.

May it be your will, O Lord, my God,
God of my parents,
That I sin no more,
That I do not revert to my old ways,
That I do not anger you any more by my actions.
May I not do that which is evil in your sight.

Wipe away the sins that I have committed
With your great compassion,
But not through sickness or suffering.

May these words of my mouth,
And the prayers that are in my heart,
Be acceptable before You,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Further Ma-versations

I'm sorry for the sporadic posting schedule over here. It's hard to write about some of this stuff until you know where it's going.

Truth be told, the day-to-day here isn't that inspiring. I chop vegetables. I help in the garden. I watch TV. I've started working on my Hebrew, which is cool, and I'm a yellow belt now in Tae Kwon Do. We all go to Darshan (when Ma teaches or leads meditation) three times a week, and that's awesome, but it doesn't draw a lot of attention to itself except while it's actually happening. The weather's lovely and the people are kind; it's a lot like being at summer camp.

On the other hand, I bawl my eyes out at least once a week. The first week it was with Ma. Second week it was on account of thinking I was a bad Jew. Third week it was right after finishing Tae Kwon Do class. The rhythm of time here follows the crankiness and catharsis of my weekly weeping. So, I want to share one occasion when I didn't cry, and two when I did, all of which involve encounters with Ma.

Ma took me into her back room a second time about one month after I got here. She took me in to God again, as she puts it, but it didn't have quite the same punch as it had before. I had one brief moment of really kinda seeing something with my eyes closed, which was awesome, but it was exactly what Ma had told me to look for, so it's hard to take that too seriously. I've pretty much had to give up on the 3rd-Eye-as-Super-Powers theory, at this point.

Ma asked me how this conversation was different than our first one, and I pointed out "I'm not crying." She nodded and asked me to elaborate, and I said "I have more to lose, this time. I've got a life here, and a rhythm." It's my own fault, really. I had a status quo to maintain, and something to lose, and I lacked the strength or wisdom or whatever to let go of it. It helped a little when she pointed this all out, but I still couldn't get to the raw, ready, open place where I was in our first conversation. I laughed a couple times, which I thought was a good sign, but she said that was nervous chuckling and not the real laughter she wanted from me.

There are two moments from that evening that encounter that did stick:

Ma told me that the spirit of some very old Russian rabbi was asking to join us, and for a moment I really felt the presence of someone old, wise, and reserved, but very loving. He felt as present as a living, visible person would be, only without the life or visibility. He seemed to have an intimate connection to Torah, solid as a mountain beneath him. It popped into my mind that it might have been Rebbe Nachman. I felt touched, and supported, and that was beautiful.

Then after all this Ma told me to thank myself, and I tried, and trying hurt. I said so, and she said something like "yup." She told me to let that pain spread throughout my body, and it becomes wisdom.

A few days later, I wrote Ma a letter. She called me the next morning, and we ended up talking about the beginning and end of the letter much more than the middle.

Dear Ma,

Thank you for your hospitality, teaching, and love. I love you very much, and I'm grateful for your help every day.

It's hard for me to write to you. I want to, but I'm embarrassed by my questions. I'm afraid to reveal my ignorance or immaturity or superficiality or whatever by asking 'the wrong question.' I know that fear is silly itself, and born in my pride, but it's still persistent. I also don't want to distract you, or waste your time, or ask for more of your help, love, and attention than you want to give me. Even just asking you to read this letter, I feel like a distraction, a nuisance. I feel like it looks ungrateful to ask for more, when in fact I'm truly so grateful. Thank you for reading this, and for loving and accepting me, and I'm so sorry for any way that I disappoint you.


Thank you so much, Ma, for reading this and helping me, as you already have so much. Thank you for my experience of writing this letter. I know that you would not ask for an apology, but I'm terribly sorry to take your time with my long letter and stupid questions. The tears I didn't cry on Friday are on my cheeks now. I love you so much, and I know that you love me, but it's hard for me to see why. Even that feels like a failing on my part. I could save this email for later, edit it and send it when I'm more put together, but I trust you to recognize the limits of its truth more than I trust myself to be honest in the morning. I will go pray now, and I know I'll feel better for sharing my heart with you.

Thank you,

Kumara Jaya [My Ashram name. It's totally a cult.]

Ma put me on this diet when we talked the next day. She had asked me at one point why it was so hard for me to believe that people loved me. I was pretty deep into the darkness at that point, and "because I'm fat," escaped before I could catch myself. I know it shouldn't matter, and for a lot of you it doesn't matter, but for me it's always mattered. I don't even know why.

She took an hour to talk to me on the phone. A little more than an hour, really. She put completely to rest any worry that I was wasting her time by giving me even more than I would have asked for.

After that, I stopped getting one-on-one time. No more phone calls or private sessions. Instead, she started dropping wisdom on me at Darshan, with everyone else there.

Ma does this with people all the time, actually. She'll take a minute or five out of her lesson and say very sweet or very sharp things individual people in the room. At my very first Darshan she told one person to stop acting so bitchy and told someone else to relax and take a vacation. Either way, the only response is "Thank you, Ma."

"Nobody mess with Kumara right now," she announced one evening. "He's cranky 'cause he's dieting. If you go anywhere near him he'll probably eat you."

"Kumara, honey. Your problem is that you're afraid of women. You can't respect women until you're not so afraid of them. You need to work that out if you're ever going to be happy."

"You don't let people know when they hurt you. I'm saying this just to Kumara now. You just swallow it. And then you get angry 'cause people don't see it, because they're not the way you want them to be."

(I'm guessing at anything I put in quotes, by the way. Some words I remember, others I've had to make up. What with this being the internet, I feel like I should be explicit about what is and isn't exact. But the gist is truth.)

One night in particular, a Friday, Ma really took me apart. It was gentle and loving, of course, but it hurt like hell. I have no idea how to explain Ma's ability to affect people's psyches, but it's real. Sometimes it's a gentle touch on your mood knobs, and sometimes, like that time, it's open-heart surgery. Doing it with 40+ other people there serves to remind you that it's okay, everyone's got their junk, and there's nothing in your soul that's worth hiding.

Here's something from the middle of that letter I wrote, a couple weeks before this happened. She addressed the matter more directly that evening than on the phone:

Tonight I was even farther out of the meditation, though. While you were talking about the bliss of the formless, I was definitely not feeling blissful. I felt hurt and angry. I was throwing a temper tantrum, swinging a baseball bat at whatever came near me. You said a sweet voice appeared, asking who would leave this place, and I wanted to grab it and kick it and throw it in the dust and say "What place? I'm not in the place. Leave me alone!" Why was I so outside and angry like that? What should I do when that happens?

On the night in question, I was feeling that tantrum again. I was trying really hard to relax and open up and listen to Ma's teaching, and I couldn't settle my mind. There was a wind in the room, and my sails wouldn't catch it.

So Ma calls me out on it. She can tell, somehow. She just knows what you're feeling, when you're there with her. And she says, "Where is he? Where's my rebbe's son? What's wrong with you tonight?"

The sharp jab of that helped a lot already. It gave me something to focus on.

She told me she was calming me down, and I felt that. She said "You need to learn how to take Darshan! You don't want to be out here with everyone. You would be perfectly happy if I took you into the back room every night, wouldn't you?"

"I would love that," I said, and I laughed at the truth of it. Others in the room laughed, too.
She continued, "You want your own private Goddess, and it doesn't work that way. I can't teach you like that. You need to learn how to channel all the shakti here instead of making me do it for you. It's about being receptive."

(Shakti is a kind of palpable spiritual force. It's the spiritual energy that allows for power or change, and you can feel it in your body when you pay attention. Think of the nervous excitement at the end of a great date, but you're on a date with God, and you know God won't make the first move.)

There was more, and I wish I remembered it, but I was already reeling. When Ma points her ray-gun right at you, it's hard to keep any memories. But afterwards I was able to focus on Darshan. I didn't try to fit myself into every word she was saying, but I rode the flow of it. The tightness in my shoulders and neck had receded, and I felt a soft, tender ache in my chest.

After Darshan I ran off into the woods and wept for a while. I wept with longing for God, and understanding, and peace. I rolled around in the dirt and dead leaves and felt bad and good and hurt and healing.

At some point, that lingering bit of conscious mind that was watching me cry instead of crying noticed that I was only moving from my chest up. My head and neck were shaking, but the rest of my body was calm and still. I asked myself "What do you know that I don't?" and I started to calm down. I think my body was just cool with all of the shakti, and my mind was overwhelmed. When I tuned into my body, I could handle it all.

And then I realized something. Something awesome. I don't know what it was, but it was definitely awesome. I even called a couple friends and tried to tell them about it. But that was a month ago, and none of us remember the thing. I've got, like, four different journals that I write in sometimes here, but I managed not to put that bit of insight into any of them. It was just so obvious and significant that I knew I couldn't possibly forget it. And maybe I haven't, for all I know, but I've lost the tether between thought and moment. Regardless, whatever it was, realizing it made me feel a lot better. I was still shakey and angsty, but much less so, and I was able to pull myself together and go to bed.

Ma teaches us that "Ego death doesn't hurt, but trying to keep a dying ego alive hurts like hell." I suspect that I thought of that while I was crying, and it helped me let go of something painful. Maybe something around my need to be special and know exactly what God wants of me. But I'm really just guessing.

The next day, I asked a swami here about what had happened at Darshan. She reassured me that everyone gets "the sword" sometimes, and there's nothing to be embarrassed about (or proud of, either). Turns out, a lot of people have gotten the "you want your own private Goddess," bit, too. It's about wanting Ma all to yourself, and learning how to appreciate that you only get to see her with the whole community. That part especially made a lot more sense with an explanation - I had wanted Ma all to myself, and that's not healthy or practical.

We had Darshan that night, too. I looked around the room, and felt grateful that I was being welcomed into this community to receive Ma. When she came out, I was very quickly in a calm, receptive place to hear her teaching. She guided us through a fairly simple meditation and didn't take any questions or dispense individual lessons. Afterward, my last lingering disquiet about the previous night fell away, and I just felt grateful for the awesome thing I'd realized.

I'm sorry for the distinct lack of an arc in this post. I want to share all of these details, and I don't have any idea how to wrap them up into story form. But there might be something better about the 'event salad' format. If there's something unsettling about moments presented without cohesion, sit with that for a few breaths. While we're living it, we always have to deal with the events not quite forming a story, right? I think that itch for narrative closure is just ego, hiding from the moment. Maybe we're better off unclosed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Forgiveness and Appreciation

Okay. I've joked about NBC's Community more than once before. But seriously, how amazing would this clip be before Yom Kippur?