Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Atlanta parts 3-8

So, I've been thinking a lot about why it's so hard for me to tell this story, and I think the problem is, I don't know how the story ends. I mean, I've left the Ashram, so the episode is over, but I can't make heads or tales of what happened. I think I'm gonna sit with this story for a long time before I figure out what was really going on. But I want to share some of the pieces with you guys, so maybe you can figure it out with me, and then we can move on to clearer, more adventurey adventures.

Here's the plan for a little while: This post and the next are gonna hit the last beats on this Atlanta moment and its consequences. Up next I'll cover my departure from the Ashram, the last thing Ma told me, and some reflections on the whole experience. After that I'll go back in time a week and talk about flying up to Boston from the Ashram for a few days to check out a rabbinical school. If I can write all that in two weeks, I'll only be on a two month lag time!

Sound good? Let's see how it pans out.


April 20th
Dear Ma,

I'm sorry. I am so, so, very sorry. I'm sorry I yelled, and that I hurt you and the people around you. I'm sorry for my defensive letter that night, and for waiting so long to send you this one. I made a terrible choice, and denied that it was even a choice, and I'm very sorry. It would be wrong to treat anyone that way, and so much more so you. 

I cry, and picture your face, and I know there's no way for ego to deserve the depth of your love. The choice that you made, to take me in and hug me and keep loving me, despite my anger and shame, is so much more love than I ever thought I could have. I needed so desperately to believe in your holy love, and I'm so sorry that I had to act out so terribly to finally see that I had it. I can still feel your arms around me, and your shoulder under my tears, and I'm so grateful that you could face down the worst side of me and keep loving me anyway. I'm so sorry I made it come to that. Thank you for loving me, and proving with your love that I am not my anger.

When you took my pain I saw crystal clearly how mistaken I had been. I saw how beautiful and true you are, and the insanity of acting against you. I saw your courage, and how much you have given up, in loving God, to love us. Thank you for loving me so much, even though I treated you so badly. Thank you for showing me The Mother in you. Thank you for showing me how hurt I was, and how wrong I was to lash out. Thank you for bringing me into gratitude.

I know that even now, it's still also my ego that wants to apologize. It's still my ego that wants to make nice, and make a show of acquiescence to win back your softness. I pray that you will see past the apology of my mind to the deep regret of my heart.

Thank you for all of this and more. I cannot say enough that I'm sorry. I truly love you. I commit myself never to act that way again, to you or anyone.

Kumara Jaya


I don't know what I can say about that letter. It hurts me to read it, and maybe that's a good thing. When I read it over, I can almost mean it again.

I cried over every word before I sent it. I wrote four or five drafts, and read them to my father and Acharya Rudra Das, asking for help to get it just right. I dug as far down deep in my soul as I could for sorrow, and poured all of it out on the keyboard. I uprooted every thought that maybe I hadn't acted wrongly, that maybe Ma wasn't right and perfect, and I filled their empty spaces with apology. I wrote that letter knowing I was dead wrong, and Ma was just right, and the best thing I could ever do for anyone was change. That's all good, I guess, but it's so self-negating, I don't know that it was healthy.

It's a funny thing to apologize when your apology is a foregone conclusion. Looking back on it, my intention may not have been so much to tell the truth as it was to write the best apology I could and then make it the truth.

I was in a lot of pain when I acted out, and this letter expresses no sympathy for that. I acted totally wrongly, of course, and I made a huge mistake, but I apologized without really acknowledging that I had (bad, insufficient) reasons for my actions. I tried to divorce myself from those reasons, instead of transcending them. I think that over the next few years or lifetimes, as I learn this story better, I'll be able to find a balanced place of real apology that addresses both the pain of that moment and the wrongness of how I expressed it (May it be the will of God).

I wrote another letter a while later. I'm not sure it's any better than the first one, but it captures an additional something important.


April 30th
Dear Mother,

Thank you for accepting and reading my letter. 

I've been feeling for some time that I still owe you one more email. My last one was about pain and gratitude and love, and it came from a place too volatile to talk about respect. What happened in Atlanta, and darshan since then, and some help from your acharyas, has all shown me that I still have important lessons to learn about respect. I think these are lessons to learn through practice. This is how I can fulfill the commitment I made never again to attack a holy teacher in anger. 

I also want to tell you that I have been davvening with tefillin and siddur since coming back here, and it has really sweetened my bond with God. Thank you for pushing me back to my own path. I had not been putting in the work to draw in God. 

Thank you again. I love you very much.

Kumara Jaya

The piece about respect is why I wrote the letter, but I should say something too about davvening with tefillin and siddur. (Davvening = praying. Tefillin is a Jewish ritual prayer object, and the siddur is the book of Jewish liturgy.)

That Friday night in Atlanta, Ma had told me I needed to practice in the way of my own tradition, and this would help me with my problems. It was difficult to do Jewish prayer at the Ashram - I always felt a big wet Hindu blanket hampering my progress whenever I tried - but I tried harder when I got back again, and it proved rewarding. At the same time that I was feeling raw and hurt and worthless around my violation of Ma, Jewish prayer made me feel warm and welcome and alive. I felt juiced and excited to be back on my own path again, instead of stumbling around Ma's.


I've tried to write out word for word what was said that Friday night in Atlanta, and the transcript really doesn't do the moment justice. Ma was teasing and poking me, very much on purpose, I think, for whatever reasons motivate Gurus. I raised my hand then put it down again, and she called on me anyway. I tried to speak and she cut me off, then told me to go, then cut me off again two or three times. She made small jokes that everyone laughed at while I was really, really uncomfortable. I'd been feeling that squeeze, that spiritual skin crawl, not quite fitting into the rhythm of her teaching. When I finally got to voice my question, I started with "Ma, I feel like I'm trying really hard - " and I was cut off with "You're not trying at all!" 

She told me I needed to practice in the way of my own tradition, and I said it was very hard, and she asked me if I thought it was supposed to be easy. I still didn't feel heard (big mistake, and a super big trigger for me) and I asked Ma if I could get angry at her, and she said no, you never get angry at your Guru. She told me I wanted my own personal Goddess, and I said I didn't think that was fair, I had worked on that, that I just needed a little help. She told me I couldn't have her all to myself and I shouted "I DON'T WANT YOU. I WANT GOD!!!!!" 

And that was it. Ma hugged me and loved me and kicked me out of the room. On Sunday she took all my pain away, and on Monday I drove back to Florida and found it again. On Tuesday I wrote that apology, and spent a week and change feeling terrible for what I had done. And then finally, on my birthday, Ma gave me exactly what I had asked for.

Hopefully I'll tell you all about that next time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Atlanta part 2

The next day at the event was very difficult. I had never made an apology to the group, and here I was surrounded by people I'd harmed. We were trying to do spiritual work, and I was totally uncomfortable.

Some folks were immediately forgiving. They saw me lash out from a place of pain, and even on Friday night some people hugged me, told me they knew where I was coming from, and that it would be okay. A few people even thanked me for the honesty, or for provoking the generosity of Ma's response. One woman told me she'd been afraid to speak up until she saw my bad example, but then asked an important question and gotten a beautiful answer.

On the other hand, a friend told me that what I'd done was dramatic and disrespectful, and not to talk to her until I'd fixed myself.

Most people went about their own process, of course, and said nothing to me, but I was not an equal participant. In my own mind, in the mind I saw in strangers, I was that awful man who'd yelled at Ma.

I kept thinking of that prayer, and the line "May it be your will... that I do not revert to my old ways." The prayer helped, but I was stuck thinking about my old ways.

Come Sunday, a two events showed me out of my shame hole. In a small group conversation, I asked a question about the difference between intuitive action-without-thought and angry reaction-without-thought and the answer - intuition feels good while you're doing it - took us into a conversation about choice. Someone there pointed out that domestic abusers used to claim "I had no choice, Judge, I was angry," as though that absolved them of responsibility. She told me I'm still making a choice, even in deep pain, about how I'm going to act. This was a hard pill to swallow - Ma provoked me! She made me do it! - but a lot harder to spit up again. Ma provoked me into pain, and I chose to hide from that pain in anger. Instead of trying to 'fix' myself, still treating myself as an object that reacts without freedom, it's much healthier to ask how not to repeat a terrible choice. I curled up the shame hole into a little shame ball and felt it slip down from my heart and out my belly button. Great success.

Big help number two, just before Ma arrived, Acharya Durga Das told me "When Ma gets here, sit down, shut up, and for God's sake don't raise your hand. Just be grateful you're in the presence of the Mother." And once Ma came, the wisdom of this advice was astonishing. One of my questions since Friday night - one that was inhibiting real growth, regret, and redemption - had been "How can I show Ma how sorry and better I am?" The Acharya's instructions meant that I couldn't tell Ma anything. It gave me a lot more room to receive. I got to be grateful, and even grateful for my own gratitude, and not pretend that if I piled enough shame in my jowls, Ma would just forgive me to make me feel better. Once I was committed to shutting up, I could finally hear what she had to say.

And what she had to say was remarkable. She taught us about unlocking intuition in the body, and how much of intuition lies in loving and accepting yourself, and that the search for God is truly the search for oneself in God. And then she took us into meditation, and maybe did the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

She told us, at some point, to give her one wound. To find one place we were hurting and let her cut that pain right out of us. I held out the wound of my sorrow, and she said she took it, and it was gone.

She said to give her one more wound, and I held out the grief that made me shout at her Friday night, then it was gone.

She said to give her all of our wounds, and I stopped short. All? I thought. All? I couldn't do that.

I could still feel the power in the room, but I was stumped by it. I heard crying around me, then in front of me, and I opened my eyes. Ma kept talking, said she was cutting out all of our pain, our grief, and our sorrow. I saw a woman weeping - a woman who had seemed fun, sassy, and totally self-possessed all weekend - sobbing with total abandon. And I got it, and I let go, and I gave Ma my pain.

My father talks about the difference between injury pain and healing pain. An broken arm is one, a set and cast arm is the other. I was filled, for what felt like a very long time, with a breathtaking healing pain. Everything I carry but don't need was escaping, leaving the strangest hollow spaces behind. I felt Ma's sword cut out these old aches and inner blockages, and when she told us to I filled the empty spaces with Joy. I felt the whole room get brighter and lighter as everyone let go of their tragic histories. Weeping myself, I let while light flood into the old domains of hurt and anger. Places in my body (it was all very corporeal) that I hadn't really felt at home in (does that make any sense?) suddenly felt open and bright.

I felt totally forgiven.

I looked at Ma and saw with awe and wonder the Goddess able to heal us all this way. Looking around the room, it was clear that everyone else was experiencing the same purifying, eviscerating love. How absurd, how insane, it had been to think I could have ever gained anything by yelling at her!

I sat on this for a moment, then fell back into gratitude, weeping, relief. The frustration of my body and appetite, the pain of loneliness, the fear of judgment, the conspicuous absence of God, were all gone from my experience. Love and light, love and light, everywhere I looked.

I slipped down from this high about six or eight hours later, but had the most glorious afternoon in the mean time. Ma told us we would take back most of our pain, betrayed by years of habit, but we could never take it all back. I've found this to be true. Just having seen these wounds replaced with Joy has undermined their potency when they reassert themselves. When I think of it, which isn't often enough, I can put myself back in that room and feel her sword again.

I spent an hour that afternoon, after Ma left, just walking around hugging people and telling them how much I appreciated their contributions to the weekend. Everyone in the room was now my companion on this wonderful voyage. I felt no shame over my own role, and nothing but affection and awe for the souls around me. One woman had broken down crying, during Q&A with Ma after that pain-taking meditation, and I wanted to tell her how I valued her expression of Truth. I walked up and lost my words, saying  "I... I just love you!" instead. She hugged me and said "I just love you, too!" and a third party declared both of us drunk. And she was right, of course, this third-party pooper. We were all wandering about in a love-drunk haze. I went home with some locals to cook them dinner and offer massages, and all of it was wonderful.

I wrote Ma another letter that night, trying to balance out my awful non-apology apology. I still felt forgiven, though, and liberated from shame. There was nothing to say about Friday night at that point. It didn't matter anymore. "Thank you, Ma. I love you so much." pretty much covered everything I needed to say.

But come on. That's getting off way too easy, right? I get to throw a tantrum, and Ma just makes the whole thing go away? No way. That's total bullshit.

I drove back to Florida on Monday, feeling great the whole way down. But when pulled into the land, got out of my car, and was actually there again, it suddenly felt different. I had acted in pain, and my pain was gone, but the karma of my action still had to be dealt with. This story, clearly, was not done yet.