Mother Issues

Last Sunday, I went to church with my mother.  I have been visiting with her in New Mexico for the past week.  She will be 92 years old in a few months.  My father passed away earlier this year a few days short of his 91st birthday.  They had been together and inseparable for 70 years.  I had watched my father delay the inevitable just because my Mom didn’t want him to go.   It wasn’t until she finally said, “okay, Ben you can go,” that he left.  He passed a few days later.   I was at the Orlando airport boarding the shuttle to take me to my gate, when Dad’s spirit visited me with his final goodbye.   I burst into tears and told him how much I loved him. It was 7:30 a.m., New Mexico time.

It is one year since my father became ill from pancreatic cancer.   My mother is living each day without him.   She never forgets for a minute that she is suffering his loss in her life.   There is nothing my brother or I or  her church can do to ease her pain or  heal her heart.   Her only comfort, oddly enough is Fox News.  Apparently she still loves to be outraged and what better opportunity than to tune into Hannity and Glen Beck.  Go figure.

I have noticed some changes in my mother.   She now lets me hug her for as long as I want.   She no longer creates a waltz-space, nor does she pat me on my back.   She lets me hold her close without pulling away.  We have nice talks about Daddy and what happens after death and even reincarnation.   She asks me about my experience as a child. She says she believes in reincarnation now and didn’t she always?  She reads everything I have written, especially loves what I have written for Pure Inspiration Magazine, but hides  my writings from her friends.  She  tells me that she has over the past month begun to see color lights sparkling in her room after she lies down for the night, and tells me confidentially, “I think it is Ben.”

We went to church service this past Sunday.  The pastor’s wife brought the children from the church up to the front and spoke about what constitutes a family.  The children so confident in their ideas of family declare “it is having a brother or a sister and the same mother and father.” Says one.

“There are all kinds of families, made up a step mothers and fathers and step sisters and brothers and even sometimes the children are adopted.” Says another.

Finally, one little girl said excitedly , “And  also we are all One family too, because we are all the children of God!”

“Yes!” Kathy said, “You are so right! We are all one family, and God is our Father.”

A little boy interrupted, “but who is our mother?!”   Kathy hesitated only a moment and said, “God is both mother and father.”  The little boy’s screwed his mouth a little to the side, his eyes rolled to one side.   He was thinking deeply.   You could see the cogs churning.

My eyes began to tear up, remembering an experience years ago.

I should orient you. It had occurred the first time I went to India by myself.  I decided to go alone, but wanted to begin the trip at an ashram to get my bearings and some confidence before traveling about.  I went to Satya Sai Baba’s Ashram Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi.   It was a massive and rather daunting place and as I turned my passport over to the office manager who informed me I would get it back in a few days, I wondered if I was making a mistake.

I arrived alone and so was told my accommodations would be in the ‘shed.’  And the ‘shed’ was just that, a large tin roof shed.  Old mattresses were piled along one side of the room. The floor was concrete. The windows were plentiful, but the screens in most of them were torn.  Mosquitoes could fly through the mesh wire that was covering them anyway.  I wondered what the screens were supposed to keep out.  The bath room and showers lined one end. I would not have to wait for a toilet or shower at least. There seemed to be only one other woman that had arrived alone!  Her brightly colored (probably brand new) mattress was laid out, covered with a sleeping bag and mosquito netting.

I pulled out a mattress from the pile, one that looked a bit less soiled and laid my sleeping bag on top of it. I dropped my bags and walked over to the little shop I had passed. I would buy toilet paper and mosquito netting. Perhaps they would have plastic or sheets to put over the mattress too.  The store was closed and would not open until the evening and then only to men. Women had to wait until the next morning to shop.

I went back to the shed; still no one else there. This was amazing to me since there were many hundreds of people milling about everywhere. Where were they all staying?  I prepared my little sleeping area as best as I could.    I had at least thought to bring some mosquito coils to burn through the night. And anyway I thought, I am here for the comfort of my  soul not my physical body.

I  picked up my lambskin and went to meditate at the mandir.  I began to feel excitement… the excitement that comes with great expectation.  But, as I approached the temple I was abruptly halted by an Indian lady wearing a brown kerchief around her neck.  I was not allowed to go into the temple.   I would have to get in queue for the afternoon darshan, but before that, I would have to go buy tickets for my meals if I wanted to eat that evening. The meal ticket kiosk was about to close.

I had noticed these kerchiefed men and women. They seem to be everywhere and apparently policing all the ashram activities. There had been rules and regulations quoted to me as I entered the ashram.   These must be the guards who make certain that no one gets away with anything.  For the second time since I had arrived I questioned the wisdom of this stay.

I bought my meal tickets and went to sit in one of the darshan lines. I had to sit there for an hour just to gain entrance to the mandir.  Apparently, it was important to get into the afternoon darshan queue early and to pick wisely. The first person in each row would have the chance to draw a number and that number would indicate how close your whole line would get to Sai Baba, as he walks through the main aisle to his chair at the front of the Mandir.  I looked carefully at the lead lady in each group in an attempt to decide  who looked the most worthy.    That day I sat on the very last row.  I was at the ashram for ten days and had darshan twice each day and never once picked a fortunate group.  I always ended up near the back of the mandir.

There are three canteens at Prasanthi Nilayam, North Indian, South Indian and Western.  That night I tried  the South Indian canteen. I was the only Westerner and wondered why?  The food was very cheap, only a few rupees for a meal and I loved South Indian thali.  I found out why no one else ventured there, the food was hot and greasy and there was no purified water.  From then on I ate all my meals at the Western Canteen.

I went to an orientation lecture after dinner.  Learned about more rules and regulations.  It was still very hot even at 8:30pm.  I went back to the shed to shower and cool off before I went to bed.    I set my alarm for 4:00a.m. to be in time for the line up for the Omkara chant in the Temple.   I was in bed before 9:30pm and would have 6.5 hours to sleep.   I was still alone in the shed.   It was quiet and I felt peaceful. I fell right to sleep, only to awaken an hour later to shouting and loud guffaws of men outside the shed.  Their talking got more and more raucous as the hours ticked by.  There might not have been anyone in the women’s shed, but the men’s shed was full to the brim.  I felt like screaming at them.  I couldn’t get back to sleep and it was now after midnight and in addition to the chatty men, the mosquitoes were giving me fits!   And this happened night, after night, after night.   Neither the obnoxious men nor the mosquitoes ever let up.    I could often manage an afternoon nap, but I didn’t sleep during the night the entire time I was at the  ashram.

I decided to just try to stay up and meditate all night long.   At 4 a.m. my alarm would go off and I would get up and shower again and rush off to queue for the Omkara.

Queuing  is an experience in itself.  I did it three times a day.   When you arrive at the Mandir,  you are pushed by the policing brown scarfs into a group, although you can switch into another group, if you are fast enough and someone makes room.   You are forced to sit, in a line seated cross-legged and as close as possible to the person in front of you.   You have to remain there motionless  for at least 30 minutes, sometimes an hour.  It is not pleasant.  It felt punishing.  I  kept asking myself why was I submitting to this?   Yet just this discipline alone brought me an experience of  Oneness.  There were times when someone would sneeze and it felt as I had been the one who had sneezed.  Or someone would have an aching leg and all you wanted to do was to help that other person get comfortable.    Queuing in this way developed in us a sense of family. We are all in this together.

When we were let loose promptly at 5am, we  would rush to cram ourselves into the small temple at the end of the Mandir to chant AUM.  Chanting Aum in that temple for about 20-30 minutes in the early morning energy was amazing and  so worth the wait.  High as a kite, we would  file out one by one politely and began to walk through the Ashram grounds singing bhajans.   Unfortunately I didn’t know any of the words to the songs.  Yet what a way to begin the day.   Even without sleep, I felt full of energy.  That was how I began each morning.   I would  leave the group at some point in the circumambulation to retreat to meditate.

There are many temples and shrines on the grounds and lovely places to do mantra japa and meditate.  I especially enjoyed the shrine to the Navagrahas (the 9 planets), where I would go to do japa to help me overcome with my relationship karma with Mikael and to the Ganeshe Temple to request obstacles be removed so my dharma could be revealed to me and the Kalpavruksha tree where I would meditate and ask for the grace to advance spiritually.

The Kalpavruksha tree is known by all at the ashram as the wish-fulfilling tamarind tree from which Sai Baba had manifested all kind of fruits in the early years.  And this brings me to the reason I began this story in the first place – to explain the tears I shed so freely, when the little boy wondered who was The Mother of  us all!

Each morning after omkara and bhajans,  I would go  to the Navagrahas shrine and the  Ganeshe’s temple and then to the Kalpavruksha.   I would sit and meditate under the tree for hours.    I was always quite surprised to be the only person meditating. Throngs of people were at the ashram and many people walked by the tree.    Only on one occasion did I see anyone meditate there.   It was a lone man who got up as soon as I sat down.  Probably there was a rule against men and women sitting under the same tree.

The Wish-fulling tree had persuasive powers.   It could draw me inward almost as soon as I sat down and closed my eyes.  My meditations were not quiet; they seem from day to day only to stir up subconscious thoughts and suffering.   I felt the pain of not being seen for who I am, but for how I appeared.    I felt the pain of being a child who never felt apart of her parent’s world, who was not held or touched enough, and although praised for what she did to please them, was never adored for who she was.

I had always believed that I had been switched in the hospital nursery when I was born.  My parents had told me early on that another girl had been born on my birthday, at the same time and to another mother having a cesarean. One’s name was Jan Suzanne and the other Suzanne Jan.   A mix up surely could have happened.   During my meditations over the ten days, I never came to realize that I was given to the wrong family; I came to realize that ultimately it wouldn’t matter.

There is no way of writing what happened on one particular day in meditation. Thinking about it now, all I can say is it happened and it was profound and it changed me.  Sitting under the Kalpavaruksha, I found myself seated in the lap of The Divine Mother of the Universe.   I was held in Absolute Love, Absolute Protection,  Absolute Possibility.  I had everything I had ever wanted or could desire in those moments.    I was at Peace and Absolute Joy filled every single cell of my body and every pore of my skin exuded happiness.  I do not know how long I was in that state but what broke it was tears of joy that turned into sobbing so deep that my whole body undulated with it.

So many people stopped by the tree, came up to me and told me it was alright, that Sai Baba would help me, and take care of my pain.  Even though I was sitting under the Wish-fulfilling Tree not one person seemed to understand my emotion was bliss and new understanding.   I have told no one of this experience until this very moment.  But, I wanted to share it with the little boy who asked the question in my mother’s church last Sunday, “Then, who is our Mother?”

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