Pilgrimage to Santopanth Tal

Since the early 1990’s, I had begun to travel to India every other year.  The South, especially Thiruvanamalai had brought me the greatest spiritual joy and experiences.  I felt that all one would have to do was just to  stay there long enough, and all could be discovered!  There is magic in around Arunachala Mountain (the red mountain which Ramana Maharshi considered the embodiment of Siva).   Some of siddhas manifest there from time to time.  I have witnessed this for myself.

I didn’t make it to Badrinath in the Himalayas until 1997, then again in 1998.  There is something about Badrinath.  I think of all the many spiritual seekers who have experienced the “call” of Badrinath.  One trip there, I was hooked, line and sinker. The first two trips I planted some part of me, hair and nails in its earth.  Something that might grow or draw me back again.  I have continued to return at least every other year since then.

There are many sacred sites where Babaji did tapas.  Badrinath is where our tradition says he reached Saruba Samadhi (the golden body of Immortality).  Another is nearby, at Santopanth Tal, a beautiful green lake, formed from a glacier and surrounded by mountains on all sides.   The whole area was said to be a glacier and very difficult to access even in the summertime.  Mana is a small village, 2 km from Badrinath, which borders Tibet.   It is here that  the underground Saraswati River pushes to the surface to unite with the Alakananda.   It is there they say that Sage Vyasa, with Lord Ganesha’s help wrote the Mahabharata.  Much of the Mahabharata was staged in the area.

The villagers of Mana are a Bhotia community of Mongolians. They are beautiful people with amazing face and strong constitutions. Their deeply lined faces make them look ancient and the light from their eyes, wise.  In this small village on top of the world in 1998, I made the vow to return the following year to make the pilgrimage to Santopanth Tal, a 23 kilometer trek, over heights of 16,000 feet.  I didn’t think how I would accomplish any of it.  I just vowed I would do it.

A few months later, Marshall Govindan contacted me and said he would go to Santopanth Tal in late summer/early fall, and would take a couple of others with him.  He figured that I wanted to go.  Of course, I wanted to go.  A vow, I thought was all it took!   As the summer neared, I heard that more and more people were going on the trek  with us.  There would be five of us, then seven.   By early July, fifteen people were going.   Govindan told me so many more wanted to go.  Someone had asked if she could go by  pony.

I was getting irritated and losing interest in the trek altogether.   I meditated whether I should still go.  I always thought that I would travel only with two others.   I still felt strongly still that I should travel with only two other people, whenever that might be.   I meditated again the following night to make sure that I had heard correctly.  In the morning, before I had a chance to phone Govindan to tell him of my change of heart, he had cancelled the trip.  Gaetane, his wife (at the time), had a vivid dream where Babaji told her that Govindan must immediately cancel the trip to Santopanth Tal.   Govindan wrote in a group email to everyone, “Babaji says the group has gotten too large. And furthermore, he (Govindan) felt that he was not the gatekeeper.   He would go alone to Santopanth.  In the future if one was to get there, he or she would have to arrange it with Babaji Himself.”    I was relieved!  I knew Babaji did not want group tours to his Ashram.  I felt elated that I had heard correctly, although sad that I would not make it there that year.

Later in the day, I received an email from a kriyaban I knew slightly, who wrote, “You and I are going to Santopanth!   I can arrange everything. I will call you later in the day with all the details.”  – Randy.

Well, I thought, no matter how much I wanted to go, there was no way I was going to Santopanth Tal alone with him. Randy knew his way around mountains but he was pushy and always seemed to have an agenda with me, often monetary.  He was someone with whom I had some one-sided or lop-sided karma.   I liked him and he was sincerely devoted to  Babaji.   And he  seemed to be on my path for a specific purpose.  You know from your own lives that there are some people who come into your life at the perfect time, and perform an important function for you, or you for them, and then they are gone.  Randy was one of these people.   But still, I wrote Randy that I didn’t feel comfortable going alone with him and I didn’t have the money to pay his way.

The next morning Devanada wrote, “there is a silver-lining to this! You,  Randy and I are going to Santopanth Tal!  Go buy your equipment. I will phone tonight and we can talk about the dates and flight arrangements.  And that was that!  Devananda was a good friend and his wife knew me and Devananda offered to help Randy financially with the trip.  I went shopping for equipment just as he had suggested and we settled the dates and bought the flight tickets that evening.

Devananda was angry, not that the group trip had been canceled.  He hadn’t  liked the idea of a big group either, but he wanted to go with Govindan.  Govindan had told him no.  Devananda was Govindan’s first acharya and we had all been talking about this pilgrimage for a year.   I was happy with Govindan.  He had canceled the big group and refused to take Devananada.  And I was going because of it.   However,   I don’t recall that we let Govindan know that the three of us were going to Santopanth at the end of August.   It all happened so quickly.   Whenever you plan a true pilgrimage, it begins the moment you decide you are going.  Your dreaming cycle become vivid, your meditations important and your life begins to bring your karma to you at lightning speed.  Cause and effect becomes most distinct.   And that is what began to happen almost immediately.

One dream I will share, which has some importance  in my story.   I was walking along a hillside in the mountains.   A woman was drawing water from the river.  She was lovely and had long black hair.  I walked up to her and asked her where I could find Babaji.   She said, you can never find  Babaji because you can never recognize Babaji, even if you meet him and speak with him directly.  I sat down next to her for quite a while.  “Okay,” she said, as she was leaving, “he will be strict with you and you will know and people will say he has a shoe loose.”

The three of us met up in NYC at LaGuardia. We had not said where we would meet up, but I was hardly there ten minutes when I heard my name being called and Randy appeared.  A few minutes later we saw Devananda looking like Indian Jones walking towards us, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. We waltzed up to the Air India counter and checked in and requested three seats together.   The representative told us that there were plenty of seats free and we could have a whole row to ourselves if we wanted it.  But we wanted to sit, shoulder to shoulder.

We talked the whole way to New Delhi.  We shared what our lives had been like since we decided to take this trip.   Devananda’s wife had all kinds of premonitions about buses driving off the mountain roads and many people dying.  Nothing could dissuade us. The good news was that she hadn’t seen us at the bottom of any ravines.  Randy and Devananda had meditations with Babaji over several days.  And Devananda said that He said quite clearly to him that we were welcome, but not to expect a “big brass band.”   We were just explosively happy.  I had felt as if I had won the lottery or Miss Universe contest.   Even though I had dreamed of this trip for the last ten years, it had finally come together perfectly as if  effortlessly and in an instant.

We arrived in Delhi about midnight. We got our luggage and headed out the door of baggage claim. I had forgotten that Devananda had not been to India before and as we went into the main hall of the terminal where people were awaiting arrivals,  he quite literally stopped in his tracks. “Oh my, was all he said.  I just smiled.  Randy herded us towards the main doors. I always got a prepaid taxi in the terminal because it is so hectic, but Randy was ahead of me. I turned to say something to Devananda about it, and by the time I had turned back around, a young boy had taken my cart and was rushing toward the main doors, saying, “Come Madame, follow me, I take you to your taxi!”
”Wait, I called out. And ran after my luggage. All three of us followed the young boy out the terminal and though the throngs of people and taxis and auto rickshaws.  The boy kept a fast pace but continued to look back saying, “Come Madame, your taxi is this way. ”

We walked through the parking lot to a covered lot and there was a taxi driver standing by an old Hindustan Ambassador.  The taxi driver gave the boy something and he left.  He didn’t even ask us for tips.  The taxi driver packed our bags in the trunk.  Devananda and I got in the back and Randy got in the front with the driver.   I told the driver to take us to Connaught Circus to  a particular hotel for the night. Randy told him that we were going to Badrinath.  The taxi driver told us we needed to get out of Delhi, that it dangerous, that there were terrorist attacks and such due to the upcoming elections.  “It was not safe to stay here. You should go now to Haridwar!”

I said, “take us to Connaught Place.”  He ignored me, until I tapped him on the shoulder and  said, “Sir take us to the Park Hotel in Connaught Place.”

He said without looking at me,  “I don’t know where that is!

Connaught Place is one of the most well known area of town to tourists.

” You need to get to Haridwar tonight.  I will take you to a government travel agency, they will get you a taxi out of town tonight.”

Devananda was sitting back and seemed to be enjoying the whole experience.  He didn’t say a word.  “ I am tired, I want to go to Connaught Place.” I argued.

The driver turned to look in the rear view  mirror and looking at me straight in the eye said, “ Madame,  sit back and be quiet!  I will take care of you. You must get out of Delhi tonight!”

“Oh my God!  I thought, Who is this?”   I sat back and waited to see what would happen next.  Randy turned around from the front seat and moved his lips to indicate to me that he was drunk.  Like that was supposed to reassure me.  Randy began to chat non-stop with the driver as the driver drove through all kinds of neighborhoods and dark alleys.  About fifty minutes later we arrived at a building that was completely dark.

“Here we are, the taxi driver said with a big grin in the mirror!”
It’s closed,”  I said.

“No, they are there, I’ll get them up!” And off he went.   A few minutes later, lights came on, the door was opened and we were invited inside by two yawning young men, who were rolling up their beds on the office floor.   And yes, indeed this was a government travel agency. And yes, they could get us a taxi tonight for Haridwar.

I asked if we could get a hotel room at Connaught Place and again the taxi driver chimed in, that we really didn’t need a hotel in Delhi, we were going to the Himalayas.    So the agents went to work to find us a taxi to get us that evening to Haridwar.    Did we want a new car?   Did it have to be air-conditioned?

I said, ” I want a very  good driver and a newer and reliable car!”   The taxi driver was standing right next to me and  smiled  and instead of asking for his fare and  leaving to get another fare, he sat down in the empty chair next to Devananda.   Randy had to stand up, as there were no other chairs.  I was growing more and more suspicious of this man in our midst.

About 15 minutes later,  the taxi driver took Devananda’s hat off his head and put it on his own.  My jaw dropped when I saw the taxi driver looking like Indian Jones.  I was totally nonplussed to see the driver do such an intimate thing and amazed too that he looked so striking in the hat.   I really looked at him then.   His face was beautiful and his eyes shone with such a twinkle of delight.  Devananda was taking everything in stride.  Randy was agitated and walking in and out of the building.    The travel agent on the phone was frowning and looking at the taxi driver with occasional sideward glances.   A few minutes later the driver put the hat back on Devananda’ s head and adjusted the cock of it just right.  He turned to me with a smile.   Still he did not move or ask for his fare.

In fact the driver did not leave until we had been able to locate a taxi and a driver had been found and called and was on his way.  It took hours.   At one point I  had gotten up to let Randy sit down and had walked into a small anti room.   Before the taxi driver left, he came into the room where I was standing and said, “I am so happy to have met you. It is a pleasure!”   He took my hand and brought it to his lips and kissed it very gently.  “Yes, I am happy indeed.  May you have a wonderful yatra to Badrinath!”   All I could do was to look straight into his eyes.  He then dropped my hand and brought the back of his own hand to my lips?  I tilted my head as if that would help me see him clearer.  I bit my lip, brought both my hands into pranam at my heart and smiling, bobbed my head slightly.  “Who are you?” I said.

He smiled and walked out of the room.  I followed him out and he shook hands with Devananda and wished us all safe passage and then we all followed him outside.  The driver then walked over to Randy and asked for some money.

Randy said, “He already paid you, pointing to Devananda.  Go!  The man said, “you mean you wont even give me 10 rupees?  I rushed over to him with money in my hand.  He turned to me and with his hand said no.   I stepped back.  Randy said, “He paid you already, and I am sure he paid you well.”   He tried again with Randy, “What about 5 rupees?  Would you deny me 5 rupees?”   And again Randy dismissed him.

He smiled, turned and walked off toward the taxi.

The government agent walked out of the building into the night air.  He scolded us, “Where did you find him?  You were foolish to let a man like that take you off in a taxi!”

“What do you mean,” I said, “you didn’t know him?  He drove right here, refusing to go anywhere else. I thought you must have a deal with him. Doesn’t he come her all the time?”

“No,” the young man said, “I have never seen him before.”

Randy, said , “Yeah he was drunk.”

The agent replied, “No, they are all drunk, but this one, wasn’t drunk.  He was crazy.”   He sat down on the step.   “No, this one ” he paused, “this one, had a screw loose!

I almost fainted. My dream!  I turned and rushed toward the taxi. We hadn’t heard it leave but it wasn’t there. No one had seen him drive away.   I kept my thoughts private, to be shared at the appropriate time at Santopanth Tal.   Ah, India!

To be continued

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?”

More lessons along the Golden Triangle and Beyond

Continued from previous post

I am not sure why being locked in the room brought up so much anger.  But I was furious.  Who locks a bedroom door from the outside with their roommate inside and goes off to have dinner!  At first, I tried to breathe deep and calm myself and see the humor in the situation. But I just couldn’t find anything funny.  There were no telephones in the room to call the front desk or housekeeping to let me out.  I went to the window to see if I could escape by jumping.  I was on the second story and I imagined a jump would have some consequences.

I recalled that there was a shop nearby our door so I began to gently knock on the door.  After a few minutes I began to knock with a bit heavier hand and a few minute later I was shouting, “Hello, can anyone hear me?!”

Finally a man’s voice answered, “Are you locked in?”

“Yes,” I sang back in an unpleasantly pitched voice, “would you please find someone to unlock this … door!”  The man worked at the shop nearby and assured me that no one from the front desk or housekeeping could help me because there is only one key!  He would have to go find my roommate at dinner, but he couldn’t leave his shop!   I told him that if he didn’t find my roommate, I would be jumping from the window.

He promised me he would go and try to find J..  About 15-20 minutes later, J. unlocked the door and walked in with out an apology but  rather saying unemotionally,  “You were meditating and I had left all my money and passport in the room, I wasn’t about to leave the door unlocked. ”

I was able to manage a few questions in a calm voice, “did you realize that you were locking me in?” “Did you not miss me at dinner?”

She hadn’t thought about it.   I was livid and hungry.  I had missed dinner altogether.  The man from the nearby shop poked his head into the room, “Are you okay?” he asked me.

“Sure, and thanks a lot for your kind help.”

He smiled and said, “come by my shop, I have a lot of beautiful things.”  I assured him I would.

I recalled  the “stone man” from the jewelry store the previous day,  handing the white stone to my window, as the tour bus drove off.   “What,” I thought, “if I needed that white stone to handle my mental state with all that would soon  happen on this trip?”  That thought continued to float through the back of my mind for the rest of the trip.

I took a shower and went to bed mad and hungry.  The next morning at breakfast the blonde travel agent (i could never remember her name) came up and told me to hurry, the bus would soon be off for elephant rides at the Amber Fort.  I told her that I would skip the Amber Fort, that I wanted to have a leisurely breakfast and hang out in the Palace Gardens today.  I said, “please inform the bus driver not to wait for me.   I will not be coming along to the Amber Fort.”  The blonde hummed and said something under her breath and walked off with an, “okay sweetie, suit yourself,” over her shoulder.

About ten minutes later J. arrived for breakfast.   She had found something amazing in the gift shop. I told her to skip breakfast, that she had to hurry for the bus, the group would leave in the next fifteen minutes for the Amber Fort.  I said the plan is to ride elephants to the Fort and it sounded like fun.  She asked why I was still sitting there and I told her I was just going to hang out and meditate on what had happened last night.  I experienced such intense anger and had a panic attack. I was prepared to jump out of the window.   I laughed and said maybe in a pastlife, I had been in a member of the harem here or some such oddity.

Jules sat down and order coffee and breakfast.   She said she would stay with me.   I suggested she do me a favor and go with the others.   She ignored my rebuke.   I then told  her to at least go tell the others she would not be going so they did not wait on her.  She dismissed the idea, as unnecessary.  And began to tell me the story of her own confinement and jump from a window as a child, when she had been locked in their apartment by her mother.   Of course, before she had finished her story, my two favorite travel agents came running up to the table. Hurry they said, the bus is waiting for you and everyone is furious with you for making us wait.   We told them we would come find you.

Apparently the blonde woman had neglected to tell the group that I had planned to remain at the Palace and when J. casually blew the two off, with a, “I don’t want to go, just go on without me,” my two favorite people shot me such a look of disappointment and a I-never -thought- you -would- be- so- disrespectful-Jan.     I felt awful.  I couldn’t even speak up and say that I told the blonde lady to tell the driver.  I just said, “I am sorry.”

I spent the day meditating and writing and J.  spent it shopping.   We met for a late lunch and I was frankly very impressed.     She had bought a handmade musical instrument from one of the hotel musicians.   The musician had also thrown in his own turban and had wrapped it expertly around her head.  That is how she showed up for lunch and with the musician in tow. I must say she made quite a sight!   The home made sarangi was rather handsome for a painted wooded box with some wooded knobs. Four strings were strung across the body and tied to nails and it was played with a handmade bow.  The musician played it for me.   I asked her how much she had paid, thinking my sons might enjoy such an instrument. I was amazed.  She had paid $160 USD.   I looked up at the musician who smiled widely, and left quickly.  J.  had also bought a ring and earring set that was gorgeous and looked like they had been made for her.  I told her she must have been a maharani in a past life.

Later in the day, one of the young men who worked at the hotel came over to me to gossip about my roommate’s musical instrument.  He was angry and said that she could have bought the same thing in town, much better quality, for about $40 USD.  She had given the musician a year’s wages.  The musician had told everyone at the hotel about the sale and had left to go tell his family and hide the money.  He was afraid that J. would try to renege on the deal.  The young man speculated that the musician would quit working for the rest of the year.  I amused myself with the thought that J. may have  payed back some karmic debt.

That afternoon and evening, all our travel companions, one by one showered me with their ire, either in word or cold shoulder.  J. on the other hand seemed to get by unscathed.  Go figure!   Oh, I thought, why hadn’t I bought that white agate!   We left the following morning.  J. sat next to a pretty New York City travel agent on the bus.  One of the few men on the trip graciously offered me a seat next to him.

I liked Jim, he and Carol had been the two people who I most felt affinity with in the group.  Jim wanted me to sit next to him because he was trying to avoid Tara.  Tara had decided that she and Jim were going to have a “fling” on the trip, but Jim was not interested.  Tara was another blonde and very vivacious, too vivacious for her thirty some odd years.   As Tara walked past us, the bag slung over her shoulder hit me in the head, surely by accident.  Jim and I chatted about Yoga and India, all the way to Agra, the next point on the Golden Triangle.

We stayed in a lovely newer hotel in Agra. It seemed to be the only fine hotel in the city at the time.  In fact, the thing I most appreciated in Agra was not the Taj Mahal, but were the wonderful shops in this hotel!   It was May and tourist season was over, so the shop keepers were most inclined to haggle and bargains were possible.  A three foot, sandalwood carving of Mahatma Gandhi, in his dhoti and with his  cane had caught my eye and I wanted him!  The shopkeeper had priced him at roughly $1500 USD.  He didn’t even give me a price in rupees, he wanted US dollars.   I said thank you and walked away sadly, no reason to bargin with him, it wasn’t close to what I could afford.

I went to find J.  to tell her about the statue.   She boasted that said she would get it for me for a fraction of that price!  I told her I would be forever grateful.   She nodded as if it was done.  J. was seated at a table by the pool sipping tea.  She was excited because a famous palm reader and psychic was staying at the hotel and would wander through the throngs of well-healed mostly female tourists with interesting tidbits at a price commensurate with such valuable insights and forewarnings.   I shrugged my shoulders and sat to order some tea and veggie sandwiches.  While we were there, the palm reader came out to the pool for a quick glance around.  He was tall, distinguished and a bit theatrical looking in his turban.  His glance stopped at our table, lingered a moment then moved to a group of ladies at the other end of the pool.  He walked over to them, introduced himself with a salaam and sat down.  “Well,” I said, “that group should keep him busy for the rest of the afternoon, why don’t we go over to see the Taj.”   Just then Jim and Carol came up and suggested the same thing.

In the late afternoon sun the Taj Mahal was magnificent.  It is amazing that the most well-known and extravagant   structure built in India had no function other than being a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the forth wife of a Muslim man, mogul Emperor or not.

Strategically placed along the reflecting pool leading tourists to and from the Taj were about  fifty attractive young boys with cameras who would smile widely and say,  “Please beautiful lady, I take your picture.”   I do not like having my picture taken and must have accomplished to ruin every photo, with a hand across my face or a turn of my head because the next morning not one young man ran up to me with a beautiful selection of photographs for me to  purchase.

However, the next morning as we were preparing for a group bus tour to the Red Fort of Agra a few kilometers away, a young man did walk up to J. with a collection of beautiful photographs of her at the Taj.  The young man offered her several package deals, all pretty reasonable.  The full photograph package was equivalent to just less than ten dollars and the photos were very professionally packaged.  But J. refused to pay the price he asked, perhaps she was a bit prickly over the price she paid for the sarangi. They began to tease each other and haggle.  I left them to make the deal.

Not wanting to be accused of keeping everyone waiting again, I went to sit on the bus.   As I watched out the bus window, the conversation between J. and the photo walla got heated and finally at one point, the young man took the photos, all six of them, and right in front of her face, ripped them in half.    Jules’s mouth dropped open. And then, he turned and left.  I wondered if he had ever done that before.

J.  walked onto the bus and sat by me.  She seemed disturbed. “Did you see what he did,” she asked?

“Yeah, I did, maybe he did that for effect and he has all the negatives and will show up this afternoon to seal the deal.”  I ventured.

“Hmmm.”   J. was quiet the whole ride to the Red Fort of Agra.  The Fort of Agra was where the Shah Jahan had lived with Mumtaz Mahal.     He had rebuilt much of it and replaced the red rock with white marble, inlaid with gold and semi-precious gems.  It was an impressive place, but most poignant moment came when in the tower we were shown where Shah Jahan had been imprisoned  by his own son, Aurangzeb for crimes against his people.  There was a post and chain on a marble balcony, where he was allowed to sit, with a great view of the Taj that had brought him only disgrace and disrepute.

I rose early the next morning to do some Yoga by the pool.   J. was not in the room when I returned.   I showered, packed and went down for breakfast.   She was not in the dining room.  I took a plate of food from the buffet and went to find a seat.  Jim asked me to sit down with him. I did so happily. We began to chat about how we felt we were in Disneyland and Tara came by the table and made some comment like, well look at the lovebirds!   I couldn’t believe my ears and Jim grabbed his plate, stood up and said to me, ” I can’t stand this” and walked off.   I sat pretty much dumbfounded and alone with my breakfast.  All I could think of was how much I really don’t like being with other people. The ego is nasty and unpleasant.  We are all just a ]complex entanglement of desires,  prejudices and  judgments.    It is just easier to be alone.

A few moments later the palm reader came into the room, walked over to a table of ladies to say Bon voyage.. . then  walked to my table and asked if he could sit down.  I said, I didn’t have any money and I was not really interested in having my palm read.  He said, “I don’t want any of your money and you do want your palm read!  But, without reading your palm I can tell you that you will return to India many times, over many years. Perhaps you will even read palms? You don’t really belong with the group you are with, why are you here?”  And  without waiting for an answer, he sat down and asked for both of my hands. I gave them to him.

You come to India for spiritual inspiration and because it is your dharma.   You will come again and again with groups. You will come with the same man, many times. You will lead groups with him through the Himalayas.   I cannot tell if you are married to this man or not.  It is not clear.    He laughed and said, you are a late bloomer!    I asked what he meant.  He said, “just remember that I told you first.”   With that he said he was happy to meet me and excused himself.

J.  came whirling into the breakfast room and came right up to me.  “I got the statue for you, go now and pay the man. He is wrapping Gandhi up now!”   J.  and I had over the past two days gone to the hotel shop to try to negotiate a better price for my sandalwood Gandhi.   Now as the bus was being packed with our luggage,  the owner  agreed to $300 USD.   I could pay half in rupees and half in USD.  She knew that was my limit.   I was thrilled.  I hugged J.  and told her she was the greatest and ran to pay for Gandhi.  Wrapping took more time than I had,  and of course when I got to the bus, everyone was already on board and furious with me once again.   On top of being late, wrapped up, Gandhi was about 4 ft high and took a whole seat to himself.   I didn’t care who hated me by this time.   I was so happy to have Gandhi with me and the understanding that I would return to India again and again!

We arrived in Delhi and checked into the Sheraton.   The last leg of our trip was to be to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehra Dun and Corbett National Park.  We meet before dinner to talk about our final four days in India, because there had been a lot of dissent and discussion about how to spend it.  Apparently only seven of us wanted to go on, the rest preferred to remain in Delhi to see alternative hotels and to shop.   The majority would stay in Delhi so they would keep the bus.

The next morning, the seven of us along with our Indian guide took the early train for Haridwar.  It was in Haridwar I saw the River Ganges for the first time, my first cobra and stepped over my first dead body covered with flies, which oddly had no odor of death.  It was in Haridwar that I spoke to child beggar, who rode on wide skateboard because his legs had been cut off by the mafia to increase his donations.   It was in Haridwar that I participated in my first arati to Mother Ganga and placed a boat of flowers and lighted camphor on Her swift waters and felt my spirit soar.  It was in Haridwar that I entered my first Indian ashrams and met with gurus who had no interest in traveling to the USA.

It was in Rishikesh that I took a boat across the Ganges and watched women wash themselves so naturally in the cool water.  It was in Rishikesh that I took my first bath in the Ganges, albeit with much more modesty.  It was in Rishikesh that I walked across the Ganges on a swinging bridge and overcame my fear of heights, and where I met sadhus who had no apparent interest in westerners yet would give teachings freely with a cup of chai.

It was on this last tour that I had cups and cups of real chai and ate chapatti cooked over a gas flame and uttapam, sometimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner served in an open air restaurant our group would never have taken us.

The seven of us were like children.  Jim wandered off a few times in Rishikesh determined to start up white water rafting trips down the Ganges. But for the most part we stay together, visiting ashrams, and wading in the Ganges.  Jim and Carol would go with me to the Ganges in the early morning when I did my Yoga and Meditation and go again with me at night. We all shopped for friends and our children.  We found the most wonderful gifts and nothing cost more than about $5. USD.    Everyone one of us at one time or another said the same thing.  “This is the best part of the trip!”  We never made it to Dehra Dun or the National Park.  Before we knew it, we had to take the train back to New Delhi.

At first we tried to explain that we had for the first time on the trip experienced India!  But no one could understand our excitement or perhaps they did not want to consider that they had missed something not going with us.  I know J. understood  that she had indeed missed what she had come to India for in the first place. But, she wouldn’t talk to me.   She had another roommate and so Carol and I roomed together.  J. and I did not sit together on the plane going back home.   And when our husbands picked us up at the airport we were standing  alone ignoring each other.  But as we left for home, we turned to each other and both said,  almost simultaneously, “lets catch up in a couple of months.  I love you.”

My first trip to India

I met J in an aerobic step class.  I was in class early, stretching out when she kicked the front door open.  Her hands were full of books and notebooks.  Her heavy-heeled boots made a deep thud on the door, which brought Diane, the owner into the studio! “Well Jules, may I help you.”

“I have it,” she said in an accent I didn’t recognize.  J. deposited her books in the corner and went back out the door to change clothes, I reckoned.

The class was in full swing when J.  re-entered dressed for the class.  Although she seemed to work hard to keep up, I could easily see from her reflection in the mirror that she was not ready for this fast paced step class.  She wanted to be there, but bless her heart, had two left feet.

We walked out together after class and I asked her if I could help her with her all her binders and books and such.  J smiled brightly and thanked me profusely.  “Where are you from,” she asked me?

“Where am I from,” I asked, “you are the one with the accent!”

She laughed and said, I am Israel, but you are not from here either!”    By the time we had gotten to her car, which she had parked next to mine, we knew we had a lot in common.   She was about my age, a graduate of Berkley University, a professor of comparative religion at the local college and was longing to go to India.  That was in November.

April 1st, the following year,  J called me one evening. “Sorry it is so late, but do you want to go to India?  We have to decide tonight and let Marjorie know by tomorrow or she’ll withdraw the invitation.”  I had no idea what she was talking about, but apparently Marjorie was her travel agent and their agency had the opportunity for an almost free introductory tour of India and no one wanted from the agency wanted to go, so she thought of J.   J thought of me.   We could go for about two weeks, first class,  all expenses paid for less than $400.   The only catch was, we had to pretend we were travel agents and let them know by noon tomorrow, as the group would depart for India, April 29th.

It took me about two hours to talk it over with the boys, convince Mikael,  get substitute teachers for my Yoga classes and firm up plans.   By ten o’clock the following morning  J and I were taking photos, applying for a visa, and calling about what immunizations we would need to travel in India.

Trouble began the moment we meet up with the ‘other’ travel agents at LaGuardia in NYC.  A tall blond woman walked right up to me and said, you don’t look like a travel agent, which is your agency?  I reached for a reply, “Ah, the agency is in Orlando Florida,” as if that explained everything.  J quickly chirped in and took over the conversation, which quickly turned to their complicated new booking system.  How did she do it?

After saving our cover she turned to me to say,  “I know you have trouble lying, let me handle agency conversations.”

“Okay, fine with me,  I joked, I will just pretend I am deaf and mute and only work with our hearing and speaking impaired travelers.”   Jules frowned.  From then on I basically just ignored all questions about the travel industry and would tell people, “I really don’t know, ask J.”   Suspicions arouse, but generally everyone was friendly.

It took about three  days for me to spill  the beans.  That  occurred after I convinced our tour bus driver to take us to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial and spend an hour there!  When I returned to the bus after a nice meditation, every turned on me.  I was verbally bashed by most everyone for wasting their time. I explained that I was a yogi and by the way, J was a professor of religion and my time at the memorial had been very important.   No one understood or cared, not even J.    The blonde woman told the bus driver that he was never to listen to my timing suggestions again.

For the most part everyone seemed relieved that J and I were not travel agents, although they all took the time to tell us that no non-PTA (Professional Travel Agent) had previously been allowed to stowaway on these boondoggles.   I expressed my undying gratitude, J simply  ignored their remarks.

The next day we visited  Old Delhi to see the Red Fort and the largest Mosque in the world, the Jama Masjid.   Both are magnificent in their mughul architectural and were built in the 1600s by the Emperor Shahjahan, who built the Taj Mahal.   J. was videotaping everything, regardless of whether we were eating,  shopping, or visiting a temple or mosque.   She had a brand new Sony movie camera and wanted to make a documentary of sorts for her students.  Some people smiled when she shot them, others were annoyed as she directed them into or out of her viewfinder, some were distinctly angry at her reckless disregard of sacred areas, where photography was strictly prohibited.  I was afraid she might be mobbed at the mosque, even though she kept her camera under her shawl.  Perhaps being a woman she stayed more or less unnoticed.  The only incident occurred later that day, at the tranquil Lodhi Gardens.

The Lodhi gardens was a shady respite from the May heat.  There are paved paths and ponds and even memorial shrines.  J. and I were enjoying the unusual freshness of the air in and amongst all the greenery, when we spotted a lovely old woman sashaying up the path with an immense water jar poised on the top of her head.  The woman held one arm up barely touching the jar, the other hand on her hip.  She was a photographer’s dream.   But, I stopped J. from filming and said, “You should ask her first if you can photograph her.”

To which, J. demanded, “why?”

“Because,” I  strongly retorted, “people often don’t like that you film them, haven’t you noticed.”   J.  pushed ahead to film the wonderful sensual walk of this woman.

It was quite evident that the woman was none to pleased that she had been photographed, and much less that she was being filmed as she walked toward us.   She stopped suddenly and began to shout out in Hindi.  It was obvious what she was saying.   She walked up to J. with her hand out.  I went straight to her and handed her a 50 rupee note to compensate her for her modeling.  The tone of her voice took an even more serious note, as she said something else to Jules.    Then,  she looked me right in the eye, touched my 3rd eye and smiled.   She nodded sideways, as they do, and smiled again, then continued straight for J. with her hand out.   J, huffed and said, “she paid you, now go on!”

The woman brought her hand to her hip, looked straight at J.’s camera,  raised her hand and created a  unusual mudra.  She walked off without another word.  I held my breath. 

 A few minutes later, J. raised her camera to film some wildlife at play but the camera was not filming.   I guess the battery is dead, she said.    I just laughed.  Ah, India.

The next day our group was given some bad news. The travel itinerary had originally included a side trip to Khajuraho to see the erotic and sensual temple carvings, but we learned that Khajuraho was canceled and instead we would travel to the sacred yogic centers and point of access for all Himalayan pilgrimages, Haridwar and Rishikesh.   I was ecstatic, if however, the only one.

The next day, our white fringed tour bus took us jostling along to our next stop on the Golden Triangle – Jaipur.   The road to Jaipur was long and hot.  The air conditioner was only recirculating warm air and I couldn’t seem to get enough water to not be thirsty.  We were traveling at a snail’s pace and had passed more than a couple of traffic fatalities, a bus, a truck and two cars along the way – the  bodies of a couple of the victims, left there, rotting in the 120 F temperature.  That was India even in the early 1990s.  No one from our group seemed impressed with anything about India until we arrived in Jaipur.

Jaipur is a marvelously entrancing town – all various shades of desert pinks!  It is a town of rajputs, moghuls and royalty.  And we were stayed at the Jai Mahal Palace Hotel –  a real palace built in the 1700s.  Oddly, J.s camera battery still wasn’t working, even though she had charged it for 12 hours.  She was pissed. ( BTW-It never did work again. Back hom, not even Sony could find the problem. They had to replace it).

We checked into our rooms and toured the magnificent hotel grounds.  I found a perfect spot to meditate and I felt quite at home in the gardens.  It was an amazing place.  The musicians were playing on homemade ancient musical instruments, some stringed instruments and wind instruments and drums.  The music transported me to another time and place.

That night we enjoyed the finest meal I have ever had in India. I might venture to say it was the most delightful array of new tastes I have had anywhere in the world.  The garden setting was enchanting and the exotic music filled us all with delight. Everyone was in a good mood. It was the first time that I actually had the opportunity or inclination to speak with others in our group.  Two of the travel agents were especially sympathetic to me and were happy that I was along on the trip. They asked a lot of questions about Yoga.

The next morning we returned to the bus for a bit of sight-seeing and shopping.  Our final stop was at a well-known jewelry shop where antique jewelry was sold and also where artisans were available to design unique and distinctive jewelry for customers.  The shop was expensive and although there were pieces I would love to own, I lost all interest when J. began a heated negotiation with the owner over the price of some exquisite jade earrings.  I went outside to the area where stones were being cut.  As I walked outside a man came rushing around from the other side of the building.  He came up to me and said that he had been waiting for me.   He had a stone for me to buy!  I assured him I didn’t require anything, but he assured me that I did. He handed me a white stone about the size of a peach pit. I asked what is was and he said it was white agate. I told him it I really didn’t want it. I picked up some small lapis and said I like this better.  He said I didn’t need the lapis.  He was not asking for much money, I don’t recall how much he wanted, yet I refused. I didn’t want a white stone I kept telling him. You need it, he replied. I asked what I should do with it. He said to make it into a ring to wear. I told him I did not like it for a ring.  He said it did not matter.  He was beginning to irritate me, as only vendors in India can, so I walked back into the shop to see if  J. had made any progress.  She had purchased the earrings and the owner did not look as if he had enjoyed the exchange.  I was impressed.

The stately blonde woman who had taken upon herself to lead the group after the fiasco at the Gandhi Memorial began shepherding all of us out the door and onto the bus. My personal stone man was still waiting for me, prodding me gently, “now! buy the white stone, I will throw the lapis in too. You must buy it and make it into a ring.” Smiling I said, ‘no thanks,” but I wondering, why not? It was such a deal.

As I settled into the bus seat, I looked back at him and watched him with the others behind me.  He did not try to sell anything to anyone else in the group.  And for the first time I looked him straight in the eyes. There was something there, along with resignation. I signaled to him and tried to open the window, just as the bus took off down the road.  About a mile down the road, I noticed a small sign, saying Kriya Yoga Ashram.

We were to have another buffet at the Palace that evening, so I went to my room for Yoga and meditation.  J. was doing some shopping in the Hotel shops.   The room was quite large and I was seated at one end meditating and I could hear J. coming in and out of the room.  I must have dropped quite deep because when I came out of meditation it was dark outside. I was a bit spacey and washed my hands and face and noticed it was almost 8pm.  Dinner was scheduled at 7pm.  I went to straight to the door to make it in time for some dinner.  The door was locked from the outside.

To be continued.

Contradictions on the Path

I wanted to begin this blog for the community of Babaji’s Kriya Yoga.   Babaji’s Kriya Yoga as an entity does not exist for itself.  It is not an organization nor is it run as a non- profit charity. No one needs to sign up and move to a community setting or tithe.  BKY exists only for the good of the individuals who choose to be included within its broad worldwide network.  When I chose to be involved in BKY, I pledged allegiance only to an inner light.  When I chose to get more involved, to teach, to move to the ashram in Canada, I realized that my own warts, worries and inconsistencies would be tested.

There are no rules and regulations or moral obligations that stifle the spirit of anyone who becomes a part of Kriya Yoga,however,  active members must be willing to rigorously check the truth of their thoughts and actions, at all times.  It is so much more difficult to live in the light of truth and love when you live with others.  😉    Regardless how much or deeply you meditate, the mind will still struggle with justifications and blame, as your shadows are uncovered.   And Oh!, all the inevitable emotional storms that follow.

We each have special abilities and gifts and are on occasion most generous with them, but not always.   We may have a Mission or Higher Realizations that are unique to us.   But all of us also have afflictions of egoism – flits of arrogance, pride, selfishness and negations of our abilities and potentials.   We are all a mix of light and dark.  Normally we live quite comfortably in our contradictions.  Most of us prefer to spend all our life expressing our own points of view or justifying our preferences and prejudices, than to spend the time necessary to discover the Truth.  If we choose to be a true aspirant of truth and progress, we must stop living in-ease, with all the contradictions.  We must choose to be self-aware and self-reflective.

So many of us join groups (spiritual or otherwise) and just as many, leave them.  We are generally social animals and don’t like being alone.  Often when people leave, they go with a blast of blame and aspersion; sometimes it is out of boredom or lack of admiration.   When you as a member of a group are no longer satisfied, when you are no longer growing and evolving, you should leave. I see no reason to stay in a group just to maintain it.  But know that if you leave in a fit of passion or confusion, then your leaving is an adharmic (not dharmic!) action. Adharmic actions constrict consciousness and encourage excitement.  Remember to check yourself at all times.

A group is only truly useful when it is not too social and when it is about the growth of the individuals within it. When a group is too social little is accomplished.  Isn’t it so?  A leader is needed to see that work is completed consistently and in a principled way. The leader doesn’t have to be the perfect example of the Perfect Being.  But, equally important is that the group works together with an attitude of cheerful self-giving.  With a comradely interdependence, the group synergy will swell in a way that carries the group, exponentially.

What I always have appreciated about Babaji’s Kriya Yoga is that you don’t have to be apart of any group energy to appreciate the techniques.  When and if necessary you can lean into the circle for a bit of support and step out of it when you don’t.  It is a bit like the hokey pokey… That’s what it’s all about – for  the joy of it.

To be totally honest, the larger Kriya Yoga Community does offer its own contradictions.  Kriya Yoga is a fractured group and a dysfunctional family (albeit not as fractured and polarized as my own country).  There are arguments and turf wars amongst all the various cliques.  There are those who promote one system over another system.  To me this is like suggesting that one arm is stronger than the other, or one leg runs faster than the other.   Even if that were true, they still all stem from the same wide All-Encompassing, All-Loving, All-Forgiving Heart,  so something is amiss!

Sometimes I scream inside that I am not a reflection of the mind of these people who call themselves Kriya yogis.  And yet, because Babaji is the Heart and I aspire for that Love, I persevere.  You persevere.  Ignoring the troubling bits and pieces of the human nature, we continue to do our practices.  We go on strengthening our physical body and bringing more steadiness to our nervous system.  We meditate and practice mantra japa to develop a mind that is more passive and less frantic, less prone to excitement and a bit more ready to be an impartial observer to even our own life.

And I pray too, I pray that dispassion will console me tonight, as I watch the news with my own sweet 92 year old, conservative republican mother!

Seeking Babaji through the Self

Yearning, had been my entryway to  Babaji.   I  felt that I, as an individual had a greater potential to find Babaji, than I did as part of a group – any group.      And yet, I suppose that the weight of any social mass of aspiring individuals would exert an exaggerated pressure on Babaji to show Himself in some manner.  As the book of Matthew says in the Bible, “When two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.”      What I  found particularly inspiring was that the tradition of Babaji’s Kriya Yoga encouraged each individual’s progress toward spiritual evolution by providing a practical step by step luminous entry toward Babaji.

For me, Babaji is a state of consciousness, aware and loving insight, prajna,  arising from a Silent mind.   I know Babaji is near when my love for him is overwhelming.   I am yearning for His nearness, precisely because He is near. And this state of grace might be mine while doing mundane things, for instance, driving in my car on a busy highway, or grocery shopping.  I did not need to always be seated in a deep absorptive meditation.

I first discovered Babaji was a particular state of consciousness, during a trip to India.  I was traveling with my friend, Theresa.  She had never been to India and wanted to come along with me.  She too, was strongly connected to Babaji, and also felt connected to Ramana Maharshi.   We were not really traveling around India, but rather to Thiruvanamalai and Ramana’s ashram.   We had begun the journey in Pondicherry to spend a few days at the Ashram of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Theresa is a very special person, a psychic since childhood.   Her brother was a well-known NASCAR driver and Theresa was well-known in race car circles for her psychic, diagnostic abilities.    She could tell drivers what was wrong with their car before a mechanic even looked under the hood and often even after a mechanic checked it out and couldn’t find the problem. She had a particularly helpful, disembodied best friend who gave her guidance on all matters including the well-being of race cars.  She would often be awakened in the middle of the night by some soul  looking for something from her or perhaps merely to give her a bit of a start.  Theresa was honestly not interested and would tell them to, “go in peace, and get outta here!”  Theresa has a great sense of humor and is grounded and so with a sense of balance, she accepts the oddities in her world with resignation and a sigh.

Theresa decided, on her first day in Pondicherry, to just draw the curtains and stay in bed.  Her idea was to suffer menstrual cramping in peace and to postpone the start of her Indian adventure.   I had gone to the Aurobindo Ashram for early morning sadhana and when I returned found her in bed meditating.  I wanted her to go with me for breakfast, so sat on my bed to wait and dropped into meditation.  I must have been pretty deep, because the next thing I knew Theresa was sitting on my bed crossed-legged, with her hands on my knees, saying, “Do you see Him? Don’t you see him? Babaji is here!”

“What, are you talking about?” I managed.

“Look!” He is right here with you.   Look!” I opened my eyes as wide as I could, rolled my eyes upward and gazed without focusing. Then, I closed my eyes and saw light.  Theresa said, “Yes, now look into the light!”

I penetrated the light at some level and dissolved in that energy. I saw no form of Babaji, but I was absorbed in such peace and expanded beyond my physical body.  Then, I said, “He said that he is Enlightenment.  Babaji is Enlightenment?  …  He is where I go sometimes, even while doing asana?”    This was similar to the experience I had years ago when I was Swami Muktananda, on the day of Gurupurnima, at Sri Muktananda Ashram.  One becomes what one seeks, even if, for an instance.

Apparently Theresa has the capability to regularly see Babaji in form, which I do not.   And even to this day, except for one “holographic” experience at Santopanth Tal in 1999, I still, sigh, do not.       Still, I am spiritually centered in Babaji and I feel I am impelled to act through that connection.   He is for me a spontaneous out-flowing of love, illumination, insight, inspiration, intuition, which comes when I least expect it.  He brings a complexity of  feelings — surprise, joy, inspiration and confidence.  I feel empowered to resolve the myriad of problems that arise from my vital and mental life.  I feel my deepest devotion for Babaji when I witness how my life has been transformed to harmonize with my spiritual aspirations.

Through my inner experiences of Babaji, I have regained faith in something larger than my self and find that I can live every moment without desire or regret.   Regardless of how things eventually turn out, I know that my life is happening in each moment and anything is possible.

Meditation Matters

Intensity was swelling and my relationship with Mikael was reaching critical mass.  I avoided being swallowed up by it all, through meditation and mantra.  Meditation can be used as an escape from oneself or the world; it can also be used as a means of self discovery.   It was in my meditation that I found what was necessary to live peacefully in my mind regardless of external circumstances.  It was through meditation that I discovered my own wrong thinking and through mantra I was often able to correct it.  I was able to find some peace.

Meditation is like looking at your self in a mirror to see what is there.  It is not drifting off in some dreamy or vague abstraction.  Through meditation I was able to see what I had not formerly seen or understood about myself, and my relationship with Mikael.  It was through meditation that I discover the art of discernment.   I began to see what motivated me to hang onto certain situations and ways of being and to see what was truly beneficial and healthy in my life and what was not.

Meditation helped me let go of my attachment to my desires and suffering and also to my aversions and fear of being financially responsible for myself.   It was a process of slow, deep and sometime painful house cleaning.  Each meditation was for me a descent, which cracked the enamel of my subconscious tendencies and erroneous thinking.  I was definitely not ascending into some bliss-filled state.   The light that was present merely illuminated my darker bits and pieces.   It was disturbing until I learned to witness the thoughts without attaching any importance on them. It was through that process that I began to experience the emotional detachment that comes with discernment and discrimination and inner strength.   Ultimately meditation became a total relaxation of my body and mind in some kind of effortless calm, at least on some days.

It is the state of our consciousness that determines the nature and quality of the life we live.  Discernment and discrimination was bringing peace to my mind and improving the quality of my life.   I was content and even my marriage stabilized for a time.

I was teaching more and more and enjoying being of some benefit to others.  In the early 90’s, Yoga was not a movement.  One still had to be a bit creative to get students to even walk through the door.  In addition to traditional Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga classes, I offered classes with Yogic breathing, I called Breath Works and a free flowing kind of Yoga and martial arts dance class called Yoga Moves. It was fun, but I still wasn’t teaching what I felt was an Integral Yoga that students could walk away with and do on their own.

I completed another psychologically draining, training several years later called, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.   It is an integrated system of healing, but again it is not something that one can do on one’s own.

It was in 1993, that Marshall Govindan came to Orlando, Florida to give an initiation into Babaji’s Kriya Yoga.  I had read his book, a year earlier, Babaji and the 18 Siddha Tradition and looked forward to taking the training to learn this integrated system.  I mentioned this to Tom who demanded that I totally reject the idea of attending this initiation and of learning Kriya Yoga. He said, “Just concentrate on Babaji, not on that man or any new techniques!”  That convinced me it was time to conclude my work with Tom.  But, on the other hand maybe he was right?  I would wait and see what happened next.

Less than a month later, Mikael was transferred to Atlanta and several months later we had settled there.  The first month we were in Atlanta, I attended a weekend seminar in Babaji’s Kriya Yoga.  There had been two Kriya Yoga Initiations going on during that same weekend, one with Swami Paramahamsa Hariharananda of the Kriya Yoga Institute and one with Marshall Govindan.  I did not know which to attend.  I meditated for guidance.   The answer I got was, “Ask Wanda.”   I did not know anyone by that name, so thought it was some craziness from my subconscious, but when I saw the advertisement for the seminars, I noticed that the contact person for Babaji’s Kriya Yoga in Atlanta, was Wanda.

My business partner Marcia and I attended the Friday night lecture.   It was very nice.   Govindan, as he liked to be called was a humble and sweet man.  He spoke so candidly about the integral system he was teaching and gave a wonderful discourse on the nature of Awareness.  I was impressed, but the fact was I had so many techniques as it was and spent so much time practicing and teaching Yoga that really the last thing I needed was more to practice.   So still at the end of the lecture I did not know if I would attend the weekend seminar.

Govindan looked out through the room and said, “in case you don’t choose to come this weekend, I would like to leave you with a gift – it’s Babaji’s telephone number.  This mantra is a direct line to Babaji.”  Everyone laughed, but as we began to chant the mantra in a call-and-response fashion, I had an experience in my third eye that I had never had before and I will filled with an incredible joy, the feeling one has when they fall in love.  It was amazing.  Tears streamed down my face.   I thanked Govindan for the evening and Marcia and I signed up for the Initiation.

The eighteen postures were not unique, but the sequencing left me full of energy and at peace.  The techniques of pranayama were similar to those I had done previously in Kundalini Yoga,  but I had felt the energy flowing in my subtle body and they had prepared me for the meditations that followed.   I experienced lotuses opening and I had strong visual meditations that were quite vivid and that was very unusual for me.  I had insights scattered throughout the weekend.  And best of all, Govindan told us at the end of Sunday, “Now, you have all you need, a perfect system and Babaji.  What you do with it is up to you!”

Becoming conscious of Babaji

It was during the time I worked with Tom and Linda that I attributed a name to the protective hand  in my life.   I had been carrying around the Autobiography of a Yogi since my teen years; the Bhagavad Gita was my bible.   I felt I was being directed by my karma.  Still,  I missed the faith in God and prayer that I had as a child.

Tom had been a child mystic.  Raised as a Christian, he knew he was a bit different and kept it to himself.  He could see the light and colors around plants and animals and know the thoughts of others.  It seemed at times that he was able to manipulate the thoughts of total strangers through telepathic suggestion.    I once witnessed him successfully ‘suggest’ to a group of rowdy teenagers, who promptly turned off their boom box and walked away from a lovely spot in the park, we wanted to occupy.

Considering his unique background,  Tom came to Yoga relatively late in life.   His desire was to be a musician, but was feigning satisfaction at being a popular radio disk jockey, until he had an experience that changed his direction in life.  Apparently he had a vision, if not a physical visitation by Maha Avatar Babaji, while staying  in the house of a friend in Upstate New York.  Tom didn’t know who Babaji was at the time.   He never shared with me what Babaji told him, only that the experience had changed his life.  He lived in Albuquerque and had turned to Yogi Bhajan for help in interpreting the experience.

Tom shared with me this personal experience in a private interview. I had carried my Autobiography of a Yogi around with me from place to place since High School, so of course I was touched and moved.  Tom, then told me that it was through that connection that he was working with me.  He said, “it is all probability that my Guru has always been yours.”  I told him that I had felt a stronger connection to Sri Yukteswar.   He said, “Linda feels a stronger connection to Mataji, so what!

Mahavatar Babaji was known to me only as the unearthly, Supreme Satguru of Sri Yukteswar, Sri Lahiri Mahasaya and Paramahansa Yogananda.  He is,  as if woven from a divine body of light (divya deha).  I had read in Tibetan Buddhist literature of other such great yogic beings in the 19th and 20th centuries and also of the sainted Indian yogi, Ramalinga Swamigal.  These advanced souls were able to reabsorb their physical bodies into light at the time of their earthly passing.  At will, they dissolve their physical body into a rainbow of light, so that all that remains within a few days is nails and hair. The light from the body can be seen by others as it permeates the space around the body for a certain amount of time.  Perhaps also, particles of light can be transformed back into matter.

I did think that  Tom was in my life due to some kind of grace.   I walked away from his classes on many occasions with the thought that whether I liked it or not, I would work with him and there was a sense of urgency.  Anything and everything seemed possible.

There were many times when Tom, Linda and I were together we would feel a great presence. I did not know what it was, though sometimes I felt hand on my shoulders.  So did Linda.  It seemed too that our sadhana together was loosening whatever chains of karma there was between us.  We learned a lot.  Linda learned that she could lead.   I learned that I could not be led.  And Tom learned not to use his powers for manipulation.

Everything we did during those years created an immediate effect and offered another opportunity of testing, learning and growth.  I was learning much about myself but remained unsteady as I seemed always in the midst of change.  I was on an emotional rollercoaster at times, but was developing the detachment and discrimination to take it in stride.  At times I had so much excess energy that I had to work out or run twice a day.  Mikael was catching on that something was going on with me and he didn’t like it.  He was disturbed by my Yoga and that the boys were practicing Wado Kai Karate  and did  some Yoga with me.  I was full of hope that I was right where I was supposed to be.   I knew why I was where I was, but had no idea where I was going.  That really didn’t matter.  I was  feeling the hand of Babaji.

I learn Yoga is not for the weak-hearted

In order for members of any group or community to remain together successfully there must be a mutual attraction or an affinity. The affinity draws people together, through an exchange or support at the vital, mental or intellectually level. Through this affinity love develops.  And the more we love, the more we begin to know that which we love. The more we experience love, any form of love, the closer we come to discovering the secret that Love is self-existent.

The experiences in my life so far had awakened me to a common thread, a form of love, which underlines everyone and everything.  I felt that all difficulties and conflicts, which naturally arise between people, can be harmoniously overcome through that thread of love.  I became more accepting of my world, less critical of Mikael but also more willing to submit to the force and direction that my soul or essential self would take me.   I felt confident that things would unfold as they should at the right time, as long as I kept an unbiased perspective and did not interfere too much. I was beginning to feel that my life belonged to some divine part of myself and that if my life was not misused through egoism I would clearly experience that divine guidance.

Twice daily meditation was now of great importance to me. Connecting with the essence of who I am, allowed me to see the wonder in my life as it was and not what was missing from it.  For the first time it became important that all my actions were just and inherently correct and harmoniously supported my soul and my family and those within my sphere of influence.  I discovered the right action in situations brought me mental peace and if not that I was convinced it brought purification, whereas any departure due to desire or aversion resulted in confusion, frustration and suffering.  It seemed more courageous to accept what happened in my life each day than to long for change.  There were constant lessons and purification.  I stopped all daydreaming and spent time in deep introspection.  My karma became my dharma as I learned to appreciate it and accept both the lessons and gifts it held for me.

Through meditation my personality was being stripped of its pleasures and aversions. All the qualities of my personality,  many of those of which I was the most proud was being put on the Witness stand for  examination and cross-examination.  My feminism, my cynicism, my stubbornness, my secreted away misanthropy and sense of being apart from others – all were being challenged.   My arrogance (what arrogance? I pleaded), my self righteous attitudes (what self righteous attitudes?) and my drinking (what drinking? you mean the daily glass or two of wine?). Everything was stripped away one by one.

And then I met my Yoga teacher.

Yogi Bhajan was a giant of a man, a True Yoga Master. He made quite an impression with his larger than life physical appearance and personality and his entourage of handsome Sikh body guards and beautiful young women.  He empowered women, giving them a sense of their immense inner strength and light.  He seemed to truly appreciate and respect women. He taught a householder Yoga that honored the Feminine.  He was liberal and gave all the techniques freely, without holding anything back.  He gave so much, to so many, for so many years, but by the mid 1990s, I thought he seemed sad.  Maybe he hadn’t been able to accomplish what he had set out to do, or that he was a bit disappointed in the crowds of people who hung onto him or maybe he had been able to accomplish what he set out to do and simply wanted to retire or go Home.  I had heard him mention years earlier that God had promised him, that he could leave this earth much earlier. He was angry with God for not holding up his part of the bargain.

Although I gained much inspiration from my training at Kripalu and from workshops with various Hatha Yoga gurus, and all the amazing teachings of Kriya Yoga my  teacher training period  evolved over three years, while working with Tom.  Tom was a student of Yogi Bhajan, but was a self-styled renegade.  My first class of Universal Yoga, was taught by Linda, while Tom was in Albuquerque.  It was small class and was held that day in a Sikh Temple with only Linda, myself and a man who introduced himself as Frank.  But, it was amazing.  I don’t recall the techniques but remember we practiced a lot of ‘breathe of fire,’ in various positions and my third eye opened. I loved the rapid abdominal breathing, that I knew as kapalabhati and had a vision of Jesus. I hadn’t even thought of Jesus since childhood.  I was hooked by that one hour class.

After class, to my surprise I learned that Frank was Linda’s husband and he said he spent some of the class watching a man, unseen by Linda and I, who was checking out the room and handling a sword that was on display.  He assumed that the “gentleman” was with me!  I laughed and assumed I had found my tribe.   I was happy to have found Linda and looked forward to meeting her teacher Tom, the following week.

The next week, Tom was teaching and when I arrived for class he seemed to be expecting me.  He  had an imposing physical presence.  He   held his arms akimbo and stared  into my eyes for an uncomfortable length of time.  On that first day he almost seemed kind.  Linda was there, but not Frank.  I learned later that Frank did not really like Tom.  Tom had a beautiful voice and would sing during class.  He could play the gong in a way that took everyone in attendance on a magical mystery tour.   I learned advanced techniques from him and he pushed me hard. I developed a daily discipline that surprised me.  I would practice Yoga and mediation 8 hours a day, staying up till 3am each night.  Tom told me that I was doing too much, and we argued seriously and often.  He was clairvoyant, could read everyone’s thoughts and would often project his own thoughts into my mind, which irritated me no end.  When once I was able to block him, he become enraged and told me if I ever did that again he would refuse to work with me.  Linda and I used to comment that his wife must be at such a disadvantage. She could never have a secret thought of her own. He was a powerful man and controlling and loved to play students against one another.  But he had great techniques to share and he forced me to grow and opened me to prayer again.   I doubt I could have gotten from working with anyone else  as much as I got  from working with Tom during those years.  He appreciated my sincerity and understanding of Yoga,  my discipline, my ability to do difficult physical techniques well and to persevere, and I was willing to pay for them.  I paid extra for all the techniques and ofttimes, I would pay for a session and he would teach me nothing, saying that I was not ready!

Tom, Linda and I really enjoyed each other’s company, although I doubt that Tom would ever admit it.  We would sometimes meet by 4 am and drive to the beach together to do Yoga before sunrise and meditate on the sun, chanting as sun began to rise over the Atlantic.   And often to our delight, a school of dolphins would be there to greet us in the early morning light.  We would have satsangs that lasted for hours on end with the deepest meditations and true self discovery.
One class I experience an inner explosion of energy and found myself in the eye of a tornado. The energy spiraled up my spine and for a while  I remained detached at the center.  The energy flowed upward spinning powerful in such profusion of light, heat and vibration. My hands felt that they were literally on fire, not hot, but that tongues of fire were leaping from my fingers. Of course my eyes were not open but glued to the top of my head.   It was the most exhilarating and bliss-filled physical experience of my life.  But, at one point, some anxieties arouse about what would happen next and that thought, stopped the flow in its tracks.  What would have happened if I had just relaxed around the experience?

Tom wanted me to start teaching and forced the issue. I had no interest in teaching.  I was strictly fascinated by the workings of the human body, mind and soul.   I was happy.  With Tom and Linda I had found a secure ground upon which I could grow, refine and expand.  And I loved them!

Intense Training Begins

My Yoga teacher training took place over a period of three years. I found a spiritual teacher with whom I did my most impressive inner work.  Tom was not someone I would not recommend to the weak-hearted or to more sensitive souls, but he was good for my process.

The Yoga teachers I had worked with previous to Tom had taught me a variety of Yoga postures and given me lovely guided meditations and when I started to include Yoga in my aerobics classes in the 80’s, that is what I shared with them – stretches and guided meditations.   It wasn’t until the day that Miriam, a woman of about forty-five came to me after class and in a whispering voice told me about the dream she had the previous night.  It was, she said, a vivid dream in which I had taken her by the hand to a some huge statue of a woman saint.  I had told her to sit down and then flicked her forehead.   She entered some immense space of bright lights and vibration and had awakened crying.  She did not know how to interpret her dream and wondered what I was doing with them in class, but, she went on to say that she felt like she should touch my feet.  This woman was a Christian and knew nothing of Yoga or Hinduism, at least in this lifetime and was uncomfortable with what she was sharing with me.   I wondered if Tyler, Texas was ready for a real Yoga class.

I never got the chance to see because after I mentioned all this to Mikael and told him my desire to start a Yoga class, he swiftly took another job and transitioned us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the home of baseball,  beer and brats.  The first weekend there, we were invited to a G.E. Medical soiree and I met all the executive wives who cornered me with a warning that within one year I would either gain at least 50 lbs  or Mikael and I would divorce. “That is what happens, sorry,” they consoled, “its just the way it is here!”    The next week I found  Master Lee’s Tai Kwon Do.

I could find no Yoga classes in Milwaukee.  The Himalayan Institute did have an address and phone number in the yellow pages.  I called all hours of the day without success and drove to the address in an unpleasant part of town but couldn’t find the storefront.  I found to my surprise though, that I thoroughly enjoyed martial arts and developed a disciplined practice and attended early morning meditations with my Korean sensei.  Tai Kwon Do and Gigong breathing were filling the void, while saving my figure and marriage.  Richardo’s Flamenco classes also helped!

About three years later, I found another sensei in the Milwaukee area who agreed to help me develop and set up Women’s Self-defense classes.  The classes were a great success.  I was doing something for womankind and I really liked working with Roger.

Roger, an American sensei, forms another interesting side-note.  He was a wonderful teacher and had been a past champion martial artist and even acted in movies with Chuck Norris, although I can’t say I ever saw in him anything.  But he seemed to be , way more complex than just that. He was a very good artist working for Marvel comics.  His comic books were always about Macho-Superheroes with their adoring, gorgeous and voluptuous  females and for some reason, seemed only available in Japan.    Beyond that, the moment I saw Roger, I recognized him and even more surprising to me, he recognized me.   I don’t know who he was to me, but in his presence I had amazing otherworldly experiences.

For instance, a strange thing happened one day in class, either while holding a fellow student in a chokehold or being held.  I slipped into another place, in time and space. The dojo literally disappeared but  I was with the same blond boy in the same position.  The experience only lasted moments, but two other people, a young woman and a large black man from class were also there with us. It was like a parallel universe. I was in Delafield, Wisconsin but also in ancient Greece.  I heard Roger call my name and I was back again in the dojo.

Another time, when I was watching Sensei demonstrating techniques with a fellow student, I felt a black leopard leap from the center of my own being onto Sensei and merge.   And I felt I was that leopard.  Okay, so that sounds a bit like something Samantha Jones would say in ‘Sex and the City,’ but it is true and it was not a sensual experience.  I was totally unnerved; I lost my balance and collapsed to the floor.  Roger immediately jumped up to check on me and I wondered if he had felt it.  Still to this day I have no idea what these experiences were or meant, but there was something going on within me, in that particular dojo and with that group of gathered warriors.

Stick fighting with Roger was an adagio. Our movements seemed to be a slow motion dance.  He said he could teach me to use the stick to tap a single leaf from the branch of a tree outside the dojo.   I can say that I looked so forward to every practice and felt quite at home, even though I didn’t really did not get to know these people and was a poor practitioner of Shorin Ryu Karate.  I never discussed these things with Roger.  I assumed he knew.

The short time with Roger was undoubtedly the catalyst for the rest of my life to unfold the way it was supposed to.

One evening as I was leaving the dojo, Roger came up to me and said,  “You have what you want,  what you do with it is up to you.”

“What do I have?  I was not good at  chokeholds or spinning back-kicks.  What I do with what?”  He never answered.

A week later someone told me that he had divorced his wife.

Roger was mysterious and I was on dangerous ground.  I knew we had to move from Milwaukee!  I started to look for a new job for Mikael in Florida. At least we should move to a warm place near the ocean.  He was working 24/7 and I could easily get bored and Roger was the most intriguing person I had ever met.   And, perhaps his remark, concealed in double-entendre, simply meant that I  had these amazing experiences in order to  get on with my life’s work.   What I did now was up to me.   No matter how I interpret the remark, I knew my life was going to change.

When I told Roger that I was moving to Florida he said that it was good, that I didn’t belong in a small town in Wisconsin.

Getting to Know Me

It wasn’t until the 80’s that I began to discover my dharma (soul’s mission).

I was living in Tyler, Texas practicing some Yoga and taking Dancerize classes. Being pregnant, tap and modern dance were no longer working for me.  I was meditating daily and journaling.  Life was fun and Carl kept me busy and lighthearted. I enjoyed being pregnant again, but there was a gnawing feeling that by now I should have gotten started with my life’s work. I was thirty-three and still didn’t know what my life’s work was. I was in mid-life stage now, and not having started, would it still be my life’s work?

I began a sincere twice daily meditation practice. I began with no technique, only a cushion, an alarm clock and a lot of willpower.  I would do some postures, then sit, focus on the third eye and wait until the timer went off 20 minutes later.  It took months of daily practice before I began to enjoy the time spent. It took even longer before I began to have some insights into myself.

If someone would have asked me if I was happy (of course no one did)… I would, without hesitation have said absolutely and totally – and meant it.  Yet, I was also restless.  I took to walking miles daily, by myself.  Walking was my sweet time to contemplate the question, why was I here and what did I want out of life?  I wanted to understand the mystery of re-incarnation and find out what I came here to do this life.  But, what I really wanted was to know was my self.  I was an enigma. I had so many contradictions.  Even as a child I always felt like a stranger in a strange land, looking for my tribe. But, I was even a stranger to myself.  I was philosophically radical from the beginning, yet conservative in actions, very spiritual and staunchly anti-religion.  I was totally different in every aspect from my parents, brother, friends and chose to marry someone totally different from myself.  As an adolescent, teen, college student, my life was always going to be about career, travel and self-discovery.  And instead here I was living the traditional family life, with a husband who was often traveling and always working.  My only defense was that Feminism is having the right to do whatever you want to do with your life.

When I had phoned my mother to tell her I was pregnant with Carl, instead of squealing with delight or congratulating me as I expected, she got silent for a moment, then said, “Are you going to keep it?”….

I said, “ah,…I doubt I would have called you to tell you I was pregnant and going to have an abortion, Mom!”
Her retort was, “well! I have never understood your feminist ways!”

I am still dumbfounded by that exchange, but give her the benefit of the doubt by thinking that I must have been an all or nothing kind of kind of gal.

There was no doubt in my heart that raising Carl and my new baby was my karma now, but was it also my dharma (in accordance with the soul)?  I accepted yes it was and furthermore, that when one was content with one’s karma and love was the outcome, then any other mission should give way to it.

The fact of the matter is that although I was not pinning to have babies, the thought of giving birth still makes my heart soar more than anything else.  My mother had two caesarian sections so unfortunately missed the whole event. I did not know what to expect so had no expectations, except that it would hurt.  I didn’t want the babies drugged, so being a mensch, went natural.  However, what occurred was nothing short of mystical.

I felt totally connected to the Source of the Universe.  Birth energy is Pure Shakti.  And when you are plugged in through the breath, giving birth is riding waves of Shakti energy – the intensity of the cervix dilating, the absolute bliss when you are told you can push, and the ecstasy of receiving your child. You are on a roller coaster that you cannot stop. The key is to throw your arms up in the air and surrender to the experience. There is nothing equal to it, believe me, not even samadhi (breathless state of union with Supreme Consciousness).

I had the same experience in both births, but one does need help in order to stay aware and achieve this state. Mikael was helpful with Carl –  not so much with Alexander. The boys were both ten days late and my water had broken so I was given pitocin to help speed up the contractions.   With Carl, they inserted an internal monitor to keep track of his heart-rate.

Mikael was fascinated with the monitor, and glued to the screen would warn me when a contraction was coming. He was compassionate before it came, holding my hand through it, breathing with me, but would abruptly take his hand away, saying the contraction is now over – when it definitely was not!  The monitor was not in sync with my nervous systems or something, so we ended up arguing about when the contraction was really over.  We had taken Lamaze classes and he did his best to make me comfortable and was great help keeping me focused on my breathing.  He didn’t however, have time to review the techniques, before Alexander was born, and I did not have an internal monitor so he mostly just read newspapers.  At one point, I was in the midst of transition and he was trying to recall how I was supposed to breathe.  I pushed him out of the way with my left hand and grabbed the startled nurse with my right, commanding, Breathe Me!

I knew the importance of breathing. Yoga ultimately means breathing in harmony with the universal energies which are in and about us at all times. And being in the midst of the most powerful universal energies there are, I knew I had to consciously breathe both in and out.  But whether it is the cervix being stretched or my frozen shoulder … the tendency is during the stretch to want to take a big breath and hold it, instead of smoothly inhaling and exhaling.

Conscious inspirations and expirations is the solution to discord in the body or mind.  It brings you to the center of your being and relaxes you.  Conscious breathing aligns the physical, vital (seat of emotions) and mental bodies with the soul to bring about an inward calmness.  It opens you to the influence of the soul and to the Divine energy constantly present in it.   You begin  to feel that you are  in sync.  Your thoughts and actions reflect that inner harmony.    Eventually such breathing can unlock the subconscious,  help heal lingering emotional scars and move you forward in life.  Or perhaps it will just help you see that your dharma is already at play in your life.  Dharma is experienced as being at peace with your karma.

During those years in Texas, I discovered my dharma.   It was to became conscious of the Divine around me all the time and to be ever grateful for everything I received, regardless of its form.

Fast Friends and Karmic Connections

Jackie  is a dead ringer for Elaine on Seinfeld. It is as if the character was designed after her.  She had seen me in a latin aerobics dance class. She claims to have known me the minute she saw me, and kept trying to get my attention. “Why won’t you look at me!”  That I was oblivious to her is truly remarkable. She is difficult if not impossible to ignore, even in a crowd.  Her personal aura is huge and magnetic and she is adorable.

A few weeks later we were thrown together as partners on a charity project to raise awareness for some cause or other, HIV/AIDS, Breast Cancer, or Exercising for Heart Disease or Obesity. I don’t recall.  But, the effect was an instant bond and a fast friendship.   We shared our stories. There was nothing that we could not reveal to one another.  I had never had a friendship that was so open and supportive and ‘girl-like.’   She felt like a long lost sister. Before long she was taking me to step classes and 4- hour coffee klatches at Bagel King and I was taking her to Kundalini Yoga.  At first she enjoyed the Yoga, but with a few months, fear and anxiety had raised their suspicious heads.    The Yoga was bringing up all sorts of emotions, fears and judgments of the Yoga, her religion and herself.  What I saw as an opportunity for her to sort things out, she saw a dangerous delving into her subconscious and soon rejected it outright. Yoga is about self discovery and transformation and you have to be ready for it.

Kundalini Yoga was not for Jackie, but she was opening like a clam exposing the pearl inside.  I felt she had to continue her spiritual work.  Perhaps I  had made a karmic agreement to meet her and  support her spiritual investigations.  I was choosing to interfere in her life.   I took it on as my job to find her a new spiritual path and would silently and willingly shared my spiritual strength and peace with her while I was looking.  I am not now, nor ever have been a proselytizer.   On the other  hand, I was going to bring her to the feet of her Teacher.

The year was  1995, when we moved to Atlanta.  Jackie had helped us find a home there.  She was now back in Florida.  Over the past four years, I had been unable to find the path for her there.  She would need a very special kind of Teacher.  Within the first week I was in Atlanta, I had settled the house, settled the boys in school and found the perfect new space for me to teach Yoga, and already had students signed up for Kundalini Yoga.  I was on a roll.  As I was searching out Yoga space I came upon the local Siddha Yoga Center and decided to check it out the following week. I remembered that I had liked Swami Muktananda on the one occasion that I had seen him years ago.  I recall that I had heard something about his successor, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, but not much.  My schedule was tight but there was a program on Sunday morning that I could attend.

That Sunday, dressed casually, I went with cushion and mat in hand to find Siddha Yoga  not what I had expected.   Everyone but me was dressed in their Sunday finest; even stockings on some of the women, and I was one of the few who sat on the floor.  There were plenty of comfortable chairs.  There were no postures done, but some intense chanting of the Guru Gita and Om Namo Bhagavate Muktananadaya…   I was a bit thrown by the atmosphere of bobbing heads and ecstatic faces and arms reaching to the heavens, but thought for some odd reason that J. might feel at home there.

Aditya was the one person with whom I resonated at the Center. He had been in Siddha Yoga since the Muktananda days. I think I had even seen him before, perhaps with Muktananada in the early 70s.  He was kooky and sweet and so very intense.  He rocked and rolled and shook with the chants, but he was fun.

I took Jackie to her first Intensive at the Atlanta Center, a few months later. She was so anxious and I didn’t want to participate, so had to promise to sit in the foyer and wait for her, in case she freaked out.  She did about midday, so we left.  But, she was interested in Siddha Yoga and loved the beautiful Gurumayi. She attended the second day and only for a brief time had to exit the room to shake off a bit of anxiety.  I was amazed.  Had she found her Teacher?

Several years and Intensives later, Jackie decided she wanted to go to the ashram in South Fallsburg, N.Y.  for an Intensive and advanced classes over the week of Gurumayi’s birthday.  I was planning to go to Quebec during that time to the Kriya Yoga Ashram so I told her that I would drive her there.  My oldest son Carl would go too. We made a vacation of it.  We had fun on the way up, but the energy at the Sri Muktananda Ashram was intense and on top of that, you are thrown in with hundreds of people who maintain a certain ‘group-look, group-think.’  Individuality is stripped away at the gate to Sri Muktananda Ashram.  The atmosphere seemed a bit Stepford to me.

Thankfully, we saw Aditya at the first meal we had there.  We rushed him. We appreciated his unique Aditya-ness.  He didn’t put on airs. He was true to himself. And he provided much needed comic relief.

The next morning at 4:30 am, the three of us were at Nityananda Temple ready for Arati.  It was amazing.  The first part is all large drums and conchs, sounds which reverberate and  resonate within you, as if to prepare the ground for the chanting that follows.  Chanting arati while standing in front of the large murti (statue) of the revered Siddha Swami Nityananda proved to be too much for me. I literally collapsed where I stood and could not stand up again and had to sit to sing the rest of the verses.  The meditation, which followed arati was as deep as I had ever had and it took Jackie and Carl several minutes to roust me out of it.

After a day or two Jackie and Carl seemed settled into the routine there and I left for Quebec. I would pick them both up on the way back, about a week later.  I spent one additional day on the return. It was Gurumayi’s birthday.  I had missed arati as I was too tired to wake up at 4am. So I arrived in Nityananada’s Hall late in the morning.  There would be an afternoon arati, which I could attend.  The hall was empty when I arrived, save for a man in one corner of the room.  I sat and did my pranayama, which no one practiced and then settled in for meditation.  I had begun to sink into meditation somewhat when a woman passed by so close to me that her sari literally swept over my head.  I thought, “what a maroon… the room is empty and this Siddha yoga sorority sister had to get so close as to interrupt my meditation.”  Then,  whoosh… I slipped down the rabbit hole. I was so deep I disappeared. For how long, I do not know. All I know is that I was startled by the sound of a lovely female voice chanting somewhere in the distance. I was lulled by her voice and wondered who was singing, but my eyes were too heavy for me to open them to see.  When finally my eyes did open, the room was again quiet and no one was there with me.  I rose and went into the lunchroom.  J. and Carl came running up to me. “You idiot, Jackie scolded, “Gurumayi was there all arati and you did not once wake up.  She even looked at you and you did not move.”

So the sari incident must have been with Gurumayi. I became totally enamored by her spiritual power.  I loved Gurumayi!   In the morning the following day, I stayed outside of the Nityananada mandir and  watched as Gurumayi performed abhishekam (the ritual washing and offerings) of Nityananda’s murti.  It was a special day, her birthday and the Temple was totally packed. I felt I didn’t need to take up the much in demand space so I stayed outside at some distance from the windows of the temple.  At one point she looked out the large plate glass window toward where I was standing and I silently thanked her for the profound experience of the previous day. I left for Canada, thinking that she had smiled and nodded to me in response.

I returned to Sri Muktananda Ashram one final time a year or two later.  I took Carl and his wife Chintana for a visit. It was during the great celebration, Guru Purnima.  The ashram was packed.  We only stayed a couple of days. We were on our way to Quebec. The morning ceremony had been quite beautiful and Gurumayi was in attendance. Thousands were on hand to chant and give all Glory to the Guru.  There was an afternoon ceremony too and again the house was packed.  We all began to chant. People were so high in anticipation of Gurumayi’s entrance into the mandir, but this time Gurumayi did not attend.  We were all chanting Om Namo Bhagavate Muktanandaya. The chanting was amazing but as time went by and Gurumayi did not appear, devotees started to stream out of the mandir.  I was dumbfounded by both the rising energy and the rising numbers of people who were leaving.  What was going on? It almost seemed that the more people who left, the higher the energy got!  I was ecstatic and then in a moment, experienced myself, as Bhagavan Muktananada. I had never had such an experience.  Here He was with me, within me, and his devotees did not notice.  They were walking right past him!  I wanted to shout out, wait! He is here!  I am certain that others in the room were having the same experience, but still I could hear people filing past us.  My eyes were closed shut, but I felt as if I was being lifted high into the air, as if on an elevating dais. So here I was, Muktananda levitating right in front of everyone and nobody noticed.  When the chant and meditation was over, I opened my eyes, picked up my blanket and cushion gathered my shoes and walked out into the brisk night air. Everyone leaving had a smile on their face.  We all had our own secret gift.  The moon was so full; its light illuminated the night.   There was not a cloud in the sky.  I sat on a bench and stared in humble gratitude at the radiance of the moon and the love in my heart.  This is the way of Grace, available for all who are  open to it.