A: “To get to the other side.”
I am in a challenging position. I have told my students at SAW about my struggles with depression, anxiety, fear, etc., and how I have made a lot of headway simply by not identifying with those feelings, and by working to master my mind, which I have been striving to do ever since listening to Sadhguru speak. Through him, I realized, it is so, I/we have become sick and have lost control over our own minds. I share my experiences and encourage the students in the hopes that it might help them see that they can fight these battles themselves, battles many lose. I have helped a few of them learn better ways to think about their struggles, as well as how to fight against their inner tyrants. I began doing this because I was endlessly frustrated by how many of my students have sunk into the lousy habit of nursing their depressive and anxious states to their breasts as if they were helpless, or worse, as if they were cherished parts of their identities, if not their entire identities, and I wanted to speak up and show them that there is a better way.
Obviously this situation creates a certain pressure to be a good example, to rise above, but the truth is, that is not how any of this works, it’s not that simple. Yes, I teach them to begin to take control of their minds… but the problem is, this is not a won and done proposition, it is an ongoing battle, one I, too, am fighting! I hope to make it clear to them I have not won the war, have not yet mastered my mind, but I have realized that it is a battle you have to participate in, and in so realizing, I have learned how to win many battles. I have won enough battles that I am now fighting from higher ground. I am striving to get control of my mind… but I am in no way claiming to be realized, enlightened, or totally free of neurosis. Still, I feel some pressure to never show my weaknesses lest they dismiss me as full of shit.Tuesday of last week I went to Andaz, the Indian restaurant where I eat about five days a week, and I felt myself crumbling. For a few weeks I had been battling with my ego, and had fallen into a crisis of faith, wherein I began having doubts about my spiritual path (not an uncommon condition for any spiritual seeker, as you will soon see). This battle had been brutal and had caused me to back off my spiritual practices out of fear that I was avoiding “life” and “reality.” So, I began seeking satisfaction outwardly, from other people. Well, this didn’t work, doesn’t work, won’t work, hasn’t worked, and before long demons of depression and loneliness were sprouting up out of the ground like Harryhausen’s skeletons! It got to me, and I began to cry. I do not cry in public, I am not an attention whore, but I began to cry. There was no stopping it, and THAT is when I realized something must be done.
The next morning, Wednesday, I had to get up and teach, but there was this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to call off. I NEVER call off sick! I get so frustrated with students who miss class after class because they are lying in bed nursing, wallowing in, and feeding their weaknesses… how could I call off when I scold my students for allowing their bad habits and lack of discipline, and often their depression and anxiety, to rule them? Well, that was not a fair question to me. I have no pattern or habit of calling off because I don’t want to get out of bed, or I feel stressed or depressed, that is not a weakness I wallow in, but this Wednesday was an exception, and it wasn’t just depression or anxiety, something bigger was telling me to stay home.
But I have this whole Dharma (duty) thing going on, so I went, and what greeted me? Immediately, one more person I really like telling me why they had to cancel what I thought was a lunch plan I had been looking forward to. A cancellation, not a big deal to most people, but lately I have been having people cancel, postpone, and put me off one after the other. THIS was the problem, this was at the core of my suffering du jour (or so I thought, but we’ll get to what was really at the core later). Triggered, I blew it all out of proportion. I didn’t go nuts exactly, but I realized that I had dropped the reins and now this wild horse (my emotions) was bucking, running, and charging madly in all directions kicking against the walls of my skull. Then, as class time came… only three students appeared to be attending, and that started getting on my last nerve. I at one point had to turn away and clutch the table… I was out of control emotionally, and totally stuck in front of a class… trapped! I could not figure out what to feel, couldn’t stop feeling, and was afraid of embarrassing myself. I felt like a butterfly caught in a bullies hand, the bully being my own mind!
This used to happen to me all the time. I had forgotten how bad it can be. I have made amazing progress at mastering my mind and learning more positive ways of being and feeling, so this sudden bottoming out hit hard. The intense emotional experience I was having as I stood there with my back turned clutching the table had literally not happened to me that intensely in well over a year… and I was not prepared for it to return. It had been a horrible way to live, me feeling so intently I could not control my emotions, then having to go home and suffer the neurotic playback loop over how I acted, and needing to call and apologize… dear God what a royal purple drag! How in the hell had I been able to live like that in the past? I felt an absolute dread at realizing that THAT was what my life used to be like. Sometimes when I think back at who I was, how I felt, and what suffering I endured… I get horrified, and this was most definitely a reminder of a past I did not want to return to.
I excused myself and went to my car to meditate for ten minutes. I have acquired enough wisdom to know that sometimes I just need to get some distance between the triggers and my response. It helped, but when I came back, the class was lousy, I just could not find it in myself to sit there and teach one-point perspective. Unprofessional, you say? Well, sure, if it happens all the time, but right there and then it was simply very human. No, I don’t like that it happened, but looking back on it from the peace of the ashram from which I am (at the moment) writing, I can forgive the experience.
The next day I realized I was in trouble… sinking fast! And here’s the important part, the part I hope my students learn, and what is important is that you say “NO FUCKING WAY!” to it! There was no way I was gonna lay in bed day after day wallowing and watching myself get sucked under by something that is not me.
I am NOT my depression.
I am NOT my anxieties.
I am NOT my fears.
I am NOT my weaknesses.
For all that, I am not my happiness, nor even my strengths, I am what exists beyond and above, the silent center around which all suffering and worldly pleasure plays out. I am Atman, Tat Tvam Asi! That Thou Art! I am Brahman. I am Shiva.
The depression turned to loneliness, the loneliness turned to bitterness, the bitterness turned to anger, and I became little else but suffering. Yet, down there under it all was the truth. Down there under it all was a center I could not find. Down there under it all was all the wisdom I have gathered over the past year and a half. And I drew upon that wisdom and set my mind to immediately getting it together and getting to the Temple, getting to an ashram, and getting back on the center I now knew I had. But there were plans to be made, it is, after all, a five hour drive to Atlanta, there are things to settle at home, reservations to be made… and on and on and on.
Five hour drive or no, I was not going to let this thing have me, because I am NOT my neurosis. I will not identify with my neurosis. It cant’ have me. Furthermore, I realized one very important truth, I was happier living my solitary little monastic life of meditating, reading Hindu scriptures and taking long contemplative walks than I was descending back into materialism, and that was when and why things really fell apart. I had forgotten the core message of “Life Of Pi,” which is, “Which story do you prefer?” I preferred the story I was living when I was joyfully at home studying “The Shiva Puranas.”
But for all that happened once things fell apart, I am at least finally wise enough now to know, even under the crashing waves of my out of control emotions, that I have a center… a center I finally have realized. I knew that I must find it, and not only that, now I know that I can find it. And now I know how to find it.
So I determined that I would get through Thursday, Friday I would attend the meeting I had to attend, and by Friday evening… I would be on the road, and by Saturday lunch I would be with my Vedic Guru (as in “teacher”) Manharji in Atlanta. I didn’t even book rooms or make any plans. Manharji said he would set up a place for me to stay, so I trusted my Guru. Shiva, Ganesh, Durga… and yes, myself, to take care of me, so long as I took the leap of faith and hit the road. I stayed one night in a motel a mere 3 hours from home just so I would be on my way and out of my rut, and the next day established to meet Manharji at Patel Plaza in Atlanta for lunch.
When I arrived at Patel Plaza (the brilliant Indian shopping plaza in Atlanta… God how I LOVE that place), there was Manharji. We had a lovely lunch, I shopped around the Indian markets, and found myself feeling better by degrees almost immediately. To tell the truth, and I don’t know why this is, I am most comfortable around the Indian people, so I began to feel far more at home than I do at any white American shopping plaza. I mean, when I go shopping I couldn’t care less about Cinnabuns, cell-phone accessories or Applecrumple and Stitch… I want to see ladoo, saree’s and God posters!
From there, even though Brother Shankara, the monk who resided over the center, was not home, we dropped my stuff off at the Vedanta Center ashram where I was to stay, then we hit the road and visited the BAPS Temple. By Shiva’s grace, finally I was going to be on holy ground, where I could begin to bury all my nonsense.
In 2 of 3… The BAPS Temple and more…