Category Archives: blog – 5: DIARY

Still Fighting The Battle 3 of 3

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Third-Eye McCartney

Sunday morning, and Brother Shankara’s talk was on the very subject we had covered in our conversation. My heart further leapt when, during his service, Brother Shankara quoted not Lennon, not Harrison, but Paul McCartney. I knew at that moment that here was an experience I could call my home! And I do not mean that lightly. To my mind it takes a very wise person to witness the oft-overlooked and subtle wisdom that flows from Sir Paul McCartney.

“And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong.”

Again, my heart leapt when a fellow seeker in the back raised his hand to talk and asked how he was to resolve the battle in him where he goes from great engagements in his spiritual practices to fearing and thinking it was all nonsense and that he was nothing more than skin and bones here to eat, die, and rot in the material world. Needless to say we had one helluva talk in the library after the talk was over.

I feel less lonely. I feel less frightened. I feel less foolish. I feel more loved and understood… and I feel closer, again, to Lord Shiva.

Manharji and I (after the Sunday service) went to the Indian mall here in Atlanta (The Global Mall), where we had a very good, if not humble, Indian dinner, and where I had the chance to visit the Shiva Mandir and the Vinayaka (Ganesh) srhine, as well as the chance to shop through the fantastic Indian boutiques.

Then I came back to the ashram and volunteered to clean the guest house, which I did in all love, and with a great sense of gratitude.

And come Monday, I shared dinner with Brother Shankara between Arati and his “Bhagavad Gita” class. We talked for a moment more on the Beatles, and I was delighted to hear Brother Shankara, in his own words, state something I had dared not speak for fear of people just not being willing to get it. Essentially, it was the Beatles that made it possible for me to understand Eastern spirituality once I came into it. Brother Shankara agreed that they were here to do a job, that job being helping immensely in opening the West to Indian wisdom, and he felt they did their job very well. They were not merely a band, The Stones were merely a pop band, the Beatles, as Brother Shankara pointed out, manifested different Yogic principles, though, to be honest, I don’t recall exactly how he said it, but it was well thought out. With me, the Beatles got in far deeper than anything else had up until Shiva revealed himself to me.

Shortly, we dug in deeper through many of the struggles I have been having, which partly has to do with my very unconservative views of the truths of Shiva. We talked about how I came to Sanatana Dharma, and of how what finally compelled me to seek a temple was that I had a vision of Shiva after partaking in some of “Shiva’s gift,” and while having, let’s say, an ecstatic physical pleasure. This, for me, was the moment of truth, if he could handle that with real insight rather than by regurgitating some “company policy,” then I knew I could trust him with the unorthodoxed truth of my journey, and with anything else I would ever need to share with him. There is a movement in Hinduism to sanitize Shiva, a movement that does the same outrageous somersaults certain Christians do to prove that Jesus did not turn water into wine, but Grape Nehi. In other words, there are a number of conservative Hindus who want to pretend that plant teachers and medicines were not part of Shiva’s story, or that if they were, they have elaborate “logical” reasons that it’s OK for Shiva, but nor for us. To me, this reeks of colonialism and an unconscious submission to American moral tyranny, and people who buy into that, I cannot entirely trust. Not all of us follow the common conservative paths. To those people, Shiva calls, after all, he kept company with dogs, demons and ghosts as well as Devas. He proved to be a man of insight and honesty.

And his warm understanding nature brought me to being able to trust him enough to share that there is a part of me that is intrigued by, and agrees with, the Aghori. I don’t know that the Aghoric part of me is a very large percentage, but it is large enough to complicate matters as I seek a spiritual home.

Humans are complicated, and the truths of our selves requires understanding more than hard and fast rules, and as the books of wisdom repeat, even if most people cannot see this truth, each seeker will have to find their own way, and some seekers need to walk through the forests rather than along the well-lit and fully maintained roads. I won’t go into details, let’s just say Brother Shankara handled all these topics with insight, grace, wisdom, and essentially won me over entirely in that he did not regurgitate absolutes or rush to judge me, he listened, and he understood that I was on the path I was on, and he saw me as a serious seeker even if my path would not be acceptable to many.

Everything is complicated and nothing within the constructed framework of democratically deemed ordinary reality and the ensuing ordinary points of view work, not once certain experiences and knowledge has been had and gained. “Reality,” for me, has been wholly upended. I can no longer see things in the way other people do, and most do not, can not, and will not see things as I do. This puts me on the outside with my family, but on the inside with Brother Shankara, Siva, Manharji, Swamiji, Durga and Ganesh. But this new reality exists on a level beyond the reach of language. We talked about this very topic, about how between DMT, meditation and Shiva, my concept of “reality” has been utterly shattered. When I told him how frightening this was, he nodded knowingly, saying: “Of course it’s frightening.”

And I guess that’s that. And that was all I needed to hear. He essentially helped me to feel and understand that it is perfectly natural to be frightened at this point… but in no way led me to believe that this was a bad thing, it simply is what is, and is not an uncommon experience. It’s hard enough to find your way in the world… let alone if you have seen and experienced things that bring everything we all take for granted about the world into question. Simply put, Shiva The Destroyer… has destroyed me, but, as challenging, at times frightening and overwhelming as such destruction can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way, which is good, ’cause there’s no going back now. And I would like to add that this destruction is wholly constructive, and I am willing to endure the trials.

Nope, this isn’t going to be easy, but you know what? It’s worth it, and these struggles are a lot better than lying in bed under the smothering inertia of anxiety and depression, and these struggles and this reality is a lot better than hanging around talking about Duck Dynasty.

By the end of the week, on the very day that I was headed home, I made one last stop at the Hindu Temple Of Atlanta. I was satisfied with all I had learned, and with all the new people and places in my life, but I felt bothered that there still seemed to be some Asuras lurking in my shadows. I had not had that release, that mother-of-all blissful experiences that so often had come to me on temple visits. I resigned myself to the wisdom of having to accept that though that hadn’t happened, I had learned and gained a lot. But then, quite unexpectedly, as if I had finally let go of all that darkness I had carried to and through Atlanta with me, within about an hour, the inner-demons I had struggled with and shared with Brother Shankara, left me. I left the temple, got in my car clean, and drove home in peace, and today, I am still at peace.

I have found my center, and it was right where I left it, inside.

I, for one, will accept battles with depression and anxiety, but I will not feed those demons.

And, you know, for all the ups and downs, on whatever road I’ve travelled, it always comes back to that pivotal choice I was given by the fundamentalist youth minister at the suburban evangelical church of my youth, “You know… one day you’re going to have to choose between Jesus and the Beatles.”

I made my choice…

“And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong.”

Still Fighting The Battle 2 of 3

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BAPS Temple Ceiling

The BAPS Temple in Atlanta is indescribable, and whenever I enter into it I am transported into a world where mingles a cloud-like heavenly purity, the staggering symmetries of a DMT trip, and of course a holy dwelling of the Gods, Shiva, Uma and Ganesh included. For all my questions about certain aspects of the BAPS experience, finally getting there and seeing Shiva and Ganesh brought me to tears. After all, I had come 5 hours just to show my devotion and request their aid. Though the Hindu Temple Of Atlanta resonates with me on a far more immediate and familiar level, the BAPS Temple is going to be a regular part of my spiritual circuit when I go on my pilgrimages to Atlanta (which sounds utterly ridiculous, “pilgrimages to Atlanta,” but that is essentially what it comes down to).

There is a funny quality to the BAPS Temple, in that at times I feel at a distance from the place. For a start we have to give our names at the gate before we can get in. There is a logic to this that I can understand… but it doesn’t “feel good.” And more puzzling, I was struck again with how we women have to sit in the back and had to eat and gather separately from the men. Is this really the least bit holy? Instead of taking the higher road and learning to master their minds, hearts and desires, why do the men insist we be segregated, is it to protect them from their own weaknesses? The irony is that women are no threat to men, I mean what do men have to fear, that they might have a sexual fantasy? On the other hand, what do women have to fear from men? Sexual harassment, rape, abuse, it seems the situation here is upside down and that the men should, if they insist on segregating us, have to sit in the back so as to contemplate why they cannot control their minds. Simply put, women are people, not “distractions.” This does, however, have a grand upside… we don’t have to be surrounded by men! It is, quite frankly, rather lovely to be free from them. I, for one, love being surrounded only by other women. And fully embracing duality here, to be honest, I found the old-fashoned segregation of genders somehow warm and charming, especially considering their determination to respect their traditions and not budge for a modern mindset. For me, this whole “thing” creates a vibratory cognitive dissonance that I cannot resolve and mostly embrace joyfully. Simply put, while the segregation annoys me a tad, I also rather like being a part of it. So, in the end, for all my questions, who’s to say, who’s to judge? Not me. But a rock ain’t gonna stop a river from flowing, and that ain’t gonna stop me from asking these questions.

…Ah… but then… was I discriminated against? I was refused admittance to the main event of the evening. While I usually find myself extremely welcome among Indians (who are the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met), once in a while I encounter situations like this. Manharji would have none of this and somehow his presence got me into the event, and for some reason, at this point I was personally escorted to the front row of the women’s section, and there I met the lovely, smiling and exemplarily hospitable Rameshi (if I got that right), who truly understood the Hindu tradition that guests are to be treated like visiting Deities. She was a delight to talk to and wanted nothing more than to make me feel welcome. To say the least, my BAPS experiences, at times, leave me with a lot of questions. All the same, I revere the place even if I, respectfully, have some questions.

But enough of that, when the event ended I was shuttled along in a river of Indian women, bustling, bumping, and reminding me once and for all that among Indians there is no such thing as personal space. While most Americans might find this intolerable and offensive, I, personally, truly love physical contact, and found their fearless physicality refreshing and warm. Apart from being far taller than most of them, I felt absolutely at home among the Indian women. Once we got into the women’s dining hall, I was treated to a lovely thali plate, and sat on the floor with the other women and ate, like many of them, with my fingers.

But so it goes at BAPS, segregation on one hand, a warm welcome and inspired beauty on the other; being excluded on the one hand, and being treated by the Indian women like one of them on the other. But through it all, being in awe of the divinity I feel in that temple.

Brother Shankara

Shortly after, Manharji dropped me off at the Vedanta Center of Atlanta, which he felt would be the perfect central place for me to stay as it was between Patel Plaza, the BAPS Temple, the Chinmaya Mission and the Global Mall (which has a Shiva Mandir and a Ganesh shrine as well as great Indian food and shops). That night, after Manharji left, the presiding monk, Brother Shankara, said he wanted to know about me. We sat in the library and he asked, “What brought you here?”

“Well,” I started, smiling, feeling already a deep sense of relief, “that’s gonna get us right to the heart of the matter, isn’t it?” To which he told me he didn’t want to waste time on small talk, and neither did I, so we dug in. What followed was not only exactly the talk I needed to have, were not only the words I needed to hear, but I was in the presence of exactly who I needed to be talking with. My gut, God, and Manharji had been right. Yes, the impulse I had to get out of Gainesville NOW was the voice of Durga (or “The Mother,” as Brother Shankara insisted) drawing me into the arms of wisdom and caring. This is an important lesson, which is that if you listen to yourself, without making excuses, and just up and “Get On The Right Thing,” rather than sinking further down, Consciousness, Brahman, Gurus and your gut will always lead you to where you need to be, to who you need to be talking with, to what you need to know, to how it’s all going to work out, and to why… well… to why I needed to follow that impulse to simply drop everything and go. Once your consciousness tunes into the higher consciousness, your own consciousness becomes guided by the supreme consciousness. This is how consciousness works, consciousness will lead one consciously to the consciousness one needs, but you have to both surrender and listen. I have taken many such leaps of faith, and they have always worked out. I had no plans, no reservations, I just placed my fate in the hands of Manharji and God, and landed in the care of the people and situations I needed. In other words, however hard I could have tried, I could not have researched, planned or organized anything as profoundly perfect as this all turned out to be. Even the suffering that led to my restless and sudden impulse to leave was a boon, the blessing that placed me in the care of people and places that will continue to nourish me as I travel deeper down the path of a seeker.

I started by telling Brother Shankara everything I have just told you in this writing so far, then we dug in deep, real deep, and got straight to the heart of the matter.

I told him how over the past few weeks I have backslid, and how I became overwhelmed with fears and doubts. I began wondering, what if I am nothing more than flesh and blood, the descendant of fesces flinging monkeys, here to vote for or against Trump, here to watch Monday Night Football… or not, here to text, Facebook, and here to decide between eating at McDonalds or eating vegan “cookies.” What if all this God stuff is nonsense? What if all the time I spent monastically at home in the forest, meditating, contemplating, hiking and studying scriptures was a waste of time? What if the joy and peace I experienced then was a delusion, was nothing more than me avoiding “reality?” All of this had made me miserable, and had led to a depressive and anxiety state so deep that I began seeking distraction. It led me to such distraction that I began looking for answers that could come only from outside, from other people, and this led to disappointment, which led to a clinging attachment, which led to frustration, sadness, anger, loneliness and bitterness. By the bitter end of it, Wednesday’s class, I had lost my way, I had no longer had any control over my own emotions. Like Sita, “Ram, get me that deer,” I had let myself become distracted, my mind like that of the frightened and fleeing deer… and what happened to Ram and Sita after that? Well, if you don’t know the story, everything unravelled and all hell broke loose!

I lost my ability to discern, I had sunk into suffering by clinging to materialism for answers I knew the world did not contain, by seeking love and comfort no one around me was in a position cared to offer. “Ram, get me that deer.”

He knew, of course, that the root of the problem was not loneliness, but my spiritual crisis, he asked how long I had been a seeker. I churned that through in my memory and said, “Oh… seven years.”

He applauded and laughed, “Right on schedule. I hate to tell you this, Justine, but you are right on schedule.” He then elaborated and explained to me that they call this the “seven-year itch.” I don’t know why, but for some reason, the seven-year mark seems to be very difficult for serious seekers. Who knew? To say the least, I was greatly relieved, as this normalized a situation that I thought had become my own personal hell. Now I knew that my own personal hell was so universal as to be laughably predictable. He went on to explain that these battles and backslides never end, that even the most advanced of seekers and the most realized of beings have them. On one level it was a huge relief, on another it was somewhat devastating to know that I had more of this coming. I was hoping for a point of no return to happen, in which I would slide into joy until death, and that would be that. Yes, I now understood, even enlightened beings have vasanas, and have to contend with being “space-time meat vehicles.” I began to see Osho (Rajneesh, a controversial Guru) with more clarity. Of course Rajneesh proved to be dangerously insane, paranoid and delusional… but those traits did not mean he was not also wise, insightful and worthy of respectful consideration. Once one embraces Sanatana Dharma, one realizes that there are no easy answers… none! And… if you think there are… may God help you.

We talked about the great story of the Devas and Asuras churning the sea for Amrita, and of how, in so doing, they released the poisons, and I told him I felt like I was at that stage where the poisons could destroy me, the world (as my notion of “reality” has been permanently destroyed, in the Shivanic sense), and the Gods. He seemed to thrive on hearing about my battles, not through any Sadism, but because I was revealing myself to him as a “serious seeker” (as he referred to me continuously), and he recognized in me that I am one of them.

“Gooble gobble.. one of us… one of us!”

In the end he welcomed me into the fold, told me I was allowed to come here at any time, and that I could call on him day or night to talk, and that he wanted me to know how much he meant that. I told him I have students who I try and help, and that I do know that he means it, as so do I. So, yes, not only have I found a new Guru in Brother Shankara, but I have found a new family of seekers. And beyond that, there is and was no pressure, as they say, “The doors of the ashram are always open,” meaning you can come and go and come and go. I can rise and fall, revel and doubt, and the Vedanta Center and Brother Shankara will be there. I can be human, can make mistakes, can choose a path that is not the one focused on at the Vedanta Center, as there are so many paths within Sanatana Dharma and I do not yet know which one is for me, and yet still be on the path of liberation, and be part of their community. Brother Shankara in no way pressured me to follow the path of the Vedanta Center, and warmly welcomed and honored the path I was on… or will resolve myself to.

By the end of our talks I felt the beginning of a healing. I feel now like I will have deeper insight and wisdom as I deal with these downsides and backslides that are all part of the spiritual journey, that are all part of the process of learning to master the mind. Will I ever truly master my mind? I don’t know, but I do know that the process has already provided me with many boons and greater peace and joy, and now the homes, friends and teachers I will need along the path.

Next: Part 2 of 3… And much much more…

Still Fighting The Battle 1 of 3

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Q: “Why did Justine suddenly leave Gainesville for an unplanned spontaneous trip to Atlanta?”

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.

Harryhausen’s Skeletons from “Jason and The Argonauts”

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.

BAPS Temple Ceiling

In 2 of 3… The BAPS Temple and more…

Barefoot Justine & Wings!

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Wings “Back To The Egg”

I may have just had the single coolest rock-n-roll fantasy night, if not one of the best nights of my life, ever! Yep, I’m feeling starstruck and dippy, and I feel more than a little silly about writing out all this, but I have to be honest and say that silly or not, this is how I’m feeling… like a starstruck giggly school girl.

Friday, October 31st. Everything was perfect. Dressed in my hippie-chick best, barefoot, my hair as big and curly as I could get it, I set sail in my VW Beetle to the local club to see a rockshow.

As anyone who really knows me knows… I am the biggest Wings fan in the world (as in Paul McCartney and Wings), and tonight, Denny Laine was in town, and I was going to have a chance to do a meet-n-greet and finally meet him in person. For those of you who don’t know, Wings was essentially a trio at its core, Paul, Linda and Denny being there from beginning to end, and the other 2 members were ever-changing, which contrary to the criticisms leveled agains the band, was for the best, as each incarnation of Wings was significantly different than the last, and each album a departure… which is, once again, contrary to the myths generated by assholes in the rock press. These personnel changes brought about a tension, energy and forward motion that kept them fresh. And, for those of you who don’t know, Wings was a killer band… and if you don’t believe me, it’s because you haven’t REALLY listened to them. Clear the pop-press and cool-guy pretension from your ears and really dig in and discover Wings, I promise you you will be surprised at the amount of amazing stuff they did. To tell the truth, I tend not to trust people who claim to hate McCartney and Wings, as they have usually been brainwashed by critics, and are often trying to prove something about their “hipness.” Hey, babe, if you think you’re too smart or too hip for Wings (which you aren’t)… you’re too “hip” for me.

What I didn’t know until I was waiting in line outside the Highdive here in Gainesville for the meet-n-greet was that I wasn’t just going to get to see, hear and meet Denny Laine, but another member of Wings… a twofer! I was outside the venue when, at some point, I overheard someone say, “Steve Holly is going to be here tonight.” I went breathless. Shit, I was gonna meet Denny Laine AND Steve Holly! Then, of course, hear them play. my energy level went all electric in an instant. My favorite Wings album was their last, “Back To The Egg.” In that line-up Laurence Juber played lead and Steve Holly/Holley drummed. See… this wasn’t just any member of Wings… this was a “Back To The Egg” member of Wings.

Steve Holly

As I got in line at the meet-n-greet, I didn’t really know what to expect, but there he was, Denny Laine, standing in front of the table getting ready, and older or no, he was still Denny fucking Laine! And there, off to the side, was this smiling mid-sized bear of a man (and I mean that in a “Balou The Bear” sorta way) just hanging out on a bench in the back… I looked through all the years (about 38), and saw clearly who it was, THAT was Steve Holly! So, I broke away from the line and walked up to him, asking, “Are you Steve Holly?”

“Yes I am.” And he stood up to talk to me. About all my nervous self could do was sputter out, “‘Back To the Egg’ is my favorite Wings album… McCartney doesn’t seem to like it all that much, but the rest of us love it.” We talked about the possibility that they might play a couple songs from “Back To The Egg” that night. I requested “Spin It On,” and “Old Siam Sir,” to which Steve said he doubted they’d do “Old Siam Sir” as it’s a really difficult song to play. That said, Wings killed on it live back in ’79. From there I realized I didn’t have any “Steve Holly Era” Wings stuff in my bag (though I had a poster in the car), so we agreed to fudge it a little. Steve Holly was in the “London Town” videos even though he wasn’t on the album, so he signed my “London Town” press kit (a rare collectible). When he went to sign my press-kit he asked my name. “Justine,” I said.

“Is that the French spelling of Justine?” he asked.

“Yeah, just like the Marquis de Sade.”

I told him I have been looking for years for a complete concert on video from 1979 era Wings, and asked if he knew of any, even bootlegs. This launched him into a story about how all of his personal memorabilia, what he called his “whole life,” was stolen while he was in New York! It was pretty sad, actually, but I guess some guy just stole the bags with all his memories, but just this year some guy sent him files full of stuff, so after all these years he has all of what he lost back, his whole life. He laughed as he told me about the guy who gave him the files and said, “It was probably the guy that stole the stuff.” From there he talked a bit about this and that before he broke away to talk to the line that was building once the others started figuring out who he was. What initially struck me was how incredibly at ease and open he was, and how genuine. It was obvious that he loves talking to the fans, and that it brings him as much joy as it does us. Though he did excuse me to talk to others, I in no way felt like he was brushing me aside, he was just trying to be polite and give everyone a chance to talk with him. Not for a minute did I feel he was eager to brush me aside.

Denny Laine and Steve Holly

I got in line for Denny Laine, and was stunned… I mean he has been a Rock God to me since I first saw him all lit up in “Rockshow’s”glorious green,blue, pink and purple light; the great lighting being a huge part of what made “Rockshow” so damn cool. Shit… there was Denny Laine! McCartney’s collaborator, the guy who played on “Band On The Run,” the guy who wrote and co-wrote many of the best damn pop and rock songs of the seventies. I talked to him about “London Town,” as that press kit was what I had in hand, and asked him about “Deliver Your Children,” which I admitted I couldn’t recall if he or he and Paul wrote that one. When he told me he wrote that one, I came back with, “It’s the best song on the album.”

“I like this girl!” Denny called out in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, as he, of course, did write that one… and it’s one helluva song, too.

But he wasn’t quite as open as Steve Holly, very kind, but a little more standoffish. I asked him one other question, just because we were standing there waiting as he also signed my Concert program from the 1976 tour (which was before my time). Anyhow, I asked him if he ever got melancholy or nostalgic when he thinks back on that heyday of fame and sold out arenas. He said, no, he doesn’t live in the past and he’s happy doing what he’s doing now, which was a genuine and well-adjusted answer. I kind of regret the question, not because I hadn’t wanted to know, but it’s not a question so much as the sort of thing that would have been best discussed over dinner or something.

I then went along my way, out to dinner with my friend Miriam (first generation Beatle fan) because there was so much time between the meet-n-greet and the show. We returned well before the show started, but, almost 2 hours after my little chat with Steve Holly. Not really paying much attention to what was going on around me, as I was headed to the restroom, someone said, “Hi Justine.” I’ll be dogged… it was Steve Holly! I just sort of touched his shoulder as I passed and said, “Hey, Steve.”

What? He’d bothered to remember my name? Two hours later, after meeting a line of fans… and he knew my fucking name! My heart melted, I just thought, you know, what a sweet and kind guy. Or, perhaps, just perhaps (dare I think it), he found me memorable. Well, I’ll never know which it was, but regardless, we were now on a first name basis… at least for the moment.

The show was great fun, watching two members of Wings play was a delight. Denny started off a little loose, then got tight and really nailed it, especially on “Time To Hide,” which is a number that really pleased the Wings fans, all of us remembering it well from “Rockshow,” which is, for my money, the greatest concert film ever… period. It’s everything a rock concert should be, dark, moody, hard-driving, at times silly, energetic, and bathed in colored light and pyrotechnics… oh, and the clothes! The glorious glam clothes. It’s a fabulous example of 1970’s excess, right down to the horn section and double-necked guitar Denny played… and who could forget the airbrushed action shot of Wings that was in the gatefold of the tripple album “Wings Over America.” But Denny Laine’s a little older now, and around about the middle of the set he got a little raw, but got his mojo entirely back by the end (“Spirits Of Ancient Egypt” being especially hot). And all the while, Steve was spot-on with the drumming. He was not only proving to be a sweetheart of a guy, but was still a wicked-cool drummer. Being a Wings fan I have lately found McCartney’s Beatle-Paul nostalgia shows to be a bit of a drag, so it was a delight to hear so many Wings songs in one evening… songs like:

The “Back To The Egg” attitude: progressive, quirky, playful punk, power pop & gothic poetry

Again and Again and Again,
Spirits Of Ancient Egypt,
Time To Hide,
Listen To What the Man Said,
Go Now,
Band On the Run,
Children Children,
No Words,
Deliver Your Children,
Live and Let Die,
Mull Of Kintyre

And a bundle more.

The show was very informal and easygoing, they played like a beloved local act, it was actually really warm and loose. To tell the truth, I was more into it on that level, the band took the attitude that we were all just having a little private party among friends. On a personal level, I was enjoying dancing around barefoot in the club, which I had managed to get into without any problems… but the big bummer of the night was that I had forgotten to smoke any grass. As much as I loved the show, it was after the show when I really experienced the high points of the evening.

A few minutes after the show, at least two more hours since last we spoke, Steve came right out to greet the fans who had waited, and I got right up to him… and he actually hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and greeted me by name again!

Yeah… THE Steve Holly from Wings hugged and kissed me! And remembered my name all night! Well, this is especially prescient considering that he’s the first guy in five fucking years to hug and kiss me AT ALL! But, I guess if a girl’s gonna get hugged and kissed it might as well be by a rock-n-roll hero.

This was the first hug of the night, and it took me totally by surprise, and a delightful one at that. Right, I know, I’m being all giggly-fan-girl on you guys, but Wings really is my favorite band, other than the Beatles, in that I probably play more McCartney solo than I do Beatles, and I grew up in the Wings era, not the Beatle era. That music got me through some pretty hairy stuff and a lot of lonely nights. This was not only the music of my childhood, but music I grew into and carried with me into my adulthood. That music has been my constant companion, literally the soundtrack to my entire life. I mean, I have literally been into Wings since forever, and I’ve been seeing Steve Holly on TV since high school, especially back then when MTV would show clips form “The Concert For Kampuchea” all the time. Steve Holly was, to me, another part of the mythology of the Beatles. He was “one of them,” and to my mind one of the Gods… he may as well have been on Valhalla… and here I was on a first-name basis and getting a hug and kiss! How could I not dig that? And I had just seen Denny Laine play from like six feet away. It was really really grand!

When he got to talking with someone else, I dashed out to my car and grabbed the Wingspan poster I had that was a photo from the era in which Steve was in the band, a killer, and extremely cool and edgy shot, that anyone who has actually bothered to follow them knows is what they were, cool and edgy, as well as melodic and catchy. The fans were oohing over this poster, then when Steve caught a glimpse of it he just stopped and went towards it. he first kissed Linda, then began telling me how rare the poster was and began telling me all about the photo shoot. He just stood over it, with a couple fans, and reminisced. He said the photographer had asked them not to shave and to stay up for 3 days to get that haggard edgy look. He said it was for the “I’ve Had Enough” single cover. But Steve would not sign it with my pen, as he was afraid of damaging it, but as he walked off to find a felt-tip pen, he gave me another warm hug and kiss on the neck, but this hug a little longer and a little warmer. I figured he was never going to get to a felt-tip pen, as he was giving each fan his full attention, so I went off to find a felt-tip while he talked to other fans. For a while I listened to him talk to a young drummer kid about working with John Bonham on Rockestra, at one point Steve leaned in and told the kid some drum secret from that experience. It was so generous! I realized that probably everyone who had the opportunity to talk him went home like me, feeling as though he had been willing to be open and connect even if for only a brief few moments. I’ve known a lot of charming people, but this went way deeper than charm. He made me feel special… and it seemed he did the same for everyone.

I got his attention with the marker and walked him back to the poster, and he really dug it again, tapped a kiss to his fingers and pressed them to Linda, giving her a second kiss before signing the poster. As things wound down, he gave me a delicious cradling bearhug that was so kind and generous I realized that I no longer just loved this band and this music, but this kind, fun, generous guy. The hug was real, and it was like hugging a great big koala bear, he gave me another peck on the cheek as the hug released, and said, “see you down the road, Justine,” but his tone was not that of tossing off a cliche, but of meaning that we would indeed see each other down the road.

The mood of “Back To The Egg”

I walked out having made two connections with Wings, and an extremely memorable first-name basis connection with Steve Holly. It was a night I will never forget… and one that will warm my heart for years to come, if not a lifetime. And, I get to add it to my fabulous firsthand stories about my favorite band. I mean, at this point I have met Denny Laine, have been kissed and hugged by Steve Holly 3 times (as well as having been on a first-name basis), and McCartney himself talked about a video I had made in “Radio Times,” so I have essentially made real connections with 3 of the 5 “Back To The Egg” members of Wings. As I think on it, it’s actually a pretty remarkable accomplishment.

Yeah, Steve, I do hope to see you on down the road. But until then, I guess I’ll have to settle for watching the old Wings footage and melting every time it hits me that “THAT GUY” in Wings, the drummer, and I were on a first-name basis, and that “THAT GUY, STEVE FREAKIN’ HOLLY FROM WINGS” hugged and kissed me 3 times. And that THAT guy is real, and even if for only one night… we connected.

Am I being silly? You know, I don’t really care, it’s a warm kinda silly. Yeah, I am a bit embarrassed at the thought that there is some tiny chance Steve Holly might read this… as I will have totally blown my cool with all this gushy crap… but hey, if you’re out there, Steve… thank you so much! Yes… I will see you on down the road, and I hope to hell you are as happy a man as you seemed that night. You’ve given me a real and joyful connection to something I truly love… and I wish you all the best… you are adorable!

One American White Chick’s Struggles With Her Vasanas: Part Three

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Part 3: Beware Of Darkness (To read parts 1 and 2, scroll down)

(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)

“She’s fragile, she has depression and anxiety, she can’t help it.”

We are taught in the West by well-intentioned professionals and other experts, that our darkest corners, our illnesses, own us, that we are victims. We are taught to forgive ourselves our helplessness because we are victims of our biology, of our chemistry, and that we have to accept lives of inevitable sickness because the illnesses are bigger than we are. Well, folks, they’re not. Believing we are that small, and living in a culture of enablers, keeps us bound in helpless suffering. We have far more power over our depressive and anxious tendencies than we might believe, and we have far more power over them than BIG PHARMA or politicall correctness would ever want us to realize. Yes, the struggles are real, the problems are real, but surrendering to them, or resigning ourselves to lifetimes of medicated numbness, or worse, defining ourselves as anxious people, are not the answers, even if from time to time we need the medical numbness to get it together. I am not denying that mental illnesses are real, I am merely stating that many of us have simply lost control of our minds, and all the feel-goodie politically correct crap in the world cannot cover the stink of bondage this way of thinking has reduced us to. And what have we been reduced to? Slaves to our own self-perpetuating suffering, slaves to illnesses as part of our identity, resigned to living as “victims.” If we are victims, it is not of incurable diseases, it is of brainwashing by well-meaning boobs. As serious as a problem may be to contend with, resigning to victimhood takes away whatever power you may have. Serious as these illnesses are, do not resign yourself to helplessness or despair.

I had been fighting my mental and emotional-health wolf-demons head-on and with courage for a long time, and was making headway, too, but I was still feeding those wolves, was still stubbornly attached to the vasanas that fed, caused or were them. I had made a lot of headway on my own, and more headway after the DMT experience (which ONLY offers medicinal healing if you integrate the experiences diligently), so I was not depending on any miracles, but, and I went into this in depth when I talked about my trip to the Temple in Atlanta, I did experience a miraculous healing. This is extremely surprising in that, though I was seeking temporary relief, I was not asking for healing as I didn’t even think such a thing was possible. Regardless, there I was in the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, and within a period of about 30 seconds, completely out of the blue, all of my anxiety and depression evaporated. Every bit of stale depression, fear and anxiety that I had been carrying around since I was 3 flushed out of my system in a miraculous moment. Depressive and anxious thoughts and states of being had become like the drone string of my life. No matter how much fun I was having, those feelings were always there underneath it all, and now they were gone.

Simply gone! I was free, and I was clean and clear. It was as stark a contrast as having been blind since birth and suddenly seeing… I had NO IDEA what life felt like without anxiety or depression until after that moment.

A few weeks passed, me very suspicious of the healing event. I kept thinking I was delusional, that such a healing was impossible, that I was a sick person and I had to accept my illness as a fact of life with the resolution of absolute certitude, then the truth rang in me with all the clarity of a bell… the words of Shiva came to me in my own voice…

It was up to me. It was entirely up to me if those feelings came back and settled in as the drone string to every moment of my life. I had been given an opportunity by Brahman, Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesh, to shed the vasanas that kept me a prisoner of my own suffering, and it was up to me if I sunk back into the wallow of them. It was up to me if the event was delusional or not. But, that’s just it… it is ALWAYS up to me, and up to you. It is up to you if you want to master drawing, it is up to you if you want to beat, or at least diminish, depression and anxiety, it is up to you if you want to climb Everest, and it’s up to you if you want to master your mind! Having said that, yes, I most definitely believe in the reality of mental health problems, but I also believe in the reality of hard focused work and years of patient effort. And now, I believe in miracles. Whether you want to master drawing, your mind, or Everest, the amount of work it takes is intimidating, and most people simply dismiss it as impossible for them… and so for them, it is.

I chose to make the healing event real. From that time, and it has been months, I have had isolated episodes of anxiety and depression, perhaps I always will, perhaps I won’t, but I can root out short-term episodes of depression or anxiety much more easily when I am not carrying around depression and anxiety that I have nursed to my breast like a serpent since I was three years-old. These mental health vasanas (inherent tendencies) had been with me since birth, perhaps longer, so I am not saying I will never have another episode, I said that I already have, but what I am saying is that I am winning this battle (eliminating these vasanas) by significant degrees, and for the most part, not only are these problems no longer a part of my day to day life day in and day out, I no longer view them as inevitable or incurable. Perhaps for some they are, but deep down I honestly believe that most of us can do better and be healthier and happier, if not entirely well.

I had allowed numerous other problems to take me down, whether or not they are “vasanas” I am not certain, but some were simple, like going to bed late and sleeping in too late, which I have since conquered. It’s amazing how much daylight helps disarm depression. I had the problem of having too tight an attachment to my former best friend, but in losing him I have since realized that if I could let go of that consuming attachment to him, I can let go of any attachment. It seems that in the wake of working out our vasanas and karma, other aspects of our spiritual life and growth begin to purify and work themselves out with greater ease. I had the vasana of being a hopeless misfit and cultural outsider since childhood, and grew into seeing my current solitude as a tragic loneliness, as sorrow and suffering. For years now I have bemoaned my solitude as an agony, I longed for a lover, for a best friend to spend time with, but even that I have changed. Now my solitude is holy. I wake up, meditate, take a long walk in the beautiful forest around my home, then I go to lunch and see my friends. After that I come home, read Puranas, read Vedic scriptures, and often walk and meditate more. My solitude is now something I cherish, and I am feeling less like a malcontented misfit and more like a Sadhu, more like the Adiyogi, Shiva. Slowly, vasana after vasana, big and small have revealed themselves, a few have dropped away. But there seem to be so many yet to go, for all my successes I am still deep in this battle with my vasanas, and I’m not certain I will have let them all go before I die, but I will have laid a good number of them to rest.

Yes, there are many vasanas I still struggle with, among them, a difficulty accepting the nature of maya. It is natural to inherently view “reality” the same way everyone else seems to. Like most of us, I had an habitual way of viewing reality in a rather democratic way. While I now live in awareness of a larger reality, I tend to cling to my old smaller “reality.” To be honest, at times I have become terrified as I have watched my former notions of reality, and of who I am, being destroyed. If our notions of reality and self are destroyed… what then? Who are we? Where are we? What are we?

What then? indeed… BLISS! At times I respond to the upset of my reality as bliss, at others with fear. This vasana, this struggle between my true self and my mighty and tyrranical ego is still a battle I fight. I am too attached to maya, to this illusory and limited version of reality, even though I have time and again seen and experienced far larger realities.

But, perhaps the vasana I have struggled with most recently is one more stale leftover from Christianity. I tend to return too often to fundamentalism and literalism when I read the sacred texts, Puranas, Vedas, whatever. This leads only to fear, never to release, never to peace. The only way to live at peace with fundamentalism and literalism is to walk headlong into that bondage and to keep your eyes closed and your ears full of wax. And even then, I promise you, something will have to give. Fundamentalism of any stripe is limited and is bondage, and God is limitless and infinite freedom, therefore, God never resides in fundamentalism, only limited and bound people reside there. Folks, you will not find God in fundamentalism anymore than I will find my panties in the silverware drawer.

Time and again I find myself reading the sacred texts, particularly the Puranas, and getting hung up on my dogmatic fundamentalist literal interpretations of the texts… and these are always MY vasanas at work. This leads to all manner of confusion. I am still not entirely certain how I am to view Shiva. I mean, as an existential entity with 4 arms and a blue neck? As a metaphor manifested to pass along wisdom? As a form revealed to the sages so that we could better relate to the teachings? As formless? As myself? To be honest, this confusion only sets in when I think about it. It seems this vasana is eliminated by not thinking about it. Shiva IS, and Shiva is D) all the above… none of the above, “That Which Is Not,” and more.

In the wake of all these fundamentalist freak outs along came my concerns about whether or not I should install a stone Shiva lingam, and if whether or not my Shiva murti is in the right place in my home, and whether or not I am making enough offerings or offering enough bhakti. Not only all that, but as I was not born and raised in a Hindu family, I have no idea at all how to perform a simple proper pujah, nor what to offer Lord Shiva. I have taken the advice of my teacher Manhar-Ji to resolve this. Firstly, he told me a story from the Shiva Purana that I did not know. It was about a Shiva devotee who had nothing to offer Shiva but meat. There is a lot to the story, but essentially meat is considered a filthy offering, and to many it would be considered blasphemous and sinful to offer Shiva meat, but in the end, Shiva accepted the meat because he understood that this was all the man had to offer, and that he was offering it in all devotion. In other words, perfection of the specifics do not matter. What matters is the intention and practice of holy acts to the best of our abilities, and this comes right down to realizing that neither Shiva nor any of the other Gods actually demand perfection no matter how unforgiving other passages in Puranas may be. In fact, this issue of perfection was one of the topics I had to discuss with my guru (simply translated as “teacher” in this context) Manhar-Ji. When reading the Puranas, it seemed they demanded perfection, and as a person who has the vasana of perfectionism, this was causing me nothing but suffering. Fortunately I have the right teacher, and he clarified that the process is not about being perfect, it is about accepting our imperfections as we strive towards a spiritual perfection, a perfection that may not realize itself for lifetimes.

With great eagerness I had finally begun reading the sacred Shiva Puranas, and by page 24 I had been condemned to hell four to six times! Now, I’m not so sure I believe in “Hell,” as anything more than a metaphor (I’m also not willing to say outright that I do not believe in Hell… how could I know?), but this struck a red-hot rod of misery straight down my throat. Here I was battling the same miseries I had battled as a Christian. I do not respond well to threats of eternal damnation, I will not be manipulated by fear, so I set the Puranas aside and sought counsel. I contacted Manhar-Ji, and he set my mind at ease, dismissing the passages as both secondary and metaphorical. Here, again, my old vasanas, those of reading scriptures too literally, too much like a fundamentalist were manifesting in different forms. As I had said, I thought I had outgrown concepts of Hell, but being confronted with it again had upset me deeply. One of the things that had drawn me into Sanatana Dharma was that it was not dogmatic, literal or fundamentalist, that it was full of metaphor and full of choices, but there I was, time and again, trying to drag Sanatana Dharma into the little room, locking them in there with my vasanas. Manhar-Ji sent me a passage that I will return to time and again. I don’t know where it came from or who wrote it, but he paraphrased it in his email like this:

“Do not accept anything because it was laid down by sages and saints! Always question humbly? Why? If you adopt their declarations mechanically, you flout the fundamental principles of religion. Religion today is far from reaching that objective. The Self is made the slave of the ghosts of old books. Torturing old books to squeeze out the truth! Force meaning out of personal experience or want interpretation of lifeless words. Be free to think. Use reason to arrive at your conclusion. If not then this is spiritual suicide. The enlightened souls, compassionate ones, masters who give guidance and solace are not here to enslave you. They free you from bondage – this suffering. Do not let yourself be influenced by any obsolete codes of conduct that influence you by their imperative commandments. Gain the sane knowledge of the living present – NOW – rather than burying yourself in the past. Learn from past. But Live in now.”

BINGO! I was home again, free from dogma! Free to breathe and trust my inner experiences, free to interpret the truths as I read them and need them. Free to accept “I don’t know” as its own truth and wisdom. Free to once again know with all my heart that Sanatana Dharma is a LIVING system, and not merely a slavish regurgitation of the words of long gone sages. This vasana of literalism, dogma and fundamentalism I have finally laid to rest! And I will stomp upon the dirt under which it is buried every time I need to remind myself of the danger of what lies buried there… vasanas.

Har Har Mahadev!

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One American White Chick’s Struggles With Her Vasanas: Part Two

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Part 2: It’s All Too Much

(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)

I had not been living my life joyfully. In fact, for a very long time, decades and decades, I never knew a moment of pure joy. I had fleeting moments of joy, but always underneath it somewhere lurked a shadowy depression, or a sour twist of anxiety. Now, I know joy, not only joy, but pure joy, and at times ecstasy and bliss. But how did I learn joy? I learned it by realizing where the roots of my suffering lie, and by tearing up those roots, essentially by allowing Lord Shiva to dance me to destruction!

When I left Christianity, clueless, directionless, a lifetime ago, it left a huge charred hell in my psyche. I became morbidly terrified of death. I struggled to find myself through Taosim, then Zen, Celtic Paganism, and even mythology in general, but none of that fit and I knew it. Finally I became resigned to a decade or more of agonizing agnosticism. And through it all I remained terrified of the dark dank rotting reality of ultimate death. The story of how I felt drawn to Hindusim is long, and not one I can tell here, let’s just say that when Shiva came to me I was not looking for answers anymore. The answers came to me because Shiva knew I was ready. The problem was, Shiva may have known I was ready, but I did not feel ready. Funny that, because THAT is the very crux of what I am trying to get through to my students… YOU ARE READY!

Years ago, when I first began answering the call to Hinduism, I had sincerely installed a Ganesh in my home, and I adored Lord Ganesh, but that was only a first step. At least then I had a Hindu Temple less than an hour away, but once I moved to Florida, that was when my spiritual growth went dark. I was now clueless and all alone in my spirituality. I had no support, no Temple, no Priest, no fellow devotees, just a lot of questions, and nowhere to turn for answers. Naturally, my spiritual development not only stagnated, it regressed.

Yet I installed a Durga and Shiva, along with the Ganesh, in my new home in Florida. But, I was still clueless. I had no idea where any of this was leading or what it was I was supposed to be doing, so I continued to flounder, alone. At times it felt like I had made Hinduism up in some fit of desperate madness, so lonely I was in it, so hopelessly lost and without support. And it wasn’t just the lack of Hindu community and a Temple or teacher, all that was further confounded by the limitless options and possibilities within the framework of what we call “Hinduism.” I was like a child raised in a locked room (that room having been fundamentalist evangelical Christianity), and released into the Wide World in a moment, with no guide, no teachers, and no traveling companion! Unknown to me, this circumstance of birth had loaded me full of vasanas. I had been born into the wrong religion, a religion that may have been right for many, but not for me. How long had I suffered that? Were the vasanas that had become hard-wired in me born in this lifetime, or had I travelled through many before finally realizing from where God was calling? Frightened “child” that I was, I could not help but want to run back into my little locked room, so I all but neglected my spirituality, and worse, as I began to learn more about the Vedas and Puranas, I kept trying to drag them back into the little room I had been locked in.

It is hard to figure out what to become when you are a “Hindu,” especially when you have no Temple, no teacher, no guidance whatsoever, and when you have not been born into a culture of people that understand the many arms of Hinduism. I was overwhelmed. Do you become a follower of Vedic teaching? Do you join in with the Krishnas? Do you walk away from it all and join an ashram (and if so… which one under which guru)? Do you become an ascetic? Do you just meditate and be mindful to be calmer? Do you follow one as saintly as the beatific Anandi Ma, or do you wallow in the dirt of cremation grounds with flesh-eating Aghori? To have come from such a narrow path into a world of infinite possibilites without any help or guidance had paralyzed me. It was all too much, and there was so little for me to grab onto.

But then, and I have never revealed this on my blog, over a year ago a friend of mine showed up with a dose… and I took a hit of DMT, “the spirit molecule.”

WHOAH!

The point of no return. My entire concept of reality had been upended. From that point it was impossible to ever return to the limited notions of “reality” I’d had before. With my understanding of reality utterly destroyed, I had no choice but to earnestly engage in seeking Godhead. What was more instantaneous than that and quite miraculous, after my fist dose of DMT, is that I was suddenly able to do the impossible… meditate! No, really! I had struggled to meditate for years, both before I became a sysha in Sanatana Dharma (a “student” or “seeker” in “Hinduism”) and after. The ability to meditate had simply been beyond the power my vasanas had over me. Though I had considered myself a “Hindu” prior to DMT, it was DMT that, in one 15 minute trip. knocked down every obstacle between me and meditation, between me and Shiva. DMT became the eye of Shiva in that it utterly destroyed me and all I knew. Ganesh followed in the wake of that destruction and demolished every obstacle in my path. That first morning after the DMT trip when I woke up to meditate, it just so happened that my housemate and a friend were out my window in the yard running a chainsaw! Ordinarily I would have said “screw it,” and gone on with something else, but to me this seemed like a perfect opportunity. If I can initiate morning meditations by doing my very first morning meditation with a chainsaw going on outside my window… well… then, it seemed to me that I was “in.” Yes, that chainsaw was a test and a gift from Shiva… it was now or never.

I meditated.

So, you ask me:

Q: Are psychedelics a valid tool for genuine spiritual enlightenment?
A) Absolutely not
B) Yes, of course, take DMT now
C) Yes, but only with a qualified “professional” in some unlikely circumstance or obscure locale
D) All of the above

D) All of the above. No, I can’t reccomend that everyone go out and try psychedelics, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, tell anyone not to either. Let me say this, for certain people heading towards certain paths within the framework of Sanatana Dharma, I would say, no, psychedelics are not going to do anything but make things worse, but for others heading down other paths, then, yes, psychedelics can be as valid a tool as any. As a person who has leaned towards Lord Shiva, the transgressive Yogi, “That Which Is Not,” for someone in whom Shiva is at work, medicinal and respectful spiritual work with psychedelics may well be just the thing. People debate this, but Shiva partook of Ganja, and partook of Soma. Soma, some claim, was a poetic reference to spiritual inebriation, but I and others tend to believe soma was an entheogenic visionary drink. Regardless of the validity or lack of validity of psychedelics as a tool, this is important, psychedelics are NEVER to become a crutch. Ultimately, psychedelics open doors for people who cannot otherwise open them, they can break us free from our vasanas by essentially rerouting our mental pathways, but to keep taking them and relying on them… well, doors begin to open right into brick walls. But if psychedelics open the doors of perception, as Alan Watts said of LSD, when you get the message, hang up the phone.

Yes, I do believe some people need psychedelics to open those doors, and there is sound scientific thought behind it, in that psychedelics, as I had eluded to a moment ago, reroute our mental pathways, get us out of our ruts. Many of us get rutted into unhealthy pathways… and those pathways are, or become, vasanas. So, yes, if you ask me, psychedelics may be a critical guilt-free part of the journey for some, but if they are the destination, then I personally think that reveals a lack of vision if not a weakness of character, after all, once the doors have been opened, with a little discipline we can learn to find and travel through those doors without the aid of psychedelics. Psychedelics are tools, they are not God-realization, and they will not “open your third eye,” no matter what some white guy with dreads broadcasting from Burning Man may tell you on his Youtube channel. For me, DMT was nothing more than one essential step up a very high mountain, and the rest of the way I will now have to climb under my own power, though knowing that all of my power comes from Shiva, from Brahman, from Sanatana Dharma… and all that power can be accessed from within. My interest in psychedelics and DMT has diminished as I have learned what I needed to learn from them, which is good as it’s damn-near impossible to find DMT… I haven’t had the energy or desire to find it again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s probably for the best. A very little goes a long way.

So, there, one vasana finally eliminated, at long last, I now could meditate and I was now on the path of no return. But what the hell path was I on? I’m back on the limitless highway of Hindu possibilities. I love Sadhguru, but he probably will not turn out to be my guru. I am devoted to Lord Shiva, but the path of Devotion (bhakti) may not be the path for me, though I practice bhakti still. Should I travel to India and be in the company of Anandi Ma? Again… do I join the Krishnas? To be honest, as much as this may freak people out, a lot of what the Aghori say, do and believe, makes a lot of internal sense to me… but I am definitely not an Aghori either. But that part of me that is fascinated by and appreciative of what the Aghori represent has, perhaps, made me unfit for more mainstream options within “Hinduism.” In a sense, a new vasana had been revealed to me, the same vasana one might say Hamlet suffered from.

I have long suffered from neurotic confusion (neurotic confusion having been an habitual state for me, one from which I frequently reacted) that manifests as over-concern for the destination when I should have been enjoying the journey. This had manifested itself for years in my artwork, in which I have rarely enjoyed the process as I always had an eye on the results. Now this was revealed to me as a vasana, but in this particular case, I was worried about where I was supposed to end up in my spiritual life rather than recognizing or enjoying the process of seeking. The removal of this “To be or not to be” existential struggle, this confusion and state of ignorance particular to my spiritual journey, came to me from the humblest and most unexpected of sources, a waiter at an Indian restaurant.

I had become friends with many employees of the local Indian restaurant, so I sometimes bring them out to where I live for a day of relaxation. I was standing on the lakeshore with him, and while he was staring out in wonder at the beautiful landscape of floating islands, exotic birds, lakeshore, lake and light, I was churning up concerns for the future, distressing over my destination. I said, “Vikram, I don’t know where this is going. I mean, am I going to end up in an ashram somewhere or what?”

He held his hand out over the lake and said, “Don’t think of the fruit.” He then told me how beautiful the lake was.

All in the teachings I know, but I had never heard Krishna’s teaching about how we are entitled to our actions, but not to the fruit of our actions applied in this way. To me this teaching meant that however hard I worked to learn how to draw, I had no right to expect being rewarded for it, but now, with Vikram, this teaching took on all new depth. From that point on I have stopped thinking about where I am going… and instead I am simply going, am simply seeking! It seems I have defeated one aspect of this monstrous vasana, I have stopped worrying about what path I will resolve and resign to traveling spiritually. I am traveling, and that is enough. The specific path and destination will reveal itself, as has everything else. This vasana of having too much an eye on the results and not enough focus on the process has many forms, but having defeated one manifestation, one avatar, if you will, of this vasana, it will be easier now to begin defeating it when it manifests in my art, or in other areas of my life. In other words, I had won one battle in my war with this one single vasana, but from this point, it should be easier to win the other battles.

The real vasanas I had been battling inwardly were my inherent tendency towards depressions, anxieties, obsessions and fears that had become part of the marrow of my being, and had been so since I was 3 years old, but probably since birth and long before. I had the habit of feeding those wolves as if they simply had to be accepted as part of who I am, as a permanent part of my life. Like many people with anxiety and depression, anxiety and depression had become an important and accepted part of my identity. These were diseases I wrongly understood to be ME.

For a start, it was Sadhguru who got me to realize that this way of thinking is backwards. In one of his teachings he asked, what if your hand was flopping around hitting you all the time when you weren’t using it… would you consider this a sickness? Well, he went on to explain, this is exactly what your brain is doing when it tortures you with undue suffering. Your mind, like your hand, should sit still and calm when not in use. He then explained that we have simply lost control of our minds, and that as common a condition as it is, it should not be viewed as normal, nor should it be resigned to.

Thus I became aware of one major vasana, I had lost control of my mind!

NEXT, Part 3: Beware Of Darkness

One American White Chick’s Struggles With Her Vasanas: Part One

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Shiva Speaking To Justine...

Shiva Speaking To Justine…

Part 1: Living In The Material World

(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)

As I go deeper into my studies of Sanatana Dharma (or “Hinduism” as it is more commonly called), what is it am I learning? Well, lots of stuff, and a lot of it difficult to explain, probably in part because I do not yet understand it all well enough to explain it fluidly. As you may well imagine, at the moment I am as busy unlearning as learning, and this is where the trouble starts. Learning is always a challenging process, even though having to unlearn is not an uncommon part of the learning process. When becoming a serious student of Sanatana Dharma, unlearning seems to be far more important, and from an esoteric perspective, being a student of Sanatana Dharma is almost entirely about unlearning, untangling, detaching and letting go. Now, multiply the struggles of unlearning times a thousand when transitioning from a Western religious and social structure to Hindu spirituality. At the core of this unlearning process are the vasanas, as those are what we must unlearn, let go of, and detach ourself from.

Let’s begin with what I’m learning that is easiest to explain, and that is not only how to be a teacher, but more importantly, how to be a good student. I teach at SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop), and I know who the ideal student is in my mind, and knowing this, I have to humble myself to that place now that the tables have been turned and I am the sysha (student). After all, how can I ask of my students something I am unwilling to give of myself? Ultimately what this comes down to is being willing to not only listen, but to empty my cup. I don’t mean “empty my cup” in a general zen-cliche way, I mean specifically to empty my cup every single time I have a question; to empty it of the answers I want to hear, expectations, and of old answers. By this, I mean to ask questions from a standpoint of wanting to know rather than from the standpoint of defending some preconceived idea I might be attached to.

It is insanely frustrating to teach someone who is less questioning me to understand than to defend themselves for coming to me with a full cup overflowing with ideas and ideologies they are not even willing to consider letting go of. America has become a country of monolithic ideologies of all sorts, not the least of which manifest as insanely rigid political constructs through which far too many people view every aspect of life, especially in this age of deeply unhealthy political obsession… and people are doing this without even realizing they have wandered so deep into such a dark cave. Some students just won’t empty their cups, with those students it’s best to let go, teach them the particulars of whatever technique they are worried about, and let them go about struggling to keep their overfull cups from spilling over, which is a sad place from which to teach, because the best teachers do not teach technique only, they teach life as they understand it. A student who is not willing to learn about life, but only wants to learn what they choose to learn is a very frustrating student indeed. Most teachers don’t merely know more about inking or watercolor, they know more about living, as is inevitable with the aging process, light begins to fall into the shadowy corners of our delusions. Just as the sun travels over a landscape, illuminating at first the East-facing side of things, one who has only lived to early afternoon has not been able to see into the shadowy sides to the West what one who has survived until evening has seen.

“Siva, the merciful, removes ignorance even as the sun removes impurities and darkness by means of its rays. When ignorance is dispelled, the knowledge of Siva begins to function.”

Siva Purana

I have learned that being a good student means knowing when the right student, the right wisdom and the right teacher have come together at the right time. It’s about being conscious enough to recognize that when it happens, and being wise enough to humble yourself before it, as well as being humble enough to empty your cup and surrender to the wisdom and the teacher.

I have been studying Sanatana Dharma for some time now, and though I resist buying too deeply into this idea, it is said by some in India that one cannot be converted to Hinduism, one must be born into it. While this is wholly wrong… I have had to recognize that there is more than a little truth in it… however much that realization hurts. Hindus and India are not like America and The Republians (I mean “Christians,” sorry, I get those two mixed up sometimes… but so do they), in that the fundamental role of Christianity in American culture is not the same role Hinduism plays in Indian culture. The fundamental concepts and commonly taught lessons of mainstream American Christianity are not entirely the same concepts and lessons taught in Hinduism, or at the very least, there are not as many options or possibilities within the confines of mainstream Christianity. In mainstream (not all, but in “mainstream” middle-American) Christianity, the road is obscenely narrow and omnidirectional. I grew up bound to the hellish confines of that narrow one-way road, and have emerged into the highway of Indian spirituality where there are numerous lanes coming from multiple directions and splitting off into millions of exits. Without a GPS (Guru Positioning System), it’s easy to get lost. Simply put, by reading the Bible in a simplistic way, and by going to the average church, one can more or less understand what most Americans consider “Christianity” fairly easily, even if they did not grow up Christian. The same is not true of Hinduism where options, possibilities and complexities can be overwhelming to one who has not grown up immersed in the culture that has immersed itself in it, and I mean wholly overwhelming. In that way, yes, it is difficult to make a transition to Hindu spirituality from outside India, but Sanatana Dharma is, in the end, a spiritual system that has no boundaries, no race, no gender, and no one right path. Ultimately, this is where the issue of vasanas reveal themselves as being particularly confounding to a Western seeker, especially to one without a guru. We all, as we embrace Sanatana Dharma, be we American or Indian, have to struggle with our vasanas, but a good student from the West… well, their struggles against their vasanas are far messier.

So how does this all begin to tie together? Let’s start by saying that I welcome as many Indian people into my life as cross my path, and when around them, I immediately become a humble student with absolutely no desire to bicker or debate modern American relativistic nonsense with them. A people who grew up in an environment immersed in Santana Dharma simply think differently than those who grew up in our American environment, and thank God for that. Often my vasanas become revealed and begin to loosen simply by being humble around the Indians in my life. Only recently I learned a very important lesson about being a good student. For a long time I have struggled with what to call myself, a “convert to Hinduism,” and while talking this over with an Indian friend, he suggested that for starters, I would have a much easier time of it if I consider myself a “sysha (a student) of Sanatana Dharma” rather than as one who has “converted to Hinduism.” PING! Wow, the light went on, instant liberation! Now, like all syshas, like all on this path, American or Indian, I am a seeker, the playing field has been leveled. Additionally, as a “sysha” rather than a “convert,” I have eliminated the need to “know;” no pressure to be perfect, no need to apologize for being an American white girl using the label “Hindu.” By being around people who have been immersed in the culture of Sanatana Dharma, we can approach our vasanas more consciously through listening to their wisdom.

Yeah… so what are “vasanas?” Let’s start with a couple of other concepts, concepts such as karma, maya, avidya, and then vasanas. And let’s start by saying that this is how I understand these concepts at the moment, and I welcome any input as to where I have misunderstood any of these concepts. As it is essentially the cornerstone on which our illusions are built, let’s start with maya, meaning, “not this.” Maya is essentially the concept that the material world is an illusion, or at least that our attachment to it, as who and what we are, is the illusion. There are tons of subtleties to the way maya manifests, and like all things in Hinduism, were we given a multiple choice test and asked to choose between 3 definitions of maya and a fourth option, “D) All of the above,” the answer in Hinduism is virtually always D. But maya is where the trouble starts, it’s where we all get lost, it is the the rope that binds us all. Maya leads to avidya, avidya creates vasanas, and vasanas are the tendencies from which we act, thereby creating karma both good and bad.

Avidya essentially means our personal ignorances, ignorances which have been born of our immersion in maya. These avidya (ignorances) manifest in us as our immersion in maya convinces us we are the ego, and this makes us blind to our true nature… which is not our identification with the body and the mind, but with our Atman (the particle of God in us that we are meant to realize).

Lastly, due to the world of maya and our ensuing avidya, thus our vasanas are created. The Vasanas as I understand the concept now, are our inherent tendencies, the habits, thoughts and compulsions that we engage in primarily as our reactions to avidya, which stemmed from maya. These vasanas may be positive, they may be negative; they may have been created in this life, or we may have come into this life with them. The vasanas seem to be our highly personal cosmic illusory inner thumbprint. These thoughts, habits and compulsions are what drive us, and they manifest as actions, or at least as the motivations behind actions, and the actions create karma. These vasanas keep us in a state of avidya, slaves to maya, and generate endless karma. Vasanas are what drive us to maintain our belief that we are the ego. When Westerners talk about karma, they often seem to think that is the BIG idea in Hinduism, but the truth is, in becoming realized, karma is a secondary issue to removal of the vasanas. By working on my vasanas dilligently, I am finding that my karma is straightening itself out. In other words, in my experience, we need to worry less about karma than our vasanas, for if we eliminate or exhaust our vasanas, our karma is cleansed in the wake of that elimination as we will have automatically begun living, thinking, behaving and acting in ways that correct and create better karma. By rooting out our vasanas, we naturally drift towards more conscious actions and more positive karma. In life, once we become conscious, we can begin to exhaust, fulfill, let go of, or eliminate our vasanas.

At least, that’s how I understand it all at this moment. I am certain with time I will have to relearn some of this.

The importance of rooting out the vasanas being more important than worrying about my karma has been a huge discovery for me. I mean, let’s just say that in the complicated world of Hinduism, having one thing that will work itself out in the wake of our other efforts is a huge relief. Some of the major vasanas I carried into my studies and thinking, be they good or bad, be they from previous lives or vasanas that have developed throughout the course of this lifetime, have influenced my journey as a student. As I untangle myself from Western ideas and Christianity, these vasanas have become so unconscious and instinctive that I often walk around with my cup full to overflowing while thinking I had emptied it. And that’s just it, perhaps I had emptied it, and emptied it time and again, but until I consciously recognize and work through my vasanas, my cup will not remain empty, it will refill itself time and again. I repeat, the realization I have come to is that one must continuously empty the cup, and in a sense, in emptying the cup we are pouring out our vasanas and our avidya, and we are being good syshas, the sort of students I want in my classes.

I have a number of vasanas, not just ones born of my Christian upbringing. I had the seemingly positive vasana, since childhood, of being creative and desiring wealth and recognition for my creative work. Now, that sounds good, but what happened when the work has been done and the rewards do not come? What happened to me was misery and a drunken bitterness. It seems to me that vasanas, good or bad, create karmic traps and unconscious actions. On the darker side, I have vasanas that have been forged in me like iron, vasanas made of the iron mined from the deepest of holes, holes I dug lifetimes ago and holes I have dug with great intention in this very lifetime. These are the holes I return to, be they good or bad. Great mines, and the dark ones are great holes of depression, desire, anxiety, fear, literalism, attachment, pride. Holes I myself dug to such great depths. That’s what vasanas are, the compulsion to dig holes for ourselves. Before we can even stop digging we have to ask, why are we digging these holes? What will it mean if I stop digging them? When all your life all you have done is dig those holes, the thought of stopping can be terrifying. Those holes are our realities. The thought of stopping can be so terrifying for so many that they are unwilling to even consider it, and sadly for others, the thought of stopping is unthinkable, for they are either too caught up in maya, too limited, or perhaps they are simply afraid of what might happen were they to stop digging. We are in bondage, limited, in our own holes. Our lives can become so entangled in maya that even thinking about getting out can be far too devastating to consider.

Devastating, destructive, Shivanic! But, some of us, we ache for such devastation, such destruction, and though we might resist at first, eventually we have to learn to be grateful for the destruction, and we have to learn to trust Shiva, and to beg him to dance his dance of destruction all through our illusions, all through our lives, so we may finally begin to live our lives in conscious joyful awareness of the illusion.

NEXT, Part 2: It’s All Too Much