Category Archives: blog – 5: DIARY

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 Brahma, 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, 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 Brahma, from Sanatana Dharma… and all that power can be accessed from within.

So, there, one vasana finally eliminated, 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

Things That Hit Me Hard 1: Papa McClain

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Justine's Papa McClain (photo restored by Justine Mara Andersen)

Justine’s Papa McClain (photo restored by Justine Mara Andersen)

I was thinking back, and got really stuck on something that hit me hard.

When I lived in Korea, I wrote a song about my Papa McClain (that’s my grandfather, most definitely NOT my father). He had dementia, and, sadly, while I was teaching overseas for 2 years, I missed his last lucid years. Old Papa McClain was a true hillbilly, and as a teenager I remember being ashamed of him in his flannel shirt and that damn hat with the earflaps. It wasn’t long after that when I saw who the fool was, and I felt guilty about ever seeing my beloved Papa that way.

He and Grandma grew their own garden, and for years we ate nothing but fresh vegetables, and sometimes, venison. Papa would sit and eat radishes, he loved them, and would indiscriminately pepper everything on his plate. He loved black pepper, and I never saw him eat anything without peppering it first. Of all the Christmas gifts I ever gave old Papa McClain, it was the fresh peppercorn grinder I bought him for the table that was his favorite. He wasn’t much of a gourmet (see the radishes), but he damn well knew the difference between fresh ground pepper and canned pepper.

When I was in Korea, I knew he was going, and I knew he was soon gonna be gone, so I wrote a song. I cried every time I worked on that song, and for at least a year every time I practiced it. When he died, I never cried a drop.

Writing that song and losing him to dementia was how and when I mourned. The song was all about what a great man he was. Sure, some might have said he was a dumb old hillbilly, but were I to have to survive, I mean really survive, I would have stood by my Papa before any of those intellectuals and professors who used to snort contemptuously at guys who used “seen” at the wrong times. Yeah, I seen my Papa build things from the ground up, from foundation to electric wiring and plumbing. We never had to have a mechanic, no one in the family did, ’cause Papa fixed all the cars. No matter what was wrong, he could fix anything. He once said about my other Papa, who was not so mechanically inclined: “Old Bob’s alright, but he couldn’t get his thumb up his ass with both hands.”

Once, when I was stranded dead center in the middle of Pennsylvania with a car with an oil leak, I called him, not my father. Papa didn’t think twice. Old Papa made the four and a half hour drive (each way), his toolbox in his truck, but when he arrived, popped the hood and looked at my engine, he didn’t need any tools. Papa looked at the ground for a minute, picked up a twig, reached in his pocket, pulled out his pocket knife, and he whittled out a little wedge, shoved it in my engine, and I drove all the way home without dropping another drip of oil.

When I wrote that song I talked about how when we were kids headed up into and around the mountains of West Virginia, he kept an old jug of water in the trunk. Poor old guy had to stop every twenty minutes for me and my brother. We wanted “water from the jug,” and dear old Papa would pull over and get out that jug. He had the patience of a saint, he always did. He was never in a hurry, and never got short with any of us. He was like a Yogi. In that song I also wrote about how grandma used to say, “One of these days he’s gonna put pepper on his ice cream,” and she waited for that day.

When I bought my house everyone said he was too old to help me fix it up, but we both knew better. I watched my Papa leap out of the back of his truck like a twenty-two year-old every time he had to load or unload anything from it. There was no one I would have put more trust in when it came to my house than my Papa.

As a musician I used to sit and listen to him talk about the songs he remembered from the hills. Papa was born in a log cabin, and that cabin still stood up the holler for most of my life. Beyond the “new house” and a few old Chevy’s that had been laid to rest out back, there was the old cabin, where it had been since the Civil War (if I’m not mistaken). I’d go up into the mountains with my Papa and watch him hunt. Yeah, old Papa, could survive. I once watched him shoot and skin a squirrel. That’s how you live through The Great Depression, you learn how to hunt, shoot and skin squirrels. He may not have known when to use “saw” or “seen,” but he knew how to survive, how to build, how to be patient and how to take care of people. I only ate squirrel that once, and I have to say, it’s an acquired taste. Anyhow, when he told stories, I listened, and when he talked about mountain music, I also listened. Any song or musician he talked about I wrote down, researched, and if it was a song, I learned it and played it. Once, before the dementia, out on the back porch at my mom’s house I got him to strum a few chords just so I could say I played with him. Papa loved the original Carter Family, A.P., Maybelle and Sarah. I learned how to play just like Maybelle, and so far as I know, was one of the few people around playing “Wildwood Flower” (Papa’s favorite song) the right way… Maybelle’s way! I learned that way of picking from a guy who had recorded with grandchildren of the original Carter Family, and when he taught me the technique, it was with one of Maybelle’s picks! When Papa had dementia, he told me for the first time that he knew the Carter Family. I knew he loved them, I didn’t know he knew them, and it wasn’t the dementia talking either. At that time he suddenly began playing his old harmonica. I had never seen him play much, if at all, but suddenly he was playing songs he hadn’t thought about for decades. Suddenly, here he was, a mess, but he could play those old songs and could remember that he knew the Carter Family.

All that harmonica playing happened after I’d come back from Korea. Here was this man who had worked all his life, who cared for others, who knew how to do things, and now this… he didn’t even know my name. It was devastating to know I’d missed the last lucid years of his life. We sat at the table, my ex, Papa, Grandma, and there was that pepper grinder.

Papa sat down to eat, and just ate.

“Papa,” I said, “don’t you want some pepper?” and I held up the pepper grinder. My Papa and pepper were practically synonymous, I’d even say legendary in the family. I figured, being in a state of dementia, he had forgotten, and he’d want the pepper once he saw it.

“Oh no, I’m alright.” He shook his head and went back to eating.

Time froze and tears welled in my eyes. I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom and cry.

Grandma never did get to see him put pepper on his ice cream, and neither did I.

Spiritual Road Trip: Final Thoughts & Integration

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“I just created the world, not the misery. The world is neither beautiful nor ugly; neither joyful nor sorrowful; neither right nor wrong. It just is! The rest are perceptions of the mind…”

Brahma the Creator (As told by Devdutt Pattanaik)

Perceptions of the mind indeed. So, how, I ask, has my mind so often tortured me with miseries? Why do I suffer when all, including the suffering, is an illusion? Have I lost my mind? Have we all lost our minds?

“The kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.”

Jesus Christ

“…So there is something here which can make this mud into a tree, into a fruit, into a filmmaker, into a Guru and into a billion other things. Don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to experience what it is? And if it is somewhere in heaven, I am not interested… This is the ultimate source of creation, don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to experience it? Don’t you want to know the power of it, the joy of it, the beauty of it?”

Sadhguru

Yes, we have all lost our minds. We have created our own karma, our own miseries, our own suffering by allowing that terrible tyrant, the mind–the ego–to rule us. We have convinced ourselves we are helpless against our suffering, so we pop anti-anxiety pills and lounge about in bed, consoled that the world has told us, “she has depression, poor dear, she can’t help herself.” And certainly, to a certain extent there are physiological problems that cause some symptoms, but truth be told, many of us embrace this helplessness as a comfortable form of damnation. The truth is, however “real” our struggles with anxiety and depression might be, ultimately, we have power. Why are so many of us so willing to surrender our power to the demon Helplessness? But… not all of us are willing to surrender.

Many of us come to this conclusion, that we are not helpless, that we are creating our own karma, our own suffering, and we have allowed suffering to feed on itself… to feed on us. We cannibalize our own lives away. Yes, some of us realize at some point that we do have power, that we cannot sink into helplessness, but we know the battle is a horrible one. Some of us never take up arms to fight that battle. In the “Bhagavad Gita” When Arjuna was at his most helpless, his most confused and miserable, Sri Bhagwan Krishna told him: “Fight the battle, Arjuna.” To not fight is not only an act of cowardice, it is damnation, and damnation right here right now. We make our own hell.

A therapist cannot beat it, medication can do little more than throw blankets over our demons to hide them, but in the end, win or lose, it is whether or not we do as Krishna ordered that seals our fates. But how do we fight these battles?

Let go? “Let go” can be a cliche, the most hollow words ever spoken to us, but if we act upon them, they can likewise be the most powerful of all words. This “letting go,” however, does not come easily, and it can take years, even lifetimes. For many letting go may require gurus, renunciation, discipline, even psychedelics, but for all of us, letting go, in the end, is not a single action, it is a war, a number of exhausting battles. I’ve been fighting these battles for a lifetime, but only within the last 5 have years I begun to win my battles. Only within the last year have I begun to acquire the weapons I need to win these battles, and only very recently have I realized the depth of possibility in letting go.

To truly let go, we have to let go of many of the things we cling to so dearly. This can take lifetimes to perfect. Hence reincarnation karma, and all the rest of it.

Before I left for the Hindu Temple Of Atlanta, I had been holding onto anxieties and miseries that I knew were regenerating because I had allowed them to. No, certainly the circumstances that I believed had “caused” my anxieties were not of my making, but the choice to suffer them, then to let them fester week after week and month after month, those circumstances were caused by me. Am I being too hard on myself? No, because this is what most of us do, whether we know it or not. Worse, most of us even create the circumstances that lead us to suffer. Recently, however, I have begun to see that there is a way out, and my frustration has been that I have had to fight these battles alone, with no Satsang (no sacred company), with no temple, with no guru, my only help came from Lord Ganesh, Ma Durga, and Lord Shiva, powerful allies, indeed, but I felt overwhelmed and confused by all I did not know. I was still living in ignorance. The only way out was to STOP, to stop all the things that were feeding my suffering and anxiety and take action, to “fight the battle.”

Finally, last Tuesday, I realized I’d had enough, so I grabbed my sword and shield, gathered my allies around me, and ran screaming into the battlefield. Alone, but for the company of the Deities, by Thursday I shut off my internet, turned off my phone and took off for Atlanta to the Hindu Temple, then, or so I had planned, on to Sadhguru’s ashram in Tennessee. I’ve already told the story of how all that went, but now I am going to strip away the narrative and tell you what I learned, what wisdom I have gained, and what actions I have to take to “let go,” to win this battle and move on. Much as my DMT trips were only the beginning, the integration was where the real healing took place, so it has been with my temple visit. It’s one thing to run off, have ecstatic spiritual experiences, then come home and forget about them, slowly sinking back into a wallow, and it is another thing entirely to run off, have ecstatic experiences, then come home and integrate them, allowing them to be truly transformative. Perhaps the most important part of my entire “Spiritual Road Trip” saga has only just begun with this writing.

So what lessons did I learn or relearn? What wisdom rung true for me, even if I had encountered the same wisdom before? What do I have to integrate into my life if I am going to move on to the next level? What discipline must I apply? How can I finally live the wisdom I have gathered?

What inspired me to write this was my need to truly know what it was I learned, to crystalize all I had learned so that I will live in the practicing of it. One of the details I left out of my telling of the story of my time at the Hindu Temple was that, prior to going, I had, over a period of months, become consumed by anxiety. The oil leak that happened upon my arrival in Atlanta nearly ruined the whole trip, as car problems and traveling alone are both panic inducing for me. The time came in this temple to Tennessee trip when I knew I was going to skip traveling to Tennessee to the ashram, but had to choose between following my panic, canceling the whole trip, and running home with my leaking car, or staying put at the temple and fighting the battle. The day and a half I had originally planned to spend at the temple had passed, and I sadly realized that my anxiety had not dimmed in the least. I still felt as though I were wrestling a bear. Then, once the decision was made to not run home, but to change my plans, fight the battle, and spend all of the time I had meant to spend in Tennessee at the temple, everything changed. After an afternoon of living in the choice to alter my plans and spend all my time at the temple, on THAT very afternoon I would have been returning home, within an instant I recognized that quite suddenly, as if a trap door had been opened up under me, every last bit of the anxiety I had been carrying and multiplying for months suddenly simply fell away and I was free! It was as close to a miracle as anything I had ever felt. To this day I have felt far more clean and clear than I have in years. In fact, I cannot recall a time in my life when I have felt this clear.

The first lesson: if our plans fall apart, it is time to surrender and know that our plans were probably too small to contain the possibilities consciousness (or God) had in store for us, and when this happens we need to learn to be grateful and trusting, even in the midst of disasters. Easier said than done, but so it goes with wisdom.

The first lesson is one I have learned time and again, but have only now realized that the time has come to live in trust of that wisdom. Eight years or so ago I recovered from cancer, but it changed my life in every way possible, and for the better in every way possible. I had learned that cancer was the best thing that had ever happened to me! Cancer, for me, was a liberation. This is a pattern I had begun recognizing, that every disaster of my life had, in the end, resolved itself by leading me away from the the wrong path and towards the one I was meant to travel. This is why Lord Ganesh is not only the remover of obstacles, but he who places obstacles in our paths to deter us from going in the wrong direction. This was why I ran out of oil right smack dab in front of the temple. That was the obstacle I needed. This is why I met Ram who encouraged me to stay longer at the temple than planned, as I needed him to remove another obstacle. Had I not ran out of oil and supressed my fear and stayed, I would not have had that divine moment when every last drop of my anxiety melted away.

The first lesson resolves itself into two bits of wisdom, firstly, that more often than not our plans are too small to contain our larger journey. If our plans are falling apart around us, it is time to surrender, because more likely than not our plans were too small to contain our possibilities.

The second resolution of the first lesson was that we have to learn to be grateful for our disasters. Very often the disasters that befall us have befallen us to liberate us from something we had not been willing to set aside. I have often said, if cancer doesn’t set you straignt, you did it wrong. I am grateful for my cancer, and I am grateful my car leaked out all its oil, and further grateful that I choked down the anxiety response that would have driven me home immediately, and instead found the strength and time to stay at the temple for a few extra days, otherwise my anxiety would not have left me.

“He who looks upon well-wishers, friends and foes, neutrals as well as mediators, inimicals, relatives, the virtuous and the sinful with equanimity, stands supreme.”

Sri Bhagavan Krishna

The second lesson: This is an extension of the first. When Ram told me his life story, he told me that no matter how much he suffered, he only gave back positive energy, positive thoughts. Ram chanted the names of God and learned to love the wicked. It is taught in Hindu scripture that we are all God. it is easier said than done to realize, but even the wicked carry in them the same spark of God that the loving carry. It is sad how far many have fallen, but not a thing to feel anger or hatred over.

The third lesson: This I also learned from Ram, and that is to chant all the time, even if only in my head. I found that on Tuesday morning when it was time for me to face my leaking car and drive alone back home, that circling Ganesh’s altar and chanting was the only way to drive away the anxiety and maintain my newfound center. Moreso, the whole time I dumped a total of 4 quarts of oil into my car over five hours of driving, I chanted and thanked Lord Ganesh for the oil leak, and I came to this realization:

“Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me…”

So, that, too I chanted.

The fourth lesson: This also came from Ram, and is more personal than the others. When talking we both talked of moving on to “the next level.” He told me that night that he was ready to move on to the next level, and he told me that I, too, was ready to move on to the next level. Humble a man as Ram was, this, to me, was not a conversation, but a directive and a blessing from the mouth of God. Lately I have moved up many levels in my consciousness, and it is time that I fight the battle and move on to a much higher level, but as Ram said, I am ready to do that, and I am going to work very hard to make that a reality in my life. What is the next level?

To master my own mind.

Easier said than done, and it’s a big one, but it will be done, through Sadhana, surrender, gratitude Satsang, and chanting.

“What the word ‘Shiva’ means is: ‘That which is not.’ That which is is creation. That which is not is Shiva… That which is not is the basis of creation. It is the empty space in the existence which is the womb of creation, isn’t it? So we say Shiva is the basis of everything.”

Sadhguru

The fifth lesson: This I experienced while meditating before Shiva. My consciousness altered in ways I can’t really explain or fully understand at this point. My perception of reality rang and resounded with a clarity I had never known before. Explaining the experience does little more than drag it into the mire of illusion, but, here I go. My visual acuity astonished me, and I became aware of the vivid reality of the space between objects. I saw “that which is not.” That which is not is the space between objects, the silence between notes, and the silence between thoughts. Shiva is the silence. Additionally, I saw all at once that others were having their own experiences of the sacred. What I saw and felt I don’t understand, yet I saw clearly for the first time in my life. Since coming home, I have seen only glimpses of that clarity. Whatever had happened, my perception was not ordinary, and however powerful it was, I don’t really understand any of it, not so as I could explain it any better. But I can still recall the enigmatic clarity of those moments. All I really expect is that I finally scratched the surface of what is possible through meditation. It was enough to make me want to go deeper. However, knowing what I know, and having experienced what I have experienced, when I meditate it is without expectation. I do not frustrate my meditation by expecting such ecstasies, they come when they come, and now inspired experiences like this come rarely. I accept what Shiva chooses to show me.

The sixth lesson: And this is one I have already put into practice, but found reiterated in Devdutt Pattaniak’s book on Shiva, and that is that the best teaching is experiential, and does not derive from words or lectures. How, as a teacher, can I learn to give the students the experiences they need? How can I turn the wisdom I read into experience? Written wisdom is merely inspiring as an intellectual exercise, but experienced wisdom can be wholly transformative. I need to find ways to make what I know through the intellect experiential… and this will only happen if I focus and participate in Sadhana (yogic practices) with discipline.

The seventh lesson: This is simply that I have learned the true value of Satsang (sacred company). I have been feeling terribly alone lately. The loneliness had become an aching gaping pit that I was desperate to fill. When I was at the temple, especially in the “Bhagavad Gita” class, I felt a sense of community, THE sense of community that I had been missing. I NEED the company of other Hindu’s, specifically of other seekers who are on a similar path, that of striving for Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth).

The eighth lesson: This I learned in Satsang, and it was an extension of my need for Satsang. I learned that the many conclusions I had come to regarding Hinduism, and my experiences and research, were sound. I had feared the conclusions I had been coming to were nonsense, or worse, madness, but they were not. When I shared the conclusions I had come to with the teacher (Chaplain) and the other students, the Chaplain nodded in agreement and even told me that the things I said were well said. Some of the significant conclusions I had come to were:

On dualtiy. I spoke on how one of the reasons Hinduism appealed to me was that, unlike the form of Christianity I grew up in (and the vast majority of Americans practice), in which there is only a narrow linear road, and in which all contradictions must be denied or put into line; in Hinduism, dualties are embraced and talked about openly, right down to the Chaplain nodding along with wholly contradictory statements from the other devotees during our moments of dialog. This embrace of duality is itself a liberation.

On the nature of reality. At times I had become concerned that my awareness of this “reality” as an illusion, was a form of madness that had distracted me. But, not so, the Chaplain himself talked about the illusory nature of material reality. It is difficult not to feel “insane” in a culture and city where there is no one else around to talk these things over with.

On the material vs. the mystical world. I talked about how our language was designed only to describe THIS illusion (or “reality,” if you prefer), and how our language is incapable of describing or fully understanding transcendent, or mystical, reality. Again, my observations were not questioned as madness, but were welcomed and complimented as eloquent.

The ninth lesson: Shiva generates ecstasy. This was not news to me, but what was news to me was that time and time again Shiva has delivered me to tearful bliss and ecstasy. In other words, these ecstasies were not one-off experiences. When this first happened for me I was at a small temple somewhere outside of Ocala. When we were chanting “Om Namah Shivaiya,” tears began to stream my cheeks. At that moment, that very second, the Pandit (who had not seen my tears) said; “Shiva cannot help but come to the aid of those who cry tears for him.” Wow!

The tenth lesson: Political over-reaction is a form of darkness. I am apolitical, and often have to endure being shamed for that stance, but I have had to renounce politics to keep that toxicity away from my consciousness, especially now when the world has been given to such deep sorrow and madness that no game of musical chairs (i.e. elections) will provide any answers or solutions. We are not going to make real changes by moving the rules around within the construct of a broken system and reality. The powerful symmetry of my reading out loud on that very topic in the Gita class took my breath away. The wisdom I read aloud was the very wisdom I needed to hear at that moment… and what were the chances? very good, there are no coincidences when it comes to consciousness.

“If you care for people around you, you must make yourself into a person they enjoy being with.”

Sadhguru

The eleventh lesson: This was on the toxicity of anxiety, and this I observed two days before I left. A friend of mine, who I had invited over, was positively vibrating with anxiety over the election. It was then, even though I had suffered and witnessed anxiety before, that I recognized how toxic anxiety was not only for the sufferer, but for those around the sufferer. I became icily aware of how toxic that energy in me has been for the people around me. It is time, at last, that I truly defeat this demon. I do not expect it to be easy or quick, but I do expect to slay this demon once and for all, or at least I expect to allow the demon to pass through me without allowing it to get its claws in me.

“In the vastness of the cosmos, everything is going perfect, but one nasty little thought in your mind can make it a bad day. That is lack of perspective.”

Sadhguru

I have had revelations about anxiety before, but over the course of my temple visit, and through the ensuing days after, everything I need to know about battling anxiety and depression became very clear to me. Now, I know this is not an original idea, but at one point I realized experientially and existentially that very often anxiety attacks begin as solely physiological experiences, then our mind (the ego), who cannot bear not being in control, applies a reason for the physiological experience of anxiety, and this does two things: firstly, it feeds the anxiety; secondly it feeds the smugness of the ego itself. The ego, once it claims the anxiety as it’s own, can sit back, fat and grinning, on its throne, and declare itself the master even of my anxiety and suffering. I have since realized that, conversely, just as often, negative thoughts can come first, and those can trigger the physiological symptoms of anxiety. Additionally, I have since realized that those moments of “darkness” that shove me into depression, are also often physiological sensations that the ego feeds. So, what is the Sadhana, the practice that will free me from anxiety and depression? The Sadhana is to stop as soon as the physiological or mental seeds of anxiety or depression stir, and not to validate them by feeding them either thoughts or emotions, but rather to simply sit and observe, let whatever symptoms present themselves (be they physiological or thought generated), and let them pass through me. If the symptoms are strong and have their claws in me, I do as Ram told me, and I chant and seek whatever gratitude I can find.

“Being attached to someone is not about the other person. It is about your own sense of inadequacy.”

Sadhguru

When the solitude of night falls, I will not fall with it.

The twelfth lesson: And this lesson is about loneliness. My loneliness is not existential, only my solitude is existential. It is up to me how I view my solitude. I can choose to see it as loneliness and feel that pain, or I can choose to see it as a form of asceticism and Sadhana, and embrace the Shivanic lifestyle. Now, when alone, I choose to meditate on what I have learned, meditate in general, or read Hindu scriptures and mythology. She who has Shiva is never alone.

The thirteenth Lesson: It is up to me if I choose to return to the fear, anxieties and sufferings of my life prior to my temple visit, prior to the ecstasies of being in the presence of Lord Shiva. I can lay that past life and those emotions to rest. I lived them, I experienced them, I have given them their due, I no longer need to continue to bear them. I am free of that bondage now, why would I take those chains back up? I will not be so foolish.

“Whatever your goal in life, unless you develop a great urgency, what could be near will be far away.”

Sadhguru

The fourteenth lesson: Fight the battle. Discipline, Sadhana, Satsang, transformation. Yes, Lord Krishna, like Arjuna, I will fight the battle.

“A devotee or bhakta has infinite faith in Shiva. He believes that everything that happens in his life is the will of Shiva. Good or bad, he accepts it all as prasad, divine offering.”

Devdutt Pattanaik

(ADDENDUM) The fifteenth lesson: I plan to continue to add addendum to this as new lessons present themselves, and one already has. Since coming home it has been made abundantly clear that the car I just bought (from an individual) is a lemon. Prior to buying the car I had sunk $1,400 into the old one two to four weeks before it died, then I bought another used car, $2,200, and immediately put another $500 into it, only to find there are more and more problems with it, especially after coming home from the temple. Immediately, all the good feelings I had, all the equanimity, the joy of having found my center, all of it went brittle and cracked, revealing a hollow depression and electric anxiety. I felt foolish and saddened that my transformative experience had lasted all of three days. I could barely sleep, but I woke this morning and began to think on all the lessons I had learned, and on Ram’s advice about chanting, about even loving the wicked (and by extension, he did not merely mean the wicked people, but the wicked events in life), and about giving and thinking nothing but positive thoughts. Now all of these things are old news in various scriptures and philosophies, but this is the first time in my life when those truths have felt like a reality. So, I decided to draw open my curtains, let the sun in, and to lounge comfortably in my warm bed and read the Gita and some of the Shiva stories. The first story I came to was that of when Vishnu manifested as the horrible lion-headed Narasimha. He came to do what he came to do, take vengeance on a demon who had been persecuting one of his devotees, but having drunk the blood of the demon, this horrific form took control of Vishnu, and he cried out for Shiva to help him. Shiva took the form of Sharabha the dragon and scorched Narasimha, releasing Vishnu from the power of the demon-quenched avatar. It seemed to me a reasonable lesson. When confronted with my own inner demons (the rise of depression and anxiety through the powerful blood of a financially wicked incident), I am to call upon Shiva for release. It also came to me that it is one thing to enjoy the bliss of spiritual ecstasies when all is well, but it is another thing entirely to maintain my equanimity and center when circumstances fill my gut with demon blood. I cannot be attached to the money I am losing by the thousands and thousands of dollars (even though I am very very poor and cannot afford this devastating blow). I must chant, be positive and trust in the Gods and all the lessons I have learned. It is one thing to learn lessons, and another entirely to live in their wisdom. For me, it is finally time to live in wisdom.

What is left to do now is work, Sadhana, surrender, submit to the discipline it is going to take to let go and mmove forward… to the next level. This means more time reading sacred texts, more time in meditation, and a renunciation of Youtube, obsessive email checks, and the habit of choosing to see my solitude as loneliness, etc… etc… etc… in other words, the replacement of past bad habits with new good habits.

So I say again… Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me.

And these are the truths I will live in.

Har Har Mahadev!

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 5: Har Har Mahadev!

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Part 5: Monday & Tuesday – Har Har Mahadev!

“Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me”

Justine Mara Andersen

Devdutt Pattaniaik said of the Hindu myths: “They do not teach, they generate experience.” It was last year, when I slowly worked out how to get our student from Bangalore to transform. All of his life his gurus (teachers) had told him to settle down, to still his racing mind. But saying a thing is one thing, generating an experience is another. I don’t care how many times I have read profound truths that I had believed had transformed me, only, in due time, to forget them. An intellectual understanding of a truth is like understanding what an orange tastes, smells and feels like from reading about it. Only peeling and eating an orange will help you understand what it means to eat an orange. The experience is the thing. I told this student, “You have 5 jugglers in your head, all juggling 3 to 4 balls. We are going to send 4 of those jugglers away, and we are going to take away all but one ball. I want you to look at that one ball the rest of the year.” At that point I gave him an old tattered book on the work of Bilibin. I told him forget everything else in my class, and study this book, this artist, his work. Reproduce work only in his style. Learn to see what he mastered.” For the rest of the semester he worked only on projects inspired by Bilibin, at least in my class. Hard as I try, I cannot always seduce a student into experience, that opening is sometimes something, tragically, they fail to reveal, or worse, I fail to see.

But… did you see that? I did not tell him to settle his mind, I gave him the experience of focus, of settling his mind on one thing. That is every teacher’s goal, whether they know it or not. It is not our job to teach, but ultimately, to generate experience. Only by generating experience can we truly transform a student, only then will they know the experience of peeling and biting into an orange, of the sensual squirt of cool tangy juices in their warm mouths. That is the problem with all I am about to write, I will be telling you what an orange tastes like. I cannot generate the experience that I had no matter how carefully I work to explain it, partly because what I experienced is beyond the vocabulary of our language.

Before I go on, funnily enough, two school years ago, I picked an orange off our tree and handed it to another student, one who had never, unlikely as it may seem, eaten an orange before. He had terrible eating habits, and he resisted my every effort to enlighten him about food. Patiently I insisted he try everything, even if he said he didn’t like such and such a thing. I told him that just because you didn’t like broccoli the way so and so made it, does not mean you won’t like it prepared this way, or that perhaps your tastes have changed. I told him there was no sin in disliking a thing, only in refusing to try it, and try it again. He has since lost 20 or 40 pounds and become an avid salad eater. His consciousness regarding food had been limited, now, with experience, his food consciousness has expanded. He was in the bondage of his own self-created and self-generating limitations, but has since broken those chains.

Enough fruit metaphors and teachable lessons. Monday, yes! Monday was the big day, a major holy day for Lord Shiva! Shiva, the destroyer of illusions, a terrifying, adorable, inspiring, loving, terrible, focused inebriated Yogi. After speaking of Shiva’s inebriation and habit of keeping company with demented beings, Sadhguru asked if we can call Shiva a good man, to which he laughed and said that you cannot call this man a good man, but he is fantastic! “That which is fantastic need not be nice.”

Again I thank Lord Ganesh for not only delivering me to the Temple, but for placing obstacles in my path that kept me from traveling further, and for placing in my path a new friend in Ram who encouraged me to settle in and stay for a couple extra days, for all these things kept me at the Temple where I know had been meant to stay. For the first time ever, I was grateful my car had problems, it was a gift from God, from Lord Ganesh, that I might stay at the temple and worship his father, Lord Shiva, and have experience after experience. Shiva, for me, is a source of great comfort. Devdutt Pattanaik went on to describe Lord Shiva this way, and with all humility, I relate very strongly to this description: “Shiva was an Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society. He refused to conform to the ways of the world.” Likewise I have said, “I will not conform and I will not submit.” Yes, years ago, it was Shiva, he who walks with dogs and ghosts, that came to me in a stoned and aroused vision. It was Shiva that motivated me to at last venture into my first temple. It was Shiva who first moved me to tears of ecstasy, it is Shiva who I most fear upsetting and most turn to for release.

Though everything I am about to say was inspired by an experience beyond words and forms, I will do my best to apply words to the experience. Here is exactly why this is so difficult, it is not the generality that experiential moments cannot be transmitted through words, but more specifically that our language was meant to describe this reality only, and when we transcend or see a glimpse of a larger reality, our words are too feeble and specific to the limited logic of this reality (or illusion) to capture those transcendent moments; the experiences of an expanded consciousness.

I came early for the festival, primarily because I did not want to miss the last moment of quiet in the temple before the crowds arrived, and I did not want to miss the chance to help prepare. I did not come as a tourist passing through, but as a practicing devotee, I am one of them, not one apart watching them. Before entering the temple I enjoyed one of Lord Shiva’s favorite tools for consciousness raising, a good healthy hit or two of ganja. This is something the Yogis do that many more conservative Hindu teachers and Yogis insist upon decrying–and so far as I am concerned it is because they have been tainted by relentless and insidious Western (i.e. American) bigotry and bias against consciousness altering substances, even if they have had a long history of valid spiritual application in many cultures. For me, smoking pot is rarely much of an experience anymore, but I knew that if I did so in the presence of Shiva that I could trust that something transcendent could happen, without Shiva, pot is never more than a petty little pleasure with little real value.

The first thing I did upon entering the temple was prostrate myself flat on the floor, then I bowed to Lord Ganesh (who you are always supposed to worship first), plus I had to thank him again for delivering me to this experience. Then, amid the hustle and bustle of the preparations, I bowed before the Shiva Linga, and stared unflinchingly. I cleared my mind and focused solely on Godhead. Again, I began to feel tears well up in my eyes, and I felt a vibratory breathlessness overtake my chest. While all the Priests and volunteer devotees where chaotically preparing for the evening, something happened. I cannot say exactly what happened, as I had never eperienced anything like it before, but suddenly my consciousness altered, and nothing looked or felt as it had before. Suddenly the place I had sat in was no longer merely the place I had sat in. I was seeing things as if all that was happening and I were one and the same, or, dualistically, like I was observing something that existed solely within myself. My inner dialog began to seem like a distant abstraction, a voice outside of ME, outside of my experience, and slowly the voice faded further and further away. Soon, for the first time in my life, I saw everything for exactly what it was, as if for the first time I had tuned in. I saw this “reality” with a clarity I had never known possible. Still, I can see that moment in my consciousness, and it has forever changed me. I am not seeing things now the same way I saw them then, yet I know that the way I saw them then is now a part of who I am. I became aware of eternity, of the entirety of NOW! The madness of self-perpetuated suffering and ignorance were removed as I simply was part of all that was.

Be here now.

My vision had never been more clear, everything that was I saw for what it was… yet I do not know what that was, not so that I could put it into words. The experience was beyond words and forms. I was so deeply immersed in meditation that I wholly forgot to concern myself with what the other people might be thinking about the white girl, and I similarly realized the holiness I was experiencing was in all of them with no less astounding power. I saw the Godhead of that moment. I became aware not only of the objects in the room (from Priests to the sanctums, from the reality of each color to the lived-in clutter of the temple), but of how those object existed in space, and I became keenly aware of of how vibrant was the space between objects.

I had to slowly allow myself to come out of the experience, though throughout I was faintly aware of a battle going on inside me. My ego was afraid to surrender, afraid I might disappear to this forever, it was anchoring me to the reality it was comfortable with so that I might not slip away. I am slowly coming ever closer to being able to release that anchor, and I think with a guru to lead me, I might be able to trust enough to wholly surrender. Slowly I stirred myself up out of the experience and made my way to the back of the temple where I anchored myself to the mundanity of a cold brown metal folding chair, but was no less aware of the space between objects. I noticed tiny specks of soot from the ghee candles floating in the air. They seemed to drift, fall, then hover before me like sentient entities, and the space before, around and behind them was alive with existence. Never had I witnessed depth of field with such clarity… NEVER! What a grand illusion, this “reality” is! This sudden awareness of the space around objects maintained itself for some time, but it was no mere trick of ganja, it was a cosmic shift in my perception and consciousness. This is why the Yogis partake, because it can aid them in opening up to altered Shivanic states of consciousness.

Just as it was arranged that Parvati marry Shiva to keep him engaged in the material world, for fear that he would lead all to renounce it, thus destroying it forever, I chose to engage, too. And while engaging, the lingering effects of the ganja wore off. I found a few of the Indian women sitting in the corner making ghee lamps, and I asked if I could help. I first watched the specificity of how they were made. They were little brass lamps, open, each with yellow and red spices artfully sprinkled about their tiny spouts. In each one lay a wick. I then scooped ghee (unclarified butter) into each one, carefully keeping a portion of the wick available. I then saw that they dipped their fingers in the ghee and masaaged it into the wicks, twirling the two ends together before lighting them. I was pleased to have been included, and delighted to have participated.

The last thing I did before things really got going was go downstairs to the “canteen” for more temple food. There Sudha had a smile for me, and I thanked her for being so kind, which pleased her, and I took my place in the back of the dining hall and with great relish enjoyed every bite of my spicy food, bread, and hot pickles.

Before the peak ecstasies, I went outside and stood by Nandi, the bull Shiva rides (there are Nandi’s before every Shiva temple), and was lucky enough to have one last chat with Ram. He and I both were ecstatic. Ram had been fasting. It was such lovely Satsang, exactly what is so sorely missing from my life. Ram shared more of his simple wisdom, and wisdom need be nothing more than simple, but what I remember most distinctly was our talking about how we move on to next levels. Almost as a blessing, he told me now I was ready to move on to the next level. And… I am, though it is entirely up to me if I choose to be strong enough to move to that level, but I think Ram is right, I am ready to move onto that level, and I am fully aware of how much discipline that is going to take, and I am aware of the demons I will have to battle, yet I do feel the fire burning in me, and so I am going to tend that fire.

Above us the full moon shone a brilliant blue over Nandi, and all around us the astounding beauty of a Hindu holy night in full swing. Under the blue of the full moon hundreds of ghee candles, all around Nandi, flickered in the faces of beautiful devotees while they sat and drew their prayers out around the candles and offerings of fruit. Much of the fruit was being used as incense burners. The beauty of Hindu holy festivals are indescribable, and Ram was right a couple days before when he told me that two eyes were not enough to behold all the beauty.

Just trying to now write about the final moments has transported me to tears of bliss, the most beautiful and fulfilling ache of my life. By now a large crowd of devotees had gathered around the Shiva sanctum (the Shiva Lingam), and when it was opened, the Lingam was lit up with a golden halo of ghee candles. The Priests began their resounding chanting, calling us, and we responded with booming choruses of “Ohm Namah Shivaiya!” I can scarcely bear to recall it. I began weeping uncontrollably, chanting, bowing, ecstatic! Nothing in my life has ever compared to that ecstasy. I surrendered wholly to it. I cannot help but suspect that I will never be the same…

Ohm Namah Shivaiya!

Ohm Namah Shivaiya!

Ohm Namah Shivaiya!

* * *

In the morning I drew open the window shades of the hotel room and looked out over the trees, layers of Georgia trees in the fall. I knew then that if I were to be transformed, I had to rise to it NOW.

Before going to my car, I realized… Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me.

As I approached my car, what usually would have overcome me as I considered driving home with an oil leak would have been anxiety, but I chose instead to feel nothing but gratitude for the oil leak itself, for without it, I would not have been there the night before.

While I popped the hood of my car and poured quarts of oil in, over and over I chanted:

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha,
Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me,
Om Namah Shivaiya,
Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me,
Om Shanti Shanti Shantiy,
Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me…

And on and on until the chant had replaced every bit of anxiety, and I embraced nothing but peace and gratitude.

Fin.

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 4: Satsang Sunday

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Part 4: Sunday – Satsang Sunday

From my notes from the Gita class:

“He alone who recognizes his own self can recognize God.”

“Fixing your mind on me, you become me.” Krishna

Today I got up in time to go to the Bhagavad Gita class at the temple, and what a blessing that was on so many levels. Firstly, the Satsang (companionship of other devoted Hindus) was sorely needed. There is no Temple in Gainesville, so I have been feeling terribly isolated. Being here now has shone a light on a very large part of what has been my problem since coming to Gainesville… there is no Temple, no Satsang, and I feel not merely isolated, but almost as though I made Hindusim up, as if I have lost my mind and am sinking into some sort of madness for being so out of sorts with mainstream American/Western culture. Sometimes it scares me. I love SAW, but the comics community is not my community. I love Joe Courter, but Progressive politics and activists are also not my community. And, no, though I have and love many New Age and Pagan friends, the “Temple Of the Universe” is not my community. Inside the Hindu Temple I feel at home. I feel at home among the sari’s, the Carnatic music, among the Gods, the people, and am definitely at home eating the Temple food every single day. And, I was at home in our class of 6 (plus the teacher) in the Gita class. Though the surroundings were scarcely even humble, a tatty “library” in the basement of the temple that also doubles as a supply closet and overflow storage room for the kitchen, there in that tatty place I fought back tears through the whole class. Simply realizing how much it hurts to be so far from what matters to me most created an empty ache in me that I cannot resolve. But now, here I was in the company of others who were on the same path and asking the same questions as I. How isolating it is to not have access to that kind of companionship.

I made a lot of notes in my diary as we went along, but what really stopped me dead in my tracks was when we read aloud in the ancillary reading. We went around the table, each person reading a paragraph aloud, all of it closer inspection of the truths within the Bhagavad Gita. What just about knocked me out of my chair was the paragraph I read aloud… the very paragraph was about the unhealthiness of political hysteria. As I read the words I was stunned not only that the subject was being addressed right here and now in this book on this weekend in this place, but that the words of wisdom were going straight into my eyes and out my mouth into the air to echo my current “reality.” I was giving words to thoughts, and giving form to words. This was no coincidence. God is Consciousness. It was not Trump winning that drove me to the Temple, it was the reaction of everyone around me that drove me there, and the passage addressed the very topic of political overreaction, and in general, of placing too much importance on politics. To read such things there and then took my breath away. I could not help myself, I had to share what I was going through, and what I had to share was actually welcome there! They didn’t scold me for my views, didn’t become hysterical when I tried to suggest that politics will NOT save us… no… they nodded in agreement! Finally, I was in a room where I didn’t feel like I was babbling in another language, I was in a room where the things I had to say were not only welcomed, but were seen as wise. My heart ached to know I had to get in my car and drive away, that I could not attend this class week after week… that I had to leave… home.

We talked for a while about my feelings of isolation and displacement, and I stated how sometimes I feel so isolated that I fear I am losing my mind. They all nodded and understood how hard it must be, they have each other, I have no one. But, the upside is, I have been invited to continue taking the class via phone conferencing! I am elated to have a lifeline to what matters, to have found Satsang! Had my oil not leaked out, had I continued to Tennessee, had I not listened to Ram and gone home, I would not have been here for this, for this class which will continue to nourish me and help me feel less isolated and insane. More significantly, this class will help keep me from being distracted by delusion, and will keep me on the right track.

Equally significant for me was the open dialog, in which no one sat in judgment with “THE” single right answer. No, in Hinduism the questions can be open ended, and “debates” can be listened to and carefully considered, such a far cry from the sort of Christianity I grew up in where there was a one-way path. The discussions were fluid and healthy, NEVER dogmatic, and in those discussions I was at last able to open up and share some of the conclusions about Hinduism, Gods and spirituality that I have come to in solitude… and was able to have them confirmed as perfectly reasonable, even beautiful. Having come to those conclusions without a teacher, a guru or Satsang, I felt they were worthy of suspicion, but as it turns out, I had been led to perfectly acceptable conclusions, guided, dare I say, by the hand of Shiva, Krishna… let’s just say… God. This brings me back to what the first Priest I talked to in the temple in Ohio said to me when I told him my story and how I came to convert to Hinduism, he said to me: “God is speaking to you,” which has always felt like a burden to me. I mean, if God is speaking to me, it seems to me I have not lived up to such an honor, that I have not done anything worthy of being spoken to. Now, I saw, that perhaps by speaking to me, God was simply sharing wisdom through clarity with me, and for now, that has been enough. Perhaps God is not speaking to me so that I may change the world, but so that I may change myself. After all, who can change the world who cannot change themselves?

But here at last, I was able to talk with those who know more than me about their cultural metaphors, about the ambiguous nature of God, about REALITY (a topic that has somewhat obsessed me since my DMT journeys brought me experientially closer to Hindu teaching about the illusory nature of reality). I was able to talk about embracing duality, and how beautiful it is that in Hinduism questions need not be resolved and opposing ideas need not resolve into a single truth that must be followed by all. Furthermore I was able to talk about how our language and words are meant to describe this reality, and are quite ill-equipped to consider and describe any other. No wonder so many “intellectuals” are atheists, they put far too much trust and value in an intellect that can only comprehend this tiny corner of “reality.” They are limited by their egos. Every single thing I said and others said confirmed for me that I am not full of shit when it comes to my understanding of Hinduism. It seems that perhaps the conclusions I have been coming to are conclusions I had been gently led to.

I am grateful to have had this experience, grateful to be able to continue to participate, yet somehow saddened that the Temple is, in all practicality, out of my reach considering my finances and lemonish car. But, I will return home with Satsang, and enough spiritual fuel to keep me going for some time, and in the comfort of knowing that all I have learned and all the conclusions I have come to on my own have not been absurd fantasies, that they have been guided by my consciousness being open to Godly consciousness. This is not my ego talking, this is a breathless gratitude talking.

I didn’t spend much time in the temple Sunday, I was tired, the sudden weather change from driving up North has messed up my sinuses, so I spent a lot of the day in my room, but I did go back for a brief visit, and for all my bemoaning the loss of temple access, I realized that in the time since I left the Shiva Vishnu Temple behind in Ohio, I have learned a lot. For one, I had been able to hold my own during the Bhagavad Gita class, and my understanding of the Gita (and I have read two translations more than once) and the complexities of Hindu concepts of “reality” and God have been greatly enhanced by my admittedly shamefully infrequent studies (which I am now going to become more serious about).

Additionally, thanks to DMT I had learned to meditate. Back in Ohio I could not meditate at all, but now, over the past few days, I had been meditating before the Deities. This in and of itself is quite an arrival for me. And beyond all that, I had learned to chant, and need to learn more chants, but I am pleased to say that I was able to circumambulate around the Shiva sanctum while chanting this:

Om Try-Ambakam Yajaamahe
Sugandhim Pusstti-Vardhanam
Urvaarukam-Iva Bandhanaan
Mrtyor-Mukssiiya Maa-[A]mrtaat

Har har Mahadev!

Sunday night, in my room, totally exhausted I had to accept that I was growing very fatigued from the weather/pressure and sinus pains. I had been bearing them, had tried not to think about them, but they had been a weight around my neck the whole trip. Finally, I sat down with my prasadam (an orange), and ate it. Prasadam promises to be not only healthy but healing food blessed by the Gods. One hour later, and this was quite a shock to me, 100% of my fatigue, body aches and sinus pains were gone, simply gone, like my anxiety!

But for all the glories of Sunday, the real ecstasies were to come Monday, at the Shiva Temple, and Ram was right, it was more than two eyes could bear, and more than I could have imagined.

NEXT (Part 5, Monday): Har Har Mahadev!