“Titiksa is the capacity to endure all sorrows and sufferings without struggling for redress or for revenge, being always free from anxiety or lament over them.”
from Acharya Sankara’s “Vivekachoodamani.”
“Titiksa is the capacity to endure all sorrows and sufferings without struggling for redress or for revenge, being always free from anxiety or lament over them.”
from Acharya Sankara’s “Vivekachoodamani.”
I realized today that cancer can be cured, but once you’ve had it it never goes away. not that I think about it much, for the most part I don’t, but sometimes in the dark of night, sometimes when you are suffering some new health problem… whatever the physical problem is, the real problem is always cancer. Having cancer teaches you one thing for certain, and that is that it can most definitely happen to you. Cancer isn’t just something other people suffer. Perhaps it is… but who knows who the other people are, and who knows whether or not you are one of the other people?
I have always been one of the other people. I belong to that tribe, the Tribe Of the Other People.
People die, people around me have both beaten and been taken by cancer. Once you’ve had it, cancer becomes the little devil of existential possibility in even the most unfounded and anxious worries over health. Cancer can turn an ulcer, cyst or ache into a tumor, at least in the mind, and what we think is our reality. if that ulcer is cancer, it’s cancer, and when it’s proven to be an ulcer and treated and healed… it just becomes the one that wasn’t cancer… but what about the next time? Once you’ve had cancer you know that not all of them always turn out to be ulcers, cysts or aches. Man, it’s brutal KNOWING that as an existential certainty.
No, I do not think about cancer all that much, but I had a long week and a miserable day to think about it again, and I learned a lot of things.
I looked around and learned that my life really would go on without me. Everything that was my material reality will still be going on. The sun will still be shining on all the people I love in Gainesville.
I know I am going to die. Not abstractly either, I know I am going to die. I can see it on the horizon, the only question is… who will I be when it comes for me? Will I greet death with grace or hysteria, with confidence or terror? Will I meet death at peace or in a panic? Will I meet death with a smile of contentment knowing that everything is perfect? That is my biggest fear, you know, it has changed. My biggest fear is no longer death, it is that I will not be ready to meet death with a smile, that I will not have mastered the art of dying. Will I greet death having attained Shiva?
I thought about Shiva a lot.
But I fear I failed this test. I panicked, I was not at peace. It feels like I have a lot of work to do before I will be able to stand back as the watcher and go at peace. But at least I had a plan, and I realized where I am. Panicky or not, my thoughts all turned spiritual. Whether or not I learn to die with grace, I know now that I will at least die a seeker with Shiva on her mind.
I thought a lot about Varanasi. Today, as I sat in the emergency room, I knew that I wasn’t going through it again. If it was cancer, I was going to Varanasi. I was going to let go of my body there. I saw myself on the cremation grounds well before passing. I saw myself learning to let go. I saw myself surrendering to Smashan Tara, to Shiva, to my own true SELF.
Yeah, a cancer scare is a helluva thing.
I suspect this will change me. I am hoping this has come to bring about a new clarity. I have a lot to sort through, but I know something has changed.
Perhaps what has changed is, from this point on, maybe, just maybe… the ghost of cancer has finally left me.
“And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong.”
Again, my heart leapt when a fellow seeker in the back raised his hand to talk and asked how he was to resolve the battle in him where he goes from great engagements in his spiritual practices to fearing and thinking it was all nonsense and that he was nothing more than skin and bones here to eat, die, and rot in the material world. Needless to say we had one helluva talk in the library after the talk was over.
I feel less lonely. I feel less frightened. I feel less foolish. I feel more loved and understood… and I feel closer, again, to Lord Shiva.
Manharji and I (after the Sunday service) went to the Indian mall here in Atlanta (The Global Mall), where we had a very good, if not humble, Indian dinner, and where I had the chance to visit the Shiva Mandir and the Vinayaka (Ganesh) srhine, as well as the chance to shop through the fantastic Indian boutiques.
Then I came back to the ashram and volunteered to clean the guest house, which I did in all love, and with a great sense of gratitude.
And come Monday, I shared dinner with Brother Shankara between Arati and his “Bhagavad Gita” class. We talked for a moment more on the Beatles, and I was delighted to hear Brother Shankara, in his own words, state something I had dared not speak for fear of people just not being willing to get it. Essentially, it was the Beatles that made it possible for me to understand Eastern spirituality once I came into it. Brother Shankara agreed that they were here to do a job, that job being helping immensely in opening the West to Indian wisdom, and he felt they did their job very well. They were not merely a band, The Stones were merely a pop band, the Beatles, as Brother Shankara pointed out, manifested different Yogic principles, though, to be honest, I don’t recall exactly how he said it, but it was well thought out. With me, the Beatles got in far deeper than anything else had up until Shiva revealed himself to me.
Shortly, we dug in deeper through many of the struggles I have been having, which partly has to do with my very unconservative views of the truths of Shiva. We talked about how I came to Sanatana Dharma, and of how what finally compelled me to seek a temple was that I had a vision of Shiva after partaking in some of “Shiva’s gift,” and while having, let’s say, an ecstatic physical pleasure. This, for me, was the moment of truth, if he could handle that with real insight rather than by regurgitating some “company policy,” then I knew I could trust him with the unorthodoxed truth of my journey, and with anything else I would ever need to share with him. There is a movement in Hinduism that seems to want to sanitize Shiva, but as I understand it at this time (and perhaps further study will clarify this one way or the other), this movement seems to do the same outrageous somersaults certain Christians do to prove that Jesus did not turn water into wine, but Grape Nehi. In other words, there are a number of conservative Hindus who want to pretend that plant teachers and medicines were not part of the story of Sanatana Dharma in general or Shiva in particular, or that if they were part of the story, they have elaborate “logical” reasons that it’s OK for Shiva, but nor for us. To me, this reeks of colonialism and an unconscious submission to American moral tyranny, and people who buy into that with authority, I cannot yet entirely trust. Not all of us follow the common conservative paths. To those people, Shiva calls, after all, he kept company with dogs, demons and ghosts as well as Devas. Brother Shankara proved to be a man of insight and honesty.
Yet, I must say, as I have been reading the “Shiva Purana” I have found no textual evidence to support Shiva as a user of ganja or soma. I have read and heard numerous versions of stories where Lord Shiva does at least consume ganja, and I mean numerous stories from reliable sources, but as of yet not a single mention in the Purana. Of course the Aghori and Sadhus are known to use ganja (“Shiva’s Gift”) as a meditation aid, but there doesn’t yet appear to be much evidence for this in the scriptures. Ultimately, this begs the question… is there any such thing as a, or the, authoritative version of Shiva? That I can answer from a Puranic perspective, and the answer is that he is sportive and takes whatever form he pleases, as forms are irrelevant to the ultimate realized being, Lord Shiva.
Regardless, Brother Shankara’s warm understanding nature and nonjudgmental approach brought me to being able to trust him enough to share that there is a part of me that is intrigued by, and agrees with, the Aghori. I don’t know that the Aghoric part of me is a very large percentage, but it is large enough to complicate matters as I seek a spiritual home.
Humans are complicated, and the truths of our selves requires understanding more than hard and fast rules, and as the books of wisdom repeat, even if most people cannot see this truth, each seeker will have to find their own way, and some seekers need to walk through the forests rather than along the well-lit and fully maintained roads. I won’t go into details, let’s just say Brother Shankara handled all these topics with insight, grace, wisdom, and essentially won me over entirely in that he did not regurgitate absolutes or rush to judge me, he listened, and he understood that I was on the path I was on, and he saw me as a serious seeker even if my path would not be acceptable to many.
Everything is complicated and nothing within the constructed framework of democratically deemed ordinary reality and the ensuing ordinary points of view work, not once certain experiences and knowledge has been had and gained. “Reality,” for me, has been wholly upended. I can no longer see things in the way other people do, and most do not, can not, and will not see things as I do. This puts me on the outside with my family, but on the inside with Brother Shankara, Siva, Manharji, Swamiji, Durga and Ganesh. But this new reality exists on a level beyond the reach of language. We talked about this very topic, about how between DMT, meditation and Shiva, my concept of “reality” has been utterly shattered. When I told him how frightening this was, he nodded knowingly, saying: “Of course it’s frightening.”
And I guess that’s that. And that was all I needed to hear. He essentially helped me to feel and understand that it is perfectly natural to be frightened at this point… but in no way led me to believe that this was a bad thing, it simply is what is, and is not an uncommon experience. It’s hard enough to find your way in the world… let alone if you have seen and experienced things that bring everything we all take for granted about the world into question. Simply put, Shiva The Destroyer… has destroyed me, but, as challenging, at times frightening and overwhelming as such destruction can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way, which is good, ’cause there’s no going back now. And I would like to add that this destruction is wholly constructive, and I am willing to endure the trials.
Nope, this isn’t going to be easy, but you know what? It’s worth it, and these struggles are a lot better than lying in bed under the smothering inertia of anxiety and depression, and these struggles and this reality is a lot better than hanging around talking about Duck Dynasty.
By the end of the week, on the very day that I was headed home, I made one last stop at the Hindu Temple Of Atlanta. I was satisfied with all I had learned, and with all the new people and places in my life, but I felt bothered that there still seemed to be some Asuras lurking in my shadows. I had not had that release, that mother-of-all blissful experiences that so often had come to me on temple visits. I resigned myself to the wisdom of having to accept that though that hadn’t happened, I had learned and gained a lot. But then, quite unexpectedly, as if I had finally let go of all that darkness I had carried to and through Atlanta with me, within about an hour, the inner-demons I had struggled with and shared with Brother Shankara, left me. I left the temple, got in my car clean, and drove home in peace, and today, I am still at peace.
I have found my center, and it was right where I left it, inside.
I, for one, will accept battles with depression and anxiety, but I will not feed those demons.
And, you know, for all the ups and downs, on whatever road I’ve travelled, it always comes back to that pivotal choice I was given by the fundamentalist youth minister at the suburban evangelical church of my youth, “You know… one day you’re going to have to choose between Jesus and the Beatles.”
I made my choice…
“And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong.”
There is a funny quality to the BAPS Temple, in that at times I feel at a distance from the place. For a start we have to give our names at the gate before we can get in. There is a logic to this that I can understand… but it doesn’t “feel good.” And more puzzling, I was struck again with how we women have to sit in the back and had to eat and gather separately from the men. Is this really the least bit holy? Instead of taking the higher road and learning to master their minds, hearts and desires, why do the men insist we be segregated, is it to protect them from their own weaknesses? The irony is that women are no threat to men, I mean what do men have to fear, that they might have a sexual fantasy? On the other hand, what do women have to fear from men? Sexual harassment, rape, abuse, it seems the situation here is upside down and that the men should, if they insist on segregating us, have to sit in the back so as to contemplate why they cannot control their minds. Simply put, women are people, not “distractions.” This does, however, have a grand upside… we don’t have to be surrounded by men! It is, quite frankly, rather lovely to be free from them. I, for one, love being surrounded only by other women. And fully embracing duality here, to be honest, I found the old-fashoned segregation of genders somehow warm and charming, especially considering their determination to respect their traditions and not budge for a modern mindset. For me, this whole “thing” creates a vibratory cognitive dissonance that I cannot resolve and mostly embrace joyfully. Simply put, while the segregation annoys me a tad, I also rather like being a part of it. So, in the end, for all my questions, who’s to say, who’s to judge? Not me. But a rock ain’t gonna stop a river from flowing, and that ain’t gonna stop me from asking these questions.
…Ah… but then… was I discriminated against? I was refused admittance to the main event of the evening. While I usually find myself extremely welcome among Indians (who are the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met), once in a while I encounter situations like this. Manharji would have none of this and somehow his presence got me into the event, and for some reason, at this point I was personally escorted to the front row of the women’s section, and there I met the lovely, smiling and exemplarily hospitable Rameshi (if I got that right), who truly understood the Hindu tradition that guests are to be treated like visiting Deities. She was a delight to talk to and wanted nothing more than to make me feel welcome. To say the least, my BAPS experiences, at times, leave me with a lot of questions. All the same, I revere the place even if I, respectfully, have some questions.
But enough of that, when the event ended I was shuttled along in a river of Indian women, bustling, bumping, and reminding me once and for all that among Indians there is no such thing as personal space. While most Americans might find this intolerable and offensive, I, personally, truly love physical contact, and found their fearless physicality refreshing and warm. Apart from being far taller than most of them, I felt absolutely at home among the Indian women. Once we got into the women’s dining hall, I was treated to a lovely thali plate, and sat on the floor with the other women and ate, like many of them, with my fingers.
But so it goes at BAPS, segregation on one hand, a warm welcome and inspired beauty on the other; being excluded on the one hand, and being treated by the Indian women like one of them on the other. But through it all, being in awe of the divinity I feel in that temple.Shortly after, Manharji dropped me off at the Vedanta Center of Atlanta, which he felt would be the perfect central place for me to stay as it was between Patel Plaza, the BAPS Temple, the Chinmaya Mission and the Global Mall (which has a Shiva Mandir and a Ganesh shrine as well as great Indian food and shops). That night, after Manharji left, the presiding monk, Brother Shankara, said he wanted to know about me. We sat in the library and he asked, “What brought you here?”
“Well,” I started, smiling, feeling already a deep sense of relief, “that’s gonna get us right to the heart of the matter, isn’t it?” To which he told me he didn’t want to waste time on small talk, and neither did I, so we dug in. What followed was not only exactly the talk I needed to have, were not only the words I needed to hear, but I was in the presence of exactly who I needed to be talking with. My gut, God, and Manharji had been right. Yes, the impulse I had to get out of Gainesville NOW was the voice of Durga (or “The Mother,” as Brother Shankara insisted) drawing me into the arms of wisdom and caring. This is an important lesson, which is that if you listen to yourself, without making excuses, and just up and “Get On The Right Thing,” rather than sinking further down, Consciousness, Brahman, Gurus and your gut will always lead you to where you need to be, to who you need to be talking with, to what you need to know, to how it’s all going to work out, and to why… well… to why I needed to follow that impulse to simply drop everything and go. Once your consciousness tunes into the higher consciousness, your own consciousness becomes guided by the supreme consciousness. This is how consciousness works, consciousness will lead one consciously to the consciousness one needs, but you have to both surrender and listen. I have taken many such leaps of faith, and they have always worked out. I had no plans, no reservations, I just placed my fate in the hands of Manharji and God, and landed in the care of the people and situations I needed. In other words, however hard I could have tried, I could not have researched, planned or organized anything as profoundly perfect as this all turned out to be. Even the suffering that led to my restless and sudden impulse to leave was a boon, the blessing that placed me in the care of people and places that will continue to nourish me as I travel deeper down the path of a seeker.
I started by telling Brother Shankara everything I have just told you in this writing so far, then we dug in deep, real deep, and got straight to the heart of the matter.
I told him how over the past few weeks I have backslid, and how I became overwhelmed with fears and doubts. I began wondering, what if I am nothing more than flesh and blood, the descendant of fesces flinging monkeys, here to vote for or against Trump, here to watch Monday Night Football… or not, here to text, Facebook, and here to decide between eating at McDonalds or eating vegan “cookies.” What if all this God stuff is nonsense? What if all the time I spent monastically at home in the forest, meditating, contemplating, hiking and studying scriptures was a waste of time? What if the joy and peace I experienced then was a delusion, was nothing more than me avoiding “reality?” All of this had made me miserable, and had led to a depressive and anxiety state so deep that I began seeking distraction. It led me to such distraction that I began looking for answers that could come only from outside, from other people, and this led to disappointment, which led to a clinging attachment, which led to frustration, sadness, anger, loneliness and bitterness. By the bitter end of it, Wednesday’s class, I had lost my way, I had no longer had any control over my own emotions. Like Sita, “Ram, get me that deer,” I had let myself become distracted, my mind like that of the frightened and fleeing deer… and what happened to Ram and Sita after that? Well, if you don’t know the story, everything unravelled and all hell broke loose!
I lost my ability to discern, I had sunk into suffering by clinging to materialism for answers I knew the world did not contain, by seeking love and comfort no one around me was in a position cared to offer. “Ram, get me that deer.”
He knew, of course, that the root of the problem was not loneliness, but my spiritual crisis, he asked how long I had been a seeker. I churned that through in my memory and said, “Oh… seven years.”
He applauded and laughed, “Right on schedule. I hate to tell you this, Justine, but you are right on schedule.” He then elaborated and explained to me that they call this the “seven-year itch.” I don’t know why, but for some reason, the seven-year mark seems to be very difficult for serious seekers. Who knew? To say the least, I was greatly relieved, as this normalized a situation that I thought had become my own personal hell. Now I knew that my own personal hell was so universal as to be laughably predictable. He went on to explain that these battles and backslides never end, that even the most advanced of seekers and the most realized of beings have them. On one level it was a huge relief, on another it was somewhat devastating to know that I had more of this coming. I was hoping for a point of no return to happen, in which I would slide into joy until death, and that would be that. Yes, I now understood, even enlightened beings have vasanas, and have to contend with being “space-time meat vehicles.” I began to see Osho (Rajneesh, a controversial Guru) with more clarity. Of course Rajneesh proved to be dangerously insane, paranoid and delusional… but those traits did not mean he was not also wise, insightful and worthy of respectful consideration. Once one embraces Sanatana Dharma, one realizes that there are no easy answers… none! And… if you think there are… may God help you.
We talked about the great story of the Devas and Asuras churning the sea for Amrita, and of how, in so doing, they released the poisons, and I told him I felt like I was at that stage where the poisons could destroy me, the world (as my notion of “reality” has been permanently destroyed, in the Shivanic sense), and the Gods. He seemed to thrive on hearing about my battles, not through any Sadism, but because I was revealing myself to him as a “serious seeker” (as he referred to me continuously), and he recognized in me that I am one of them.
“Gooble gobble.. one of us… one of us!”
In the end he welcomed me into the fold, told me I was allowed to come here at any time, and that I could call on him day or night to talk, and that he wanted me to know how much he meant that. I told him I have students who I try and help, and that I do know that he means it, as so do I. So, yes, not only have I found a new Guru in Brother Shankara, but I have found a new family of seekers. And beyond that, there is and was no pressure, as they say, “The doors of the ashram are always open,” meaning you can come and go and come and go. I can rise and fall, revel and doubt, and the Vedanta Center and Brother Shankara will be there. I can be human, can make mistakes, can choose a path that is not the one focused on at the Vedanta Center, as there are so many paths within Sanatana Dharma and I do not yet know which one is for me, and yet still be on the path of liberation, and be part of their community. Brother Shankara in no way pressured me to follow the path of the Vedanta Center, and warmly welcomed and honored the path I was on… or will resolve myself to.
By the end of our talks I felt the beginning of a healing. I feel now like I will have deeper insight and wisdom as I deal with these downsides and backslides that are all part of the spiritual journey, that are all part of the process of learning to master the mind. Will I ever truly master my mind? I don’t know, but I do know that the process has already provided me with many boons and greater peace and joy, and now the homes, friends and teachers I will need along the path.
Next: Part 2 of 3… And much much more…
A: “To get to the other side.”
I am in a challenging position. I have told my students at SAW about my struggles with depression, anxiety, fear, etc., and how I have made a lot of headway simply by not identifying with those feelings, and by working to master my mind, which I have been striving to do ever since listening to Sadhguru speak. Through him, I realized, it is so, I/we have become sick and have lost control over our own minds. I share my experiences and encourage the students in the hopes that it might help them see that they can fight these battles themselves, battles many lose. I have helped a few of them learn better ways to think about their struggles, as well as how to fight against their inner tyrants. I began doing this because I was endlessly frustrated by how many of my students have sunk into the lousy habit of nursing their depressive and anxious states to their breasts as if they were helpless, or worse, as if they were cherished parts of their identities, if not their entire identities, and I wanted to speak up and show them that there is a better way.
Obviously this situation creates a certain pressure to be a good example, to rise above, but the truth is, that is not how any of this works, it’s not that simple. Yes, I teach them to begin to take control of their minds… but the problem is, this is not a won and done proposition, it is an ongoing battle, one I, too, am fighting! I hope to make it clear to them I have not won the war, have not yet mastered my mind, but I have realized that it is a battle you have to participate in, and in so realizing, I have learned how to win many battles. I have won enough battles that I am now fighting from higher ground. I am striving to get control of my mind… but I am in no way claiming to be realized, enlightened, or totally free of neurosis. Still, I feel some pressure to never show my weaknesses lest they dismiss me as full of shit.Tuesday of last week I went to Andaz, the Indian restaurant where I eat about five days a week, and I felt myself crumbling. For a few weeks I had been battling with my ego, and had fallen into a crisis of faith, wherein I began having doubts about my spiritual path (not an uncommon condition for any spiritual seeker, as you will soon see). This battle had been brutal and had caused me to back off my spiritual practices out of fear that I was avoiding “life” and “reality.” So, I began seeking satisfaction outwardly, from other people. Well, this didn’t work, doesn’t work, won’t work, hasn’t worked, and before long demons of depression and loneliness were sprouting up out of the ground like Harryhausen’s skeletons! It got to me, and I began to cry. I do not cry in public, I am not an attention whore, but I began to cry. There was no stopping it, and THAT is when I realized something must be done.
The next morning, Wednesday, I had to get up and teach, but there was this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to call off. I NEVER call off sick! I get so frustrated with students who miss class after class because they are lying in bed nursing, wallowing in, and feeding their weaknesses… how could I call off when I scold my students for allowing their bad habits and lack of discipline, and often their depression and anxiety, to rule them? Well, that was not a fair question to me. I have no pattern or habit of calling off because I don’t want to get out of bed, or I feel stressed or depressed, that is not a weakness I wallow in, but this Wednesday was an exception, and it wasn’t just depression or anxiety, something bigger was telling me to stay home.
But I have this whole Dharma (duty) thing going on, so I went, and what greeted me? Immediately, one more person I really like telling me why they had to cancel what I thought was a lunch plan I had been looking forward to. A cancellation, not a big deal to most people, but lately I have been having people cancel, postpone, and put me off one after the other. THIS was the problem, this was at the core of my suffering du jour (or so I thought, but we’ll get to what was really at the core later). Triggered, I blew it all out of proportion. I didn’t go nuts exactly, but I realized that I had dropped the reins and now this wild horse (my emotions) was bucking, running, and charging madly in all directions kicking against the walls of my skull. Then, as class time came… only three students appeared to be attending, and that started getting on my last nerve. I at one point had to turn away and clutch the table… I was out of control emotionally, and totally stuck in front of a class… trapped! I could not figure out what to feel, couldn’t stop feeling, and was afraid of embarrassing myself. I felt like a butterfly caught in a bullies hand, the bully being my own mind!
This used to happen to me all the time. I had forgotten how bad it can be. I have made amazing progress at mastering my mind and learning more positive ways of being and feeling, so this sudden bottoming out hit hard. The intense emotional experience I was having as I stood there with my back turned clutching the table had literally not happened to me that intensely in well over a year… and I was not prepared for it to return. It had been a horrible way to live, me feeling so intently I could not control my emotions, then having to go home and suffer the neurotic playback loop over how I acted, and needing to call and apologize… dear God what a royal purple drag! How in the hell had I been able to live like that in the past? I felt an absolute dread at realizing that THAT was what my life used to be like. Sometimes when I think back at who I was, how I felt, and what suffering I endured… I get horrified, and this was most definitely a reminder of a past I did not want to return to.
I excused myself and went to my car to meditate for ten minutes. I have acquired enough wisdom to know that sometimes I just need to get some distance between the triggers and my response. It helped, but when I came back, the class was lousy, I just could not find it in myself to sit there and teach one-point perspective. Unprofessional, you say? Well, sure, if it happens all the time, but right there and then it was simply very human. No, I don’t like that it happened, but looking back on it from the peace of the ashram from which I am (at the moment) writing, I can forgive the experience.
The next day I realized I was in trouble… sinking fast! And here’s the important part, the part I hope my students learn, and what is important is that you say “NO FUCKING WAY!” to it! There was no way I was gonna lay in bed day after day wallowing and watching myself get sucked under by something that is not me.
I am NOT my depression.
I am NOT my anxieties.
I am NOT my fears.
I am NOT my weaknesses.
For all that, I am not my happiness, nor even my strengths, I am what exists beyond and above, the silent center around which all suffering and worldly pleasure plays out. I am Atman, Tat Tvam Asi! That Thou Art! I am Brahman. I am Shiva.
The depression turned to loneliness, the loneliness turned to bitterness, the bitterness turned to anger, and I became little else but suffering. Yet, down there under it all was the truth. Down there under it all was a center I could not find. Down there under it all was all the wisdom I have gathered over the past year and a half. And I drew upon that wisdom and set my mind to immediately getting it together and getting to the Temple, getting to an ashram, and getting back on the center I now knew I had. But there were plans to be made, it is, after all, a five hour drive to Atlanta, there are things to settle at home, reservations to be made… and on and on and on.
Five hour drive or no, I was not going to let this thing have me, because I am NOT my neurosis. I will not identify with my neurosis. It cant’ have me. Furthermore, I realized one very important truth, I was happier living my solitary little monastic life of meditating, reading Hindu scriptures and taking long contemplative walks than I was descending back into materialism, and that was when and why things really fell apart. I had forgotten the core message of “Life Of Pi,” which is, “Which story do you prefer?” I preferred the story I was living when I was joyfully at home studying “The Shiva Puranas.”
But for all that happened once things fell apart, I am at least finally wise enough now to know, even under the crashing waves of my out of control emotions, that I have a center… a center I finally have realized. I knew that I must find it, and not only that, now I know that I can find it. And now I know how to find it.
So I determined that I would get through Thursday, Friday I would attend the meeting I had to attend, and by Friday evening… I would be on the road, and by Saturday lunch I would be with my Vedic Guru (as in “teacher”) Manharji in Atlanta. I didn’t even book rooms or make any plans. Manharji said he would set up a place for me to stay, so I trusted my Guru. Shiva, Ganesh, Durga… and yes, myself, to take care of me, so long as I took the leap of faith and hit the road. I stayed one night in a motel a mere 3 hours from home just so I would be on my way and out of my rut, and the next day established to meet Manharji at Patel Plaza in Atlanta for lunch.
When I arrived at Patel Plaza (the brilliant Indian shopping plaza in Atlanta… God how I LOVE that place), there was Manharji. We had a lovely lunch, I shopped around the Indian markets, and found myself feeling better by degrees almost immediately. To tell the truth, and I don’t know why this is, I am most comfortable around the Indian people, so I began to feel far more at home than I do at any white American shopping plaza. I mean, when I go shopping I couldn’t care less about Cinnabuns, cell-phone accessories or Applecrumple and Stitch… I want to see ladoo, saree’s and God posters!
From there, even though Brother Shankara, the monk who resided over the center, was not home, we dropped my stuff off at the Vedanta Center ashram where I was to stay, then we hit the road and visited the BAPS Temple. By Shiva’s grace, finally I was going to be on holy ground, where I could begin to bury all my nonsense.
In 2 of 3… The BAPS Temple and more…
Friday, October 31st. Everything was perfect. Dressed in my hippie-chick best, barefoot, my hair as big and curly as I could get it, I set sail in my VW Beetle to the local club to see a rockshow.
As anyone who really knows me knows… I am the biggest Wings fan in the world (as in Paul McCartney and Wings), and tonight, Denny Laine was in town, and I was going to have a chance to do a meet-n-greet and finally meet him in person. For those of you who don’t know, Wings was essentially a trio at its core, Paul, Linda and Denny being there from beginning to end, and the other 2 members were ever-changing, which contrary to the criticisms leveled agains the band, was for the best, as each incarnation of Wings was significantly different than the last, and each album a departure… which is, once again, contrary to the myths generated by assholes in the rock press. These personnel changes brought about a tension, energy and forward motion that kept them fresh. And, for those of you who don’t know, Wings was a killer band… and if you don’t believe me, it’s because you haven’t REALLY listened to them. Clear the pop-press and cool-guy pretension from your ears and really dig in and discover Wings, I promise you you will be surprised at the amount of amazing stuff they did. To tell the truth, I tend not to trust people who claim to hate McCartney and Wings, as they have usually been brainwashed by critics, and are often trying to prove something about their “hipness.” Hey, babe, if you think you’re too smart or too hip for Wings (which you aren’t)… you’re too “hip” for me.
What I didn’t know until I was waiting in line outside the Highdive here in Gainesville for the meet-n-greet was that I wasn’t just going to get to see, hear and meet Denny Laine, but another member of Wings… a twofer! I was outside the venue when, at some point, I overheard someone say, “Steve Holly is going to be here tonight.” I went breathless. Shit, I was gonna meet Denny Laine AND Steve Holly! Then, of course, hear them play. my energy level went all electric in an instant. My favorite Wings album was their last, “Back To The Egg.” In that line-up Laurence Juber played lead and Steve Holly/Holley drummed. See… this wasn’t just any member of Wings… this was a “Back To The Egg” member of Wings.As I got in line at the meet-n-greet, I didn’t really know what to expect, but there he was, Denny Laine, standing in front of the table getting ready, and older or no, he was still Denny fucking Laine! And there, off to the side, was this smiling mid-sized bear of a man (and I mean that in a “Balou The Bear” sorta way) just hanging out on a bench in the back… I looked through all the years (about 38), and saw clearly who it was, THAT was Steve Holly! So, I broke away from the line and walked up to him, asking, “Are you Steve Holly?”
“Yes I am.” And he stood up to talk to me. About all my nervous self could do was sputter out, “‘Back To the Egg’ is my favorite Wings album… McCartney doesn’t seem to like it all that much, but the rest of us love it.” We talked about the possibility that they might play a couple songs from “Back To The Egg” that night. I requested “Spin It On,” and “Old Siam Sir,” to which Steve said he doubted they’d do “Old Siam Sir” as it’s a really difficult song to play. That said, Wings killed on it live back in ’79. From there I realized I didn’t have any “Steve Holly Era” Wings stuff in my bag (though I had a poster in the car), so we agreed to fudge it a little. Steve Holly was in the “London Town” videos even though he wasn’t on the album, so he signed my “London Town” press kit (a rare collectible). When he went to sign my press-kit he asked my name. “Justine,” I said.
“Is that the French spelling of Justine?” he asked.
“Yeah, just like the Marquis de Sade.”
I told him I have been looking for years for a complete concert on video from 1979 era Wings, and asked if he knew of any, even bootlegs. This launched him into a story about how all of his personal memorabilia, what he called his “whole life,” was stolen while he was in New York! It was pretty sad, actually, but I guess some guy just stole the bags with all his memories, but just this year some guy sent him files full of stuff, so after all these years he has all of what he lost back, his whole life. He laughed as he told me about the guy who gave him the files and said, “It was probably the guy that stole the stuff.” From there he talked a bit about this and that before he broke away to talk to the line that was building once the others started figuring out who he was. What initially struck me was how incredibly at ease and open he was, and how genuine. It was obvious that he loves talking to the fans, and that it brings him as much joy as it does us. Though he did excuse me to talk to others, I in no way felt like he was brushing me aside, he was just trying to be polite and give everyone a chance to talk with him. Not for a minute did I feel he was eager to brush me aside.I got in line for Denny Laine, and was stunned… I mean he has been a Rock God to me since I first saw him all lit up in “Rockshow’s”glorious green,blue, pink and purple light; the great lighting being a huge part of what made “Rockshow” so damn cool. Shit… there was Denny Laine! McCartney’s collaborator, the guy who played on “Band On The Run,” the guy who, with Paul, co-wrote many of the best damn pop and rock songs of the seventies. I talked to him about “London Town,” as that press kit was what I had in hand, and asked him about “Deliver Your Children,” which I admitted I couldn’t recall if he or he and Paul wrote that one. When he told me he wrote that one, I came back with, “It’s the best song on the album.”
“I like this girl!” Denny called out in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, as he, of course, did write that one… and it’s one helluva song, too.
But he wasn’t quite as open as Steve Holly, very kind, but a little more standoffish. I asked him one other question, just because we were standing there waiting as he also signed my Concert program from the 1976 tour (which was before my time). Anyhow, I asked him if he ever got melancholy or nostalgic when he thinks back on that heyday of fame and sold out arenas. He said, no, he doesn’t live in the past and he’s happy doing what he’s doing now, which was a genuine and well-adjusted answer. I kind of regret the question, not because I hadn’t wanted to know, but it’s not a question so much as the sort of thing that would have been best discussed over dinner or something.
I then went along my way, out to dinner with my friend Miriam (first generation Beatle fan) because there was so much time between the meet-n-greet and the show. We returned well before the show started, but, almost 2 hours after my little chat with Steve Holly. Not really paying much attention to what was going on around me, as I was headed to the restroom, someone said, “Hi Justine.” I’ll be dogged… it was Steve Holly! I just sort of touched his shoulder as I passed and said, “Hey, Steve.”
What? He’d bothered to remember my name? Two hours later, after meeting a line of fans… and he knew my fucking name! My heart melted, I just thought, you know, what a sweet and kind guy. Or, perhaps, just perhaps (dare I think it), he found me memorable. Well, I’ll never know which it was, but regardless, we were now on a first name basis… at least for the moment.
The show was great fun, watching two members of Wings play was a delight. Denny started off a little loose, then got tight and really nailed it, especially on “Time To Hide,” which is a number that really pleased the Wings fans, all of us remembering it well from “Rockshow,” which is, for my money, the greatest concert film ever… period. It’s everything a rock concert should be, dark, moody, hard-driving, at times silly, energetic, and bathed in colored light and pyrotechnics… oh, and the clothes! The glorious glam clothes. It’s a fabulous example of 1970’s excess, right down to the horn section and double-necked guitar Denny played… and who could forget the airbrushed action shot of Wings that was in the gatefold of the tripple album “Wings Over America.” But Denny Laine’s a little older now, and around about the middle of the set he got a little raw, but got his mojo entirely back by the end (“Spirits Of Ancient Egypt” being especially hot). And all the while, Steve was spot-on with the drumming. He was not only proving to be a sweetheart of a guy, but was still a wicked-cool drummer. Being a Wings fan I have lately found McCartney’s Beatle-Paul nostalgia shows to be a bit of a drag, so it was a delight to hear so many Wings songs in one evening… songs like:Again and Again and Again,
And a bundle more.
The show was very informal and easygoing, they played like a beloved local act, it was actually really warm and loose. To tell the truth, I was more into it on that level, the band took the attitude that we were all just having a little private party among friends. On a personal level, I was enjoying dancing around barefoot in the club, which I had managed to get into without any problems… but the big bummer of the night was that I had forgotten to smoke any grass. As much as I loved the show, it was after the show when I really experienced the high points of the evening.
A few minutes after the show, at least two more hours since last we spoke, Steve came right out to greet the fans who had waited, and I got right up to him… and he actually hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and greeted me by name again!
Yeah… THE Steve Holly from Wings hugged and kissed me! And remembered my name all night! Well, this is especially prescient considering that he’s the first guy in five fucking years to hug and kiss me AT ALL! But, I guess if a girl’s gonna get hugged and kissed it might as well be by a rock-n-roll hero.
This was the first hug of the night, and it took me totally by surprise, and a delightful one at that. Right, I know, I’m being all giggly-fan-girl on you guys, but Wings really is my favorite band, other than the Beatles, in that I probably play more McCartney solo than I do Beatles, and I grew up in the Wings era, not the Beatle era. That music got me through some pretty hairy stuff and a lot of lonely nights. This was not only the music of my childhood, but music I grew into and carried with me into my adulthood. That music has been my constant companion, literally the soundtrack to my entire life. I mean, I have literally been into Wings since forever, and I’ve been seeing Steve Holly on TV since high school, especially back then when MTV would show clips form “The Concert For Kampuchea” all the time. Steve Holly was, to me, another part of the mythology of the Beatles. He was “one of them,” and to my mind one of the Gods… he may as well have been on Valhalla… and here I was on a first-name basis and getting a hug and kiss! How could I not dig that? And I had just seen Denny Laine play from like six feet away. It was really really grand!
When he got to talking with someone else, I dashed out to my car and grabbed the Wingspan poster I had that was a photo from the era in which Steve was in the band, a killer, and extremely cool and edgy shot, that anyone who has actually bothered to follow them knows is what they were, cool and edgy, as well as melodic and catchy. The fans were oohing over this poster, then when Steve caught a glimpse of it he just stopped and went towards it. he first kissed Linda, then began telling me how rare the poster was and began telling me all about the photo shoot. He just stood over it, with a couple fans, and reminisced. He said the photographer had asked them not to shave and to stay up for 3 days to get that haggard edgy look. He said it was for the “I’ve Had Enough” single cover. But Steve would not sign it with my pen, as he was afraid of damaging it, but as he walked off to find a felt-tip pen, he gave me another warm hug and kiss on the neck, but this hug a little longer and a little warmer. I figured he was never going to get to a felt-tip pen, as he was giving each fan his full attention, so I went off to find a felt-tip while he talked to other fans. For a while I listened to him talk to a young drummer kid about working with John Bonham on Rockestra, at one point Steve leaned in and told the kid some drum secret from that experience. It was so generous! I realized that probably everyone who had the opportunity to talk him went home like me, feeling as though he had been willing to be open and connect even if for only a brief few moments. I’ve known a lot of charming people, but this went way deeper than charm. He made me feel special… and it seemed he did the same for everyone.
I got his attention with the marker and walked him back to the poster, and he really dug it again, tapped a kiss to his fingers and pressed them to Linda, giving her a second kiss before signing the poster. As things wound down, he gave me a delicious cradling bearhug that was so kind and generous I realized that I no longer just loved this band and this music, but this kind, fun, generous guy. The hug was real, and it was like hugging a great big koala bear, he gave me another peck on the cheek as the hug released, and said, “see you down the road, Justine,” but his tone was not that of tossing off a cliche, but of meaning that we would indeed see each other down the road.I walked out having made two connections with Wings, and an extremely memorable first-name basis connection with Steve Holly. It was a night I will never forget… and one that will warm my heart for years to come, if not a lifetime. And, I get to add it to my fabulous firsthand stories about my favorite band. I mean, at this point I have met Denny Laine, have been kissed and hugged by Steve Holly 3 times (as well as having been on a first-name basis), and McCartney himself talked about a video I had made in “Radio Times,” so I have essentially made real connections with 3 of the 5 “Back To The Egg” members of Wings. As I think on it, it’s actually a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
Yeah, Steve, I do hope to see you on down the road. But until then, I guess I’ll have to settle for watching the old Wings footage and melting every time it hits me that “THAT GUY” in Wings, the drummer, and I were on a first-name basis, and that “THAT GUY, STEVE FREAKIN’ HOLLY FROM WINGS” hugged and kissed me 3 times. And that THAT guy is real, and even if for only one night… we connected.
Am I being silly? You know, I don’t really care, it’s a warm kinda silly. Yeah, I am a bit embarrassed at the thought that there is some tiny chance Steve Holly might read this… as I will have totally blown my cool with all this gushy crap… but hey, if you’re out there, Steve… thank you so much! Yes… I will see you on down the road, and I hope to hell you are as happy a man as you seemed that night. You’ve given me a real and joyful connection to something I truly love… and I wish you all the best… you are adorable!