Tag Archives: bhagavad gita

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 4: Satsang Sunday



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!

On Being Back At The Drawing Table


Before I’d left for Korea (this was years ago, folks) I swore off drawing. The business had slowly broken my heart, gutted me over the course of years, none of which had stopped me from being prolific as only a true diagnosed obsessive can be right up to the moment I burned out. It was madness. The last few times I tried to draw shortly before swearing it off, I would sit down and battle blocks the size of watermelons, not our watermelons, the ones you find if you climb the beanstalk and visit the giant’s garden, that’s how BIG my blocks were. Yet it got worse than that, by the bitter end, whenever I sat down to draw I would experience such pain in my neck that more than once I sat at my drawing table and cried. It wasn’t what most people think, I hadn’t “quit,” no, drawing quit me shortly after the industry shoved me out. I was actually told by an art director at Wizards Of the Coast that it had come down from on high, by committee mind you, that my work–and notice I’m quoting here–wasn’t… wait for it… “badass enough.” Dear God, really, how could I work in a climate where that was the prevailing mentality anyhow? Damn those prevailing dumbassterly winds! Yes, folks, my work was disliked and my art directors were encouraged not to work with me because my work wasn’t badass enough. Similarly while working for Image (Jim Lee’s Wildstorm) I was told the guys in the office were laughing at my inks because my inks looked like old DC inking. Uh, sure, that’s an insult… being compared to the fucking masters of the industry! Yes, folks, I was officially surrounded by idiots.

For two years I couldn’t draw, didn’t want to draw, and had no interest whatsoever in thinking about or even missing drawing. I started drinking and learning to play guitar and sing songs by Sarah and Maybelle Carter instead. Hard times.

Then, quite suddenly, I felt compelled to draw, it was a force. Out of nowhere, after two years I wanted nothing more than to sketch in a sketchbook, something I had NEVER been able to relax enough to do before. I had cancer, but didn’t know it. It seems the disease was trying to tell me something, and that thing was… “You are an artist.” I had surgery and radiation treatments, but It seems that when they removed the tumor they removed my newfound desire to draw as well. To this day I do not understand any of this terribly well.

Many years later I got the horrible news that my mentor and friend Jeffrey Catherine Jones had died–and just as I had been trying to reconnect with her. It hit me far harder than I could have expected. It compelled me to draw my ass off. That was the turning point for me, the death of Jeffrey Jones, I knew at that point that I would draw, in some fashion, for the rest of my life, even if I ran hot and cold on it. Not only had her death convinced me to draw, it inspired me to tell the story of our long distance friendship, but mostly it told of my strong emotional reactions to that friendship. It was an inward journey spilling out onto the page. I accomplished over fifty pages, told the whole story and had started working on even more autobiographical comics to flesh out what would have been a new graphic novel, then I felt my heart break again.

There was no way, absolutely no way I wanted to step back into that grinder, into the juvenile lowbrow biz that is comics. The very thought of sending out such a meaningful project and such a statement of liberation to have it meaninglessly judged, picked at and rejected killed the project dead. I could not go through the submission and rejection process again. There was no way publisher after publisher was going to send me lame post-its with flippant apologies explaining why they rejected the project. No, no one was going to have that power over me again. Once was enough. The project died. It now sits in a pile of art in storage at SAW, unfinished, unpublished, dusty and done.

But, I kept drawing here and there, a few more comic pages on this, a few doodles, some hard work, some fun work, and here and there a job or two would pop up. I was drawing again, but not like before. I was no longer drawing as I once had: like my life depended on it, I was drawing because I was good at it and it was now easier and more fun than before. But nothing, and I mean nothing, gets me to the drawing table like money. Sell-out, huh? Well, what if my dream, my life dream since childhood was NOT to make pretentious gallery art, but to make a living as a comic artist? MAKE A LIVING! That was my dream, to get paid to draw. So, if that was my dream, and if I pursued that dream doggedly, how is it a sell-out to live for and accomplish that dream? Besides, I always say that the only difference between an illustrator and a “fine artist” is that illustrators are smart enough to find a buyer before they make the work. And I also like to remind people that all of Rembrandt’s portraits were not “fine art,” they were commissioned illustrations, ditto the Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet none of this stops this pretentious asses in the art world from co-opting the work of these great illustrators while shaming other illustrators.

But now, here I am at last, not merely teaching drawing, but drawing my butt off. Thanks to Tom Hart from SAW, I am now deep in two rather sizable projects with very real deadlines! I mean, DAMN, that’s what “getting back” looks like. I’m back, working for clients, getting paid, suffering under deadlines, just like I always wanted, and I have to draw a lot in order to get all this done.

Project 1: is work for a DARPA commissioned project, a graphic novel adapting Greek Myth to be used to help soldiers with PTSD. It’s a great project, good pay, and what could possibly be more fun than illustrating Greek mythology? I’ve been watching “Jason and the Argonauts” over and over… what torture!

Project 2: is an “animated” info graphic for UF. We are explaining a complicated and dry series of facts about an essential and important program at UF, and we sold them on the idea of making it entertaining. The angle Tom and I pitched and are working on is that we will be telling a cartoon version of the dry information through the visuals. We are doing a Tom & Jerry like version of the information underneath the narration. Our characters will all be robots. Hell yes! I’m drawing Greek myth and cartoon robots! Frankly, Ive never had better work, so far as fun subject matter goes. Not only am I back and drawing my butt off, but I’m working on two of the most fun projects I’ve ever been commissioned to do.

A person is not different from their nature, and is obliged to act in conformity with it: paraphrased from the Bhagavad Gita

So, what does it feel like to be back at it? Simply put, it feels great. I feel a lot more complete as a person. A hole in my life has, quite unexpectedly, been filled. Funny, but though I enjoy drawing just to draw, just for fun, it’s nowhere near as deeply satisfying as when I’m getting paid for it. It feels good to have something to do with my once ample free time. It feels good because I am doing my duty, which is one of the dictates in the Bhgavad Ghita, that one should do their duty and not the duty of another. It feels good to do my duty, and it is my duty to be an illustrator.

“Following one’s nature is the only way to work out one’s karma.” Lord Krishna

Oh, there are struggles along the way, all week I’ve been upset with my Odysseus pages because they aren’t as good as Wally Wood’s art, or Milt Caniff’s art, or Alex Toth’s art, or Al Williamson’s art, or Hal Foster’s art. My standards have always been punishingly high. And contrariwise, I have been upset that the pages aren’t loose enough and that I have fallen back into the safety net of how I used to draw rather than forging bold new territories for myself… all of this, of course, I expect myself to master on a deadline! And then with the robots I’m a little upset because the backgrounds don’t all look like Maurice Noble designed them. Hmm… maybe I should cut myself a little slack here. And my students think I’m hard on them… wimps!

All said and done, what really matters is that I am an illustrator and I am illustrating.

I’m good at it, it’s fun, and… in the words of one of the great sages: “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, ’cause here I go again…”