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The Battle

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The Battle

The Battle

The Battle
by Justine Mara Andersen

A thousand slobbering snarling Rakshasa Demons spit rage,
At my hilltop gates, they know the highest weakness of my walls,
They know every secret chambers in the cellar of my heart,
Though time and again I have thrown myself in surrender,
This once I will hold my own with Ma Durga’s fury as my will,
However foul their jibes and cries, we’ll stare them back to hell.

A thousand Rakshasa Demons spit acid at my every stone,
Fueled by the memory of my many sad sinking surrenders,
They have grown large as elephants and mightier than storms,
These demon fires in my skull surge hell throughout my veins,
And though they bash and batter sorrow at my walls without relent,
I grit my teeth and in my fists clench hard-won holy weapons.

They will not advance a single step under Ma Durga’s tiger’s eye,
Whose breath is like a blacksmith’s sparks spraying through my hair,
With rage and fury we set ablaze my oily doubts and tears,
And fly these black fires from our parapet into the clutching horde,
Ten arms of Durga raise their weapons to shield my every failing,
I still myself on trust in her whilst our fiery blaze consumes them.

Emboldened by so many battles won, again the demons charge,
Battering me with obscenities and curses they’ve handcrafted,
From the rhythms of my beating heart and the crimson of my blood,
In peace and with one breath of God I blow out all their flames,
And in the stillness bind them to each nightmare they inspire,
They’ll not have me, this time at last, for I am not of them.

By the still of day I sit beside the fountain, head in hands,
Bowed down under the weight of battle, we bind my every wound.
I catch my breath and hold still the panic, for even now I know,
What horrors are to come this night, I cry to think them mine,
To Temple I go to silence the raging of such deep infected wounds,
And seek the peace of stillness in the heartless hell to come.

They will come and come again, undeterred and in great hordes,
Until I deny them these coals of cowardice crumbling from my soul,
Until I live less my every weakness and live more my every strength,
By day the birds sing golden sunshine swirls above the temple tower,
From below wafts songs of temple spice and the sweetness of prasadam,
Whilst within the Temple of the silent self waits all I have to hold me.

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Still Fighting The Battle 1 of 3

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

A: “To get to the other side.”

I am in a challenging position. I have told my students at SAW about my struggles with depression, anxiety, fear, etc., and how I have made a lot of headway simply by not identifying with those feelings, and by working to master my mind, which I have been striving to do ever since listening to Sadhguru speak. Through him, I realized, it is so, I/we have become sick and have lost control over our own minds. I share my experiences and encourage the students in the hopes that it might help them see that they can fight these battles themselves, battles many lose. I have helped a few of them learn better ways to think about their struggles, as well as how to fight against their inner tyrants. I began doing this because I was endlessly frustrated by how many of my students have sunk into the lousy habit of nursing their depressive and anxious states to their breasts as if they were helpless, or worse, as if they were cherished parts of their identities, if not their entire identities, and I wanted to speak up and show them that there is a better way.

Obviously this situation creates a certain pressure to be a good example, to rise above, but the truth is, that is not how any of this works, it’s not that simple. Yes, I teach them to begin to take control of their minds… but the problem is, this is not a won and done proposition, it is an ongoing battle, one I, too, am fighting! I hope to make it clear to them I have not won the war, have not yet mastered my mind, but I have realized that it is a battle you have to participate in, and in so realizing, I have learned how to win many battles. I have won enough battles that I am now fighting from higher ground. I am striving to get control of my mind… but I am in no way claiming to be realized, enlightened, or totally free of neurosis. Still, I feel some pressure to never show my weaknesses lest they dismiss me as full of shit.

Harryhausen’s Skeletons from “Jason and The Argonauts”

Tuesday of last week I went to Andaz, the Indian restaurant where I eat about five days a week, and I felt myself crumbling. For a few weeks I had been battling with my ego, and had fallen into a crisis of faith, wherein I began having doubts about my spiritual path (not an uncommon condition for any spiritual seeker, as you will soon see). This battle had been brutal and had caused me to back off my spiritual practices out of fear that I was avoiding “life” and “reality.” So, I began seeking satisfaction outwardly, from other people. Well, this didn’t work, doesn’t work, won’t work, hasn’t worked, and before long demons of depression and loneliness were sprouting up out of the ground like Harryhausen’s skeletons! It got to me, and I began to cry. I do not cry in public, I am not an attention whore, but I began to cry. There was no stopping it, and THAT is when I realized something must be done.

The next morning, Wednesday, I had to get up and teach, but there was this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to call off. I NEVER call off sick! I get so frustrated with students who miss class after class because they are lying in bed nursing, wallowing in, and feeding their weaknesses… how could I call off when I scold my students for allowing their bad habits and lack of discipline, and often their depression and anxiety, to rule them? Well, that was not a fair question to me. I have no pattern or habit of calling off because I don’t want to get out of bed, or I feel stressed or depressed, that is not a weakness I wallow in, but this Wednesday was an exception, and it wasn’t just depression or anxiety, something bigger was telling me to stay home.

But I have this whole Dharma (duty) thing going on, so I went, and what greeted me? Immediately, one more person I really like telling me why they had to cancel what I thought was a lunch plan I had been looking forward to. A cancellation, not a big deal to most people, but lately I have been having people cancel, postpone, and put me off one after the other. THIS was the problem, this was at the core of my suffering du jour (or so I thought, but we’ll get to what was really at the core later). Triggered, I blew it all out of proportion. I didn’t go nuts exactly, but I realized that I had dropped the reins and now this wild horse (my emotions) was bucking, running, and charging madly in all directions kicking against the walls of my skull. Then, as class time came… only three students appeared to be attending, and that started getting on my last nerve. I at one point had to turn away and clutch the table… I was out of control emotionally, and totally stuck in front of a class… trapped! I could not figure out what to feel, couldn’t stop feeling, and was afraid of embarrassing myself. I felt like a butterfly caught in a bullies hand, the bully being my own mind!

This used to happen to me all the time. I had forgotten how bad it can be. I have made amazing progress at mastering my mind and learning more positive ways of being and feeling, so this sudden bottoming out hit hard. The intense emotional experience I was having as I stood there with my back turned clutching the table had literally not happened to me that intensely in well over a year… and I was not prepared for it to return. It had been a horrible way to live, me feeling so intently I could not control my emotions, then having to go home and suffer the neurotic playback loop over how I acted, and needing to call and apologize… dear God what a royal purple drag! How in the hell had I been able to live like that in the past? I felt an absolute dread at realizing that THAT was what my life used to be like. Sometimes when I think back at who I was, how I felt, and what suffering I endured… I get horrified, and this was most definitely a reminder of a past I did not want to return to.

I excused myself and went to my car to meditate for ten minutes. I have acquired enough wisdom to know that sometimes I just need to get some distance between the triggers and my response. It helped, but when I came back, the class was lousy, I just could not find it in myself to sit there and teach one-point perspective. Unprofessional, you say? Well, sure, if it happens all the time, but right there and then it was simply very human. No, I don’t like that it happened, but looking back on it from the peace of the ashram from which I am (at the moment) writing, I can forgive the experience.

The next day I realized I was in trouble… sinking fast! And here’s the important part, the part I hope my students learn, and what is important is that you say “NO FUCKING WAY!” to it! There was no way I was gonna lay in bed day after day wallowing and watching myself get sucked under by something that is not me.

I am NOT my depression.

I am NOT my anxieties.

I am NOT my fears.

I am NOT my weaknesses.

For all that, I am not my happiness, nor even my strengths, I am what exists beyond and above, the silent center around which all suffering and worldly pleasure plays out. I am Atman, Tat Tvam Asi! That Thou Art! I am Brahman. I am Shiva.

The depression turned to loneliness, the loneliness turned to bitterness, the bitterness turned to anger, and I became little else but suffering. Yet, down there under it all was the truth. Down there under it all was a center I could not find. Down there under it all was all the wisdom I have gathered over the past year and a half. And I drew upon that wisdom and set my mind to immediately getting it together and getting to the Temple, getting to an ashram, and getting back on the center I now knew I had. But there were plans to be made, it is, after all, a five hour drive to Atlanta, there are things to settle at home, reservations to be made… and on and on and on.

Five hour drive or no, I was not going to let this thing have me, because I am NOT my neurosis. I will not identify with my neurosis. It cant’ have me. Furthermore, I realized one very important truth, I was happier living my solitary little monastic life of meditating, reading Hindu scriptures and taking long contemplative walks than I was descending back into materialism, and that was when and why things really fell apart. I had forgotten the core message of “Life Of Pi,” which is, “Which story do you prefer?” I preferred the story I was living when I was joyfully at home studying “The Shiva Puranas.”

But for all that happened once things fell apart, I am at least finally wise enough now to know, even under the crashing waves of my out of control emotions, that I have a center… a center I finally have realized. I knew that I must find it, and not only that, now I know that I can find it. And now I know how to find it.

So I determined that I would get through Thursday, Friday I would attend the meeting I had to attend, and by Friday evening… I would be on the road, and by Saturday lunch I would be with my Vedic Guru (as in “teacher”) Manharji in Atlanta. I didn’t even book rooms or make any plans. Manharji said he would set up a place for me to stay, so I trusted my Guru. Shiva, Ganesh, Durga… and yes, myself, to take care of me, so long as I took the leap of faith and hit the road. I stayed one night in a motel a mere 3 hours from home just so I would be on my way and out of my rut, and the next day established to meet Manharji at Patel Plaza in Atlanta for lunch.

When I arrived at Patel Plaza (the brilliant Indian shopping plaza in Atlanta… God how I LOVE that place), there was Manharji. We had a lovely lunch, I shopped around the Indian markets, and found myself feeling better by degrees almost immediately. To tell the truth, and I don’t know why this is, I am most comfortable around the Indian people, so I began to feel far more at home than I do at any white American shopping plaza. I mean, when I go shopping I couldn’t care less about Cinnabuns, cell-phone accessories or Applecrumple and Stitch… I want to see ladoo, saree’s and God posters!

From there, even though Brother Shankara, the monk who resided over the center, was not home, we dropped my stuff off at the Vedanta Center ashram where I was to stay, then we hit the road and visited the BAPS Temple. By Shiva’s grace, finally I was going to be on holy ground, where I could begin to bury all my nonsense.

BAPS Temple Ceiling

In 2 of 3… The BAPS Temple and more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Har Har Mahadev!

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

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Part 2: It’s All Too Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHOAH!

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

I meditated.

And I realized.

I realized that ultimately that THIS is the nature of Shiva, both DMT and the noise of a chainsaw were used to draw me closer to him. The path to Shiva is not as sanitized as the path to God that I knew as I child.

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, who seems to me a rather 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 it is said by many that Shiva partook of ganja. Did Shiva partake of ganja? Did Shiva partake of soma? Some claim soma 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, because those doors are often blocked by nonsense that only a good strong dose of “reality busting” can break through, 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. For some these ruts may be impossible to get out of without a push, and if no guru is available, perhaps a medicinal guru can do the trick. Many of us get rutted into unhealthy pathways… and those pathways are, or become, vasanas. So, yes, if you ask me, psychedelics may be a critical guilt-free part of the journey for some, but if they are the destination, then I personally think that reveals a lack of vision if not a weakness of character, after all, once the doors have been opened, with a little discipline we can learn to find and travel through those doors without the aid of psychedelics. Psychedelics are tools, they are not God-realization, and they will not “open your third eye,” no matter what some white guy with dreads broadcasting from Burning Man may tell you on his Youtube channel. For me, DMT was nothing more than one essential step up a very high mountain, and the rest of the way I will now have to climb under my own power, though knowing that all of my power comes from Shiva, from Brahman, from Sanatana Dharma… and all that power can be accessed from within. My interest in psychedelics and DMT has diminished as I have learned what I needed to learn from them, which is good as it’s damn-near impossible to find DMT… I haven’t had the energy or desire to find it again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s probably for the best. A very little goes a long way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT, Part 3: Beware Of Darkness

Hard Perspective

Standard

Someone I knew killed himself today. I didn’t know him all that well, but he was part of our circle at SAW. Mostly I’m worried about friends of mine who were very close to him. Just the same, it triggered something in me. See… I’ve witnessed a suicide first hand. It was shocking and caused me to have a breakdown, and not even 6 months later my best friend from childhood (who I had been unfortunately estranged from) threw himself off the Y bridge in Akron. The self same bridge I drove over on 3 separate occasions when I was at my lowest, wondering if I could find it in me to follow my old friend over the edge. Fortunately, the third time across that bridge I realized once and for all that I didn’t have that in me. In fact I pretty much knew then that I didn’t have a truly crazy act of any kind in me, just a lot of questions. Unfortunately I realized this after 24 hours in an institution. Oh, I had the depression, the fear, the self doubt, but not the courage or depth of madness to take that final leap.

On this day I was mostly worried about a friend of mine who was a lot closer (I mean an awful lot closer, profoundly closer) to the man who killed himself than I was… I barely knew him, but he had been part of my life since my first days in Gainesville. All the same, I wasn’t hurting for myself, but for my friends who were closer.

I never know what to say when it comes to this sort of thing, so I sent a string of emails to the person I was most worried about as I thought all this through. I opened up too much, again, I think this incident triggered a response in me from prior, far greater, traumas. Here is what I wrote:

“There’s a funny thing that happens after this… people always say “He should have reached out to the people who loved him,” and things like that. Problem is, one learns pretty quickly when one is in such a state that the last thing people want is to be around that, or to hear about that. And even if they are available, they don’t get it at all, and always say the wrong things. And the person in that state soon learns that they don’t want to burden others with it. So they withdraw and suffer alone. It can so easily spiral out of control. The fight can be fatiguing, but a person can’t let up, never for a minute.

The bottom line is, we all need to realize that mental and emotional illnesses are as valid as physical ailments, they aren’t just petty annoyances, but very real sicknesses that can be utterly debilitating. People will stay at a person’s side if they have cancer, but if they have emotional or mental issues… well, they tend to keep a healthy distance.

It’s a complicated mess, no one is to blame, and I think people have a lot of mixed feelings about dealing with another person’s depression or issues.

Sorry… I always ponder this after something like this happens, I’ve just never put it into words. Not even sure if these are the right words or thoughts… but they’re out now.”

And the follow up:

“Hope that wasn’t too much. But I’ve really do end up wondering about this after the fact… every time. Truth is, it’s all really too much for us to make sense of no matter how much we think about this stuff.”

And another:

“Having witnessed a suicide… this stuff perplexes me pretty deeply.

I was worried about you. Didn’t think you needed one more blow.”

And the final:

“On the other hand… I had once taken it upon myself to help my friend Meghan out when she hit rock bottom with depression. I lined up a therapist, took care of her… but soon learned she wasn’t willing to take care of herself, make appointments or take meds. So… what did I do? I kept a distance. Why did I keep a distance? Because I had witnessed the same patterns with my friend Phil… then years after Meghan, again with my friend Ryan (in Korea) who also had to be cut loose.

It’s a bitch.

None of the last few emails were meant to be negative… just sorting through unresolved thoughts.

I do hope you are taking this with as much a stoic spirit as your emails suggest. If not, call me, I’ve been around this bend from all sides.”

I was floundering in those emails, only hitting upon parts of the truth. There are people you or I or anyone could reach out to… the problem is… one often doesn’t know who they are. One often reaches out to the wrong people, which can simply make things worse. And having done that, one might learn not to reach out… thereby missing the right people to reach out to.

But, see, none of that really got to the heart of the matter, not at least so far as how this had hit me on a personal level–which is what this blog is all about.

The guy who killed himself always seemed so happy, so sociable, so kind, likable, calm and together. Every time I met him I felt humbled by his gentle spirit and easy humor. I always felt rather like here was a guy who really had it together, who had made the transition to adulthood with so much more grace than I had. To be perfectly honest, I felt childish, immature and emotional… like I just didn’t measure up. I sometimes shame myself for how poorly I seem to have adapted to adult life, to this culture, and to my place in it. I often feel totally lost. But not this cat, no man, he had it together… and people really really liked him.

Then I found out that he was an alcoholic.

WHAT! He was an alcoholic! No way! After being saddened by it, I thought: “Not that guy, he had it so together.”

Then I found out that after he moved away things were going badly, and if I’m remembering correctly there was even a really sad DUI incident.

And now I learn he has killed himself.

As the evening played out, I realized a number of things… one of which is that we just don’t know. We just don’t know the realities of the lives of the people we might compare ourselves to, or diminish ourselves before. Sometimes the people and the lives that we measure ourselves against, quite frankly, don’t measure up to our measurements. Things can be going on that we just can’t see, and we can’t imagine the pain other people might be in. And sometimes we have to accept that maybe we aren’t doing all that badly in life after all.

Be careful out there. Perhaps we do measure up, perhaps we are simply measuring other people (and ourselves) very inaccurately, or more urgently, we (or I) need to stop taking such measurements at all! We just don’t know, we just don’t know, but I know this… as it turns out, I’m not all that lost after all. And I’m determined to remember this lesson for as long as I live.

And I hate that I had to learn this lesson under these circumstances, but that’s the thing with lessons, they come when they need to come, and that, my friends, is that.