I'm sitting on my living room couch feeling like a small-time pot dealer, facing an ottoman stacked with messy piles of twenties, tens and fives. But instead of a fat blunt, I'm enjoying a glass or three of cheap champagne, and rather than counting my weekly take I'm doling out the annual Christmas bonuses for my apartment building staff. I prefer to get this done before Christmas so the boys can do their shopping, but this year I'm late. Which kinda takes some of the joy out of it for me. So I open a bottle of Comte de Gascogne and ride the elevator down with three flutes in hand, to share a toast to Christmas with my favorite doormen. And now I'm back with the balance of the bottle.
It's ridiculous that liquor stores are closed by law on Christmas day in the U.S. (the only day of the year that we're like Europe, where everything's locked up tighter than a Spanish virgin for yuletide.) I'd like another glass of holiday cheer, but the bottle's empty and I didn't plan ahead. Or, rather, I did. Planned not to drink alone on Christmas. Planned not to feel lonely, too. Well, as my Grandma used to say when things didn't quite go her way..."plans of mice and men."
Didn't Gurumayi once quote one of the Sufi poets, Rumi or Hafiz, in a talk in which she riffed on the theme "let your loneliness cut more deep"? I didn't hear that talk first hand, but got the download soon afterward from my friend Kathy and, the next time I was at S. Fallsburg ashram, I bought a volume of Hafiz--yes, it was Hafiz, I remember now--hoping to read the poem that Gurumayi had quoted from. Except that I got the wrong collection of his poetry.
It wasn't until years later, in 2005, that I finally read the source poem. I was at Burning Man, the annual arts festival/survivalist camp in the Nevada desert, sitting in an authentic Navajo tent erected by a wonderfully odd caucasian woman who lived her intense attachment to indigenous culture, surrounded by camp mates who had taken refuge from the stultifying midday heat. I'd brought a bottle of chilled white wine to share, and a beautiful young woman from San Francisco brought out "The Subject Tonight is Love", another volume of Hafiz' poetry. We passed around the wine and the book, taking turns drinking and reading aloud. When it came my turn I opened the slim paperback at random and began reading:
"Don't surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My need of God
I felt something like a mixture of joy and longing then, and my voice broke with emotion as I read. Of course, I was a little drunk (like Hafiz!) and quite probably dehydrated as well. Still, although Gurumayi had already gone missing for over a year by then, I experienced the old tug of attachment and wondered, what made her choose that passage as a basis for her talk? What was she trying to tell us, or more likely, reveal about herself?
A few days later, just after the climactic event of the week when the giant wooden effigy of "the Man" was burned, I was walking across the great expanse of desert known as the playa, hand in hand with my friend who had brought the book of Hafiz. As we walked she twisted her hand in mine for warmth and, a moment later, my right ring finger suddenly felt naked. Snatching my hand away I realized with panic that my Gurumayi signature ring was gone.
(That particular ring was precious to me; I'd acquired it during the years when the bookstore went all out to commission works of real beauty. It had twin pillars on its face surmounted by Gurumayi's signature, elegantly carved in Devanagari script against a delicately worked field of wavering gold, like a field of wheat shimmering in the sun.)
I grabbed for a flashlight and began sweeping it back and forth across the desert floor. But I knew almost immediately it was useless. Nothing is more disorienting than the desert at night, absent light or fixed points of reference. We could have been just feet away from where the ring fell and searched all night without finding it.
Still, I persisted and roped my friends into the effort as well. They were game, although my despair at losing the ring was harshing everyone's post-burn emotional high. Eventually, reluctantly, I called off the search and we all trooped off together in the direction of one of the dancing pavillions. As we were locking up our bikes and stashing anything we didn't need to dance, I remembered Gurumayi saying "If you lose something, let it go. Your karma with that object is over. It belongs to someone else now, and will bring them blessings."
I looked down on the desert floor and spotted...a penny. Which was extraordinary because money is superfluous at Burning Man. Nothing outside of coffee and ice can be bought or sold, and those only during a few hours each morning. It is the one place where you can lose your wallet and never miss it. The entire camp is run on a "gift economy": If there is something you want or need that you didn't pack in with you, just ask. Someone will have it and gladly give it to you, and visa versa.
As I've written before, whenever I'd find a coin on the ground I used to take it as a sign that my thoughts in that moment were blessed by the Guru. I later came to abjure such "magical thinking," but in that moment I believed and surrendered the ring to the desert with something akin to equanimity.
I never replaced that ring. I told myself that the bookstore was only offering pale imitations, but it was something more. I'd remembered that this was not the first Guru ring I'd lost. In 1994, close to the seventh anniversary of my Diva Diksha, I was playing in the surf off Long Island with my dog, Rama. As I clapped my hands to get him more and more excited, my ring flew off my finger and slipped beneath the waves. I dove again and again, frantically searching for it, but of course, it was gone, swallowed up by the ocean as completely as my next ring would be by the desert. I shouldn't have been wearing it in the water, I reprimanded myself. But, the truth was, I never removed that ring. It was, for me, as precious as a wedding ring. I'd brought it up to Gurumayi in darshan and asked her to put it on me, and when she asked which finger I gave her the ring finger of my right hand. Any time I thought of her and wanted to send her my love, I'd kiss the blue enamel signature set into its band of gold. It got to be that I'd do that so often that my boyfriend would joke: "Stop making out with your ring, already."
If something leaves you, let it go. This was the second time the natural world conspired to rob me of this token of fealty to the Guru, and this time I began to wonder if it wasn't for the best. If it wasn't a sign that the union I celebrated by wearing those rings was, finally, over.
Something is still missing in my heart, tonight. But it hasn't made my longing for God more clear. It hasn't done anything as simple as that.