Monday, April 30, 2012


Note to readers:

This is the first installment of Lucid's experiences in Siddha Yoga.

My mother’s participation in Siddha Yoga preceded my own and began in the 1980s, while I was still in High School.  We lived in the southwest, at a safe geographical distance from things like Co-Evolution Quarterly articles, throne succession dramas and banished brothers – in fact, my mom and I remained unaware of all the above until nearly a decade after the fact, not until after we'd both been deeply invested in Siddha Yoga for many years.
During the early days of her participation, my mom left the door to Siddha Yoga propped open and always welcomed my questions, but to her credit never actively encouraged me to get involved. Back then I was still a teenager who often teased her about such things. When she’d play her rousing cassette recording of “Om Namo Bhagavte Muktanandaya” (which privately I thought had a pretty good beat) I’d quip,“Is this what they play during the Ashram aerobics class?” I figured as long as she could hang onto her sense of humor about Siddha Yoga, I didn’t need to worry. And she always took my teasing in stride.
By the late 1980s my mom and her local Siddha Yoga Center friends had become regulars at the annual summer retreats in South Fallsburg. She’d go for a week each July and come back with loads of unusual, sometimes astonishing stories. I knew scrubbing tiles on my hands and knees at 8am was not my idea of a vacation, but aside from that I didn’t have any frame of reference for most of what she talked about. I worried a bit when I heard her describe the daily ashram schedule, remark that “even though no one gets any sleep they still have plenty of energy,” and share the (torturous-sounding to me) details the course she took where she had to dress all in white and sit locked in a lotus for an entire day – but she always returned from her Fallsburg adventures refreshed, excited to get back to her life. And, although increasingly something didn’t sit right with me about Siddha Yoga itself, I could always take a step back and say that my mom hadn’t shaved her head and wasn’t dressing all in orange. She was still my mom. Still the most intelligent, loving and beautiful person I’d ever known. Despite my simmering concerns about what really went on at the mysterious far off place in the Catskills, it did seem that as a result of her participation in Siddha Yoga my mom’s life was getting better.
In June of 1989, I moved to San Francisco just as my mom was completing a sabbatical across the bridge in Berkeley. As it happened, Gurumayi was also Oakland, concluding an extended series of public programs. There I was, having finally arrived in the city that for years I’d dreamed of making my life in. Something about embarking on that big adventure at a time when the three of us – mom, Gurumayi and I – were all in the same place, made the timing seem meant to be. Just prior to moving I’d also had my first dream about Gurumayi. Over the years I’d heard from my mom’s devotee friends that Gurumayi often spoke to them this way. The sensations from that first, brief, REM-state encounter in which Gurumayi held my face in her hands, kissed my forehead and my jaw went numb, were still reverberating in my head. Maybe that dream meant something that would be revealed to me later.
The day after I arrived in San Francisco I told my mom I was finally ready – I wanted to go check Siddha Yoga out for myself. When I made the announcement she contained her excitement, perhaps not wanting to over-hype my expectations, but I could see in her eyes she was elated. “When the student is ready,” she affirmed, “The teacher appears.”
I attended two evening programs, met Gurumayi and believed I’d been changed forever.
In the weeks that followed, my feet barely touched the ground. I was flying on a high I’d never experienced before, a feeling I could only compare to the feeling I had the first time I fell in love. But the feeling was far more vast and deep than that. It was as if a curtain had been drawn back and I’d been welcomed into some private cosmic club, like I’d slipped into an alternate reality, one I could only conclude must be the secret, astonishing, actual reality of the Universe. I felt like I was experiencing life as it really was meant to be experienced – rich with endless, intoxicating wonder and profound meaning.  As I walked down the street, I often saw Gurumayi’s gaze beaming out at me from the eyes of the people I passed. I felt recognized by total strangers. I felt seen, accepted, even loved. There was something different about me people noticed and were drawn to, and something different I saw in them too. It was as if somehow, deep down inside, we all knew each other. I felt like I was living in a state of heightened awareness that had always been there just waiting for me to discover it. Somehow, through all the years leading up to that one I'd missed it but now, for lack of a better expression, I felt like I was in on the joke. And the joke was that up to that point my experience of my life had been largely a delusion.
Some fairly uncanny “coincidences” occurred in the months that followed those first two encounters with Gurumayi. I had no context for any of it. Part of me could not wrap my mind around the belief that what was happening was the result of "Guru's grace.” That seemed too outrageous. But another part of me eventually concluded it was the only possible explanation. The feeling was a mixture of awe, humility and fear – fear of a force so powerful it could completely transform my entire experience and understanding of myself and my life.
After Gurumayi left town I didn't go back to the Ashram. I didn't take up what anyone would have called a formal “practice”. I placed a small puja in the corner of my room, just a small dish of sand from the desert, a few shells and a picture of Gurumayi beside a box of Blue Pearl incense and a small stack of my mom’s Darshan Magazines that I thumbed for pictures but never read. I played a tape of the mantra each night, a solo recording of Gurumayi singing the mantra  – “I don’t how you can possibly fall asleep to that!” my roommate Melissa groaned – and that was about it. I didn’t feel drawn to pursue things further. I had been walking around mesmerized in the months that followed meeting Gurumayi and those first few doses of Shakti felt like more than enough. Perhaps, just as my mom had done in her early years as a devotee, I was keeping myself at a safe distance.
Then, four years later in the fall of 1992, gutted from a devastating romantic betrayal, still reeling from a brutal break-up and feeling dead inside, I had my second dream about Gurumayi. This one was for more elaborate, drenched in potent imagery, mystical symbolism, and specific initiation instructions – none of which I understood. The timing of the dream and its precise, vivid details seized my attention, but I had no idea what any of it meant. I began a quest to find out.
A few months later I learned Gurumayi was returning to Oakland for her first public appearance in the bay area since I’d last seen her in 1989. The announcement felt like yet another sign – personal, significant. I was in a state of emotional and psychological ruin when I heard the news. Learning she was coming back, just when I needed her most, felt like a miracle.
I heard a full month of evening programs were planned. Maybe if I was lucky I could switch a few shifts at work and make it over to Oakland in time attend one or two. Then, shortly before Gurumayi's arrival, I was laid off. My schedule became completely free. I could plan on attending every talk she gave. It was meant to be.
Upon her arrival I attended the Sunday “Welcome Gurumayi” program and over the next three weeks attended all nine of her evening programs, back-to-back each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, with darshan often running until past 11 p.m. (Those were the days!). No experience prior to or since quite compares. During those three weeks I was submerged deep in an inner ocean and believed I'd discovered a multitude of treasures. In retrospect, the experience was so potent it’s a miracle I wasn’t spit from the earth like a watermelon seed!
As Gurumayi’s ‘93 visit concluded and I stood mere steps from the precipice of tumbling headlong into the life of a card-carrying, full blown devotee, the “Have-you-heard-about-her-brother?” and Co-Evolution Quarterly bombs dropped. That’s a chapter I haven’t written yet. But suffice to say that in retrospect it tells me so much that both those bombs exploded right in my face and my response was to charge straight ahead and become more deeply involved.
In 2007, when “The Guru Looked Good” was still up as a blog, Marta shared that one of her goals was to write about her Siddha Yoga experience “without all the fairy dust.” Well folks, as a disclaimer may I suggest that before reading my story you strap on your protective glitter goggles? My “Tell All” does contain its fair share of sparkle, but that’s because so do my earliest memories of Gurumayi. To this day I still haven’t fully figured out that “Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo!” factor. But sending myself back, then taking a stab at writing my way through did help.
This morning, in a moment of warped amusement, I had an idea to draft a “spoiler alert” in preface to this first and only chapter of my Siddha Yoga story. Then I realized there’s no point. RoD readers already know it has a happy ending. Still, the irony is not lost on me: being here at the finale of my exit process, just now posting the overture . . .
Thank you once again to Marta for inspiring me to write about the adventure; thank you to SeekHer for providing a safe harbor for the travelogue. And thank you to all who have tuned in and contributed, here and elsewhere, for all these years. Somehow, down this long and winding road, we’ve come to know each other – in ways that have made a big difference to me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tall Tales and Tell Alls

I've been reading a lot lately from people who woke up to the falsity of their spiritual path after a lifetime of unquestioning belief. It started when I began looking more deeply into Mormonism in order to better understand America's presumptive Republican nominee. After trying to read the Book of Mormon and quickly realizing that the title was misspelled (one too many m's) I opted for the straight dope offered at There, I found post after post after post written by Mormons who stumbled onto internet accounts detailing secrets that their church leaders had zealously withheld. Secrets which, once revealed, cratered and then crumbled their faith. Tellingly, the arc of their stories dovetailed nearly exactly with my own, and with many of those shared here at RoD—the initial fear of betraying deeply held spiritual convictions, followed by discovery of the truth and searing self-examination, inevitably leading to the courage to leave falsehood behind, no matter the personal or psychic cost.

A similar mass apostasy is befalling Scientology, the leaders of which have found their house of cards listing perilously in the winds of the world wide web. It seems both Xenu and Joseph Smith's harem of thirty-four wives are just a Google search away from disenchanting the most devoted of disciples.

The last example came this past weekend on a visit to my sister, when she passed along a book that friends in her reading circle recommended, "An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life," by Mary Johnson. Before committing to its 500+ pages I skipped to the epilogue, where I found what I suspected; the book's purplish title belied its contents—a bare-knuckled account of twenty fraughtful years spent with a 'living saint', written by an ex-nun who had seen it all and survived to tell the tale. I considered borrowing the book for the train ride home, but then remembered I had something better on my Kindle: Marta Szabo's excellent account of her years with our own Nearly Departed One.

Many here will remember that Marta's book, "The Guru Looked Good," began as a series of posts on her blog of the same name. Back then, I eagerly read each new chapter as soon as it was posted online. I had known Marta from the Manhattan ashram and later, South Fallsburg; we were friendly if not exactly friends in that ashram way, and I felt I could vouch for both her good heart and scrupulous integrity. But even if I hadn't known her personally, I knew that this simple, unadorned account of her years devoted to Gurumayi would have struck a deep chord in me. Her tale was our tale.

It was the ashram-instigated smear campaign against her that, more than anything, shocked me into the crisis of faith that precipitated my starting Rituals of Disenchantment.

When her book came out I bought copies, distributed some to friends, and dipped in to reread some of the chapters I had loved online. But for some reason I never read it again all the way through. Now I wanted to, and once I started I found I couldn't put it down. I anxiously turned the pages whenever Madri (Marta) was given an impossible seva to accomplish, and squirmed through ordeals when she was called before Gurumayi to face the music for some ridiculous infraction of the rules or imagined mistake in protocol. But there are achingly beautiful accounts here, too, that capture the fatal allure that held us all captive for so long. The small chapter on her seva spent devoutly washing and dressing the murti of Bade Baba, moving as silently as a shadow among the muted blue lights of his numinous nighttime shrine, is a miracle of evocation.

There is much here, too, that I don't remember reading online; juicy tidbits of hidden ashram life as well as wonderfully moving anecdotes that parallel tracked her rise in the ranks of Gurumayi's inner circles, and the growth in self-esteem that eventually led her to leave it all behind.

But it's the quality of Marta's writing that captivated me most. Her prose is limpid, spare and illuminating. Reading it I thought—maybe when we die our life doesn't flash before us, maybe instead we'll be called upon to tell our story ourselves, once for all time. If so, this is the voice I would hope to speak in; clear-eyed, unstinting, invoking neither self-justification nor blame.

I still don't feel I'm doing "The Guru Looked Good" justice; if you haven't read it I hope you will.

Some of you have begun posting your own stories in the comments section. I've found them all equally moving. I hope anyone who wants to share their stories will use this forum to do so. Just tell it like it was, and is, for you. All are welcome.

The Last Downward Dog (for now)

Well, well, as I wrote in the comments thread to the previous post, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned sex scandal to bring all of us Disenchanted folk together for a reunion. If you're jonesing for more on the John Friend/Anusara Yoga implosion, check out the links over there that helpful (and totally well-meaning!) gossips have posted--pssst, don't miss the link to the Daily Beast article on Friend's naughty, all-female Wiccan sex coven. As Friend's complications continue to unfold I'll monitor the sitch to see if any merit a new post. In the meantime, here's a brand new shiny comments thread for Anusara watchers to play in.

Tucked in among the comments to the last post were a number that shared stories of SY ashram days long past, or recently fled. More to the RoD point, I think—especially as these contain info on the recent whereabouts of our Nearly Departed One. The next post will take up that thread.