Way back in May or so of last year I offered to open RoD up to anyone who wanted to post a memoir about their time in SY. Lucid bravely raised his hand, and then life intervened and I was away from here for some months. Well, Lucid has graciously reached out again, and I'm happy to post the first installment. See you all in the comments section! SeekHer
Chapter One: Lucky
Six months have passed since my breakup with Jack but I’m still soaking in a toxic residue I can’t wash away. Inside I’m damaged, in a place I can’t reach to repair. One night I break down and confess to roommate Melissa, “For as long as I can remember I’ve felt somehow protected. Like someone was watching over me. Like an invisible cord connected me to some sustaining force that kept me safe – and now that cord has been cut.”
What I can’t admit is how ashamed I feel, how afraid I am that through my relationship with Jack I’ve cut that cord myself. What I dare not tell her is that through my recklessness I fear I’ve committed the worst crime imaginable: I’ve severed my connection to God.
If I don’t say it, maybe it won’t be true.
The only thing I have to hold onto, which at this point it doesn’t feel like much, is that my intuition turned out to be right. Throughout my relationship with Jack nothing I could point to in terms of what I saw in his behavior ever gave him away, but I learned at the explosive end he’d deceived me – numerous times, in multiple ways. Jack’s skill at deception, I discovered, neared genius.
Each time I ate my humiliation, each time I mustered the nerve to push past my insecurity, carefully express a doubt or try to directly confront him – often right after we’d ravaged each other in bed – he’d pull me close, press his chest to mine and search into my eyes with a look that made me feel like there was no on earth more whose heart he considered more important.
“I don’t know how you think I could be here right now like this with you,” he’d say, his voice low and consoling, “If I had just been with someone else. What kind of monster would I be to be able to do something like that?”
I’d fallen for Jack and fallen hard. I had no visible, tangible proof he wasn’t being honest with me. I also didn’t want to believe what I’d fallen for was a lie. I stayed with Jack because I trusted what I could see and what he said over the sinking feeling that continued its relentless gnawing at my core. I stayed, but the volume kept rising on the voice inside me screaming RUN.
As it turned out, that voice that gnashed at my insides during those final tumultuous months was the one I should have listened to. Instead of listening to that voice, I listened to Jack’s.
So. Lesson learned.
I’m listening to my intuition now, but I’m dead inside. In fact, I might literally be dying.
Jack and I were never safe. I was so swept away by my attraction to him that I broke that promise to myself. Now I have no reason to believe he was ever safe with any of the other dozen or more people he fucked around with when we were together. Last October, right after our breakup, the counselor at the clinic told me it was too soon to be tested. If I wanted to be certain the results of my HIV test were accurate, she said, I had to wait. I had to come back and be tested in six months. She said that’s how long the virus could hide in my blood, undetected.
I’ve spent the days, weeks and months since receiving my stay of execution in a state of emotional solitary confinement. I haven’t said a word to anyone. Five weeks left. In five weeks I'll need to go back to the clinic. When I think about it my breathing stops. It’s March of 1993; I’m 24 years old.
The previous January, shortly after I learned Gurumayi would be returning to the bay area for a month of spring programs, I was laid off from my job. Bad news, financially, the flip side of which clears my schedule and frees me to plan on attending every talk she delivers – something a commitment to a full time job wouldn’t have allowed.
When April and the first Sunday of daylight savings time arrives, I hop on BART alone and make my way to The Paramount Theatre in Oakland for the “Welcome Gurumayi” program. As the train hums through the tunnel beneath the bay, my mind churns a series of questions: What will it be like to see her after all this time? Will any of this still mean anything to me? Will I realize the experiences I had four years ago when I first met Gurumayi – and all the synchronicities that followed – had just been imagined, all in my head?
Back in June of 1989, as my mother ushered Melissa and I through the propped doors of the bustling Oakland Ashram, she clutched my hand and whispered a last-minute request: “Just keep an open mind.”
As we stepped inside, something I wasn’t expecting or even looking for shifted – energetically. My awareness of that shift stopped me just long enough to notice it before the three of us were swallowed inside the excitement of the mobbed ashram lobby.
That night during Gurumayi’s talk, she explained in intricate detail the meaning and purpose of her lineage’s mantra, “Om Namah Shivaya.” She told us the mantra was our Immortal Companion. “The mantra gives you everything,” she said. Gurumayi peppered her talk with several amusing anecdotes and even a full blown shaggy dog story, often laughing harder than anyone else at her own jokes. Her laughter was infectious and spread in giddy ripples through the crowd.
A lot of what Gurumayi said that night went right over my head, but the sound of her voice kept me engaged. Something about her voice reassured me. It felt almost like a balm.
At the conclusion of her talk, Gurumayi gently pressed her hands together in prayer and bowed her head toward us. The hall went dark and she led us in a long, haunting version of the mantra. As she sang her voice was high, unusual, and sad.
After the meditation session that followed, my mother introduced Melissa and me to Gurumayi during darshan – the ceremony, mom had explained earlier, where people “bow down to Gurumayi as a way of symbolically bowing down to their own inner divinity.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but it sounded lovely.
I don’t remember kneeling before Gurumayi that night, or the brush of blessings from her peacock feather wand, but I do remember what she said as she leaned in and locked her eyes with mine: “Your mother has been working very hard.” Her voice was commanding, resonant, masculine in its power. Her words were pointed, certain – as if this was her personal message to me, something she’d been planning to say all along. It was as if she’d been patiently waiting for the day when I would finally come kneel before her and she’d tell me: “Your mother has been working very hard.” Her message felt that important.
Within those seven words, Gurumayi captured in a single astute statement an essential fact about my mother that was true that night, true about the years preceding that night, and remained true. I took Gurumayi’s statement as a gentle but still knowing scold – a reminder I must never take my mother’s role in my life, or anything she’d ever done to make things easier for me, for granted.
Just beneath the surface of Gurumayi’s statement, a second layer implied my mother had also been doing her own deep spiritual work in that she had been “working very hard” on herself.
Again: was true, had been true, remained true.
Later, when I shared my first darhsan experience with Janice – our fast-track family friend who upon being introduced to Siddha Yoga by my mom in the early 80s promptly moved into the South Fallsburg ashram and soon became one of Gurumayi’s personal assistants – she further affirmed the message I’d received me by adding: “You may not know this, but Gurumayi gave your mother the spiritual name 'Janabai' – and Janabai’s whole life was a life of service. In fact, Janabai worked so hard she had no time for her own devotional practices. In the story of her life it is said that the Lord was so moved by her selflessness he came and sat beside her while she worked – the Lord came to her.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to make from this additional insight from Janice; but it did add another layer of significance to Gurumayi’s message.
That night after darshan, as we collected our shoes from the lobby, I saw a woman standing in front of a TV monitor propped on a rolling cart, watching a remote video feed of the ceremony still going on inside. She swayed back and forth, hands clasped over her heart, her eyes swimming in tears. Despite the commotion and post-program buzz swirling around her, she was oblivious to anything going on outside of what she saw on that TV screen. I stood a few feet away and gawked. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be so moved by something they were viewing over a remote monitor.
Two nights later I returned with my mom to the Oakland Ashram for another evening program – at the last minute Melissa said she wasn’t feeling well and told us she thought it would be better if she stayed behind.
That evening we began chanting before Gurumayi arrived – “Jay Jay Vitthala, Jaya Hare Vitthala.”
The melody the musicians played during the intro to the chant had a haunting, almost funereal quality that drew me right in. As the rhythm of the chant gradually built in intensity, the lights dimmed and Gurumayi emerged in silence from behind a thick velvet curtain. The moment I saw her shadowy blue silhouette I began to weep. I didn’t know what triggered the sudden wave of emotion, but before long I was sobbing and couldn’t stop. I wanted to leave, I wanted to run from the hall and escape to someplace private. But packed so tightly alongside all the other chanters there was no unobtrusive escape. And, since this was my “first time meeting Gurumayi,” the hall monitor had seated me just a few rows from her chair – I felt there was no respectful way to exit. My only consolation was the fact that the chant was dominated by amplified tablas that helped drown out my bawling.
I cried forever. It was as if the floodgates holding back every last drop of regret, grief or pain I’d been unconsciously storing away inside over the years, maybe over lifetimes, finally burst. My eyes burned. My jaw went numb. As the tingling shot down my neck and into my shoulders, I remembered the first dream I’d had about Gurumayi, just a month earlier, in which she held my face in her hands and kissed my forehead – I remembered that my jaw went numb in my dream too.
Doing my best to avoid elbowing my neighbors, I dislodged myself from my jacket and used its sleeves in lieu of the Kleenex I didn’t think to stash in my pockets beforehand. I hadn't sobbed like that since I was a child. Maybe ever. By the end of the chant my jacket was a soaked, snotty ball. Physically, I felt like a wrung washcloth; my insides were pulp.
I don’t remember what Gurumayi spoke about that night; I don’t remember darshan, either. But I do remember what happened as I walked into the dining hall with my mom afterward: The chattering crowds in the Amrit engulfed us just as they had after the previous night’s program, but this time everything was different. As I looked around everyone appeared to be moving underwater, their gestures liquid, their voices muffled into a low, dull hum. Amidst all the commotion I felt anchored, calm, completely still, the chaos around me reduced to a swarm of softly buzzing atoms.
I stood there a moment, dumbstruck.
Noticing the shift in my expression my mom leaned in, took my hand and asked, “Are you okay?”
“Everything is so different,” I said. She gripped my hand tightly and smiled, “I know.”
I had gone through the looking glass . . .
That was 1989. I had just moved to San Francisco. The experience of meeting Gurumayi just as I was embarking on a new life in a new city seemed to catapult me into the series of fortunate events – the job offer that followed my first interview, the groovy apartment Melissa and I landed near the Haight, the name of the new suitor on my dance card making my heart race. I was on a high I rode the entire summer.
But that was four years ago. Back then I used to wake up each beautiful morning with the beautiful feeling everything was going my way.
What will it be like to see Gurumayi now?