Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lucid Memories, Chapter 2, Part 2

That evening during her talk, Gurumayi speaks at length about the importance of what she calls “welcoming others.” She tells us that welcoming others is not only the foundation of Baba’s teachings, but also a powerful tradition and spiritual practice found in all cultures.

She suggests that one of the ways we can welcome others is by “seeing beyond people’s shortcomings.” She urges us to avoid getting “stuck in our judgments.” She encourages us to always strive to see the highest and presume the best in everyone we encounter.

“Treat people,” she says, “as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

How beautifully put. It makes absolute sense.

After her talk and a brief meditation session, the Emcee for this evening’s program, Cosby Show actress Phylicia Rashad, steps up to the mike to make the closing announcements before the aisle monitors dismiss each of our rows for darshan. No fanfare was made earlier about her appearance as tonight’s hostess. None was needed. Everyone knows who she is. She’s just one of several semi-B-list celebrities who dot the crowd throughout Gurumayi’s Oakland visit. One night the former Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton motions me up to Gurmayi’s chair during darshan; I’m too young to remember the show, but Kathleen points her out. She looks thin and pale under the bright stage lights and appears self-conscious about being assigned the very visible role of Darshan Usher. Another night I see actor Gary Busey wandering around the lobby, looking disoriented. When I first notice him I can’t think of his name, but it comes to me later. I wonder if he’s struggling in his career and seeking a new direction. Maybe that’s why he’s here.

Projected across the giant jumbotron screen suspended above the stage, Phylicia Rashad's glossy smile is as big as a Cheshire cat's. Her pupils, black billiard balls, roll back and forth in her dewy eyes as she slowly scans the crowd.

Everyone in the hall sits there staring up at her, as if stoned in a collective post-meditation stupor. Leaning into the mike and tilting her head to the side she says with a wink, “Now that you’ve tasted an exquisite drop of this nectar, don’t you just want to dive in?"

In response to her little flirtation many in the hall laugh, as if in on a joke, and several erupt in applause. But something about her delivery strikes me as over the top.

“Take the intensive,” she continues, pausing with intent. “Take the intensive,” she says again, adding another intentional pause. “Take the intensive.”

I squirm a little inside each time she repeats her pitch, relieved when she stops at three.

The program concludes and the moment our row is dismissed Kathleen perks forward in her chair and grips my hand. “Darshan will be going on for hours – let’s go eat and come back.”

As we exit the theater and cross the street to the Amrit, Kathleen loops her arm though mine. She’s strolling along in a post-program reverie but I’ve still got Phylicia Rashad’s refrain stuck in my head – and my mind is trying to stave of her repeated pitch with a mounting list of questions. Why the hard sell? Was that necessary? What goes on in the Intensive? And why would anyone need, or for that matter be able to withstand, more than what’s offered in these programs?

I don’t want to offend Kathleen; she’s been a devotee for over a decade. But I’d like some answers and I figure she’s as reliable a resource as I’m apt to find.

When I ask her a carefully phrased question about the Intensive and the way it's being promoted at the programs she sighs, “Sometimes the people who would benefit from the Intensive the most also tend to be the people won't attend unless they're specifically told they need to go!"

“But,” I ask, “Isn't what takes place in these programs enough?"

She sighs again. My sense isn’t that she’s tiring of my questions; my sense is she doesn’t think the answers pertain to us.

"Some of these people need to be hit over the head in order to ‘get it,’” she explains. “The Intensive is for them. You’re not like that. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Trust me,” she adds, smiling up into my eyes, “You’ve already received shaktipat.”

After dinner, as we make our way back to our seats, we're halted at the top of our aisle by a brusque woman with shoulder pads and a clipboard whose clear mission is to redirect us.

When we explain we’re merely returning to our seats via the exact path by which we left them, her face flattens, as if stunned we’re challenging her. Our aisle is closed, she informs us, and we need to go out and come back in another way. It makes no sense but she’s got a laminated name badge and a clipboard and we don’t. She extends her arm and makes an opened-palmed but firm gesture back in the direction of the lobby doors.

As we turn to head back up the aisle, Kathleen quips under her breath, referring to the main message in that night's talk, “Well, I guess she’s practicing welcoming others.” We share a muffled laugh, exit into the lobby and take the long way back to our seats.

After we sit down I ask Kathleen, “Why did she speak to us like that?” – given where we are and why we are here, the interaction seemed jarring, so out of place.

“Oh,” she says, letting out a deep breath, “Some of these sevites are just so full self-importance.” Sevites, she explains, is the title given to all the devotees I’ve seen doing all the volunteer work over the past few weeks. Seva is the name for the work itself, though it’s not work, she says, it’s service – to the Guru. “You run into them everywhere,” she continues, “In the Amrit, in the Bookstore . . . all you can do is keep your sense of humor. It’s like I always say when I’m signing up for an Intensive: With every registration you get a free lecture!” She giggles at her own joke.

I like the fact that Kathleen has been involved in Siddha Yoga for so long, been so close to Gurumayi, and yet still remains un-phased by all the nonsense. I like that she breaks the rules, at least the ones that don’t seem to matter. Maybe Gurumayi is a bit of a rule-breaker too.

Later that night, up on the stage during Darshan, just as we're bowing down, Gurumayi draws Phylicia Rashad to her side, as if she needs tell her something. As my forehead touches the carpet I hear Gurumayi say in a voice that's low and monotone, “It should have happened at 7 o’clock.” Her statement is firm, and indisputable. Her displeasure is controlled, but it’s there. Some part of the program hadn't gone as planned. Someone was late.

As I back up and away from Gurumayi’s chair, I catch Phylicia’s face looking down in deference. I can tell that although she may not be the person who was late, she's the one Gurumayi's holding responsible.

Kathleen and I return to our seats and watch as the tail end of the darshan line files up. Each night we stay after and sit and wait until darshan ends, with the hope that Gurumayi will stay in the hall a bit longer. Sometimes a French magician named Arsene cames out and performs as if he were Gurumayi’s court jester; sometimes there is light banter back and forth between Gurumayi and the swamis; sometimes a chant.

One of the last women to step forward kneels down and offers Gurumayi a huge bouquet of flowers. Kathleen leans into me, places her hand over her mouth and shares in a whisper, “When I first started coming to Siddha Yoga I always took Gurumayi flowers. But then one day she told me: ‘Don’t bring flowers, bring money – And tell your friends!’“

I laugh along with her at the punch line to her story, though I’m not exactly sure why it’s funny.

During these final moments of each evening I can’t take my eyes off of Gurumayi. She’s been sitting with her legs folded up under her in the same lotus position for nearly five hours but looks just as radiant as she did when she arrived. Maybe more so. I don’t pretend to know who she is, but I do know this: no human I know would ever be capable of such a feat.


Anonymous said...

"Trust me,” she adds, smiling up into my eyes, “You’ve already received shaktipat.”"<<

Ah, the blind leading the blind...syda in a nutshell. I would bet that every single one of the people in syda felt (and feels) the same way as you and your friend did: that they were part of "those in the know" in some way; they were different from those other poor fools, the nasty monitors who didn't "get" gurumayi's talk, the "jada" folks who needed to be told to take an intensive, etc. etc...every single one of us felt we knew something that "they" did not know, even if it was where the towels were kept for wiping up dog poop. And I wonder too, just how many of us had a "mentor", someone who seemed like an "insider" (or actually was an insider), someone who encouraged and solidified that sense of being "special" and "different" and not like "them" (our brothers and sisters in dharma...supposedly).You capture the awful essence of this path very well, Lucid. It's vaguely nauseating to encounter the hall monitors once again and the French magician and the many faces of gurumayi, the shilling, the whispering, the movie stars, the glamor, the absurd feeling of being among the chosen people...just the whole huge dog and pony show.
I remember reading Marta's memoir. Somehow it did not have the effect of re-creating the syda atmosphere in quite the same way yours does. I think it has to do with the way you are evoking all of the senses through your writing and that that is exactly how syda hooks people in...through ALL of the senses..visual, taste, smell, sound. It really hooks into the limbic brain. It's interesting to see this "mirroring" happening. At the same time, there is a real sense of ambivalence in the narration. In Marta's memoir, it was obvious from the get-go where she stood. With your memories, it's not quite so clear; there is not that sense of "distancing" but, instead, a feeling of full immersion in the experience. Maybe that's what creates the vague nausea for me...being immersed in something I don't want to be immersed in and an odd sense of being both attracted and repelled. Your powers of description are formidable. That's something very powerful in a writer...and, in my experience, not as common as you might imagine. Hopefully, these comments are helpful to you as a writer.

much respect,

Anonymous said...

"Projected across the giant jumbotron screen suspended above the stage, Phylicia Rashad's glossy smile is as big as a Cheshire cat's. Her pupils, black billiard balls, roll back and forth in her dewy eyes as she slowly scans the crowd."

This scene literally unspools in my head, and I can see Rashad's upturned face, and hear her soft, simply repeated exhortation to "take the Intensive" with its lingering gravitas. Odd how it all comes rushing back so fiercely, as if it were 20 days and not 20 years ago. Great work, Lucid.

Anonymous said...

Back there too. Good job. It has awakened strong memories. Sounds, even tastes. Food was always excellent! I did love being part of something 'special'. And it was, until it wasn't. The cruelty, the waste, the vanity, the capriciousness eventually crushed it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, OS. Let me see, how can I say this? First, can I give you a hug? Second, Thank you. I laughed! I cried! I loved your choice and use of “nauseating”! I’m serious.

You’ve given me something incredible, OS. Reading your comments above I felt as is if you took me by the hand and walked me back through your experience of this chapter, then pointed out the key themes that stood out to you as a reader and shared your perspective on/interpretation of those themes. And guess what? You didn’t miss a thing! Your take on what stands out syncs perfectly with what I hoped most would come through. It is incredible for me to make that kind of connection, and have the affirmation – writer to reader, and reader to writer. And we are all both here on RoD.

I especially appreciate:

“. . . you are evoking all of the senses through your writing and that that is exactly how syda hooks people in...through ALL of the senses..visual, taste, smell, sound. It really hooks into the limbic brain. It's interesting to see this "mirroring" happening. At the same time, there is a real sense of ambivalence in the narration. In Marta's memoir, it was obvious from the get-go where she stood. With your memories, it's not quite so clear; there is not that sense of "distancing" but, instead, a feeling of full immersion in the experience.”

Now don’t laugh but not until long after the time period in these chapters passed did I grow up enough to understand and own my “sensory” sensitivity. But let’s face it. Looking for Mr. Limbic? Oh pick me, pick me, please! Point being I was the perfect tango partner for GM and the target customer for all those crafty trims and notions – the haunting hymns, the blue lights, the potent highs, etc. GM was the glamor gal brand rep striking a pose in the center of that dazzling merchandise. At one point I even owned envelopes filled with her photos, clipped and collect from Darshan magazines like paper dolls. Think of how many conversations took place about GMs hats, her hair, or how “different she looked” on different occasions. Opps, here comes that word “nauseating” again!

Anonymous said...

Also, re: “With your memories, . . . there is not that sense of "distancing" but, instead, a feeling of full immersion in the experience.”

I too read Marta’s memoir on her blog, then purchased (and distributed!) several hard copies of her book to everyone I once lured into the darshan line. I was with Marta every page of the way. Her book put all the missing pieces in place and solved for me the riddle of SY. The story I’ve been posting here is, in many ways, one long fan letter to her. As I’ve said in the past, I wouldn’t have written any of this, had I not found RoD and then discovered The Guru Looked Good.

And what you say above made me remember that as I read TGLG, at first I kept waiting for the big “blue light” moment. I went into her book expecting, and looking for descriptions similar to what I describe in my meditations and darshans at the Paramount. The sensory experience that hooked her in and sealed the deal. I went into her book thinking the “limbic hook” was the only reason anyone would be drawn into SY. (In fact, for me, one of the reasons SY was slightly more “easy” to let go of is that the opiate of all that spectacle went away . . . for me, that was the dominant draw.)

In the end, however, the absence of that element in Marta’s story made it all the more fascinating for me – to connect in such an immediate way with her experience and yet, when compared to my own, realize none of the “fairy dust” (as she once called it) had been there for her, or at least not to the same extent. Still, as I read here book, especially the early chapters as she’s gradually lured deeper and deeper in, I kept thinking, under just slightly different circumstances, this could have been me; a few adjustments to life events here and there and I might have gone whole hog.

But oddly, in the end, I think being someone on sensory overload both drew me in as well as kept me at a safe distance from SY. As I’ve shared in these chapters, back in April of 1993, I couldn’t imagine taking an intensive, living in an ashram, getting close, experiencing more. I was already on overload – we’re talking three weeks of back-to-back Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night programs with darshan every night past 10pm, folks! Hard not to be sent into orbit. I thought if I took an intensive I’d be spit from the earth like a watermelon seed. Hard to imagine someone that far gone accurately completing the cash reconciliation logs each night after the bookstore closed. I could never have functioned as a true “sevite.”

Stopping here for now and thanking you again, OS.

I am transferring your comments into the document that holds the permanent draft of this chapter. I will save them like a treasure.


Anonymous said...

To Anon February 17, 2013 at 4:37 PM:

Appreciate the pat on the back. And thanks for helping me catch another typo. Black "as" billiard balls, not "black billiard balls." A curious phenomenon occurs when you publish your writing in a place where you're no longer able to touch it. You see all kinds of things you want to change but can't. With this story in particular I welcome that curious phenomenon because it is helping me set all of this, not just the memory but the writing about the memory, free.


Anonymous said...

" Think of how many conversations took place about GMs hats, her hair, or how “different she looked” on different occasions."

Hi Lucid,
I'm glad my comments were helpful. I guess such a broad net was thrown out by syda, that it was able to catch virtually any kind of fish and most of us had more than one hook. I'm thinking of my own long trip through so many paths, like Goldilocks, with one path being "too hot" and another being "too cold" and then syda seeming to be "just right". (oy gevalt)! But it was that combination of the scholarly, meditative and mystical that got to I could have the "magical/shamanic" part of Tibetan Buddhism and the scholarly/meditative part of vipassana plus lots and lots of "doing" (guruseva) that made it seem like I was getting somewhere.It just SO played to all of my worst "vasanas".
Once I remember saving up to buy those huge sepia tinted photos of gurumayi, baba and bh nityananda, just like in the cave at Fallsburg. I had a meditation hut that I had built in my studio. I set up those photos, sat down and meditated as hard as i could for as long as I could...waiting for that promised "enlightenment". It's as "embarassing" as your envelopes filled with gurumayi dress-up dolls.
Human beings are sure funny.


SeekHer said...

Since you mentioned Phylicia Rashad, Lucid, I have to jump in with news that the new tv series she was in "Do No Harm" was cancelled after just two episodes this week. I don't watch prime time tv but I was almost tempted to in this case, because the show was about a doctor who was a universally loved hero/savior by day, but who turned into a homicidal maniac by night. Standard Jekyll/Hyde stuff-- but it would have been interesting to see if Phylicia drew on her experience with any real-life charismatic schizophrenics psychopaths she might know...

Anonymous said...

A funny or not footnote I can't resist sharing:

Last week as I sat here combing back through the draft of this chapter, I got stuck on the quote from GM's talk. Even though I attended in person, took surreptitious notes and later owned (but years ago tossed out) the cassette recording, I couldn’t quite get it right. I could hear the first fragment in my head, but not the whole thing. At this point, for better or for worse, it’s reflex to type any and all questions into google, so I figure what the hell and plug in “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be.” Boom. Up pops three plus pages of link options like this:

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

If memory serves, GM did not mention Goethe. If she did, I still noted the line down as coming from her. The line really stood out to me in the talk and stayed with me for years, a peice of the guru's wisdom I returned to often. So the discovery last week that the quote is in fact one of Goethe's most famous gave me such a laugh – not only did GM have ghostwriters she never gave credit to, on top of that her actual writers didn’t cite their sources either!

Funny so many of us never thought twice about where her talks came from. I questioned many, many things but never the source of the guru's words.


Anonymous said...

Very evocative stuff, Lucid, thanks for sharing it here with us. I was at those programs, too. You capture the atmosphere so well, the way the inconsistency between what was said and how people behaved was always there to be seen, if you kept your head enough to notice. I wonder how many of us cringed a little when Phylicia or other MCs gushed in that knowing way? And the laughter at the seeming "in-jokes"--I remember that really putting me off, until of course I became one of the laughers myself, so pleased to be in the know. Ugh. I knew people though who never got hooked, for whom those clues about the hollowness were red flags enough to keep them safe from the enchantment.

And re the quotes--GM many times quoted others without attribution in her talks, or would say something like "a famous writer once said" without identifying the writer. Annoying, disrespectful.

Keep it up, this is great!


Anonymous said...


The shows Gurumayi with selected guest at So. Fallsburg on March 10, 2013.
I'm confused.....there are photos of heavy snow...
There wasn't any snow this past week. What's up?

Anonymous said...

I hope each and every one of you can let go, and find the path that will unite you with God inside and out.
If you have no connection with the Guru now, you never have. Gurumayi is nothing but a reflection of your Divine Inner Self. If you thought you were chanting to her while chanting the missed the whole point.
Let go of these chains, your "discontent", and find That which IS ever blissful.
Gurumayi didn't go anywhere.
She is right where she always has been.
As are you.

Tat Tvam Asi.

Dear One.

Ryan Penny said...

Are these blogs meant to be the rituals of our disenchantment? Not allowing us to be enchanted by God anymore? By our Self? Are we happy in swimming in the thick bittersweet undertow of our egos and what we'd like to say we have true knowledge of? May we find true knowledge. The kind that doesn't change. Gurumayi is less and more than we know. We don't need her. We are her.