Two days later I return to The Paramount for the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening programs. During the chanting and meditation sessions that occur over the course of those consecutive nights, the mesmeric imagery unfolding in front of me is as real as anything I’ve seen in my most vivid dreams:
I’m sitting alone inside a large, old, dilapidated wooden boat, floating in the middle of a desolate, near-motionless ocean. The horizon is dark and flat. There’s no land in sight. The massive grey ocean expands out around me in all directions, as far as I can see, to furthest edges of the earth. My boat floats anchored in the middle of this vast expanse, creaking in spots as it rocks gently back and forth, in synch with the vibrations emanating from the tamboura. The sky above and water below are equally heavy, impenetrable. I’m on the other side of the world, far from anywhere I know. I’m nowhere.
The only thing keeping this bleak setting from becoming one of irreparable despair is the steady repetition of the mantra, and the resilient, sustaining sound of Gurumayi’s deep, honeyed voice. Each time she calls out and each time I call back the vibrations of her voice fold over into mine, like one caressing wave folding into another, and together our voices merge with the voices of everyone else in the hall.
I've been chanting the mantra on my own for years but tonight, here in this distilled moment with the guru, a window opens and suddenly I understand its true meaning: The mantra is a call, a call to return home. Not home as in a specific place, but home as an internal state. Home as a feeling of deep peace not dependent on anyone or anything. Tonight, in this moment with Gurumayi, the mantra is calling me to repair that severed cord, to reconnect to that protecting source, to return to who I am.
By the third night of programs spent rocking back and forth under that abandoned sky, something inside me releases and my boat begins to glide forward. In time, little by little, several of the others gathered in the hall begin to join me inside the boat and we sit side-by-side, chanting and rowing forward in effortless unison. We’re all heading toward the same destination; we are all going home. As our momentum builds, our voices fuse and thicken into one unified vibration that cocoons the entire hall inside the sound of the mantra.
When I glance up again into the foreboding sky the night suddenly comes alive as if someone’s flipped a switch inside a planetarium and revealed a giant web of sparkling constellations. The stars flicker then dim as a prehistoric sun burns a hole in the horizon, then rises up and glazes the sky a brilliant orange. Looking down over the water, I watch as sunbeams dance out across the once ominous ocean, transforming its murky surface into ripples of royal blue.
Everything inside me lifts and lightens; every cell in my body hums. It’s a new day.
As I sway back and forth, the images of the ocean fade and I begin to feel my entire body filling with sand. Our collective call and response slowly subsides until only the lone tamboura plays. I sit immobilized and watch several members of my family – none of whom have, or likely will ever bow down to a guru – appear in my mind, step up onto the stage and approach Gurumayi’s chair for darshan.
My grandfather, my mom’s dad, who is fighting his descent into Alzheimer’s, steps forward first. He approaches Gurumayi in his characteristic dignified manner, dapper as always in his customary suit, silk necktie and crisply-pressed pocket square. He extends both his hands and Gurumayi leans in to cups his with hers. He looks like a Head of State meeting the Queen of England. Watching their exchange I smile so broadly I can feel my cheeks pushing up underneath my eyes.
My biological father steps up next. Four years ago, just after I moved to San Francisco, he called out of the blue. First time in a decade. “Michael?” he asked, “Do you know who this is?” I knew. Ten years, but I’d know his voice anywhere. I didn’t say anything and hung up the phone. He didn’t call back. Now, as he approaches Gurumayi’s chair, he appears so small on that stage; tentative, ashamed. He looks around lost, unsure of what to do. Gurumayi sits waiting, motionless as a mountain. After another moment’s hesitation he cautiously steps forward, as if he has no other choice, and bows down.
One by one, each member of my family whose impact on my life has been significant comes before Gurumayi and one by one she welcomes and blesses each of them – just as I have watched her welcome and bless hundreds and thousands of others, night after night after night. Gurumayi expresses in these exchanges a respect, dignity, and unconditional acceptance I’ve never seen anywhere else, from anyone else. It’s as if in her eyes everyone is worthy of the highest honor, everyone is royalty.
As the images from my family processional fade and the hall plunges into silence, Jack emerges from beneath a shadow and steps into the center of my mind. He's alone; both the stage and the hall are now empty and dark. It’s just him and me. He turns toward me and presents himself, defenseless. His eyes say he's ready; prepared to hear and to take whatever I have to say.
Jack is the last person I expected to see here, in this setting, at this moment, but I can tell I’m being given an opportunity – a chance to feel differently about him and what happened between us.
A voice inside me asks, “What do you want to do about Jack?”
And, without even the effort of a breath the clear answer comes and simply slips out, as clear and without effort as a drop of water slipping off the edge of a leaf. “I just want to love him,” I say inside.
The moment I hear myself say those words, “I just want to love him,” the spell is broken – Jack’s image dissolves and is washed away, like sand washed out to sea by a retreating tide.
Seeing Jack for who he is – vulnerable, flawed, human – and realizing what I wanted most from our relationship was something I could never have, unties the not. It’s that simple. He’s gone, and that infected wound deep inside me I couldn’t reach to mend feels washed clean. A tiny bell rings, the meditation session ends and I sit mesmerized watching two 100-foot columns of white light shoot out from the centers of my upturned palms. I look up, rotate my wrists from side to side, and trace playful figure eight searchlight patterns across the Paramount’s ceiling. I know I'm the only one who can see this happening, but it doesn't matter. It's incredible.
After the program, I step out into the lobby to search for a pay phone where I can call my mom. Looking up I notice that the elegant gold Art Deco letters across the inner lobby marquee have been arranged to spell out Siddha Yoga's central teaching: “See God in Each Other.” It’s very Ancient-India-meets-Radio-
I ascend one of the lobby's winding carpeted staircases to the second floor, spy an ornate gilded phone booth, call my Mom and gush – about Gurumayi’s talks and funny stories, my mind-blowing meditations, all of it.
“But,” I add, “Amazing as all of this is, I don’t have any desire to take an Intensive. If an Intensive is more powerful than these programs, I’m not going anywhere near it!"
We both laugh.
"And," I continue, "I have no desire to go run off and live in the ashram.”
I mean it. The experience I’m having right now is more than enough.
“Wow,” she says – explaining how so many people have such a longing for the Guru, such a longing to be close to Gurumayi, such a longing for more – “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
End of Chapter One: Lucky