As I wait in line a tanned, wispy-haired woman wearing a guaze skirt, chunky turquoise bracelets, silver Roman sandals and a nametag that says “Urvashi Cohen" dances up and down the line, trying to tempt us away to the temporary dining hall across the street. "There's plenty of time!" she assures. "You can come back for Darshan after dinner!" No one budges.
Five minutes later she twirls past us again, this time literally singing this evening’s dinner specials. Unlike the pinched-faced volunteers who scurried me out of the lobby and into the outside darshan line two hours ago, this woman seems to be genuinely enjoying her assignment. She stops near me and describes each dish on the evening's menu in mouth-watering detail, as if any attempt on our part to choose just one of these delectable items will prove to be exquisite agony. She’s a character. I like her, and everyone within earshot is engaged by her ardent effort – but not a chance. No way am I losing my spot. Undeterred, she pirouettes away and tries her luck again, further down the line.
At last we are moving, but as the line inches off the sidewalk and back into the lobby, my mind drifts, out of the theater and back to the dream I had about Gurumayi last October – the night after I broke up with Jack . . .
I’m at my mom’s house in Colorado. A group of her friends from the local Siddha Yoga center have gathered for an occasion that feels ceremonious. Since I’m not a member of the center I'm not sure why I’m there, or what’s going to happen next. I notice, however, that I’m the only one in the room dressed in what looks like a more formal version of white cotton pajamas.
Everyone assembles quietly into a seated circle then begins passing around an old, heavy, atlas-sized book. I can't see the cover but it looks like an ancient text of some sort. The book makes a full circle and gets handed to me last, open to a page containing an elaborate diagram illustrating the back of a human head. Looking closely, I notice that traced over the back of the head are the precise outlines of the bare soles of two feet. I’m intrigued. I’ve never seen an image like this before. I have no idea what to make of it.
As I study the image, everyone begins speaking in hushed exchanges. Clearly they consider the image to be powerful, symbolic. When I close the book and look up, Gurumayi is standing directly in front of me. The room falls silent. As if it’s an involuntarily automatic response, I immediately lay my entire body flat, face down on the carpet, and place my head at her bare feet, pranaming before her. Then, lifting her feet one at a time off of the carpet, Gurumayi steps delicately up onto the back of my head, and balances there in place, almost weightless. I can feel the bare soles of her feet pressing lightly against the back of my scalp. I’m alternately watching all this happen from a vantage point somewhere high above my body, and experiencing it internally with my eyes closed.
After holding her motionless position for a moment, her feet slowly lift off the back of my head and she levitates up into the air and hovers over me, the bare soles of her feet floating a just inches above my head. Turning slowly in midair, she steps down onto my back, kneels between my shoulder blades and begins to manipulate and contort each of my limbs through a series of humanly impossible, though somehow painless, complex and specific yoga postures. Once she completes this intricate, ritualistic procedure, she remains seated on my back, kneeling in silence.
After a pause she starts to speak. The deep vibrations of her voice coat me in a protective balm.
“I’m going to tell you some things," she says, her voice calm and almost monotone, "And I want you to repeat each of these things back to me, so that I know you've heard them.”
She then gives me specific instructions about my breathing, followed by a description of the true purpose of the silver japa ring I wear on my wedding finger – a gift from my mom purchased years ago at the original ashram in India, one of the few possessions I treasure but have never used for actual mantra repetition.
I repeat everything Gurumayi tells me back to her, word for word, step by step.
Then her voice drops down into a final instruction. “I have no importance here,” she says.
Repeating her words, I reply: “I have no importance here.”
At that moment the dream ended and my eyes split open – as if I’d been grabbed by the throat and yanked awake. I kicked off my sheets and ran down the hall to wake up Melissa. I was bursting to tell her what had just happened. I had no idea what to make of it. We fixed coffee and took our conversation back to my room.
As we sat crossed-legged on my bed talking, Melissa confided something she’d been holding onto for years. Leaning in and smoothing a stray strand of hair away from my forehead she said, “Michael, I have to tell you something. I always regretted not going back to the ashram that second night with you and your mom. Something happened to you that night, and since then I’ve felt like Gurumayi has always been with you.”
The look in her eyes turned more serious.
“I think for you to have this dream about Gurumayi, right now, while you’re going through all this with Jack . . . I just know it must mean something. Something important.”
My mind drifts away from Melissa’s words, and back to where I’m standing inside The Paramount, in the darshan line that’s finally made it's way deep into the inner lobby. In front of me now is the temporary bookstore they’ve set up for the program. My gaze meanders across the sprawling display of assorted tapes, videos, jewelry, and incense featured along on the various tables – then slams to a stop when my eyes fall on a picture depicting the bare soles of the Guru’s feet.
My breath leaves my body.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s as if someone has lifted the image directly out of the dream I had last October, placed it inside this photograph and strategically displayed it in this exact spot, at this precise moment, just to catch my attention.
Immediately I turn to the older, seasoned-looking devotee I've been standing next to in line for two hours and barge into her reverie, hoping she can help. “Excuse me," I ask, pointing toward the photograph, "Can you tell me why there is a picture of Gurumayi’s bare feet? Is there some significance?”
“Oh, yes!” she bursts, not skipping a beat, as if thrilled I’m soliciting her expertise on this particular matter. “They are very significant!" Suddenly self-conscious, she lowers her voice, draws me in and shares in a near whisper, "It is said that all of the guru’s power travels through the soles their feet.”
I’ve passed through the looking glass again . . .
I can barely focus as she continues and politely points out because obviously I’m new at this, that the picture I’m referring to is actually of Baba Muktanada's feet, not Gurumayi’s.
Suddenly, something amusing occurs to her and turning to her also seasoned-looking female comrade she ponders aloud, “Are there any pictures of Gurumayi’s feet?” At this musing the two of them erupt in giddy giggles. Apparently posing such a question, while standing moments away from bowing down before the real thing, strikes them as laughably superfluous.
30 minutes later, on stage inside the theater, just a few feet from her chair, Gurumayi’s eyes lock with mine and never break away. Her eyes penetrate me, as if in this moment she sees everything I’ve put myself through in the four years since I saw her last, as if she sees that inside I've died a brutal emotional death. She holds me suspended in her gaze with the deep concern of a parent who has been away from their child far too long. Her eyes implore one clear, direct question: “What has happened to you?”
People are bowing down six heads across; several attendants are perched at Gurumayi’s side – making introductions, taking notes, whispering messages, distributing gifts, and removing the baskets that continue to fill with offerings of flowers, coconuts, cards and money. All the while a small group of musicians play a soft lullaby version of the mantra just a few feet away. There is a lot going on up here, but Gurumayi’s gaze never leaves me. As I take her gaze in to the deepest part of me and see all the activity happening around and between us I think, It can’t be possible, she can’t be focusing on just me, I must be hallucinating.
I'm motioned to move closer in the line by an attendant and Gurumayi then directs me with her peacock feathers to step around the group that's already bowing down and come kneel close beside her, near the edge of her chair, as if she were going to tuck me up under her shawl. I kneel at the base of her chair, place my forehead to the carpeted floor of the stage, and then – Tap! Tap! Tap! – three jolts of static electricity shoot out the ends of her peacock feathers and zip through me like a current. I hear a something crackle and a sharp spasm rockets through my chest.
Backing up and away from her chair, I’m trembling. I feel naked, exposed, too aware of myself, and the crowd. I want to get off this stage and escape to someplace safe and private as quickly as possible.
I bolt up the aisle, exit the theater and catch the first BART train home.
As my train pulls away from Oakland and disappears back inside the tunnel, I sit in my seat unable to move. I’m traveling in some other zone.
Everything is so different, again.