My beat up Renault pulled into the short dirt driveway of my small cape style house in Lyme, New Hampshire that March of 1970. The 60’s were over. Bob Dylan had left New York City too for the country upstate in Woodstock and I was doing the same here in New Hampshire. I thought that was auspicious and in line with “what’s happening”. When you are young it seems to be important to be in line with “what’s happening.” Those kinds of ideas were about to get washed away by the cold reality of hardscrabble life in northern New England where “what’s happening” has been happening the same way for a long time. And the bottom line to it all, and will be evermore, is hard work. What a concept!Whatever I was facing now, I knew I needed it, needed some focus, needed the challenge, some decency, some discipline; I needed to learn how to work. I was twenty five and up until then even if I thought I was working, I wasn’t working very hard. The project at hand – the renovation of this old house – would qualify as work even to these flinty Yankee old timers, my neighbors. The house was a wreck but still standing which was more than could be said for the giant barn in the back which had collapsed a few winters past. An old lady, Elsie Hutchins, had outlived everybody in this house, brow beating her husband to death and chasing her son into the barn where he drank himself numb as often as possible. I found the evidence of that. She lived to be ninety four holed up in there by herself with a parlor stove and a cook stove, a pitcher pump in the pantry for water, and a chamber pot in the bedroom. It appeared she hadn’t used the upstairs for many years.
It was all falling apart inside but the house had a decent metal roof on it so the structure was ok. In the interest of being neighborly we had allowed the afflicted son of our next door neighbors to take up residence in the house for the winter. His parents were responsible people and former owners of the Lyme Inn across the road.
Pat was a nice guy, a hippie, but one of those damaged people who glommed onto the hippie thing hoping to find some refuge. A lot of people like that did find refuge in the hippie thing and at the same time fucked it all up just as they had fucked up their lives before they found the hippie thing. The beatniks who were the previous iteration of the counter culture were more discriminating and had a harder edge than the naive hippies who followed.
Despite his alcoholic dishevelment Pat looked younger than his age. It was hard to believe he was a World War II combat veteran but he was. God knows what he witnessed or did, or maybe didn’t do and was supposed to have done. He was still in shell shock; that was clear. And without spending any more time on the evils of war and the plight of those who fight in them, I will say that he, like many others, was a wreck and a mess.
The wreck of our house was diminished further by Pat’s presence and by the presence of his friends who had stolen everything we had entrusted to his care for the winter. And the place was filthy besides. I told him he had to get out by the next morning or I would call the police. I stayed with friends that night and the next morning early he was already gone. His parents next door just shook their heads when I recounted our losses.
The weather was cold and gray and the house barely a house but it was my house, my own house at age twenty-five. What a great feeling that was. Caroline had stayed in Brooklyn not wanting to rush into the dirty work ahead and I couldn’t have been happier to be on my own without her constant corrections and general pain in the ass input about everything.
Demolition came easy for me. It was the perfect activity for someone eager to destroy his past and start new; first smash the plaster, then rip off the lath down to bare bones, the skeleton structure of a building one hundred and fifty years old, already doing its job well before the civil war.
For company I had a cat I had brought from Brooklyn, a cat named Mose, a black cat, a great cat. Back there in Brooklyn the cats had a world of their own, a world of fire escapes and roof tops, cat fights, cat doors entering into bathrooms off the roofs, free to come and go as they pleased. But the city was dangerous too. Mose didn’t come home at one point and was gone several days before we found him under a cardboard box on the sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue near our door.
That was the wrong side of the building for a cat, but there he was. Either he had been hit by a car or hit viciously by a person. It cost a small fortune at the Animal Medical Center to save him and the result wasn’t perfect. For Mose to urinate I had to squeeze his bladder and out it came, a jet stream. Naturally we did this outside and he understood that we were helping him. It was not problem for me. If you love someone it is like that. To defecate, well it just started coming out and he would run crazily around the yard and that’s how it worked. I was real happy to have him.
March is winter in the north country. It has almost nothing to do with spring other than the days getting longer and the sun occasionally strong enough to melt the icicles hanging off the roof. We slept on the single bed, I under a heavy blanket with a canvas tarp over it and Mose on top. Once the plaster and lath was down there were spaces between the clapboards you could see through. Sometimes in the morning there would be fine snow on the canvas tarp and on Mose, snow that had whistled in through the cracks. Morning came and I would get up and into some clothes as fast as possible and run downstairs to get the big parlor stove- a modern Glenwood- pumped up and producing some heat. I tried to get it to hold a fire overnight but that took some skills I didn’t have yet. It was very cold in the morning- freezing.
Slowly the winter relented, very slowly. I hammered together a few boxes to start seeds as I had learned from Dan in the Bronx, thawed out some soil, and put in a few things- giant sunflowers, broccoli and lettuce and placed the boxes by the windows. One chilly morning I looked down at them and saw the earth erupting as the shoots pushed through to the light. It was almost an ecstatic experience of new life and hope, so significant for me.
The house now was completely bare of plaster and lath and it was beautiful to me in that condition. I knew at the time and later on too that I never liked it so well as I did at that point. Now it was time to put it all back together to the modern standard and not only did I not know how to do that but I was in no hurry either. I managed to build a tool box, the kind you carry and put in your truck if you are a carpenter. I made it out of some mahogany I had found and ran a ¾ dowel end to end as a way to carry it. It took time and I made it right. I still have it. The next project was to build an outhouse since there was no plumbing.
Caroline came up some weekends from whatever she was doing in the city. I didn’t ask too many questions about that since I was happy to have time by myself. But I was glad she was around for my first attempt to clear a space out back for the outhouse. Yellow jackets, a type of wasp, make their nests in the ground. Nest is not the right word; they build their civilization there. Years later I was hunting way out in the woods and I heard a low rumble. I made my way toward it and the noise got louder and louder until, just in the nick of time, I realized I was approaching a giant colony of them, the hole in the ground the size of a five gallon bucket and thousands of yellow jackets coming and going. And at a hundred feet away they were already on me and I turned and ran just in time.
The colony where I had just started shoveling was not huge like that . Instead of thousands of the mean spirited biting mother fuckers there were only hundreds of them and most of them on me. With them clinging to me and stinging incessantly I ran into the house where Caroline saw what was going on. She picked up the broom and started beating them off me. That was a high point in our relationship.
I managed to get rid of the yellow jackets and build the outhouse. A lot of things happened over the next three years. My building skills developed and I learned how to do a hard day’s work. But I wanted to live the rural life and not just get the house finished as fast as possible. I went fishing and hunting with my neighbor who was born into that life and knew everything about it. We became close friends. And I learned how to grow a good garden and chop wood for the winter, all those things that are part of the life of the north. Caroline and I, well, it went from fair to poor and she, it turned out, was having an affair with a tribal guy from the Sudan back in Brooklyn. It gave me a good excuse to ask for a divorce which she was ready to allow in any case. So I was on my own, Mose and I, which is what I wanted. But too much of that is not so good for anybody and especially not for a young man.
I worked as a laborer to learn the carpentry trade and I taught at a prep school a few days a week, starting a photography program for them, traveling over the mountains on the winding roads back and forth to get there. For someone used to the city that never sleeps, the experience of the deep rural north was a strong dose of stillness and loneliness, both beautiful and painful. I had my neighbors and some new friends but I was still living alone and not too well adjusted to it. This period of angst lasted almost three years and then the tide began to turn.
In the fall of 1973 I began to have a catharsis of sorts. I had continued with my meditation practice, something Caroline and I had worked so hard to learn back in New York. Back there she had gotten involved in a group centered around Baba Muktananda, who had not yet visited the United States. Still, there were people who had met him in India and who hosted a group uptown in Manhattan once a month to share his teachings and practice chanting and meditation. I was not interested because my only guru experience ended when I found out the guru, Kumar, was slipping his holy pecker into all the best looking women in our group which didn’t seem fair somehow. So, when Caroline went to the meditation group I went to the Chess House and played chess for a couple of hours until she was done.
My catharsis that fall was emotional and spiritual, maybe coming out of my loneliness and relative sensory deprivation; I am not sure. I started making some sketches and reading poetry which seemed to speak to me better than other things. I still had friends in New York City. Caroline and I were on decent terms and I resolved to get back down there for the Thanksgiving holiday and try to have a good time. I still had keys to our loft on Atlantic Avenue and so, a couple of days before the holiday, I pulled up in front of the loft in my old Renault, opened the door and walked up the stairs, unlocking the many locks, and entered into the space of the loft with its wooden floors and brick walls and light coming in from the street through the plants by the windows- a quiet beautiful space. Caroline was not there, working I guess. It was peaceful and I hesitated to turn on the lights or do anything really. I just walked around the space. I hadn’t been there in a long time.
On the walls I saw pictures of the man I assumed to be Baba Muktananda, many pictures. I looked at them all carefully trying to discern what kind of character this one might be. He was cool looking, like a jazz musician and handsome too but avuncular, not like a sex guy on the make. My take was that he was “a good man” and I was sort of happy about that because I knew Caroline was looking for something, a spiritual path, and I wanted her to find it. Despite my difficulties in the relationship I appreciated a special kind of genius she had that was also a problem for her in the ordinary material life. I knew she needed something more extraordinary. I just looked at the pictures and walked around the loft for maybe an hour and left.
I made my way over to Prince Street in Soho to the loft of my friend Herman Cherry, a fine painter of the New York School, someone whose life spanned the twentieth century, someone who knew everyone and everything about painting. He was a great friend and mentor to me, thirty six years my senior but still full of life, full of mischief. The playwright Sol Leavitt was at the loft also and we had a couple of drinks and headed out to roam the town winding up at Max’s Kansas City near Gramercy Park, a place made famous by the artists of the time and particularly by Andy Warhol who liked to hang out there. Certain nights there were free chicken wings and other snack food and that brought in many hungry artists looking for a meal. Max’s was cool, a place to meet and mingle and even a shy introvert with a few drinks in him could have a good time.
There was a rising tide of energy and strength in me. Health and youth can only be held back so long. We met some young women, my age, and one of them seemed to take an interest in me despite the fact that, as she said later,” I could smell the pig shit on your boots.” And it was true since I was raising a couple of pigs back in Lyme at the time. She was French, had the body of a dancer, and a wonderful voice and a direct, straightforward demeanor about her. Cherry hooked up with her friend, another French woman who was visiting and we went around the bars together and wound up back at his loft on Prince Street. Francine was her name and she lived nearby in another loft with a Canadian painter as I found out. We danced in Cherry’s loft, stayed up late, drank a lot of beer, and promised to meet at the museum the next day, the Metropolitan. And we did meet and made the first steps toward each other in a romantic, serious way. I had to go back up north because of my teaching obligation but the fuse was lit and burning bright.
It is difficult even now to separate the organic/biological reality of falling in love and the ‘something else’ that was going on inside me. They happened simultaneously and influenced each other but they were not the same thing. Energy was building in me, increasing every day. It was very hard to sleep. I wrote poems, took long walks, tried to stay in balance. Christmas vacation from school was only a few weeks away and Francine and I both knew that our time together then would change our lives. We wrote letters back and forth, giving each other more information about who we were, what we cared about- painting, poetry, nature, culture, language.
My meditation practice deepened and most curious was the visitation of the image of Baba Muktananda clearly in my meditation. I would ask,” What the hell are you doing in my meditation?” and I was serious. I said, ”I don’t need a guru and I don’t want a guru”, and I was serious. He would laugh. I would see bursts of color in big amorphous shapes and in color combinations. They were clear enough that I could paint them if I had the materials and the skill to do it which I did not at that time. My sense of strength and clear energy was remarkable and curious. In meditation I would say “thank you” to the clear great emptiness out there or to the clear great fullness out there, depending on your preference, and get back a reply, “thank YOU!” Isn’t that wild? I had no idea what to make of any of it. I read a lot including The Politics of Experience by R.D. Laing and another book by Jose Arguelles called The Transformative Vision. They helped me understand that there is a thin line between madness and spiritual experience.
Later in Brooklyn, my buddy Tom Stambouli described my condition as “an anxiety attack”. I was willing to consider any and all of these interpretations but my own overwhelming experience was one of direct, positive spiritual knowledge. The positive nature of it reassured me of its spiritual nature. And there was no Jesus and no guru because I kicked him out, no anything but the overwhelming power of reality beyond individual experience, beyond words, beyond description.
Somehow I kept myself together those next few weeks, not worrying my friends about it or trying to talk about it with them which would have been impossible in any case. My focus was getting back to New York, to Francine. And when I did get back the stage was set; everything was ready.
Caroline had made it clear I couldn’t stay in the loft so I went to my parents’ house in Pelham. They went about their lives not quite sure what was up with me. I set up a meditation place in the basement near the furnace, the basement having been a refuge for me with my animals at an earlier stage, for my introverted sister for her painting, and for the black ironing lady, Louise, one of the most spiritual people I ever knew. The basement was the right place for spiritual awaking.
Francine was working at the UN and would not be able to get off until the afternoon, maybe about one pm, if I remember right. I was in the basement on my pillow, meditating, playing the flute which I had been doing for some years at that time, and I had a book with me, The Prophet, a beautiful book of spiritual verse by Khalil Gibran, a book everyone knows, a book given to me by my sister Mary, a special present from someone who loved me deeply. The cover of that edition has a pair of praying hands embossed with gold leaf inside a circle.
As I waited out the time until I could meet Francine, the energy that had been building in me every day increased again and almost beyond toleration. I looked at the golden hands on the book and they started to shine and shine more and more until they became a shimmering energy field that grew to encompass everything including me. My self, my identity, began to dissolve. My very clear perception at the time was that it was ok for me- that I would be fine, but that my parents might find a drooling idiot in the basement, a body that was separated from a very healthy spirit that had gone somewhere else. And I had a mission to be with Francine with whom I was already in love. And so, instead of letting it happen, as I would describe it, I got up, got in the car and headed to Manhattan with the idea of just waiting the next few hours until we would meet.
It was December but not an ordinary December. Not only were things not ordinary with me but they were not ordinary in the cosmos affecting mother earth. The comet Kahotek was in the sky, a very unusual event, and it could be seen a lot of the time and was present for days. The weather, normally frigid at that time of year in New York, was just the opposite, like spring. It was in the seventies with blue skies and a pleasant breeze. The sun was blazing and, as I drove the familiar parkways to the city, sunbeams gleamed and sparkled off the chrome bumpers of the cars in front of me, threatening again to overtake me as the hands on the cover of The Prophet had started to do. It took a lot of focus to resist that call and it was a call. “Come on Rick. Let it happen. See reality for what it is.”
My earlier experience with LSD had given me a clear notion of this in another way and I had decided then that I would know ultimate reality soon enough in death which comes too soon and “always out of season” as the Native Americans phrased it. Meantime my idea was to make the most of this life, this opportunity. I believed in God, if I can use that hackneyed term. I believed and had some hints about it but now I knew. I went from belief to knowing. This was my experience. And I knew that I wanted this woman, Francine, in my life. She was grounded, not like me, someone with her feet on the ground, an anchor I needed in my life. She was also, I might add, very beautiful and sexy with such a beautiful body. I needed all that.
I made it to the designated meeting place. She left her office and we traveled north again to a sacred spot of mine, Glen Island, where I had spent my boyhood fishing in the sound, Long Island Sound. It is a beautiful park and on a sunny warm day, which it was, it is the perfect place for young lovers to kick up the leaves, hold hands and watch the glimmering water. We did all that on that special and strangely warm and balmy day in December of 1973 when we were both twenty-eight years old and already committed to each other.
My spiritual awakening continued and was a source of awe to Francine and both a source of awe and of concern to my parents. They thought maybe I had joined a cult or something and I replied with “I am the only member of my own church” which pleased them. And it was true since I had no way of connecting my experience to anything within society. During this time we went again to the Metropolitan Museum and there was an exhibit of pre Columbian sculpture from Peru. One figure, eyes gleaming through the centuries, pointed to something miraculous only he could see. This figure was also on the cover of the catalog for the show. I cut it out and framed it later since it was the closest thing to describe what I was experiencing, a fabulous vibrating shining energy beyond the everyday reality of things.
One night, staying at my parents, I drank almost a bottle of Jack Daniels and it slowed me down not at all. My parents, that night, in a touching gesture, had me sleep in their bed while they went out to the sleeping porch. They wanted to keep me close not knowing what else to do about me. The next day, another beautiful and uncharacteristic December day, I woke fresh and full of vibrating energy again. In the toilet I deposited the greatest bowel movement of my life, a perfect creation that seemed to be about three feet long, as if every toxin, every unresolved and hidden impurity was removed from my system. It was part of a total rebirth into a new healthy and spiritual identity. During this time I also confronted my father in the way that sometimes has to happen for the son to become his own man.
It happened like this. I brought Francine out to the house to meet with friends of my mother, Cuban refugees who were making their new American life in Portchester. My mother was helping them in a number of ways and I was involved from time to time because of my ability in Spanish. My mother also studied a lot of Spanish and got a Master’s Degree in it in her fifties. Francine knew Spanish as well. Anyway we were friends and were sitting around in the den socializing when I just felt like I wanted to take my woman up to my room on the third floor, the only room there, and lie down for a while. I was getting tired and introverts are like that anyway; they need to get away from the crowd. And so we did and with the full approval of the wonderful Cuban people who smiled knowingly and with my mother carrying on as if it was fine, no big deal. We were grown people after all.
Up in the attic room clothes came off and bodies exposed and caresses ensued and then, shit a goddamn, here comes my father on a mission, supposedly, to return his photographic projector to the attic, the door of which was within “my” room. He opened the door, and there we are in flagrante delicto with me trying to cover and protect my beloved from the intrusive presence and the prying eyes. My father was an arrogant prick, a dominating force to those below him, and otherwise a coward. He must have known we were up there. There was no way that he didn’t know but it was his way to assert his dominance and show that we were within his circle of piss.
But when he saw the murderous look in my eye he turned tail and retreated. We pulled our clothes back on and prepared to leave the premises and then I went back to confront my father who had retreated to his den and even locked the door to their bedroom through which one had to pass to get to the den. He was in full retreat and that was good enough for me although I was ready to kill. I am glad it didn’t come to a physical confrontation. It would have been hard to recover from that. As it was, our relationship changed forever and I understood what all sons understand at some point, that it is not “our” house and it is not “my” room. It is my father’s house, and he lets us stay there.
And I had my own humble house in the process of being renovated up in Lyme, New Hampshire and a new life of my own to lead. And even though I was starting from scratch I was young, full of energy and strength, and in love. That is almost a definition of hope.
Francine broke her attachments in the city, gave up a good job at the United Nations, and joined me in the house renovation process. She helped me through three years of graduate school and back again to Lyme for another five years when we established ourselves in good jobs and connected more deeply to the community.
My spiritual energy was still there but I got more used to channeling it into the things I had to do. It propelled me to go to art school because I wanted to find ways of expressing what I felt inside. I wrote, painted, took a lot of photographs. My connection to nature was deep and I built a cabin way back in the woods. Often I would get down on my knees out there in prayer. And I continued the meditation with often with the same experiences I described before. Eventually Baba Muktananda gave up on me but there was still an overwhelming sense of gratitude coming in both directions and a lot of color in shapes.
When I would think of why these things were happening to me when I could see how unknown and foreign they were to most of the people I knew, and to Francine, I could only come up with this notion; that no matter how bad things got in my life, no matter how low I went, I always felt that it was ok, that somehow I was taken care of, that there was an ultimate protection somehow. This was an abstracted, amorphous sense, nothing scientific or tangible, but it was a part of my being, a deep part, and beyond my understanding. Maybe that strange spiritual confidence I had against all odds was the fertile field for the seeds of my awakening and it was something I was born with, not something I acquired. Most people of faith consider it a gift. Old black Louise, who is still in my mind and my heart, heard me say during this period, “Lou, I guess I always believed in God but now I know for sure.” And she replied, ”Isn’t it nice Rick”. I love her very much.
Years rolled on and we accomplished the things we set to do. My energy held steady but would rise and vibrate like a tuning fork in the spring as the icicles melted and the ground softened for the spring planting and the perch ran up the creeks and they and the bass found their way to our dinner table. But my energy also produced restlessness, a sense of wanting to know what else there was, to take on new challenges, not to settle for the humdrum status quo no matter how pleasant it was.
On a trip back from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey where I was studying tracking with the master, Tom Brown, I stopped in the Catskill Mountains where old and great friends owned a lot of property. The woman, twenty years my senior, and I were great pals and on that visit she showed me a house she owned, an old farm on a hill with a big barn on twelve acres of land looking out onto the hills of the northern Appalachians , pristine country full of deer, turkeys and all kinds of wildlife and, running through it all, the Catskill Rivers where fly fishing began in America. She encouraged me to buy it for a good price and the pull was more than I could resist. And so, against all logic, we pulled out of our community, our good jobs, and everything we knew, and resettled in an area with few opportunities, on an old farm a mile from the nearest neighbor.Without getting too far into the fish I caught, the chef’s job at the YMCA for Francine, or my woodworking business, it is enough to say we did well under the circumstances. However, the most important part of this new adventure, the mystical and spiritual part, has to do with the fact of the Siddha Yoga Ashram being twenty minutes away. At some point before we left Lyme I had a letter from Caroline’s brother mentioning something about it, that Caroline was at an ashram in the Catskills and worshiping at the feet of Baba Muktananda. When we moved to the farm on Blue Hill I was totally ignorant of the ashram, where it was or anything about it and I couldn’t care less anyway. It had nothing to do with me, so I thought.
We were busy trying to get settled into our new life and didn’t have time to think about much else. In my case I focused on fly fishing for trout and roaming the hills looking for deer in between working at various jobs before finally starting my own furniture and cabinet business.
Caroline and I had maintained some contact through the years since our divorce. I was fond of her parents for one thing and we had things in common and maybe especially because we had started meditation practice together back in Brooklyn. After about six months, in the later part of the summer, she encouraged me to come to the ashram. There was to be a big program with the guru, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. Muktananda had died and his disciple had taken over as head of the Siddha Yoga Foundation. Gurumayi had been his translator for many years.
As mentioned before, I had no interest in gurus or in bowing down to anybody. It was all bullshit as far as I was concerned but I did believe in the experience of meditation and I had my own deep faith which didn’t rely on any mortal figure, either past or present including Jesus, the Buddha or anybody else.
I made my way over to the complex of buildings comprising the Siddha Yoga world in South Fallsburg, N.Y. which, aside from the ashram, was a depressing dilapidated place like most of the towns in the Catskills especially the ones that used to depend on the Jewish hotels for life. Those hotels were almost totally gone and the people of those communities, such as they were, were stranded in hardscrabble poverty to one degree or another.
But the ashram was different, healthy and even sparkling, so out of place with the rest of the Catskill scene. There were a lot of people and a lot of good looking women maybe because the guru was a woman. So many people had loved Muktananda I soon learned. I made my way to the hall called the Mandap where the program would be held. It was a giant outdoor space, covered on top and open on the sides with marble tiles and a fire pit in the middle and a stage against the far wall with a chair for the guru. I was early, as usual, and took a cross legged seat on the floor and just took in the scene. Not more than a few minutes passed and all of a sudden a beautiful Indian woman walked in, climbed the few stairs up to the stage, turned, looked directly at me, smiled and said, “Brahmans take a long time.” I looked around to see who might be the target for that comment and there was nobody there. I don’t know what kind of look I had on my face when I turned back around but she smiled at me again and turned away to prepare a few things for the ensuing program and then left.
Caroline showed up along with a few thousand other people and we connected and sat together for the program which included chanting with wonderful music, meditation, and a talk by Gurumayi, the woman who had made that comment to me earlier. I didn’t participate much except to listen and to meditate as best I could- not very well since my head was spinning about the “chance” encounter I had experienced with this person who was a focus for thousands of people here today and hundreds of thousands in the wider world as I later found out.
Caroline’s life had been totally dedicated to Siddha Yoga since our divorce fifteen years earlier and she had lived in India at the Siddha Yoga Ashram there in Maharashtra for seven years doing all kinds of work for the organization and working on her spiritual development in whatever mysterious way that happens. She brought me up to the guru, waiting on line with me, as the thousands of devotees came forward in the Darshan Line to pay their respects and get the blessing of Gurumayi. She introduced me as her “pasti” or husband and Gurumayi smiled and mentioned it to her coterie up there on the stage. Everybody looked pleased. It was a happy moment for everybody for some reason.
It was still light when I got home- summer nights in the northeast are beautiful and the days linger into dusk which lasts long before dark. Francine was off working, an unfortunate aspect of our new life. I was alone a lot. I sat down in the grass and looked out at Denman Mountain and Red Hill from our Blue Hill and I relived what had happened. What did she mean, “Brahmans take a long time?” Was she talking to me? Why would she talk to me? Brahmans are the top spiritual caste in the caste system, the protectors and purveyors of religion. They have a special status. Most of them were annihilated in the great war described in the Mahabharata, the great war for dharma, righteousness, the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. I knew a little bit about that. Of course I did not feel like a Brahman, probably more like a lost babe in the wilderness but not entirely. And so the seed Gurumayi threw in my direction hit fertile soil but, again, I didn’t jump up and shout halleluiah! No No. I was not to be taken in this way again. I remembered Kumar and the disappointment of him. And my own faith did not need help from people in any case. And so I went about my life, teaching art at a home for the retarded, also in South Fallsburg as it turned out, and working on weekends at a fly fishing school on the Beaverkill River, a famous school run by Lee Wulff and his wife Joan.
Francine got involved with the ashram before I did, taking an intensive program over a weekend designed to impart Shakti to the devotee, the awakening of spiritual energy that will result, maybe lifetimes from now, maybe sooner, in complete identification with and absorption in God. That is the Hindu path, the oldest spiritual path in the world and one of the deepest in style, form, and thought. Francine is a very grounded person. That is one of the things I liked about her and needed from her. Her experience of the intensive program was mixed. I heard that she cried which I found interesting since she was not prone to that. Something affected her. But, in my case, I wasn’t interested. I was busy with other things and a lot of my spiritual communion happened in the woods where I would sit down under a tree and meditate, fall on my knees in prayer, or study the clouds, all within the privacy of my solitude which was increasing all the time due to separation in our lives caused by life itself.
Francine had made a few friends at the ashram as a result of the intensive program she had taken, a French woman for one, somebody from the old country so they could talk their native language. She visited a few times and talked with intelligence about what she was doing at the ashram. And as time went on I was drawn in for many reasons: my ex-wife, who was still a friend ,was there, there was no other social life to speak of in our area, Francine was working afternoons and nights, and I was lonely.
At that time in the history of Siddha Yoga it was “the great flowering”. The advent of this young woman to Muktananda’s chair inspired a lot of people and particularly a lot of women. The power had been passed on by Muktananda to both Gurumayi and to her brother, a dynamic young man who, as we came to understand ,did not respect what he had been given. There was a split and Gurumayi moved forward with the Siddha Yoga organization while the brother started his own group with his loyal followers. At the big ashram in South Fallsburg thousands of people were coming from all over the world like bees to honey, experiencing their own spiritual power inspired by the guru and by the ancient path of the departed Siddha masters. It was a great mystical awakening, the word mystical meaning what it does in spiritual life: direct experience not hocus pocus or the occult. It was because so many people experienced something, something great to one degree or another, that Siddha Yoga flowered and expanded hugely for the next ten years and I was right in the middle of it from the beginning.
Every week Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there were programs beginning at four o’clock in the giant open air Mandap or in the huge auditorium within the main building. Some of those gatherings had five thousand people chanting the names of God while moving with the music, experiencing joy and peace. There were talks by the swamis, men and women who had taken vows, teachers mostly and well suited to explain the dharma and the philosophy underlying what was going on-Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism, philosophy as deep as the ocean. We had the benefit of all that for free during those days as well as great vegetarian food at a very low price. If we wanted to take an intensive program, well, that cost some money but the amount of free good things was generous and impressive. Scholars would come and give free programs, lecture brilliantly for free. There were experts in Hatha Yoga showing us the stretches and exercises. The ashram became a yoga university, a wonderful dynamic place with Gurumayi in the middle of it all ,the nexus holding it all together. Her ability to be that center for so many is something I spent a lot of time contemplating back in my shop in the barn.
But I am running ahead because my own journey to the ashram happened in fits and starts, encouraged by what I had heard and encouraged too by Caroline for whom I had a lot of respect, especially in the spiritual realm. I started showing up for the programs in the afternoons, Thursday through Sunday. I didn’t do much but watch and listen. I have a long history of singing in groups, choirs, and with my guitar but I hadn’t sung in at least ten years. Because of my love of singing it was not easy to resist the chanting and eventually I didn’t resist even if I didn’t know what the words meant. I was pretty sure they were not worshiping the devil. And once my singing voice got going everything else followed.
Some people just can’t wait to fall into the pool and be absorbed, to give themselves up to a leader who will organize their complicated lives. Life is a burden in many ways and tiring too. Let somebody else figure it out! Look at the Muslims or the Hindus, the ones who don’t separate their religion from secular life; their life is their religion. Some Christians are like that also but not to the extent that the Muslims are as far as I can see.
There were a lot of teachers, gurus, and charismatic people of all types around in the cultural revolution of the 1960’s. It was confusing to say the least. My experience of Kumar had shut it down for me. But here I was somehow, singing the many Sanskrit names of God in various chants and melodies and enjoying it very much. I still didn’t know what to make of the guru. I just studied her from a distance and listened to her exposition of the philosophy, the spiritual path followed for thousands of years by seekers in her culture, a well-trodden path that had led to enlightenment and liberation for at least some Indian saints.
I took an intensive program following Francine’s lead but maybe six months later. I was enough into the Siddha Yoga experience to do that finally but without much expectation. It was fine with chanting, as always, talks by the impressive swamis, and featured talks with Gurumayi and meditation with her several times over the two days. All of the teaching was about aspects of yoga, the seven branches of yoga, and the siddha yoga branch which was “bhakti”, devotional, based on the heart, on meditation and chanting and on service.
I cocked my head from my perch on my pillow, a pillow my mother had made, and listened to it all with a gentle skepticism. It was fine, nothing to object to. We all want a way out of our limitations, our difficulties, and this path seemed to help people. The swamis appeared to have benefited. They were focused and intelligent people before becoming swamis; they bore convincing witness to their adopted spiritual path. Their talks and experiences were very important in spreading Siddha Yoga to the masses. And the prime experience they talked about way Shaktipat. There are many gurus, so the story goes, but not many Shaktipat gurus, people who can actually transmit spiritual energy to awaken that potential in a person. And once it is awakened it does not go away but continues to develop over time, (but how much time?), until enlightenment is reached. Shaktipat was the main reason for the guru and for the intensive program which was the venue for this to happen, although Shaktipat could also happen in many other ways but always by the guru’s grace.
People were being born again in Jesus a long time ago and that revival was also in the mix during those years. Billie Graham led countless people to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Shaktipat and the Holy Spirit have a lot in common in my understanding. How it happens is not clear. We heard talks about “dry logs” and “wet logs”. Some people were on fire immediately from contact with the spiritual energy. Others were slow to burn. It was very individual and that seemed to make sense. We heard a lot of dramatic stories and many of them included psychic experience, special powers or siddhis as they are called, psychedelic perceptions and so forth. This was all very appropriate to a generation that had passed into adulthood through the initiation, in many cases, of psychedelic drugs.
I didn’t know what to make of any of this. My own experience had nothing to do with anybody or anything. It was my own and I owned it. I was already “there” wherever “there” was which was not clear at all. If they- the other people around me chanting and meditating- were getting Shaktipat and they liked it, well, more power to them. I just liked the activities as a relief from my lonely life making cabinets and furniture in my shop and rarely seeing my Francine. I had learned to meditate early on and knew it was good. I liked to sing and I liked to hear talks by smart people. Those were all good reasons to hang out at a place like the Siddha Yoga Ashram. Also the food was good, and in the dining hall with a purchased ticket, cheap! Yippee! And, let me add, that for someone who is a bit introverted anyway the ability to be with a lot of people and not have to talk to them has a lot of appeal too.
And so I bumped along going to the free programs, eating the food and using the ashram as a place I could go to as relief from the loneliness I felt a good bit of the time. And, I took another intensive finally, maybe because I had the money from my woodworking business to do it and also because Caroline and her friends made me feel more a part of the scene.
I am always early wherever I have to be and it has been that way forever. Maybe it is in the DNA. There are a lot of benefits to this habit pattern and one of them is getting a good seat at events. And so, at this second intensive over a weekend with five or six hundred other seekers I was about five or six rows back from Gurumayi’s chair on the isle right in front of her. I still didn’t know what to make of her other than she was very pretty and smart; I could tell that much. I knew she had been Muktananda’s translator for many years and always at his side. I also knew that the people who had been around Muktananda many previous years were having trouble seeing her as the guru when they had known her as a chubby translator. “How could she now be the guru?” I didn’t spend any time on that because the guru part was all bullshit anyway as far as I was concerned.
Anyway this was my second intensive and there we were on our pillows, doing our chants and listening to talks and doing the usual things. I was quite well practiced in my meditation by this time. I could sit and relax and let my mind go where it might and not hang on to any thought too long which is part of the trick, if there is a trick. Or, when a thought does start taking over, neutralize it with a mantra, the Siddha Yoga mantra being “Om Namah Shivaya” which is ‘I salute God who dwells within me”. There are many mantras and Christian mantras too as I later found out. It is a positive focus for your mind to help it loosen attachment to thoughts and allow a deep mental relaxation that will help you perceive something beyond your mind, something huge. That is what it is all about. Now you know.
It was on the second day toward the end of the intensive that we went into a long meditation with Gurumayi leading it, sitting on her chair maybe twenty feet in front of me. I was feeling fine, not hurting, which can be a problem sitting cross legged on the floor, and I got into a deep state. All of a sudden, in my mind, clear as day, like I was watching a movie, I saw myself fifteen years previously going up the stairs of the loft on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. In perfect detail I saw everything. I saw myself opening the door to the loft and, going in, I saw myself alone there noticing the pictures of Baba Muktananda on the walls and I saw myself examining them carefully and then I saw him, as I had in meditation back in New Hampshire, laughing happily, joyfully with me or at me. At that moment I realized the source of my huge and powerful spiritual awakening- Shaktipat- and with a jolt I opened my eyes and saw Gurumayi smiling at me with a huge smile looking directly into my eyes as the rest of the hundreds continued quietly in deep mediation. Getting over my shock and with complete understanding I smiled back and then closed my eyes again and contemplated what had happened, putting the pieces together as best I could.
And so began my surrender and devotion to the siddha path a surrender that corresponded to the great blossoming of Siddha Yoga. Thousands of people from all over the world were flocking to the ashram and experienced things of value to their spiritual journeys or at least they experienced an oasis of beauty and rest from the complications of regular life. I don’t know what they experienced but there were so many of them and there was a great deal of joy, beauty, and enthusiasm. That was easy to see.
I was in a different relationship to it than many people I suppose. Caroline was an “old timer” and well loved and respected in the organization so when I did talk with people there, which was quite rare actually ,I did that with her and her friends. Otherwise I was on my own which was the way I preferred it. The wiles and snares of people and the quick complications that come with knowing them had become a burden for me. I had enough of that to deal with that in my business which was very complicated- custom woodwork for very rich people in Manhattan and at their big properties in the Catskills- movie stars, aristocrats, robber barons. Enough, enough!
The Siddha Yoga experience fell on a person who already had been awakened by Shaktipat twelve years previously even if he didn’t know it in that way. It fell on someone with a deep belief and a solid meditation practice. I was the ripe fruit that fell into the basket without bruising. And I regarded it as a gift and as a pleasure. At the same time I, being skeptical and suspicious of people in general, just did what I could to study the guru, to watch her carefully for any signs of “clay feet”, human foibles. And I didn’t make a career out of that either because I sort of ignored her despite what she had already given me. It was selfish in a way. I loved the practices: the chanting, the meditation, the beauty of the ashram, and the wonderful talks about yoga. I didn’t want whatever the guru was or wasn’t to interfere with that.
Meditation and chanting are healthy and the food was healthy and the environment was beautiful and sweet smelling. Sometimes there were four thousand women there with maybe one thousand men. On the staff there might have been three hundred women and one hundred men. The women were beautiful mostly and the whole scene was seductive. My own relationship at home was more and more hanging by a thread. Francine and I never stopped loving each other but our lives were more and more separate, with different friends and interests. That was a lonely situation for me, a person who needs affection and warmth. Francine never had that growing up and didn’t seem to need it. For a long time I would only half-jokingly say “ I need to find another woman.” I hoped Francine would take these serious hints to heart but she never did. When you have lived with someone solidly for almost twenty years sometimes you stop listening to them. It is a tragedy of love because the people involved love each other deeply. I believe that. Then why do they stop responding? Why do they stop paying attention? And so the inevitable happened: “ A certain smile, a certain face, can lead an unsuspecting heart of on a merry chase” as the lyric goes.
I wrote it all down in the aftermath in one of my journals which are in transit from Trinidad as we speak. They should be here soon. Meantime I will recreate the scene that I recall only too well. Oh God, what a mess.
It was after a meditation session in the temple when I opened my eyes to see the “monitor” get up from her seat and walk the circle around the statue of Bade Baba. As she came around she looked right at me and smiled, a dazzling smile out of a beautiful face with sparkling eyes. It was like an arrow piercing my heart. Once again I was so ready, so ripe.
After that I started looking for her. Her name was Dana and she was on the staff and had more responsibilities than other people. I found out at a program where she was the master of ceremonies that she had been a teacher at a university. It seemed that every time I came to the ashram she was there to glance at me or exchange a smile. The ashram was not a social place, not a place to get a date and, of course, I had a stalwart mate, Francine. We were not legally married but we were by common law. Now my attention was moving toward this new mysterious woman, a very beautiful one. A woman author I knew, Maria Jaoudi, who has written a lot about world religions and knew the ashram said, “there is a lot of psychic energy in places like that.” I suppose that helps explain how often I was drawn to the ashram for the sole purpose of having an encounter with Dana. So it seemed; it happened over and over.
Finally, of course, I tried to contact her and we had a brief phone conversation during which she acted like she didn’t know me or what was going on with me. I tried to put it out of my mind after that but the encounters and the drama kept right on. I would have an impulse, even at unusual times, to go to the ashram and sure enough we would run into each other, every time. Once I was there with Francine, who wasn’t too keen on Siddha Yoga or the guru for some reason, and Dana walked right past us and looked at me with significance, so I thought. It was a psycho drama with many events almost impossible to describe because the context for them was so complicated. One thing would be said in a talk, another thing would happen and then Dana would somehow put the dot on the I or cross the T.
I wrote her a letter with a poem in it which had significance to me, something I had written back in 1973 during my spiritual awakening, my shaktipat experience. It was quite beautiful what I said. At that point she knew who I was and asked Caroline ‘if I was crazy’ to which Caroline replied,” He is not crazy. He is just very sensitive.” Caroline also astutely asked her, “Has this ever happened before.” And she admitted that it had. And Caroline, as a sort of intermediary now, tried to shy me away saying that Dana was “hopeless”.
Many of the women at the ashram were looking for shelter and protection. They were women who had suffered abuse and were attracted to a guru who was a woman. I began to see Dana’s behavior as a result of emotional trauma suffered from sexual abuse. And I mentioned that to Caroline who said, “ I think you are right.” Of course it was all speculation but the hell of psycho drama is the reality of it, the belief in it. And despite all the complication and the nothingness I was getting from Dana in any realm but the psychic one, I forged ahead, convinced I could be the prince charming to rescue the damaged princess. This is so hard to write.
By now my energy was soaring again almost to the point of disintegration, of merge with the ultimate which I had experienced years ago but now it stayed under some kind of control. I was vibrating absolutely yet still able to function, to meditate and even do the complicated work of my business in the barn. I was exercising as usual, going for runs of several miles and going to the gym at the New Age Health Spa where I worked out on the stair master machine, turning it up full speed and staying on it for 45 minutes or an hour.
One day near the climax of my emotional crisis or whatever we want to call it, I went for my run and once back in the driveway did a few jumping jacks to end off the session and in doing so one foot found a hole and my whole weight came down on that ankle. This was a bad one and it immediately started turning black and swelling. I did what I could with an ace bandage but I was limping badly. At the same time I could not be interrupted from my mission which was the pursuit of my ephemeral love, Dana, in concert with the Siddha Yoga practices. My ankle was sick but my energy was strong and healthy to a very special degree. The proof of that, and one of the empirical things that happened in the mystical realm, is that I went the next morning to the Guru Gita with that blackened and very painful foot and, despite the pain, I sat on my cushion, did the chant for an hour, and at the end of the chant looked down at my ankle. It had been totally restored to a natural pink and healthy color and transmitted no pain whatsoever- totally healed. This is a fact.
I had other experiences in the mystical realm during my time in the ashram doing the practices and some of them were identical to things others had experienced so I had confirmation of them in that way. But this was of a different ilk. Everybody knows what Jesus did, what some faith healers claim to do, what Bernadette at Lourdes inspires to happen but almost nobody believes it. For me, a lifetime athlete with plenty of experience with sprained ankles this was total proof of the power of spiritual or psychic energy to heal. If I had taken a picture of my ankle before the Guru Gita and taken another picture of it one hour later after the chant probably nobody would believe that either. I wouldn’t have believed it myself except that it happened to me, to my body, to my ankle. How a person can get to that energetic place is another question entirely.
What I have learned over the years is that some people have these mystical experiences and some people don’t. And there is no competition about it or superiority about it. In Christian mysticism it is sometimes referred to as “lights on” or “lights off.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta was “lights off” and her biography is even called “ Come Be My Light”. Not only did she not have the comfort and reassurance of these experiences, she even felt abandoned and without faith at all a good part of the time. Jesus said, in response to “doubting Thomas”, “Blessed be those who have not seen and yet have believed.”( John: 20: 26-29)
A friend of mine, a nun, has never had the slightest spiritual experience and yet she dutifully fulfills the requirements of her vocation. As she told me, she goes to the chapel to pray and says to God, “OK God you are either there or not there. I don’t care I am sitting here anyway. A person needs a life and this is my life.” I think that is so great somehow. Many spiritual seekers and even saints have never been “slain by the spirit” a phrase I enjoy. Mystical experiences are not necessary but they certainly get one’s attention.
Back at the ashram my heart and soul, my biology and my mind were on fire. In that condition I resolved to confront Dana the next morning after the Guru Gita. Maybe all she needed was to see the strength of my ardor to break out of her shell, her denial. It was all finally coming to a head after months of psychic torture, romantic drama, exciting pain for someone so susceptible.
I went home and Francine was not there yet but she came home in the afternoon and made a couple of perfunctory gestures in the direction of her perceived idea of my needs, pulling up the foot stool, handing me a cup of coffee, things like that but done in the same way she would change the kitty litter, a necessary duty. She was like that and I loved her for who she was despite my unfulfilled needs. And because of that I couldn’t keep up this secrete drama anymore. I had to tell her even if it was a fantasy. And I did.
I was upstairs at this point and looking down the stairwell to her I said, “What would you say if I told you I was in love with someone?” And she said, “ A little bit?” And I said, “No a lot.” And then we took a walk down the driveway and up the peaceful road toward the blueberry pasture and our neighbors’ house a mile away. It is a very beautiful setting by any standard in the world. And I don’t remember what we talked about. What I do remember so clearly was that finally I had her full attention and it was such a pleasure and better than anything. And I said to myself, “Wow this is great. What a shame that this is what it took.” Because she loved me and it was unthinkable to her, despite all the many indications I gave over years, that I would ever leave her.
That is the tragedy, that we don’t hear each other until it is too late. And so I, with a slight misgiving now but basically undaunted, went ahead with my plan to meet my strange love after the guru gita. I remember Francine, who had been sleeping in another room, another mistake, wanted that night to sleep with me and would not allow it. That is a painful moment to remember I can tell you. I was focused on Dana and winning her love.
And I went ahead in the morning. I don’t remember if I slept much that night, probably not. The Guru Gita was beautiful as always and I lay in wait afterwards and confronted Dana nicely but strongly and I got a total rebuff, like ‘who do you think you are and leave me alone’ type of response. That was enough for me to see that no matter how crazy I was she was also crazy and probably a lot crazier, and also destructive, a true ‘fatal attraction’. In a way there was relief , a catharsis, because I couldn’t carry this any longer. I went home where Francine had summoned her friend Ann Luria for support. They were both there when I came back and I went in and announced “we are back together” and lay down on the couch. I had a fever, an actual measurable fever, and I lay there and finally fell asleep for a long long time; I don’t know how long.
There was enough information about the goings on between me and Dana at the ashram that it got to the attention to Gurumayi who surely knew about it anyway. Dana was soon sent away to India which was not something she wanted since the guru was here with us. It was a type of punishment and penance. And if I was to speculate based on intuition and psychic information I would say she was a man hater who had suffered a lot of sexual abuse as a child, a beautiful child, someone who felt protected from all that in the ashram and, like a lot of people, was trying to heal. She was very smart and beautiful and later she became engaged to a French man who was, naturally, also a devotee. I can only imagine that this didn’t work out well at all. The kind of scars she carried, I am quite sure, do not heal.
It would be nice to say that this was the end of the story and that Francine, who was my true love, and I lived happily ever after. But that was not “ so to be” as the old timers would say. We just couldn’t somehow rebuild what had fallen apart so slowly over many years. The warmth and affection I needed was not there. We had a counselor, a lady friend of Francine’s, evaluate our relationship and she recommended that we spend at least one day a week doing something together but we didn’t do it. Francine’s interests and mine were different and I guess we didn’t care enough or were too selfish to think about what would please the other person. And I continued with my suggestion that I “need to find another woman” to which she didn’t respond at all now. Her idea was always that if that’s what it would take to make me happy then ok. At least that is how I interpreted her silence.
One morning I was on the floor playing with our dog, a great Chesapeake-lab mix and Francine was at the stove. She said, “Ricker, I love you so much, no matter what happens nothing will change that.” And I said, “I love you too.” What a shame that people can feel so deeply and still be apart. And so began a chapter in my life I look on now with distain and a certain amount of embarrassment but with respect too because I refused to stifle my needs, to be one of those men who ‘lead lives of quiet desperation.’
I was forty five years old and my wife had gone through menopause at age forty two and didn’t want to do anything about it, didn’t even want to hear about it or the good research and advice there was about it. She didn’t care about sex. “Who needs it?” she would say. Well, I was a very healthy man not even into middle age and I was very very horny to the point of desperation. I remember I took a long walk with an older friend and mentor of sorts, somebody who had a lot of experience with women, a very handsome and charming European man. I said, “I have to do something.” And he said, ”Join a club.” And that is good advice but where we were it was so isolated and the community so base really, that an idea like that didn’t have legs. And, despite the psycho drama that had recently frayed the rope connecting me to the life and partner I had cherished for a long time, I didn’t have the stomach for a clandestine affair. I had told Francine enough times that I had to “do something” and I went about doing it. The only action was at the ashram where there were women galore and so I started fishing in that “stocked pond”.
Do I want to relive the details of what happened over the next couple of years? Not really. How about the ex-nun who was now a Siddha Yoga devotee and voracious and unstoppable suggesting the parking lot of Kmart as a fine place for coupling. A fella could blow a gentle stream of air on her privates and be rewarded with a full blown and hysterical orgasm. Wow! That was nice for a while. Another real pretty one from outside the ashram was highly experienced, slightly beat up and with “high mileage”. She had spent some years down in Florida working at the race track with the horses. She said, “Ricker I could tell you stories about that time that would make the rest of your hair fall out.” And I believed her.
I opened this new chapter without hiding anything and once it started Francine wanted me out of the house. So I renovated the top floor of the barn and started living there. It was a nice arrangement but painful both for Francine and for me too during the rare times I allowed myself to think about it. So much of the vital time of our life had been spent together, shared together. Even though I could not stop myself I also didn’t allow the relationships I got into to develop in the way they might have, in the way the women might have wished they had. Most of the women I met were looking for a steady, comfortable situation, one they could rely on, one that might become a real marriage. I was not at that place psychologically because, in spite of myself and the frustration I felt, I still loved Francine and a deep part of me did not want to be separated from her. That is the hell of it. People who have shared life happily or even relatively happily for something like twenty years have created deeper bonds than they know about consciously. Those ties are there and don’t untie easily. Maybe they never do.
The big barn with my shop and now my living space was on one side of our Blue Hill Road and the farmhouse with Francine and all the cats and our dog was on the hill on the other side. We cooperated on certain things having to do with life on the property.
I kept up with my practices at the ashram more assiduously than ever. The inner experiences I had in meditation were indescribably fine. The knowledge of the philosophy of yoga stimulated my intellect. And the healthy young women, sweet smelling and in abundance, gave me a boner most of the time. Ah the spiritual life! I had some great women during that time. And I was also a respected yogi and devotee due to my dutiful attention to the programs and practices and also because I came to be in charge of some building projects at the ashram. But I didn’t fool everyone. One woman said to me,” You are not a yogi; you are a rogue from the Bronx!” To which I replied,” I am a lot of things.”
My teacher, protector, and mentor, my guru, Gurumayi, saw it all and heard about it all. My God bless her abundantly for her compassion to me. I saw many people get her hard side, her corrections, her discipline and I, knowing on some level that I was a true fool, fully expected to be “ tarred and feathered” and thrown outside the ashram walls where there would be ‘wailing and the gnashing of teeth’. But it didn’t happen despite my never heeding her warnings about the direction of my life, warnings that were clear to me even in the company of five hundred other people. It worked that way; one would hear what one was meant to hear. And if that is too “woo woo” for you, well tough. You had to be there.
On the empirical level, because I was a dedicated devotee by this time, I brought my women up to Gurumayi in the darshan line, introducing them and sometimes going up on my own to ask for her blessing. One time, during a lull in my romantic sexual festival, I suggested to her that I become a swami or maybe that I wanted to be a father. I can’t remember right now and it could have been either. Yikes. She laughed so hard I could see her ribs moving in and out like an accordion. I didn’t wait around for any answer because it looked like it was going to take some time for her to recover and, of course, I was abashed not exactly knowing what was so funny. Another time I brought someone up to meet her and she said, loudly to the five hundred or so gathered around,” He is a wild horse. He goes out and he brings them in.” She might even have made a gesture of swinging a rope over her head like Will Rogers. It was done with a lot of good humor. Sweet really. She could have called me a “skunk” or some other things but, once again, she was with me and for me. Not sure why….
And that is how it went until finally I wanted to settle down, have an end to all the drama and unknowing that goes with a freestyle sexual life. I met a very vivacious ex beauty queen with an hour glass figure and we, with some drama along the way, fetched up together and actually got married. This coincided with my getting a good position at a school out in the Seattle area, a region I had been interested in anyway and had scouted just the year before since I was looking for a major change. The fact that I got that job truly seemed like a miracle and still does since I was to be department chair of the Art Department and I had been in my shop the last ten years and in a library five years before that and had not done much teaching at all other than a bit at a local prep school when I was twenty-five and a bit in graduate school. But I had the credentials and paintings and drawings to show and it happened against all odds.
In that year, 1994, my oldest sister died in her fifties, my mother died of yet another cancer, I broke up a twenty year relationship and also, looking ahead to later in the year, got divorced. More than that, I left my home and friends, traveled three thousand miles, and changed careers. I think that is about all. When I dumped my bathing beauty, which cost me some money, the new school friends I had suggested I see a shrink which I did. But therapy was expensive and despite my pain on some deep levels I told him I had some good coping mechanisms including running for exercise, painting, meditation, and playing the guitar among other things. He agreed he didn’t know anybody with so many coping mechanisms. But I did suffer and have serious pain in my stomach which went away eventually.
There were other relationships and another ill-considered marriage which didn’t last much longer to the previous one. Through it all I was still attached to Francine; she was unresponsive. I suffered a lot about that over the next fourteen years especially in the realm of dreams when I would see us in the places we lived, see her as clearly as in real life, with all the details: the atmosphere of the house, the chilly temperature of the north, her warm body and exotic beauty. It was always a dream of reconciliation. This was truly a living purgatory for me. I told her about it but with little effect. She is a much different type of person. At the same time I also knew her stubborn nature would not let her stop loving me. That is the good part about someone so hard headed. And I kept trying over the years and there was some movement, but glacial in speed and also in temperature. You can only keep a hope like that alive for so long.
Siddha yoga was going strong in Seattle and Tacoma where I lived the next eight years, teaching and keeping up with my painting and music. And I started writing more seriously during that time. But Siddha Yoga was starting to wane, not just out here in the west but also back home.
Siddha Yoga had grown huge over the past ten years. There were boards of directors, off shoot charitable foundations, ill-conceived building projects and all the politics that happen when many ego driven people are involved and there were plenty of those. We had all sorts of movie stars, famous musicians, writers, financial people, and other high performers in the mix at the ashram. It was inevitable that problems would ensue, power struggles, rumors. Gurumayi stayed steady through it all as climbers, manipulators and plotters buzzed around. There were former devotees who were upset that they didn’t get enlightened.
People expected results and results in spiritual life are mostly under the radar if they exist at all; certainly they are not easily discerned. A man I knew later, a leader in the Secular Carmelite order, who had been working hard at it for thirty years, when asked about what all this prayer and study had done for him, said “ I think I am a little less twitchy than I was”. I thought that was refreshingly honest. Our world of immediate gratification does not mesh well with the world of prayer, meditation, and study.
Maybe there was a logic to how Siddha Yoga flowered and then withered. Devotees would not like that description probably but for someone who had seen it shine so brightly for almost ten years it was hard to accept what became of it subsequently. For me, the loner that I am, it was not so hard. I left the area just as Siddha Yoga was changing, shrinking, and in any case I was always pretty much a loner and on my own. Some of the devotees had lived and worked at the ashram for twenty years and were now being asked to leave. They didn’t know any other life and abruptly had to go it alone out there in the world, a frightening idea. But the message of Siddha Yoga and also the Christian Gospels is that the “Kingdom of God Lies Within”. What we are looking for is inside ourselves. The guru can be a way to that, an aid in the journey but each person has that work to do for him or herself. That is my understanding and so I felt on an intuitive level that this was inevitable, that we had to wean ourselves from dependence on the ashram and on the guru.