Enlightenment is a topic of much discussion among those who travel to Rishikesh. The seeking of it or the evidence of it provides an entire economy for the local people. I have learned here from observing saints and holy men in the chaotic and often hostile environment that is
that enlightenment isn't a destination that resides somewhere off in the distant future. It isn’t a trip I’ll take at the end of a hundred thousand more lifetimes. It isn't something I can't yet touch or feel. Enlightenment is something I have touched, in blissful moments of meditation and grace where all life teems and swells in unity and oneness and joy. In those special moments of life after meditation or blissful chanting, when the veil is lifted and my soul sings a song of unity with all creation, I have gotten there in some small way. The difference between where I am and those who have achieved enlightenment is maintenance. They can sustain this feeling and awareness permanently. Where I sink back into darkness, and grumpiness and irritation and sadness sneak back into my life, the enlightened ones have a strength borne of discipline and care that allows them to exist in this state of super consciousness at all moments. Enlightenment is discipline and strength. It is maintenance and care. It is extended and protracted. It is someone who has touched samadhi with their conscious mind and then lives and moves from this feeling. Enlightenment is going to the mountain top and instead of coming back down, pitching a tent and setting up camp. It is an unwavering light, a candle that can no longer be blown out by the wind. We are all candles, some lit some not. Our job is to stop being just candles and start being just light. India
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
One day walking in Rishikesh, a car slowly passed me. I noticed a butterfly stuck on the car, one wing having been caught in the hood, the other flapping wildly to free itself. I gestured to the driver to stop the car, but he refused. So I stepped in front of his car. I felt the struggle in this butterfly’s being and knew it deserved a chance at a peaceful death without fear and hopelessness no less than I. I put up my hand and forcefully shouted “Stop!” He stopped, but refused to open the hood of the car. I gestured to the butterfly. He shrugged. I would not budge. “Open the hood!” I demanded, and he finally gave in. I expected a broken and shattered wing and a butterfly that would only have a few moments to live. Instead, two whole and complete wings flew with determination. The butterfly appeared totally fine. I could not believe it. Pinned a second before, it was now flying with grace and ease. It was a miracle to me. Do not resign yourself to just recuperating from trauma. When you find yourself out of a hopeless and painful situation, fly with passion and determination as if you’ve never been touched. Let the past go, let the pain stay where it was. Take nothing with you but the miracle of flight and the beauty of who you really are.
One night after chanting arti by the
Ganges, a clearly distraught woman came up to me to ask for help. As she explained through tears, her shoes had been stolen during the ceremony. Although there is a shoe check at the side of the road, she must have been too impatient to wait in line. She went on to explain in a thick French accent that they were not ordinary shoes, but custom-made and expensive orthopedic shoes for her foot condition, and that without them her trip to would surely be over, because she couldn’t walk without them. She was extremely upset, even more so than you might expect for someone who has lost something very important to them, and I thought her reaction was perhaps a little extreme. I was very tired from a long day and had to get up in a few short hours for morning prayers, but I knew that God would not have brought me an opportunity to help someone if I wasn’t supposed to take it. So I found out from her what the shoes looked like (brown with lace up sides and a special insole) and launched a plan to help. After scanning the immediate area to make sure the shoes weren’t there, I went to the ashram office to see if there was someone who was able to help her available, but everyone was very busy preparing for the arrival of a large group. Then I found someone who spoke Hindi and asked them to come with me to explain to the beggars outside that if they had taken her shoes, I would buy them from them at a high price and then also buy them a new pair of shoes in the morning, but none of the beggars said they had them. After going up and down the streets for an hour, I thought surely the person who had taken them had gone up to sleep in the hills, like many of the beggars do. I told the woman, whose name was Beatrice, that nothing more could be done until morning. She just sobbed. I knew that these shoes were vital to her independence because she had so much trouble walking without them, but these tears seemed to flow from a much deeper place than from simple shoes. “My dear” I said, “Why are you crying?” She told me that her son had died last year and her heart had been ripped to pieces. She had lost all faith in God, who let her son die and allowed her to suffer like this, and she had come to India India to walk down the Ganges to , where she planned to join Mother Theresa’s order and as she put it “serve and die.” She had come to Calcutta looking for a spiritual message, intending to die from overwork or disease or heartbreak. Life had no meaning to her without her son. Without her shoes, she said, she would have to return home to India , where nothing awaited her but a broken heart. Through her tears, you could see a very tough and determined woman, with a hard edge and a sharp intellect. I had my hand on hers, asking God to open my heart up to hers and help her, since I felt woefully inadequate to the task of assisting her through her pain. But it occurred to me that I had perspective that she could not gain through her tears and I felt spirit moving through me. “You came here for a lesson from Lourdes, France ? Well, my name is Ramdesh. Ram is a name of the God who lived here in physical form, and desh means country. Ram’s desh is India India, so let this be a message to you from . You came here to serve and die, but that offer is rejected. God wants you to serve and live. You say your heart is broken in a million pieces and that without your shoes you must return home. I say God took your shoes so that you would return home to India . Who is the one woman who would understand with total grace the death of the son? The Virgin Mary. Go home to Lourdes , serve her and live, and see if your faith in God does not mend. To lose a son is hard enough without losing God, too. Your desire to serve and die cannot be so, for if you live and walk this earth, part of your son does too. Be his hands and feet, his eyes and ears on this plane and live on his behalf. You are stubborn, am I right? So God had to take your shoes my dear, to return your heart.” At this she began to cry harder. “I do not want you to think I do not see your pain. Your sorrow is so deep I can’t begin to see the bottoms. This may seem simple and quaint to you, but in the spiritual tradition I follow, there is a meditation for mending a broken heart. It is said that if you do it every day for fourty days, you will feel a deep relief.” I showed her the meditation and she seemed very interested in learning how to do it properly. (The Meditation to Heal a Broken Heart may be found on page 82 of the “I am a Woman” Kundalini Yoga manual.) She asked me about Kundalini yoga, and I told her a bit about how it is a form of meditation and yoga designed to bring out an energetic and spiritual experience. I told her to practice the meditation for fourty days and that if at the end of it, it helped her, I told her to find a Kundalini yoga teacher near her in Lourdes , or a book if none was available to keep learning. She was so taken aback by all I was saying and was calming down so I asked her what her name was. She said it was Beatrice. Now in Lourdes , cows are revered as holy and white cows in particular are seen as very graceful creatures who are often the companion of gods like Krishna. One particular cow outside of the ashram is my favorite to feed at night. She is gentle to the extreme and her long tongue ever so sweetly takes the banana peels I offer her. She nuzzles my body with her head and I pet her face and sing mantras to her in the street. It is said that if you feed sweets to a cow, they will give you sweetness of words and let you be blessed in your communications with others. That morning, I had spontaneously named this cow Beatrice. And there it was, in this land of instant miracles, that Beatrice the cow had sweetened my words and allowed me to help Beatrice the human. Asking the human to sit by herself for awhile, I walked down the street, bowed to the cow to thank her, and then went into the “Brown Bread Man Shop” to ask a friend to arrange a car back for her, since she could not walk without her shoes. By now it was very late and I was absolutely exhausted. I excused myself from her, explaining that my friend would wait with her until the car came and that I needed to sleep. She started to cry again and said she would never forget me. I said, “Forget me. Just don’t forget the message.” Grateful to God for the chance to be of service, I slept peacefully. The next day I saw signs up for Lost Shoes with a reward, knowing that Beatrice was a tough cookie who didn’t take defeat lightly. Not expecting any chance of their return, I wished her well and went on about my day. Later that night at the Brown Bread Man Shop, my friend was very excited to see me. “The French woman was here looking for you!” he said, “She found her shoes!” She had sat down by Mother Ganges, to cry to the river one last time, when a man approached her asking her why she was crying. She told him about her shoes. He asked her to describe them and then told her to wait there. Speeding off on his motorcycle, she was very curious. When he returned, he had the shoes. He was the leading of a local black market and had either taken her shoes or knew who did. My friend told me that the French woman wanted to make sure he told me that she would serve and live and that after hiking down the Ganges, she was going to return to India to help the poor. She was also going to do the meditation for 40 days. Waheguru! Sometimes God will not let us move on until we learn our lesson in a very dramatic and sudden way. I believe in the principle of oneness, that Beatrice the human and Beatrice the cow and I are all innately connected and part of the same being, a Being which I call God, but whom you might call by another name or by a word such as Universe. I know that no lesson would have come up if it were not for me as well, and so I take as my marching orders here on the Lourdes Ganges: “Serve and Live!” In doing so, may I help heal the broken heart of the world. The other lesson? Don’t forget to feed the cows.