Category Archives: Spiritual

On God

In which there are quotes from some favorite non-fiction in my library.

The truth is that we are all inclined to flatter ourselves – despite our daily experience to the contrary – that we spend our time thinking logical, consecutive thoughts. In fact, most of us do no such thing. Consecutive thought about any one problem occupies a very small proportion of our waking hours. More usually, we are in a state of reverie — a mental fog of disconnected sense-impressions, irrelevant memories, nonsensical scraps of sentences from books and newspapers, little darting fears and resentments, physical sensations of discomfort, excitement or ease.

The mind seems to be intelligent and conscious. Yoga philosophy teaches that it is not. It has only a borrowed intelligence. The Atman is intelligence itself, is pure consciousness. The mind merely reflects that consciousness and so appears to be conscious.

The external world, even in its most beautiful appearances and noblest manifestations, is still superficial and transient. It is not the basic Reality. We must look through it, not at it, in order to see the Atman.

PatanjaliHow to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
by Swami Prabhavananda, Christopher Isherwood, Patanjali

 
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Freedom.

What is wanted is deep inner life.

Silence the bubbling thoughts. Keep the mind cool and calm. Open yourself to higher spiritual consciousness. Feel the Divine Presence and Divine Guidance. Fix your mind at the lotus feet of the Lord. Become like a child. Speak to Him freely. Become absolutely candid, do not hide your thoughts. You cannot do so, because He is the Antaryamin (inner ruler). He watches all your thoughts. Pray for mercy, light, purity, strength, peace and knowledge. You will surely get them. You will be established in Brahmacharya.”

- Practical Lessons in Yoga by Sri Swami Sivananda

Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed. I am certain that priceless wealth is in thee, and that thou art my best friend, but I have not the heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room. The shroud that covers me is a shroud of dust and death; I hate it, yet hug it in love. My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy; yet when I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted.”

-Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realisation, the knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness.”

- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Aaaaaand I have my name back. Legally!

In which I’m finally rid of my married name!

I decided recently to get a passport. No real reason. I don’t have any travel plans, but one never knows — and I have the money just now so what the hell. Maybe I’ll get to India before I’m 50.

passportToday I went to my second appointment with the passport lady at the post office, and I gave her a bunch of paperwork and money and she made me re-do my work about three times, which is impressive considering it’s only a two-page freakin’ application and I’d already done it twice and I have a reasonably high IQ.

Halfway through the procedure, the passport lady decided they’d probably reject my application because the name on my driver license did not match the name on my divorce papers well enough. She suggested I go update my driver licence. And could I maybe possibly do it, like, right now, since she’d already put my passport application on her transmittal and she had no idea how to remove it and the paperwork has to go today?

A driver license. Before three o’clock today? Sure. What the hell. I’ll try.

So off I went to the DMV on my bike during my lunch hour. (It’s all downhill, so the ride out there was pretty okay.) I walked in the door and I kid you not: there was no line! None! Talk about support of nature: I got help immediately, which has literally NEVER HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF THE DMV. The mild glitches (they had to delete an old expired license from the last time I lived in Washington, plus I very nearly flunked the vision test) were neatly handled. (Note to self: get new contacts.) Less than an hour later, with my name all changed and a new temporary driver licence in my purse, I rode back to the post office. (It was all uphill.) I stopped at Taco Bell, about halfway, for a tostada because I was hungry. (Did I mention it’s all uphill?)

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Amma’s 2012 Yatra

In which I don’t know where to see Mother this year.

The US Tour schedule just came out, and wouldn’t you know that a friend is getting married during the Seattle dates and I’ve already committed to singing at her ceremony?

Meaning, of course, that if I see Mother in Seattle, I’ll have to leave the program early to be back in time. Lame. Might as well see Her somewhere else!

Chicago? Emailed NLW to see if she’s going; if she says yes, I’ll blow my tax return on airfare. If no, I’ll probably go to the San Ramon ashram programs since I’ve never seen Her there. The DC or New York programs are also possible, but while I do know people both places I don’t think I know any devotees.

(I haven’t even begun to plan my travel but I’m already dreading the results of being out of the office for more than six hours. Being the only person in your department is kind of stressful.)

Last year I had ‘get divorced’ and ‘obtain passport’ on my post-seeing-Amma to do list. I’ll have both handled by the time I see Mother again. We’ll just have to wait and see if I feel compelled to ask Her whether I should go to India/do ashram life for awhile or stay here and wait until G’ma actually needs me. I’m really not doing anything useful with my life, ultimately, and hello: I’m alive during the embodiment of an Incarnation. Why am I settling for seeing such a being once a year? What the hell am I doing, not fighting tooth and nail to be near Her all the time? The odds of there being an Avatar in my next life are low, low, low. Every second you give away you never get back.

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Om Sri GuruBhyo NamaH Hari OM

In which I fly! To Seattle! On a plane!

Last week I went to Seattle to see my beloved Satguru, Amma, properly known as Sri Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi.

While I was there I enjoyed a lovely retreat, learned a new meditation technique, suffered a vicious spring cold, had a series of trippy spiritual revelations, and ate a lot of refined carbohydrates.

My friend Toni was slated to go with me and drive us to Seattle, but for some reason I kept blowing off making our reservations for the retreat and the hotel. Two weeks before Amma’s visit, she called to say that had to have a minor surgery that week and wouldn’t be able to go. Suddenly we not only didn’t have reservations, but I didn’t have transportation either.

And then things got awesome. Continue reading

Just checkin' in.

In which I’m kinda busy!

Last weekend, I had a total blast at Sunbanks (a blues festival near Grand Coulee). Coyote Kings and I played the 2:30 slot on Saturday, and we had an encore and everything! It was freakin’ awesome! The crowd was amazing.

Coyote Kings with Mush Morgan

Then we stayed for another 24 hours and talked to musicians and drank campers’ cocktails and in general had an absolutely fun time! Here’s the photoset.

Tomorrow, I’m flying to Seattle to see Amma. I’ll be home next Tuesday. Om namah Shivaya!

Since there are only two weeks of the term left, I need to be busting ass to make up for the homework I didn’t do last week and won’t do next week. I also need to do laundry and pack. So if you’ll excuse me?

Amma on meditation.

In which I’ve read this passage before, but this time it seemed to be exactly the advice I needed.

“Don’t try to still your mind by force when you sit for meditation. The thoughts will rise up with ten times their original force if you do that. It is like pressing down a spring. Try to find out where the thoughts arise from, and control them with that knowledge. Don’t place the mind in any kind of tension. If any part of your body is tense or feels any pain, the mind will linger on that. Relax every part of the body and watch your thoughts with absolute awareness. Then the mind will subside by itself.

“Don’t follow your thoughts. If you follow them, only your body will be here; your mind will be somewhere else.”

- Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Upadeshamritam Vol. 1

(Emphasis mine.)

Volunteering. It’s gonna be freakin’ awesome, you guys.

In which I got up early… and it was actually a pleasant experience!

I got laid off a year ago yesterday.

Since then, I looked for work for six months and had a total of two responses, and then I applied for and returned to school but my classes are 85% online. I have an on-again/off-again contracting gig for a friend in California, but it’s also online. Other than the occasional gig, running into G’ma in the kitchen, and the nights I go out to bars (something I’d like to do less of, really), I’m very much isolated. Continue reading

Guru Purnima

In which yesterday was guru purnima. (I celebrated with a Lalita Sahasranama and some midnight meditation under the full moon.)

“The great Adi Shankara (the first Shankaracharya) of the 8th century summarized the entirety of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualistic philosophy) in six stanzas. When a young boy of eight, wandering in the Himalayas seeking to find his guru, he encountered a sage who asked him, “Who are you?” The boy answered with these stanzas, which are known as “Nirvana Shatakam” or “Atma Shatakam.” (‘Nirvana’ is complete equanimity, peace, tranquility, freedom and joy. ‘Atma’ is the Supreme Being, the true self.) The sage the boy was talking to was Swami Govindapada Acharya, who was, indeed, the teacher he was looking for.”

NIRVANA SHATAKAM

Mano-budhy-ahankara cittani naham
na ca srotra-jihve na ca ghrana netre
Na ca vyoma bhumim na tejo na vayuh
Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham

I am neither the mind, nor the intellect, nor the ego, nor the mind stuff. I am neither the body, nor the changes of the body. I am neither the senses of hearing, taste, smell or sight. Nor am I either the earth, the fire, the air. I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am He, I am He.

Na ca prana samnjo na vai pancavayur
na va sapta-dhatur na va panca-kosah
Na vak-pani-padam na copastha-payu
Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham

I am neither the Prana, nor the five vital airs. I am neither the materials of the body, nor the five sheaths. Neither am I the organs of action nor objects of the senses. I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am He, I am He.

Na me dvesa ragau na me lobha mohau
mado naiva me naiva matsaryabhavah
Na dharmo na cartho na kamo na moksah
Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham

I have neither aversion nor attachment, neither greed nor delusion, neither egotism nor envy. Neither Dharma nor Moksha. I have neither desire nor object of desire. I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am He, I am He.

Na punyam na papam na saukhyam na dukham
na mantro na tirtham na veda na yajna
Aham bhojanam naiva bhojyam na bhokta
Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham

I am neither sin nor virtue, neither pleasure nor pain, nor temple, nor worship, nor pilgrimage, nor scriptures. And I am neither the act of enjoying, the enjoyable nor the enjoyer. I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am He, I am He.

Na mrtyur na sanka na me jati bhedah
pita naiva me naiva mata na janma
Na bandhur na mitram gurur naiva sisya
Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham

I have neither death, nor fear of death, nor caste. Nor was I ever born, nor had I parents, friends and relations. I have neither Guru nor disciple. I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am He, I am He.

Aham nirvikalpo nirakara rupo
vibhutvacca sarvatra sarvendriyanam
Na ca sangatam naiva muktir na meya
Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham

I am untouched by the senses. I am neither Mukti nor knowable, I am without form, without limit, beyond space, beyond time. I am in everything, I am the basis of the universe, everywhere am I. I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am He, I am He.

OM NAMAH SHIVAYA

Seeing Amma

In which I share the story of my 2010 pilgrimage to Mother’s feet.

Amma's Feet

Guru brahma gurur visnuh
gurudevo mahesvarah
guru saksat parambrahma
tasmai srigurave namah

(I prostrate to that Sri Guru who is Brahma, Vishnu, and God Maheshwara, and who is verily the Supreme Absolute Itself.)

At the very front of the archana book, there is a 3-and-a-half page manasa puja. I read through it once several years ago.

I don’t remember having any particular response to it other than perhaps the vague opinion that it was a simple or childish form of worship.

Now it elucidates my longing so much that I wish I’d written it myself.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
The Seattle programs are awkward. There’s a public program, then a paid retreat, then a public program. The only way to get to both public programs is to be in Seattle for three days; if you’re going to be there anyway you might as well sign up for the retreat. And, if you can’t afford the retreat, well, only one public program for you then.

I couldn’t afford the retreat. Hell, I couldn’t even afford transportation to Seattle. The only reason I was able to see Mother at all this year is because a friend, Toni, saw my sad complaint on Facebook and offered to drive me across the state.

When I asked her why she wanted to do that, she said she’d “felt compelled” to take me to Amma. When I sent her a link to amma.org, she cried looking at an image of Mother.

“It happens,” I told her. “If Mother wants to meet you, She’ll meet you.” How lucky am I, that Mother found me a ride?

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
After getting a ride, I got the very last room in the “Amma Tour” room block at the Hyatt, but it was $109 per night. I later found a motel through Priceline for $65. It was five miles away from the program, but at least I could afford it.

So my friend Toni picked me up at 8:45 on Monday morning and drove me across the state in her little red late model car so that I could see my beloved Sat-guru, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi.

My Amma

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
At the motel I loaned Toni a green punjabi, and dressed myself in a white skirt-and-top set I bought at a Chicago program a dozen years ago.

We looked at the map in the phone book for awhile, then we left to find the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. Toni navigates almost entirely by vibe; when I admitted I hadn’t seen the Hyatt where I’d expected it to be (I was looking at the wrong side of the street) she laughed and flipped a U-turn and drove us straight to it.

Parking, miraculously, was free. (We’d already filled the tank. Between the two of us, we had maybe forty dollars.) We went into the Hyatt and got in line with hundreds of devotees. I saw the clothes and the hair and the jewelry and the tattoos and wondered vaguely why humans like to adorn themselves as tribes… I felt some relief: I feel weird about the way I dress because I’m basically the only member of my tribe where I live.

The line started to move. We got to the hall and were handed darshan tokens. Then we followed the directions across the hall and sat for the puja. Toni has bad knees from a car accident she was in, but magically we were seated on the right side of the stage next to the wall so she could stand up when needed without bothering too many people. There were over a thousand people in the hall. Most of the people around us were wearing retreat bracelets.

Devi Bhava

I sat and relaxed into the vibe. These people had all spent two days with Mother; was that what felt so wonderful? Or was it my own expectation of seeing Mother? Or was Mother thinking about us? If God is everywhere and we’re all capable of producing this ourselves, why don’t we? What made this different than any other gathering of people in any other room?

Amma arrived. Toni said she had a clear view of the pada puja even though it was all the way across the hall. (I don’t think I even knew about pada puja for several years. Everyone’s experience around Amma is so different.)

Holy Water

After the holy water was distributed, something about the shape of the ceiling magnified the sound of thousands of lids being snapped onto thousands of little cups into this wonderful groovy clicky-popping sound. “I LOVE that sound!” I whispered. “I want to sample it RIGHT NOW!” The guy next to me and I started giggling and couldn’t stop.

“It’s like a crooked Zen koan!” he replied. “Like, ‘What is the sound of many lids that don’t fit?’”

Each time one of us stopped giggling, the other would start again. Silly, non-ironic, joyful, childlike laughter. It felt WONDERFUL.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
Mother gave satsang. I took notes on my iThing. This is what they say:

Dispassion, three types: temporary, gradual, intense.
The body is like a rented house
Awareness – like a bird on a dry twig (at any time it could snap)
When we develop intense dispassion we get peace of mind.
What is the point of blaming others for our sorrow?

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
When Swamiji began the Ma-Om meditation, Toni, who had had to stand up during the satsang, came and sat back down. Meditating in Amma’s presence was, as always, a lot like stepping

calmly

off the edge of the world

into an eternal abyss.

The rest of the puja completed, Mother went into the temple to change and they closed the curtains. Toni and I went for a walk because she’s not used to sitting on the floor so much and her knees were killing her.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
Dinner was pretty good (especially the mattar paneer).

Devi Bhava

I would have had Indian snacks instead, but there aren’t any at the Seattle programs; I guess there aren’t really any Indian devotees in the area to make them. I can’t even tell you how much I was hoping for idli and sambar and pakora. OMG what I would give for some samosas! Srsly.

Our tokens were numbered O-3. I told Toni we wouldn’t be getting darshan until three or four o’clock in the morning. We hit the bookstore. I bought a rudraksha japa mala and a new bottle of Marikolundu.

I got some chai. Eventually Toni went and found a couch and napped.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
I went up to the stage and stared at Amma for a couple of hours.

Well, when I could see Her at all I stared. The devotees doing their various sevas on stage insisted on standing directly in front of me, and I kept crying to Her in my head: “Let me see You! I can’t see You! This is my only time with You all year and this guy has to stand there!” I was feeling extremely sorry for myself that I didn’t get my usual three days with Mother and instead had only a few hours with Her and that guy! Why couldn’t he freakin’ kneel when he wasn’t actively doing his freakin’ seva?! I paced like a caged cat up and down the side of the stage, looking for a glimpse of my beloved Mother. Eventually I perched sideways behind a chair and I could see Her, but it took a toll on my neck and meditating was out of the question.

I went and sat down in front of the stage in a place left empty because the corner of the temple blocked any view of Amma, and meditated for about forty minutes. I’m not sure, but I think I may have fallen asleep. I didn’t nod off or start to fall over – usually a good indication that one has passed out – because I had very carefully arranged my body so that it took no effort to keep it upright, but there was a definite lack of conscious continuity.

Maybe I slept, maybe I had a very deep meditation. I don’t know. The issue caused me to wonder what the difference between “awareness” and “consciousness” might be. Do I have to be one to be the other?

I guess that I possess “consciousness,” because popular opinion and scripture alike say I do, but honestly I don’t know how to define it. I think I’m here and that I’m me, but I can’t tell you why I think that. Am I still conscious when I’m asleep? Can I be conscious without being aware? Can I be aware without being conscious? Most importantly, how do I know I’m me? I don’t have an unbroken recollection of my life; I have chunks of memory bordered by periods of sleep: each iteration of myself as the doer is utterly discrete, and yet I insist that these memories are all beads on the same string. Why do I think that? And how, if indeed at all, does this small-s-self relate to any capital-S-Self I might be trying to become?

I don’t meditate regularly because, honestly, the ever-changing world is more charming than whatever I find inside myself. I understand that the space within is infinitely vast (I can fit a model of the entire universe in there with room to spare), but it doesn’t draw me like the manifest world does. At best, meditation – even in the presence of my Satguru – is no better than just really pleasant, thank you very much.

So it follows that either I’m Doing It Wrong or that I’m missing the point. What is the point? When we see images of saints deep in samadhi, it sure looks like there’s a point. What are they doing in there? And why after twenty years of meditation don’t I know the answer to that question?

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
After a yummy masala latte, I went back to the right side of the stage and found myself a place sitting on the floor directly behind the stairs. From that position, I could see Mother’s face more often than not. (I wanted to be much closer to Her, but everyone was being invited to sit after darshan and between them and the prasad people I figured I’d get booted in a couple of minutes anyway.)

I leaned against the metal banister and rested my chin on the floor of the temple and wondered, as I always do, why She bothers to do this. Why come into the world and do this incredible, endless job of work? Each year She comes, and each year she bootstraps us out of our mess, and we go back into the world full of love and compassion and ready to serve… and slowly, we forget. The next year, She does it again, and so do we. Rinse and repeat. She could just be sitting somewhere in samadhi. Why pour this little bottle of milk into the vast ocean?

“I’m a waste of Your time,” I thought. “These others probably utilize Your grace much better than I. I’m lucky I get even one darshan this year. I deserve less than even this, to sit where I can see You.” I briefly considered leaving without darshan, but even at the time I saw it was some sort of self-pitying ego dance. The mind really is a terrible thing.

“All I care about is You. All I want to do is be around you. Everything else is a waste of time.” I wondered if I wasn’t being a passive Westerner: I have ONLY A FEW HOURS IN HER PRESENCE and am I really just going to sit here? She’s right there! I thought about begging myself onto the prasad list: “I used to be one of the Iowa seva coordinators, but three years ago I moved and now I don’t have a local satsang and I’ve done no seva all year and this is the one and only chance I have to see Mother. How about it, can you get me up there?”

I cried because She’s so perfect and so beautiful. It seems that I had, compacted into my eight hours in Her presence, the same journey I would have had in three days if I’d been on the retreat.

Eventually, the sign said O-1. I went to find Toni. We got into the darshan line. It moved much too fast for me. I was on stage before I knew it, and in the lap almost instantly. I’d been in line between two first-timers, and had harbored a fantasy about sitting right next to Mother for a couple of minutes. Or maybe I’d get to be in the lap while She did mantras… but suddenly, moments after I got into the temple, She hugged me. I thought, “I love You so much, Ma, and all I want is You,” and started to cry, and then my darshan was over. She smiled at me as She handed me my prasad. She knew me – I quit wondering if She recognized me years ago – but there was no super special darshan for me this year, even though I’d been feeling so sorry for myself about only getting the one.

I got the impression I had been officially weaned off of Her form a few years ago (the first time I had had the “I really need to look within and see what’s in there” revelation) and that She knew I knew that. I mean, I remember it. This child doesn’t get long silly darshans; this one is supposed to be doing seva or meditating.

The sevite near the stairs motioned me to sit on the side of the stage. Toni sat behind me after her darshan. The monitor was making the front row get up and leave every 60 seconds. After scootching forward twice I was behind the assistant prasad person and finally close enough to Mother… a minute later I was asked to leave so the people behind me could get their turns too.

I most emphatically DID NOT WANT to leave, now that I’d gotten where I wanted to be.

I left the stage anyway, because I was supposed to.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
I considered staying until the end of the program; I could maybe catch a cab back to the motel, or Toni could come back get me… After walking to the car and sitting for a few minutes, I decided it would be selfish not to leave. Yes, I was wasting the four to six more hours I could spend in Amma’s presence, but I didn’t have cab fare and it was clearly unfair to steal sleep from Toni, who had so graciously driven me to Seattle in the first place.

It was four o’clock in the morning. We’d been awake for over 22 hours and had driven for over five of them.

We left.

I imagined Mother behind me, giving darshan endlessly, and sniffled a little. The sky was lightening in the east and birds were beginning to sing.

We set an alarm for 10:30 and crashed for six hours. I slept wrapped around my Amma doll.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
After brunch at a Red Robin in Bellevue, we drove back to Walla Walla. It was overcast nearly the entire way. I plugged in my iPod and we rocked Amma bhajans the whole time.

Driving home

I did a lot of japa. I got a mocha in Cle Elum. We stopped at a fruit stand-slash-antique store outside of Yakima and browsed for an hour.

I was starving by the time Toni dropped me off. I nuked a bowl of rice and beans immediately. I tried to stay up until a decent hour but I was so tired I failed. I went to bed around six and slept for a very, very, VERY long time.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
Today I found the manasa puja in the front of my archana book and recognized in it literally all of my current feelings. “Oh Mother,” it says. “You are pure love. I am too impure to deserve Your Grace. I know that my egoism and selfishness must be repelling to You. Still, bear with me. Mother, please be with me. You are the holiest river. I am a stagnant, filthy pond. You flow to me and purify me, overlooking my shortcomings and forgiving my mistakes.” I miss Her so much, and doubt entirely my ability to do anything at all of use outside of Her influence.

Something wonderful must be going on in there, because why else travel the globe merely to hug creatures like me? If enlightenment is loving all of creation as Self, well, it must be more wonderful than it sounds.

~ Om Namah Shivaya ~


Related links:
Amma’s 2010 North American tour schedule
My Flickr picture set