Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Story of My Life (Autobiography of a Nobody)

I feel like doing something a little different this month. Ever since sometime in my 40’s (and it still feels weird to me that I’m older than that now) I’ve had this title in my mind, ‘Autobiography of a Nobody.’ If I were to ever write the story of my life, it seemed, it would be the perfect title.

I doubt I’ll ever get around to the long version, but I decided I would finally use the title in the August entry of our blog, and instead of resorting to my usual impersonal approach of focusing on the principles of Truth, I would share my memoirs here and now—just as a change of pace—and probably much to Kay’s great chagrin.

I was born in the same room, and delivered by the same doctor, that had delivered my mother 22 years earlier. My first two years were spent in the middle of cotton fields. After that, my parents moved to the city of Vicksburg, MS, where I grew up and attended high school. My home overlooked the mighty Mississippi. At that time it seemed like the most perfect place in the world to be a child and teenager.

I discovered yoga and meditation at the age of 15. Even to this day it is somewhat of a mystery to me how I actually discovered it or began. No one I knew practiced it or knew anything about it. I told one of my friends that I was practicing yoga, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s where they lay on a bed of nails, isn’t it?’

I began taking a correspondence course at 15 that I continued until its completion when I was 29. It was written in the 50’s by a man in his 80’s, who had spent 17 years in a hidden lamasery in Tibet, until his Master told him to take the teachings of Truth to the West during the years of the Great Depression, and to help the people learn to prosper again and get free from the poverty, lack, and loss of the times. He did this, and many of his students are today well known names.

In high school I also read ‘Autobiography of a Yogi,’ by Paramahansa Yogananda, which opened me to a different sort of world than I was used to, and also inspired the title of my own ‘autobiography.’

I continued my education in Jackson, MS, at Millsaps College, a private Methodist liberal arts college that was the liberal stronghold in Mississippi at the time, as well as the state’s most prestigious academic institution. I took a ‘creative writing’ course taught by our ‘writer in residence,’ the great Eudora Welty. The first interracial marriage in Mississippi took place in our chapel when I was a student there, and we were all very proud of that. I majored in philosophy and English literature. I never knew why, or how I would ever ‘use it,’ until years later.

At 22, about a year after the unexpected death of my mother in an automobile accident, I moved from Mississippi to Greenwich Village. Actually, on my 22nd birthday, my girlfriend at the time took me to see the original cast of “Hair” as my first ever Broadway play. I don’t think, up until that point, I had ever enjoyed anything quite so much.

I worked for 3 years as a magazine editor in NYC, and then decided to focus on free-lance writing, of both articles and short stories. I had published my first short story at 20 while still living in Mississippi. During this period I was one of the very few people I had ever known who actually supported themselves as a writer.

I was gradually pulled back to my roots and my true love and began writing more about yoga and meditation and the creative power of the mind. I still feel it is important to understand the relationship between our thoughts and the process of creation—otherwise we don’t understand how and why things happen as they do.

One article was titled “As You Think, So You Are.” There were a great many people who wrote to me via the magazine to ask if I had any books, or if I wrote a course, and where could they get more of what I had written. The first lesson of the original course was mailed in August, 1975, in response to the people who had enjoyed the article and encouraged me to begin a course. So I began a more elaborate exploration of the principles presented in the article, and the course began to grow through word-of-mouth.

Around the same time, a Yoga Master from India, an authentic Shaktipat Guru, was going to be in Manhattan for a few weeks. All the teachers I most looked up to encouraged me to be sure and go to see him, insisting that he was very special and ‘the real thing.’ A friend of mine, and at the time one of my teachers, was a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. He told me that this one was the first genuine yogic Master that had come to the West since his own Guru.

Having no interest in a ‘Guru’ of my own, and feeling that I was already doing quite well in my sadhana, I went to see him out of curiosity. The first day I met him everything changed. My experience of myself changed. My perception of the world changed. The depth of my understanding was totally transformed. It was like entering another dimension of life. This was at 29, the ‘Saturn return,’ when we seemingly go from one incarnation into another.

I would spend the next 26 years writing a course exploring the principles of Truth, as I understood them, from the perspective of that particular path and lineage, as my seva or service offered to the Master and the mission. I traveled many places and led weekend workshops. I even taught meditation classes in India. I became a ‘spiritual teacher.’

My second Saturn return brought just as much change into my life as the first one had. In 2002 I ‘retired’ from the official position I had held all those years. I had a strong pull to ‘retire’ into privacy and seclusion. My life and my sadhana had been under public scrutiny for many years. I did not want to be anybody, and I certainly didn’t want to have to live up to being anyone in particular. I just wanted to relax and be me, take a breath, and not be needed.

I spent the next six years in virtual seclusion except for seeing immediate family. I spent as much time with my 3 children as I could. Kay and I married in 2003, after knowing each other since 1976, and her two children (and now two grandchildren) have become part of my own family.

Interestingly, Kay attended an Intensive I led at Ananda Ashram, in Monroe, NY, in 1977, when she was nine months pregnant with her daughter Tiffany, who today is maturing as a hatha yoga teacher and leader of others in her own right. Kay also was my children’s primary ‘babysitter’ all their lives—so our families always seemed to be a bit intermingled.

We currently live in a village of 90. There are actually more people in the cemetery, which we walk through from time to time, just as a reminder of how everything comes and goes. One of the original families that settled here were part of the famous ‘Tiffany’s’, and the tombstones of their descendents lie crumbling in the cemetery. You can actually see dates going back to the late 18th century, and then the names and dates sort of fade away. You see that when your tombstone finally crumbles into dust, you are truly ‘gone,’ almost as though you were never here. It gives some perspective.

No one in our village, which has one of the world’s smallest post offices, would dream of what I actually do or of what I spend my time writing. I honestly don’t know if they would be able to put the two together—my work and me—in any kind of comprehensible way. I imagine only people who participate in the course can actually grasp the essence behind the apparent paradox.

In 2008 I began the current course and this blog. I had given up being anyone’s ‘teacher’ six years earlier, and no longer cared to be in any such position, but I could still write, which has always been my first love. And what would I, now in my 60’s, have to say after starting all over from scratch? What would be my approach now? I couldn’t imagine, and was as curious as anyone to find out.

At that point, in the beginning, I couldn’t imagine that I had any more to say to anyone. Really, I had written years and years worth of lessons—which a swami friend once referred to as ‘the world’s longest book,’ and now I was to begin all over with Lesson 1? What to do? What to say? How to begin now? And what on earth would actually be worth anyone’s time to read when so much good stuff is already available?

Once I began, it was like riding a bicycle, and the words started pouring out of me. I don’t write with my mind. I don’t think about what I’m going to write beforehand. I cannot imagine outlining a lesson before I write it. I go to the computer and start writing, and I’m as amazed as anyone else at what comes out.

Sometimes I am ‘writing’ (which is more like taking dictation) and I find myself thinking, ‘I never heard that before. I wonder where that comes from?’ Yet it is always intuitively obvious and not worth doubting.

I have said for a while that I have reached a point where everything is either intuitively obvious or not worth thinking about. I don’t think a lot. I find that useless and purposeless thinking tends not only to dissipate creative energy, but also ultimately leads to agitation, and it’s no longer worth it. The secret was to lose interest in the constant activity of my own mind. I replaced that with maintaining a strong center in the heart, a center of feeling. I enjoy love and light much more than being lost in perpetual thought.

I usually direct my thinking process into this blog and the lessons of the course. And now there’s Facebook, an amazing phenomenon I never anticipated, especially regarding the inherent possibilities of an ongoing real-time satsang—meeting together in the heart and mind for the purpose of experiencing the Self we all share.

August is the beginning of the 3rd year of the course and blog. We have come a long way and accomplished a lot during the first two years, on the level of coming and going and accomplishing. For those about to complete their first two years of the course, a solid foundation has been established, so that what is to come next can be strong, stable, and unquestioned right from the beginning.

My Teacher once told me, “Make the course so strongly rooted in the principles of Truth that no one can ever legitimately question or doubt it.”

The beauty of the course, to me, is its constant ever-awakening into something new—even for me. For me, what’s new is really new, even if it’s ancient. If you’re one who takes the course, you know that spiritual growth or personal development of any nature can only take place when we see, acknowledge, and appreciate what is new.

Focusing on what is old only makes us old before our time. Seeing what is new rejuvenates us and keeps us young.

As per my custom, I will conclude with a Q&A exchange from July’s comments. There are many outstanding exchanges among those comments, and I sincerely urge you to read through them. It is a great community that meets and shares comments here. However, it will be challenging to choose only one. This is a comment I posted July 22:

Amazing as it might seem, I've been busy. There are more and more participants beginning the course each month, more stuff to respond to, more questions to answer, and a lot of other life-stuff as well, as karma kicks its way through this physical entanglement we call our life.

We've already broken our all time record for number of comments following an entry. So there is more and more activity here, which is fantastic, and which obviously can sustain itself for a while even when I'm unable to contribute or respond. Others seem to fill in nicely at the perfect times, and the Shakti takes care of all. For now, however, I'll see if I can 'catch up' a bit.

Renee, a relatively new participant, asked: "My questions are, what is the difference between the ego and samskaras? And, how do you convince someone you are taking them seriously when you now are able to see the situation as amusing? Do you keep the amusement to yourself and maintain a serious affect?"

The samskaras enact their influence and power over us through the tandem of mind and ego. Therefore, purifying the mind and ego is the same process as breaking free from samskaras. It's simply two different ways of understanding the same thing.

I don't do very much at all to convince people that I am taking them seriously, as I'm rarely taking them seriously in the least—and almost never as seriously as they are taking themselves. I can be appropriate; say if I'm at a funeral or a wake or something, I don't go around all jolly and encouraging people to see the humor in things in their grief.

I actually don't ever try to convince anyone of anything. If they're happy with their own understanding and vision, I'm already happy. Even so, sometimes I do keep my amusement to myself. Sometimes it actually is best to not display your amusement. So I spend a lot of time secretly amused.

Karen Jo, when I first read your beautiful poem I was so moved that I wanted to respond poetically in return, but things kept coming up and I never found poem-time, so since you've now resorted to prose I'll at least address your question.

Yes, the question is hard to put in words, and the answer is hard to put in words as well. Perhaps that's why I waited so long before I began to procrastinate.

You see, the thing is that no one has ever yet been separate. There has always been only Oneness. Even when we are totally lost in the apparent reality of duality, Oneness is real all the time—whether we consciously recognize it or not.

So our loved ones—the ones we hope to spend eternity with—are only expressions of that Oneness, or of the eternal Beloved. The Beloved is ultimately always the same One, no matter which form or forms we recognize It in. In truth, It lives in and animates all beings, and there is no one else, and certainly no one separate from it.

The outer, objective world is only a mirror of our own subjective consciousness. The One lives in all, and all are in the One.

In the 'Spanda Karikas,' a major text of Kashmir Shaivism, it is said: One who knows the Self sees the entire universe as a series of reflections in a mirror.

Since there is no true separation between you and your loved ones now, why should there come to be any separation later? Will we be less aware or appreciative of our loved ones in the next realm than we are in this one? No, we will be more aware of them, much closer to them, and we will experience more intimacy than what is possible in this dense physical world with its limitations of space, time, and circumstance. These bodies can only get so close. The subtle world is far-out and limitless.

Love is eternal. We are love. We are eternal. All that exists is the Truth of the Present Moment. The trick lies in understanding the fullness of exactly what that means on the very highest, deepest, and most expanded level.

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