There really are not words for what is transpiring here. This deep seeing into the nature of things, unearthing buried aspects of the personality. I cannot begin to tell of this inner journey. The mind is only today really quieting down. Kindness seems to be the operative word, and the operating instructions are to “take the hands off the wheel;” stop the habit of distraction--which is anything to do with the mind.
In the final week of retreat, I came down with a more serious bout of dysentery. I was consoled in a funny way by the fact that I was by no means alone; most everyone had dealt with digestive issues of one kind or another. For me, however, this was the worst case I had experienced, and it wasn’t responding to homeopathic remedies or to Imodium. Since there were only three days left before we were to depart, I broke down and took the big-gun prescription medication I had brought with me: Cipro, a powerful, but controversial antibiotic that in recent years has been associated with serious side effects. I was determined that I was not going to be left behind in India while the rest of the group went home. One of the sangha members, who had arrived in advance of the main group to handle logistics, had taken desperately ill before we arrived. The illness not only persisted, but he had been too sick to fly home. He joined us for the retreat—by that point he was skin and bones, barely able to stay through an entire satsang. His example haunted me. Fortunately, the Cipro worked, and within 24 hours the symptoms had disappeared altogether. And I didn’t experience any adverse reaction.
I raised my hand that evening, and, when called upon, told him I had a poem I would like to read. Devaji said no, explaining that it was getting late, and we don’t usually read poems at the evening satsangs (which are devoted more to the Absolute than to personal matters). Immediately, however, he had second thoughts and reversed himself, saying I could read it after all. But by that time, I was too far gone. I was reduced to a puddle of mortification. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, and I shook my head no to his offer.
Now, as I recall this episode, it is hard to comprehend my distress: All he was asking me to do was wait for another occasion. But it had taken a great deal of courage for me to even ask. For reasons having everything to do with an early-childhood family environment that made me fearful to speak truth to authority figures. I felt hurt, shamed and slightly indignant. My thinking went like this: “Hadn’t he just invited me to read any poems? And, “I did not know that poetry readings were disallowed in the evenings. Every time I had read a poem in the past, it had been at an evening satsang."
My composure tanked. I took a rather neutral situation and made it into something very personal. Part of my disproportionate response was connected to a sense that I had done something wrong in asking.
After taking note of my reaction, Devaji then talked about the trap of taking things personally, using me as an example of what not to do—which only exacerbated my inner turmoil. Had I been operating from my healthy adult self at the time, I would have been able to accept waiting for another occasion or I would have been able to go ahead and read the poem when Devaji reversed himself.
It’s hard to explain what happens at these retreats, but essentially, one becomes more sensitized to what is going on inside. In the safe and unconditionally loving environment Devaji offers, adaptive behaviors--developed in childhood to enable the individual to avoid situations that seemed threatening --come up to be recognized, as do the associated feelings. This was a perfect set-up to bring this buried element to light—that small child whose voice had been silenced by a fear-inducing, authoritarian father. (Let me say in my father’s defense, that he loved me in his way, but, by his own admission, he did not like children; most probably because he wasn’t allowed to be a child himself.)
The next day, I spoke of my ongoing painful feelings to others in the group, and they encouraged me to go talk to Deva. At lunch, I asked to see him privately. He postponed another appointment and made space for me to see him that afternoon. I went to his room, feeling anxious; I was determined to be honest with him no matter what the cost.
I told him what I had been experiencing, how I felt judged, humiliated and rejected by him. He listened attentively, and with the greatest kindness, responded that he wasn’t feeling any of the things that I was attributing to him and explained that I was projecting.
It was crystal clear to me that I was hearing the truth. Then I could see it all. I was indeed projecting onto him my early experiences with my father, unconsciously expecting Devaji to reject my innermost feelings and punish me for speaking my mind. I confessed to him that in my entire life I had never felt free to be myself in my father’s presence, to share my true feelings or openly disagree with him about anything.
Finding the inner resources to face my deepest fears and speak to Devaji about all this, challenging him-- if only slightly--and being received with kindness and acceptance, was a huge turning point for me. It felt as though I had broken through an invisible wall of fear and terror that I had carried for a lifetime. The unpleasant side effect of this deep work had been the digestive disturbance as the body responded to this deep emotional work. Small price to pay.
On the final evening of satsang, I finally read the poem that had brought all this to light.
Joy spills over the wall
Like a sparkling waterfall
Into a riverbed
Carved by the hand of the Beloved.
It courses along on its own current,
Tumbling over rocks,
Pooling in quiet emerald depths,
Nourishing root and branch,
Following its predestined course,
Until finally it empties
Into the vast ocean
From whence it came.
Bliss unto bliss.
Then the wall that had obscured
The heart’s radiance
Begins to dissolve altogether,
And the light and the love
From an eternal source
Of goodness and mercy.
How laughable it is
To think that God
Would ever be parsimonious
With its most precious gift –
. Next: Breaking Silence