In NYC circa late-80’s I hated hipsters. My girlfriend worked at a posh E. 57th St gallery where most artists, gallery owners and buyers were mind-locked in a hip world of being excessively cerebral. Big money for big canvases celebrating misery, minutia & mediocrity. What I mean is that the art I saw seemed devoid of love, innocence, vulnerability, joy or compassion. The art scene seemed all-head … no heart … depicting the suffering of humanity a mind-trip without any authentic attempt to initiate healing resolution. This paragraph is a perfect mirror of what was going in my own mind. Except the part about the big money. My art was writing fiction. And I was failing miserably.
In 1990 I left the big city to move into an ashram (definition: yoga monastery) in the Berkshires where the staff of 350 referred to each other as sisters and brothers. My first steps onto the grounds I was sure I’d mistakenly walked into an insane asylum. Everyone wore white 24/7/365. No booze, smokes, coffee, tea, sugar, meat, no newspapers/mags/internet/cellphones/tv/computers, no sex, no touching or socializing with members of opposite gender. BTW: there were lots of hot bodies in those white blouses, malas and girlie yoga pants.
I don’t know what good deeds I performed in past lives. But it must have been pretty damn good. Because living at Kripalu in the early 90’s was as good as dying and going to yoga heaven. Back then I was desperate to open my heart. I mean seriously desperate. Like daily suicidal thoughts from ages 13 to 28 desperate. So I wasn’t going to blow this chance. I wasn’t going to be too hip to heal.
The first time my heart opened I fully expected trumpets to sound announcing the event. Each night some percentage of residents and guests gathered in Main Chapel for a light ceremony called arati where renunciates (definition: dudes dressed in orange (not white) who’d made lifetime vows to give everything to god & guru… their commitment was extra serious & worthy of awe) waved these lighted ghee-wick lamps at pictures of our guru, guru lineage and at each person in the chapel. All the while we chanted a sanskrit prayer that was same night after night. The idea was to offer up whatever had happened during the day to our guru and god so we could go to sleep purified and sanctified. Free from the entangled nature of our crazy mind games.
I gasped when it happened. To feel my heart open was a shock. At first I wasn’t convinced it was such a good idea. Cuz it hurt like nothing I’d ever felt before. When no one turned to offer their congratulations or ask if I was okay, I realized that I was as alone as I had been before my heart opened. I kept chanting the prayer. Like everyone else I got down on my knees and pranammed to the lineage of gurus. I gazed into the big picture of my guru propped up on his chair. And I was grateful. Yes, it hurt to feel my heart.
But I was feeling a real spontaneous gush of emotions. And I wasn’t blaming my mom or dad. I wasn’t dreaming about how my perfect beloved would fix the hurt. No one was offering a pile of money to buy my great spiritual novel about the hurt. All grand plans to save the world from the hurt had been vaporized. My guru wasn’t even physically present to say, “Peter, I’m so proud of you! I want you to be my #1 disciple!”
I got up off the maroon carpet and walked out of the main chapel just like everybody else. In the East Ambulatory dorm I brushed my teeth and laid my body down on the bottom bunk. Along with twenty-some-odd brother yogis I closed my eyes and thought to myself, ‘This is the beginning of my healing journey. Thank you, Gurudev! I’m going see this thing through to the end. My heart is going heal! Damn it!”
Continued next week