Updated: Dec 7, 2021
I made it to the British hotel in New Delhi. Needless to say, I was relieved to have a place to sleep and to store my bags, but totally unprepared for the kindness of this staff. I stood outside after breakfast, taking a walk in the hotel gardens. Suddenly I heard a rustle next to my head. It seemed to be coming from the wall of the hotel behind the vines growing there. I waited and there it was. A beautiful painted small lizard. It was about six inches long and running quickly up the vine. I thought it was lovely and just as I was about to reach out to touch the vine for better viewing, I heard a warm, deep voice behind me.
“Be careful, madame. The parents may find you!”
It was the large and handsome Sikh who guarded the hotel door and whistled for cabs. He bowed to me and smiled. “That is just the baby, Madam, but there are many in these vines.” Saying that, he gently pulled back a few leaves and there was another lizard, only this time about 8 inches long and a bit wider.
A few steps down the path and he lifted another leaf. There was a 10-inch lizard hustling away. He continued to lift leaves showing me the 12 incher and the 15 incher. When an 18-inch lizard appeared and tuned its head to look at me, I had enough. I jumped back automatically into the laughing Sikh.
“I take it Madame does not wish to see the parents?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“No, I think I’ve seen enough little creatures for one day, thank you!” and I turned back into the hotel.
Who Am I?
Tell my story? I would like to dust the task off my mental hands saying, “There is nothing to tell,” but my inner self laughs at me. There is something to tell, but it is a bit painful. It makes me pull out the buried memories that even now try to burrow into obscurity. Women students ask to know, and so I pull out all the threads of memory, tying them together into a big ball of twine like my mother used to make, gathering up the events into a round whole.
My life has been a long quest for spirituality, and one long struggle to run from it. I have been pulled out, prodded, encouraged, pushed, only to retreat into the old obstacles: fear of the unknown, not taking myself seriously, believing that I am helpless, not good enough, too small.
At three years of age, while driving with my family, I saw a nun for the first time, and my mind was filled with memories of walking through cloisters, studying from huge parchment manuscripts, and wearing brown and black robes. My child’s voice asked Mom what that person was, but my heart already knew. And so, at fourteen, I entered the cloisters where I belonged, promising to remain forever.
There I completed degrees, studied theology, learned to meditate and contemplate, practiced being disciplined, frugal, self-contained. I also learned how to use my imagination to create God, was taught to mistrust my instincts, and how to fear. I learned fear very well: fear of change, fear of authority, fear of having an opinion, fear of questioning, fear of death, fear of being different, fear of making decisions. But something prodded me on further, forcing me to see that I would not grow spiritually in those virginal halls of silence and obedience, so through much condemnation, wrenching, and confusion, I left the convent at twenty-two.
The difficulties of entering a world I did not know were many, but I was soon cushioned by marriage to a kind and wise and gentle man, thirteen years my senior. That professor of theology was perfect. He understood my background, he was a partner in religious study, and he would not travel or leave me alone. We would have children, a beautiful house, my own rocking chair, a settled life. I would live a “normal” life.
But there were to be no children and no house, and after a few months of marriage the travels began. There were years of study with the great theologians in Europe, finding new religions to explore. It led to dozens of “make do” accommodations, hundreds of lectures for my husband across the land, and night after night of waiting alone.
Then into my life came a great one who turned my world upside down. I became a student of the Himalayan Yogi, Swami Rama. I could not know what a serious commitment it was to become. He pulled out my every secret hope as well as vice and made them public. He cajoled and ridiculed as well as loved me in work, in play, in struggle and pain, until slowly the fears began to fall away. I was pulled into be his personal secretary, pushed out to form a publishing house; pulled in to be his cook and housekeeper, pushed out to live in New York; pulled in to take endless hours and hours of dictation, pushed out to entertain royalty, politicians, the sick, the old, the despairing who came for his guidance. Always I was learning.
My teacher told me that I had great work to do; I laughed at the thought. He said he would take everything away from me; I did not believe him. He said I would have to face myself; I looked away. But slowly all the predictions came to pass. I watched at first with humor and then with horror as life removed one thing after another from my arms: my home, my belongings, my family, my friends, my job, my savings, my further education, my music career, my art. I struggled and rebelled at time, but then I remembered that the spiritual path would not be easy. I lived in two small ten by twelve-foot rooms. I worked long hours, driven always to do more and more in spite of what was taken away, until finally all the important things were taken away with all the rest: my health, my husband, my reputation, my teacher himself, my trust in God. Each event sent a terrible wrenching through my spirit, and each time I fought harder to hold on to what was being taken, what was changing.
At the lowest ebb of my energy, my spiritual resources, and my will to live, I was called to Nepal for special work. There, in the midst of a mysterious, ancient ceremony in the mountains bordering Nepal and Tibet, I stopped fighting. I promised to do whatever God chose for me to do, be whatever I was to be, grow in spite of pain—slowly and carefully or all in a rush.
A few weeks later I was sent on pilgrimage to the Indian Himalayas. It was May 1984 and I was in India with Gurudev Swami Rama. We were in a lodge outside the old city of Uttarkashi. Swamiji seemed to love the city very much and it appeared that everyone knew and loved him there.
That evening a group of important swamis and yogis of the Uttarkashi area came to see Gurudev. A talk had been scheduled for Gurudev, and they all wanted to come hear him speak and receive his blessings. The lecture hall was set with chairs and had a little stage. I was busy helping Swamiji to get dressed in all his white clothes and then came to the lecture hall with him. I sat on the floor in the doorway because the hall was totally filled with our tour group and the locals. In the front row were the yogic guests.
It was, as always, a beautiful, inspiring talk. At its completion, several of the yogic guests spoke in Hindi, praising Swamiji’s work for the city and presenting to him a gorgeous garland of flowers. They all showed such respect and awe at being in his presence. Swamiji got up to leave and walked toward the door. There he stopped before me, gave me a beautiful smile, and dropped his flowers—seven gardenias—into my lap.
I was utterly surprised, and then delighted, and then astonished. Why did he give me flowers? Did he know this was my absolutely favorite flower? How did he know such a detail? Why seven? For each chakra? What should I do with them? I don’t deserve flowers from my Guru!
The next morning off we went on tour. We stopped at several temples along the way and I left one of my flowers at each as an offering, all except one still-fresh gardenia which I wore in my hair. Then we were off to the last place of the day, the temple of Uttarkashi, an ancient temple, thousands of years old. Because of the busy city, the bus let all of the Americans off a few blocks away from the temple. After walking through the streets lined with stalls, and dropping off our shoes in the temple courtyard, I looked over and saw Charles and Justin plunk down on a cement wall and exclaim, “We’ve done enough temples today! We’ll sit this one out.” We had forgotten that Gurudev had told us the Shiva lingam inside was considered the largest natural lingam in India, reaching deep down into the earth and rising up about twenty feet. It went down into the ground so deep that the diggers could not find the end of it. It rose so high that the temple was built up around it.
I wanted to join the boys in a sit out, but thought I’d best complete the day’s tour. After all, Gurudev had arranged it all for us. At the water faucets on the wall for temple cleansing, I splashed my feet and hands with silliness for Justin and Charles’ enjoyment and then coyly dabbed water on my cheeks, forehead, and nose. I waved good-bye and now purified, ran up the white marble steps to Nandi, the bull statue guarding Shiva’s domain.
When my hand touched Nandi’s nose, the energy of the place shot up my arm to my heart, shattering my mood, pulling me inside myself, and touching me deeply. I stood there yearning to enter the inner chamber, yet almost afraid to do so. As I began the next step, my mind flew to the boys. Surely they would want to experience this intense place also. I couldn’t experience this selfishly. So with quite an effort, I managed to pull myself away from the energy of Nandi and slowly descend the steps. I went to tell them they must come to this temple.
Immediately they rose and began ablutions. Once again I climbed the stairs, my ajna chakra throbbing strongly as I was pulled inside. The interior of the small temple was pure white, several pandits sat chanting Sanskrit prayers as pilgrims rang the brass bells upon entering, offering flowers and rice to the holy images and were blessed before departing. I placed my last white gardenia as an offering of myself on the dark black lingam and managed to sit down in an empty corner.
Immediately the sounds seemed to multiply around me and in me ever stronger and louder. The bells! The chanting! It was as if someone had multiplied the sounds by the thousands and turned the volume up to the maximum possibility. I heard every bell every rung in the world throughout time! My mind spun with light and sound until finally I heard nothing. Instead I seemed to be carried outside the temple, outside India, off the earth. I grew and grew with joy and happiness as the planets and stars danced around me and I sped into other galaxies and they danced around me until I sped into infinity and began to realize who I was. All was greatness. All was love. There were visions of the full universe, darkness dissolving into radiant brilliance, chaos churning into creation and creation whirling out again into absolute destruction, light of the universe mingling with the light I was. I watched it all; I caused it all; I was it all.
Then the heavenly orbs moved faster as I speeded along with them. Faster and faster, farther and farther, past all movement, all light, all shape, all individuality. There was no creation. There was no light. There was no time. There was no space. There was no thought. There was nothing. I went out of existence. I watched myself go out of existence as I left my ego far behind. I no longer was. As I sped past all existence, I entered nothing. There was only nothingness, and in that nothingness was pure energy, pure bliss, absolute power. Only power, intense love. I knew God now and knew that I was God. The pure power and consciousness was nothing, absolutely nothing! And it was everything. Completely, absolutely everything. Pure nothing-everything.
At some point sound came into existence. Slowly there was a sound repeating, totally unknown, but repeating and repeating. A sense of “I” returned slowly and the I felt matter. The matter then took on the feel of a body. The body’s eyes opened and the eyes saw another body. The I then remembered this person and then realized that he was calling the name given to the I. Ah! The power decided to become an individual ego again. It looked around and remembered where it was. I was helped up on wobbly feet, and handfuls of flowers and rice fell out of my lap. Where did they come from? Justin said I appeared to be not breathing at all.
As I stood, my mind kept wanting to return to the absolute bliss; my body did not want to move; my senses did not want to work. I left, walking in a trance, realizing that I had peeked under the edge of infinity and glimpsed the shadow of divinity. The divine lover claimed me and I could no longer refuse to walk the steps he mapped out. My mind felt such joy, such peace, that it did not want to do anything else but return to nothingness. This event has become my own myth. It showed me the face of my real self, the one beyond my reluctances, my petty fears, my fighting to remain small and simple. In all the events of life that have continued from that day to this, my myth keeps pulling me forward.
Finally we reached the bus and were driven back to our ashram in Rishikesh. My mind jumped in and out of the body all the way there. Swamiji stood waiting in the courtyard for us. He came to me. “Tree, that was a special experience in the temple for you. You were there before. In your last life you were a Buddhist nun and did much meditation practice in that temple. I also was there at that time doing much practice. It was a favorite place of ours and we did our practice together there. It is a special place. The saints Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and many others all had experiences there. It is a special gift for you.”
I could not speak. I was not fully in my body but my heart felt so connected to Gurudev! I saw him as the same nothing that I was. He had someone bring me a drink and told me to sit near him. A short time later we got on the bus to Haridwar. There we would participate in arati, the sacred evening fire worship. I had been to Haridwar several times before, and knew that arati was very crowded, but if Gurudev wanted me to go, I would go.
I was ‘inside’ during the bus trip. My body seemed like a burden to be carried around and I wished I could drop it. The bus let us off a few hundred feet from the water into the midst of thousands of pilgrims and shopkeepers. As I looked up at the temple, I was pulled deeper inside, my mind going toward the Beloved within while my body did whatever it was guided it to do. I could hear almost nothing but a distant hum buzzing. I had a very difficult time breathing until I noticed that I did not need to breathe! Reality was lost to me except for the temple and the river.
At the appointed time, the high priests of the temple would raise huge braziers of fire to worship the Divine Mother, and everyone would go to the Ganges river and put their leaf boats in to float away to Her.
On my way to the river the strangest thing happened. All the people near me had opened a path in the crowd. They tapped their neighbors’ shoulders who then tapped others until a space three feet wide appeared all the way down to the water. I slowly, with assistance, walked to the river as many bells rang out and the fire braziers, burning bright in the setting sun, were circled high by the priests. Suddenly it was as if the sky was singing out loud and clear: “Come daughter of the sun, come Child of the Dawn, come noontime’s burning ember, see your precious Sun, most radiant!” And my own mind answered, “Set fire to my heart, beloved, that it may burn to light your way.”
Under assistance, I bent over and gently placed my offering into the dancing water and watched it float away on the swift current. Everything I was I gave the Beloved. If She wanted me to stay on earth, so be it. If She wanted to burn me into cinders, that was fine. If She wanted me to continue working for the sages, it was also my wish.
When I stood up again I was certain that if anyone touched me, I would crumble like glass. The energy around me seemed to be vibrating with power. It was very odd, but there appeared to be a circle of space about six feet in diameter all around me for the next half hour as we walked back to our bus. I saw it, but I was not there. I was floating down the river to Mother.
Later that evening, I was told that pilgrims stopped to stare at me as I walked, and that most of the Americans could not get near the river because of the huge, pushing crowd. When the sages decide to give a gift to a student, they cannot be outdone in generosity.