In October of 1996 I was in a an awful marriage…Abusive, in every way you can think of.
I was a young adult and didn’t trust myself at all, or respect my own needs.
I didn’t really have any desires either. (I prided myself on this one, and used it as a good excuse for not moving forward.) I felt like a martyr, and not a very good one .
I was, however, an “open” person. I did love a good adventure.. and I still do. So when my mom told me of an opportunity to come to an Ashram as special guests of her friend, Dr. Gold, to hear a talk by her “guru” it sounded like an auspicious proposition. Especially because the moon was going to be full. I was curious and had absolutely no preconceived notions of what this experience might be like. Which was a good thing.
I couldn’t have been prepared for the scene that unfolded as we got to the ashram, and stepped off our charter bus. We hiked up to the main building, and were greeted by swamis dressed in orange robes who bowed slightly to us..beautifully kept gardens, and serene nature vignettes that were very inviting… I wanted to sit and enjoy them more, but I still couldn’t relax and just wanted to get inside to see what goes on in there.
After removing our shoes and putting them in tiny cubbies, I wondered how I would find them again amidst the thousands of other shoes..There were so many people moving around in perfect silence. Men dressed in tunics, throngs of women dressed in colorful saris,..more shaved monks and swamis in robes..it was colorful and foreign and exciting.
Mom and I observed silence too, making easily interpreted silly faces at each other. (Squinched up eyes, what is THAT? Weird. Eyebrows up, Okaaaayyyy. Giggles. Solemn-serious..etc.)
We found a spot at the back of the room directly in front of these 2 gigantic amethyst geodes that were facing outward. We kind of sat “inside” them, they were huge.
The Guru came out and assumed her place at the Dais. She was a young looking Indian woman who exuded gentleness and radiated joy. I liked her right away. She spoke about truth with such humor and authority.
She shared that this was the full moon closest to the anniversary of the death of her own Guru, and she led us in a chant that honored him. I had never chanted before, and the foreign words felt strange to me, but as the cadence of her voice filled the room, we all copied her as best we could. Singing, chanting, Kirtan. My first time.
After a long while…an hour…two? I was experiencing a transcendent reality..and when we stopped chanting, the room continued to buzz and hum with energy..(could have been those giant geodes too) I was smiling and happy..I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this free and light. I had spent too long feeling depressed and despondent. like there was no hope for me at all. This was an oasis of nirvana in my messed up life. A real blessing.
People lined up to receive Shaktipat, a blessing that awakens Kundalini, from the Guru. They all seemed pretty excited. So I got in line too. Some followers were bowing to the floor at her feet. This was so very strange to my eyes so I looked away, making small talk with mom while we waited on the winding, long long line of smiling, eager devotees.
The beautiful Guru smiled and nodded as she waved a peacock feather over each person that came to her. I felt a little foolish and questioned every thought I had, as I approached the dais. It was our turn. What was I doing here? Our Friend, Dr. Gold waved us on to to approach the Dais and introduced us as “family & friends”, The gentle voice of the Guru repeated, “family and friends” as she smiled wide and nodded her head. I was a bit shocked that she spoke to us, she hadn’t said anything else, to anyone else, (that I noticed, anyway) and started to think maybe I was special in some way. That it was some sort of sign. But how could that be? I didn’t bow to the ground, I was “new” to all of this type of guru devotion, and I awkwardly offered a “mini-bow” to be polite…When in Rome, Right?
After the shaktipat, blessing, I looked up.
.. The Guru was staring at me intently…And as if she could read my confusion and ego-struggling-inner-dialogue. She did the most unexpected thing. She threw her head back and laughed with her mouth open. For a long time. Without making any audible laughing sound.
I was stunned. My hand went over my heart and I looked at my mom questioningly. We unceremoniously turned on our heels toward the back doors..the geodes..and my mom was holding me by the arm. (Did I swoon?) I asked her, barely out of the earshot of everyone in proximity of the dais, “What the hell was that??! What does THAT mean?” (I was barely 22, please cut me some slack here.)
Mama said, “maybe you need to have a sense of humor about all that’s going on right now.”
I wasn’t really convinced, and I wasn’t really comforted.. Actually, I was really uncomfortable.
We left the room. I found my shoes (without any trouble), and ate a vegetarian lunch in their cafeteria that consisted of “I-have-no-idea-what-is-on-my-plate”, indian food. Tasty. We were offered an opportunity to do “seva” and wash dishes, we politely thanked them for that experience but declined, “umm, no thanks.”
Afterwards we followed some people through a hall to a special ‘temple room’ with a larger-than-life statue of of the previous guru surrounded by fresh flowers. They bowed to the floor and kissed the sandals that he used to wear, right by the entrance to the shrine. I was out of my element here, for sure, so I just went and sat down to the right of the golden statue…The sunlight from the skylight in the room filtered into a laser beam that went directly to my head. I felt like a very lucky cat relaxed there in the sunbeam, and the heat got more and more intense, I delved into a very deep meditation. I have no clue as to how long I stayed in that room, colorful sari-ed people came and went…
I felt compelled (?!) suddenly to see more of the Ashram, jumped up and walked with my mom outside the temple room and down the hall.
There she was. The Guru was walking toward us. I wanted to run the other way, (my mind raced, what would I say?) and then a family with a child intercepted her and the guru was taking great interest in their child..smiling very large.
I was grateful for the escape opportunity, and chose quickly a corridor I hadn’t noticed before, and kind of sneakily went around the bend and right there, after the turn…Mom and I stopped in our tracks..
A huge (40 feet tall?) floor to ceiling image made me gasp out loud. It was a huge painting of the Goddess Lakshmi.
Now this image is one thing…But standing below the lotus.,,
I was stunned. I was open-mouthed and receiving her blessings. I was in love.
Looking up at the Goddess at that impressive size imprinted me so deeply.
Her hands were painted as the Gurus hands, I recognized that immediately.
Bestowing blessings with mudras, offering knowledge,
and holding a beautiful flower, in reverence for Beauty.
The plaque below the painting said:
“Knower of All, Giver of Boons, A terror to the Wicked, Remover of all Sorrows ,Beloved Goddess Mahalakshmi, Obeisance to you.”
I took a lighter out of my pocket and wanted to light the candles on the altar table in front of the gargantuan image, out of sheer immediate devotion.. (Remove my sorrows!) Mom grabbed my wrist really hard, like my Scottish Nanny used to and said, “you better not”. (still funny!).
We left that scene and went outside for some air…and a cigarette (I was 22!) and there was sign that said, “please do not climb the mountain”. It looked just like the ceremonial Celtic man-made mountain called a “tump” that I had just read about on a plane ride to Florida, I trip I just got back from. (I had a powerful vision there in FL; that I would leave my husband, and the marriage, and be free.) So not heeding the sign, rebellious young thing that I was, I climbed right up there. It was exactly what I thought it was. It had a ceremonial fire-pit in the center and small indentations in the grass that looked like stadium seating.
It was pretty cool. I sat there, listening on sacred ground under a big blue sky, I felt that surely the goddess would speak to me now. I could hear crickets, wind, and I could even hear the clouds floating. But no voice. Then, my heartbeat became audible. It was disturbing my ears. Then I couldn’t hear anything else. I was angry, and climbed down. Mom was waiting at the bottom. I climbed down, and she said, “So?”
I said, “Yeah well, all I could hear was my heartbeat up there, ” I gestured upwards with my cigarette “I got nothing.”
She questioned me and looked at me hard, “Is your heartbeat nothing?…. or is it something?”
I vowed right then to listen to my heart…Always.
That month I saved enough twenty dollar bills for an apartment with lots of light. Then I took the cat, left said abusive husband w/ half of our savings, and hit the ground running to my brand new life of service (seva) and Lila (divine Play).
Do you want to connect to Lakshmi… Knower of All, Giver of Boons, A terror to the Wicked, and Remover of all Sorrows? Me too. All the time. Check out the workshop. Lila with Lakshmi