Seemed like just another day.
Guru had a concert that night in New Jersey and I was leaving work a few hours early. Sahishnu, my boss at the Smile, was grumpy and he had a right to be. I was congenitally late for work, what with my late night hours spent doing other forms of selfless service. Now I was leaving him and the other guys to close up the store by themselves. It wasn't fair.
It was my job, though, to help Vinaya load up Guru's instruments and get them to the concert. Priorities. So, at about 3 p.m., I walked home, showered, and then walked over to Guru's house where I met Vinaya.
Guru dabbled in a lot of instruments and most of them were stored in what must have started out as a small, separate garage on the property, which was now accessed via a simple cipher lock. Guru, however, kept his main instruments -- esraj, cello, flute, and harmonium -- inside his living room.
The packing job didn't take long and once we had Vinaya's station wagon loaded, we drove south to New Jersey. The concert that night was on a university campus. I want to say Rutgers, but am no longer sure. In any event, Vinaya and I unpacked the car and began setting the instruments upon the stage.
It was a relatively small venue -- more of a student center of some kind than an auditorium. Intimate. My kind of place.
Our pre-concert preparations were unremarkable. And the concert itself was like hundreds I had attended before it. Then Guru did something a little unusual. Perhaps it was the small venue or the fact that not many New York disciples had made the weeknight drive to New Jersey. Whatever the reason, Guru asked the boy disciples to come forward to meditate.
I already had a good seat up front (a perk of getting to the venue early and being able to save one). So, when Guru asked us to come forward and sit in front of him, I was Johnny on the spot. I sat dead center, right in front of Guru, a foot or less away. Like being up front at a movie theater, I was practically oblivious to the others around me.
Before the rest of the guys had even settled in around and behind me, I had entered a familiar state. It was effortless. The occult movement that had been methodically annexing my psyche all year was then (fall 1986) on the verge of domination. Until that night, it seemed the only things standing between me and trance were a few seemingly autonomous neurons -- slowly, mechanically, firing away -- intent to hold their ground to the end.
Then it happened.
As Guru's shifting eyes rested upon me, I was transfixed. Unblinking. Mouth ajar. It was as if my brain -- the last resistant neurons -- had been stupefied. But I was aware. Aware not of my body or brain or surroundings -- but of being, of reveling in the pure force that had been assaulting my psyche for the last eight or nine months. Yoga.
The experience lasted mere minutes -- four or five at the most. Guru folded his hands and bowed. The meditation was over. I found it difficult to reach my seat. When the concert ended just a short while later, all I wanted was to be left alone -- to bask in the invisible sun that seemed to be blazing in my chest and forehead.
But I couldn't. I had to help Vinaya pack up the instruments and load them into his station wagon. Then, on our way back to Queens, Vinaya decided -- quite reasonably -- to stop at a diner, where we ran into some other disciples eating, too. I contemplated staying in the car, but I was too hungry.
Walking into the busy restaurant I felt like a torch being carried into the night sky; as if light were beaming off my forehead (though, nobody else seemed to notice).
For the next week or two the influence of that night stayed with me, day and night. Little did I know, however, that it would be -- imperceptibly at first -- all down hill from there. It would take another two years for me to realize it, but the denouement of my Center life had begun.
Photo credit for the stylized Tori gate here.