Monday, September 29, 2008

Sumati


Shortly after leaving the Center and returning to California, I got a telephone call from Giribar.

Though the call was out of the blue, I was glad to hear from him. We spent a few minutes catching up and then he came to the point.

"Sumati called me," he said. "She'd like to meet with you." I was taken aback.

Sumati had been a long-time, San Francisco disciple, but it was rumored that she was now actively working against Guru by supporting the efforts of a group of cult deprogrammers. By doing so, Sumati was not merely persona non grata in the Center, she was reviled as a "hostile force."

"Sure, I'll meet with her," I told Giribar.

We agreed to meet for dinner at a hotel restaurant in South San Francisco, near the airport, which was about halfway between where I lived and Berkeley, where Sumati was apparently living.

I agreed to meet with Sumati for one reason: to destroy the influence of "magical thinking" upon my actions. If Sumati was pure evil -- as Guru had made her out to be in the months before I had left the Center -- then I wanted to see it for myself. I left the Center in order to stand on my own. If I wasn't capable of doing so -- if I was still afraid of the bogey man (or woman, in this case) -- then I should probably return to the cocoon of the Center.

I first met Sumati at the old San Francisco Center in the early 1980s. She was not a prominent disciple then, having joined the Center just a year or two before I had. But with the departure of Sevika's husband from the Center, Sumati became Sevika's best friend. The two of them seemed to do everything together. And when Sevika replaced Ratna as our Center leader in San Jose, more often than not it was Sumati who accompanied Sevika on her hour drive south to our little Center from San Francisco.

Sumati was extremely funny. I don't remember now what her background was -- if she had ever told me -- but her extroverted personality was reminiscent of a slightly less morose, female Larry David. Whether she was actually born there or not, Sumati had a kind of self-deprecating, irreverent, Brooklyn-Jewish sense of humor that was very funny.

As Sevika's number two, Sumati naturally came to prominence in the Center. Her laugh was infectious and Guru would often call her up to the front of the room and have her do impromptu stand-up routines that had most of us -- including Guru -- belly laughing in a matter of minutes. When I finally moved to New York, it was Sumati to whom I had given my old car.

Sumati's final role in the Center was as one of Guru's weightlifting publicists. (There were three of them, primarily: Sumati; a younger female disciple named Mandabi; and an older male disciple from Seattle named Agraha.) I've already written here and here about my ambivalence for Guru's weightlifting efforts.

For better or for worse, there's no doubt that the efforts of Sumati (and her two colleagues) generated a lot of publicity for Guru. But sometime in the last year or two of my discipleship, both Sumati and Sevika left the Center (though I don't now remember the exact chronology of their respective departures).

Sometime shortly thereafter it became common knowledge in the Center that Sumati was actively working against Guru, that she was working for a group of deprogrammers. Since the days of Pulin's kidnapping, I held a special contempt for so-called deprogrammers. That said, by the time Sumati left the Center, I was on the way out myself and wasn't much concerned with what she was up to.

I should also note that I didn't actually know first hand what Sumati was doing after she left the Center. I only knew what I had heard, and I heard a lot. Guru was really pissed off about her activities. Sometime in the last year before I left, Guru went on at some length about Sumati's supposed deficiencies. It must have been after a Wednesday night meditation, because Guru was at P.S. 86 when he let loose one evening.

In particular, I remember Guru recounting -- with a mix of indignity and sadness -- his very first conversation with Sumati. It was a story I'd heard Sumati recount with humor at least once in the past. But there was no humor in Guru's re-telling.

Apparently, in Sumati's early days -- when she was still "Robin" -- she worked at Dipti Nivas, a near-legendary vegetarian buffet restaurant in San Francisco owned by Devadip and Urmila Santana. (If you missed the food at Dipti Nivas, then you really missed something special.) In any event, one day Guru called the restaurant and the young Robin answered the phone. The initial problem was that Sumati couldn't understand what Guru was saying.

That was a common enough problem for new disciples, but more important: Sumati didn't even recognize that it was Guru on the phone. In hindsight, that fact isn't all that surprising either. If I had never heard Guru speak and then he called me at work, then I doubt that I would have figured it out either.

In Sumati's telling, the story was hilarious to everyone, including Guru. In Guru's later telling at P.S. 86, however, the incident foretold trouble. Guru said that at the time of the call, he felt a strong urge to summarily kick the young Robin out of the Center. What kind of disciple, Guru asked, doesn't recognise their own Guru? Against his better judgment, Guru said, he decided against kicking her out.

In effect, Guru said that Sumati was now a "hostile force" -- like an evil spirit personified. In no uncertain terms, Guru made it clear that nobody was to have any contact with her going forward. And as I recall, Guru went the extraordinary -- though not unprecedented -- step of rescinding Sumati's spiritual name.

All of that was on my mind as I drove north on Highway 101 to our scheduled dinner meeting. In the end, though, it was all rather anti-climactic. Both Giribar and Sumati looked largely the same (no noticeable horns or forked tongue on Sumati).

The three of us caught up with each other and as we chatted, it became clear to me that there was something on Sumati's mind. I sensed -- perhaps wrongly -- that Sumati was looking for supporters or other ex-disciples hostile to Guru. When she asked me why I had left the Center, I took it as my cue to let her down.

"Sex," I said. "I left the Center because I wanted to have sex." Pure and simple. Although I had no more interest in the spiritual life, I told Sumati that I didn't leave because I no longer believed.

"Guru had a positive effect on my life," I continued. "I'll always be grateful for that."

As I drove back to my dad's place in Morgan Hill that night, I felt a sense of satisfaction. I had gone a step further in rooting out the remnants of the magical thinking -- the fear that some imagined, lurking evil in or around Sumati (or any other person) could somehow infect or affect me was put to rest for good.

Photo credit here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Meeting My Better Half

Before moving to New York -- when I lived with Giribar in Cupertino -- my favorite run was through the hilly trails of Rancho San Antonio park. Anugata and I had done some blistering circuits of the Wildcat Loop and those memories drove me back to those hills in my first few weeks back in California.

Alone, I'd ascend the trails that led to views not only of Silicon Valley, but of San Francisco on a clear day as well. I'd stop at the top and survey the view and imagine that there was a woman somewhere out there -- someone I hadn't met yet -- with whom I'd share my life with. As it turned out, she worked at the YMCA.

There were a lot of good looking women at the Y, both employees and members. But it was the Health and Fitness Director that caught my eye. Her name was Elaine.

At the beginning, I worked at the Y's front desk. I'd check member's cards on their way in, gave members their towels, checked out equipment, and did laundry. And at the end of each night, I was responsible -- along with one of the Y's executives -- for setting all the alarms and locking the place up.

The executives at the Y took turns staying late to close up. One night it was Elaine's turn and as we walked around the facility, she mentioned that she was going to be attending the Mushroom Mardis Gras festival in Morgan Hill that weekend. I was running in the Mardi Gras' 10K that Sunday, I told her.

"You should give me call," I said. Thankfully, she did.

That was more than 18 years ago and her eyes are even more beautiful today than they were then.

The picture above was taken at my dad's house, where I was living when I met my future wife. It was taken, however, a few years after our marriage. While it's not particularly flattering to me, it's a good shot of Elaine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Starting Over

As I approached my 25th birthday, I found myself starting over.

The day after I arrived in California, my dad drove me to Gavilan Junior College in Gilroy (Go Rams!). Although I was a week or so past late registration, a counselor there told me that with the instructor's permission, I might still be able to attend a few Administration of Justice classes. When I checked with the instructor, he said that he was okay with it. With that, I was enrolled in three courses -- just under full-time student status.

I remember feeling weird the next afternoon as I left the house for my first day at school, with good luck wishes from my dad and stepmom as I went. I had been such a bad student in high school that I was pleasantly surprised to learn that by paying attention in class and doing my homework, good grades weren't hard to come by. I got straight As that semester. Turned out that I liked school and was hungry to learn.

I also loved being back in California and out of the City, which I had really soured on in the previous few years. Morgan Hill, which is about a half hour drive south of San Jose (a.k.a. Silicon Valley), is largely rural. I enjoyed running in the foothills behind my dad's house, breathing the fresh air, and seeing the occasional bobcat (as opposed to the rats and raccoons of Queens). But it wasn't paradise.

In my first week back, somebody took a couple of shots at me. I was running on the winding road up behind my dad's house -- which lead into Henry Coe State Park -- when I heard the crack of a rifle. I wasn't at all concerned, until just a few seconds later when I heard a very loud buzzing sound speed past my head. I'd never heard that sound before and it took another shot for me to realize that I was hearing bullets whizzing past. That's when the adrenals opened up and I went into a sprint back down the hill.

I also started looking for a job. The first one that caught my eye was an ad in the San Jose Mercury for a receptionist at the Central YMCA. I called a few times and left messages, but nobody returned my calls. So, I decided to drive into San Jose and just present myself. When I did, a dynamic and all-around great woman named Jill interviewed and hired me on the spot. With that, the basic components of my life for the next two years were in place.

Except for one: a girl.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Interlude

Well, that's it. I've covered my disciple-life, including the formative experiences that led me to Guru and the Center in the first place, in 97 posts and eight months of writing. With one giant caveat -- which I've made before -- I'm pleased with the effort thus far.

The caveat, of course, is that my place in the history of Guru's life is minuscule. And the narrative arc of my memoir here is narrower still. While I've done my best to recall for you as honestly and as objectively as possible those things that I experienced -- what I saw, felt and heard -- I'm afraid it's just a sliver of the whole.

Also, I feel compelled to point out that I consider the posts thus far to be a first draft. While I did a fair bit of outlining before writing, did my best to edit on the fly, and checked in with as many available sources as possible to confirm my memory of events (and their sequence), until I have had a chance to print out each post and mercilessly take the proverbial red pen to them, I won't be fully satisfied.

On that score, I'd welcome any and all comments: either directly on the blog or emailed to me privately. Because of my current job as a trial lawyer, I've grown accustomed to the close examination of my written work. I'm of firm conviction that it can always be better, but I need input to make it so.

With all that said, however, the story of my spiritual life in general, and of my relationship with Guru in particular, didn't end with my departure from the Center in February 1990. In retrospect, it seems as if my spiritual life was just beginning.

I had always conceived of the spiritual life -- of yoga -- as being the path to become the supreme individual. The goal of life -- the goal of the spiritual life -- wasn't to become a good disciple or even to become a great disciple. The goal was to become a master of one's self.

As I look back on things now -- and as I'll try to articulate in the coming posts -- my departure from the Center now strikes me as a necessary step in my further development (though at the time, part of me considered it a colossal personal failure). Though it took a year or two to manifest itself, I had been wildly out of balance ever since my meditation at Rutgers.

At the time, I was aware of my personal limitations, even in the face of what for me was the extra-ordinary development of my higher mental faculties (here I mean psychic mental faculties as opposed to intellectual faculties). As I once described to Tejiyan, it felt to me as if my spiritual development in the Center was like a high tower built with insufficient foundation. (The image I have is of the Totem Pole formation in Monument Valley -- here's a great picture of it by Abedan.)

The rest of my story is about shoring up the foundation.

It's about letting my body, vital, and mind play catch-up; for each of the components of my psyche to have its respective day in the Sun and my efforts to integrate each of them into a more complete and effective whole. (For a refresher on lexicon, click here.) I was to begin my formal education, meet my wife, join the military, and have children.

With some semblance of balance restored, I would experience a re-awakening of my psychic flame. I would go on to law school, where the most significant books I read over those three years were not Torts, Contracts, and Constitutional Law, but the canon of Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, Synthesis of Yoga, The Life Divine, and Savitri.

In February 1990, however, that was all years ahead. At first, I was simply glad to be in a little room of my own in my dad's and stepmom's home in Morgan Hill, California, with a world of possibilities in front of me.

The last thing I wanted to think about was spirituality.

Photo credit of Morgan Hill in the morning is here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bhima & Tejiyan


In the early morning hours before my final flight back to California and out of the Center for good, Tejiyan (pictured below) and I sat at a booth in Lucille's (the all night diner of choice) and chatted about life and the Center.

Tejiyan hadn't received word about the "last supper," so the fact that he went out of his way to call me up and invite me out so late at night meant the world to me. Tejiyan -- and his older brother Bhima (pictured above) -- had always felt like long lost kin to me.

From my earliest days in New York, Bhima and Tejiyan welcomed and encouraged me. Irish-Catholics born and raised in Connecticut, the brothers are highly competitive by nature and are built like college football players, which, in fact, they were. On a recent trip to New York, an old friend told me that Bhima and Tejiyan were so competitive that when some of the New York-area disciples got together for soccer games, Bhima and Tejiyan had to be put on the same team so as to avoid an otherwise unavoidable clash of titans.

During my New York years, I saw more of Tejiyan than I did of Bhima, because for most of his adult life, Bhima worked at the United Nations in Manhattan. In many ways, though, I think I'm more like Bhima (while my brother Jeevan is in some ways more like Tejiyan).

Tejiyan, however, worked for himself as a contractor. For that reason, Tejiyan came into the Smile -- where I worked -- for breakfast or lunch (or both) on most days.

One afternoon, Tejiyan came into the Smile for lunch on the day after I had run a 50-mile race. Surprisingly -- considering my effort of the day before -- I felt pretty chipper at work. When Tejiyan tried to shoot a crumpled napkin past me and into the garbage bin, I kicked out my foot to block the shot. Unfortunately, I banged my kneecap onto the edge of a metal sink in the process.

I knew it was going to hurt, but before I felt a thing, I passed out. The next thing I saw was Tejiyan's shocked face looking down at me on the floor as he cupped his hand under my head.

Later in my discipleship, when it became clear to others in the Center that I was having spiritual difficulties, Tejiyan was one of the first (and one of the only) disciples to show me concern and offer me concrete advice. For that, I'll always be grateful.

After our long goodbye at Lucille's, Tejiyan drove me back to my place. He'd be the last disciple I'd speak to before flying to California later that day and leaving the Center behind for good.

Bhima and Tejiyan -- perhaps the two best men I met in the Center.



I hope the guys don't mind me using these great pictures taken by Unmesh, which I think capture a spark of each of these truly unique and noble men. See Unmesh's other fine photos here.

The Last Supper

"Yogaloy, Guru got your note."

It was Ashrita. He was referring to the note I had passed to Lavanya at the end of Wednesday night meditation less than an hour earlier.

"Guru gives you his love and blessings," Ashrita continued. "He doesn't want you to leave the Center, but he's grateful to you for bringing your brother and sister to the path, and he gives you all his love."

After thanking Ashrita, I hung up.

Jeevan was there with me. I don't remember why he was in town, but he stayed with me at Trishatur's place. After Ashrita's call, Jeevan and I walked over to Annam Brahma for dinner before it closed.

I hadn't yet told Jeevan about my plan to leave, so he was kind of down as I explained myself on our walk over to the restaurant. Thankfully, he seemed to accept the idea that I'd made up my mind. "It's a burning fire out there," he said, referring to wider world.

The next day at work, a disciple who had apparently been at Guru's house the previous evening approached me conspiratorially and asked me what my plans were. Obviously, the fact that I was leaving the Center had been a topic of conversation and was now common knowledge amongst the house-goers.

While I had been mustering up the courage to go into the front office at Victory Factory and tell Sudhir that I'd be leaving in a week, I hadn't yet done so. But now that the secret was out, I realized that if I didn't give my notice immediately, then Sudhir and Abedan (and the others in the shop) would hear it through the grapevine. I didn't want that.

Learning to stand up and face the music was probably the most important lesson I learned in my last year in the Center, and part of that would be telling my friends to their faces that I was leaving the path.

I was worried how folks would react and was pleasantly surprised when a small group of guys -- Sudhir, Sundar, Shambhu, Trishatur, and a few others invited me to a "last supper" of sorts. My plane was to leave on a Thursday, so we all went out to eat after the next Wednesday night meditation, which I decided to skip.

We went to Pizzeria Uno's in Forrest Hills. The guys were very generous in spirit. I'll never forget that send off -- it meant so much to me.

It was past 11 p.m. when I got home, so I was surprised to hear the phone ring. It was Tejiyan, who had apparently not gotten the word earlier about my imminent departure or about the last supper. "Were you just going to leave without saying goodbye," he asked.

A few minutes later, Tejiyan picked me up and we went over to Lucille's diner to chat.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Preparing to Leave for Good

By the fall of 1989, it was quite clear to me that the time to leave the Center had come.

I could barely control myself and I was beginning to worry that if I didn't have sex soon, then I might do something rash. I had already begun engaging in risky behavior, but my real concern was avoiding an entanglement with a female disciple. There was nobody in particular that I was worried about, but since I had become sexually conscious I was aware that there were at least a few girls on the prowl. I desperately did not want to be responsible for anyone other than myself leaving the Center.

Despite the worries, though, I was grateful for the extra year that I had in the Center. Had Guru just let me go the first time around, it would have been more difficult for me to have assimilated my Center experience with my new life outside the Center. Psychologically, it would have created a kind of duality in me: my disciple years versus my ex-disciple years, with untreated psychological scar tissue separating the two.

Instead, my last year in the Center served as a healing balm to the wound which I then saw as my failure to remain a disciple. Though I did my best to keep a low profile and attend only the required events, I probably had as much direct contact with Guru that last fall as I had had at any other time.

For example, I recall Guru giving numerous concerts that fall, which required me -- as Vinaya's assistant -- to help Guru with his instruments. I remember feeling strangely reassured as I handed Guru instrument after instrument to practice backstage before such events. I made no pretense of being "spiritual" or being "in a good consciousness." I was simply attentive, respectful, and humble. And Guru seemed fine with it.

The thought had occurred to me that perhaps I could come to some kind of compromise. Perhaps I could live on the outskirts of Center-life and still manage to carve out a private social life for myself. There seemed to have been other disciples who had done so.

In the end, though, I couldn't carry off such a balancing act myself. From the beginning of my spiritual life, my ideal had been the ochre-clad swami, the life of renunciation. To wear the white clothes of discipleship -- our ochre robes -- while leading a separate and secret life in the world would be hypocrisy and, therefore, impossible for me.

With that, I began planning my departure from the Center. Just before going away on the Christmas trip, Guru gave his usual speech to those of us local disciples who were staying behind. "I hope nobody disappears while I'm gone" was the punchline. Guru had no reason to worry about me running away this time though.

Over the Christmas holiday, I flew back to California to visit and once again asked for my dad's and stepmom's help. I told them that I would be leaving the Center for good in the new year (1990) and asked if they would be willing to let me live with them when I did so. They graciously agreed.

After the holidays, I got back to New York before Guru returned. As I had done a year earlier, I wrote a short, sincere note to Guru explaining that I'd done my best, but that it was now time for me to go. I had a firm date to leave (in the first week of February 1990) and I put that in the note, too.

As I recall, Guru and the disciples who had accompanied him on the trip returned to New York in late January. Determined to give Guru ample notice of my departure, I decided to pass my note to Lavanya after the next Wednesday night public mediation.

Although Ashrita was supposed to be the official channel of communication to Guru, on Wednesday nights Lavanya would accept notes from a few disciples as she left P.S. 86 after mediation. So, with my flight just a week away, I discreetly passed my note to her.

Ashrita called me later that same night with a message from Guru.

The photo above is me in better disciple days -- during a break at the 200 mile race.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Palladium, The Prostitute & The Palanquin

After my brush with the "little death," let's just say that I spent a lot more time with myself that fall (and leave it at that).

All this "self study," however, demanded further experimentation. While I had no specific plan to leave the Center, I was getting restless. So, one Saturday night when Trishatur was out of town, I ventured into Manhattan alone. Though I had never been to a club in my life -- and while I hated dancing -- somehow I had gotten it in my head to visit the Palladium.

Dressed in a newly acquired pair of blue jeans, my only non-race related t-shirt, and an army-style overcoat of Trishatur's that I thought looked good on me, I made my way to the subway and on into the City.

I must have been past 11 p.m. when I arrived at the Palladium. There was no queue to get in, just two bouncers. One asked me to open my coat and then proceeded to pat me down. I could hear the music pulsing inside. Just as the first bouncer waived me in, though, the second bouncer stopped me.

"No tennis shoes," he said.

"They're not tennis shoes," I protested, "they're running shoes."

The distinction was lost on him. He wouldn't let me in. I left feeling a little embarrassed and a lot frustrated. I'd built up the nerve to sneak down there and had done all the necessary planning to pull it off, only to be turned away at the door. I realized then that I was out of my league -- out of my element -- and decided I'd need to return to my own territory in California.

As I walked back to the subway station, I noticed a prostitute a little further up the sidewalk. I determined to stop if she said anything to me. Sure enough, she asked me if I wanted a "date." So, I stopped.

The streets were empty. She told me that for $20, she'd give me a blow job. I was extremely nervous as she led me around the corner to a semi-secluded spot and started unbuttoning my new 501s. In fact, I was so nervous that my leg was shaking. She said that she found my obvious innocence "cute." When it was over, I took the subway home, physically and nervously exhausted.

The experience was not the least bit pleasurable. I felt that both the prostitute and I had been degraded. I didn't feel that way because the sex act itself was "bad" or "dirty," but because of the circumstances: our mutual desperation, the filth of the city street, the transfer of money, and our mutual pity for each other.

On a following Sunday morning that fall (1989) -- and it might have been the very next morning, I just don't remember anymore -- I got a phone call at home. It was Databir.

"Hey Yogaloy, Guru wants you to come to the tennis court," Databir said. I had assumed that Guru was at the tennis court that morning, but had no intention of showing up myself. Instead, I was lifting weights at home and listening to the Police on Trishatur's stereo.

"Okay," I said.

I figured that Guru must have been playing tennis and had noticed that I was missing from amongst the other ball boys and then asked Databir to call me. That being the case, I didn't feel too much urgency. (Years earlier, of course, I would have left immediately and ran all the way there.) I was pretty sweaty from my workout and decided to shower and change first.

I got to the tennis court at least a half hour after Databir had called me. It was raining a little. The place was decorated for some kind of celebration or other. The tennis court was packed with disciples lining the long driveway leading up to the entrance of the court itself. Resting at the start of the driveway was a palanquin.

Upon my arrival, Guru mounted the palanquin. Then five boys approached and were preparing to hoist it when Databir or someone else told me that Guru wanted me to be the sixth bearer. That's when I realized that Guru had been waiting for me the whole time -- ever since Databir's call.

Guru had been ready for the ceremony for at least a half hour. He could have picked any one of a number of guys already present to lift the palanquin. Instead, he had wanted me, and he waited for me. It was a strange feeling for me, juxtaposed as it was with my "extra-curricular activities." I felt a strong sense of natural humility and gratitude, but with no concomitant sense of fealty.

As we slowly carried the palanquin forward in the light rain, I realized that in our own secret way, Guru and I had acknowledged and accepted that things had changed between us.

In the photo above, the only other two bearers I can identify are Unatishil, of France, just in front of me, and Devashishu, of England, on the right front station.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

La Petit Mort

I suspect that this post is going to make some readers uncomfortable. That's not my intent. But it's important to the story -- critical really. If you "can't handle the truth," then I suggest you skip it and wait for my next post. While you're waiting, check out this video and then this one.

In the fall of 1989, I was 24. To that point in my life, I'd never had an orgasm. At least, not a conscious one.

Until now, I've tried to hint at this in the blog with Seinfeldian euphemism. At 24, I was still "master of my domain," which for those non-Seinfeld fans, simply means that I had not only abstained from sex up to that point, but that I had also abstained from "auto-erotic activity." (Here's the classic opening to "The Contest.")

In other words: to that point in my life I'd never masturbated. Ever.

I had simply never learned how. Sure, as I've already written, as a teenager, I had been sexually active (though I'd never had intercourse). And I'd heard all the slang references to masturbation that kids threw around. But I had never learned the mechanics of the act. As a horny 24 year old, I'd thought that I had been masturbating when, in fact, I had only been fondling myself. (If only there had been Wikipedia in the late 80s.)

Through the magic of videotape, that was all about to change.

One night that fall, a couple of older disciples brought a video over to our place to watch (not all disciples had TVs, let alone video players). The video was Pink Flamingos, by John Waters. I'd never heard of it or John Waters before and I don't remember whether the guys who brought the video over had given me any warning about its content beforehand, but the movie was disturbing and I found it in poor taste. Among many other things, however, the movie showed a scene of a man masturbating.

That night, alone in my room, I had my first conscious orgasm.

The experience was completely unexpected and unforgettable. One minute I was practicing the technique I'd just seen on the video, and in the next moment I was thrown into ecstasy. I was so overwhelmed by the rush of pleasure that shot up my spine and exploded in my brain that it took a few seconds for me to realize what had happened.

Some years later, I came across the French phrase "la petit mort" or "the little death" which, for me, is the most elegant and apt description for this most personal of human experiences. In any event, my life changed that fall night. I couldn't go back. As nature intended, my desire for sex -- to re-experience that pleasure -- had been fully unleashed. It would demand satisfaction and, by extension, my exit from the Center in a few short months.

With the benefit of hindsight, my masturbatory naivete served an important occult purpose: it had left my mind susceptible to yoga, to trance. As I noted earlier on, had I slept with the first girl I had had a shot at (at 14), I no doubt would have become a more confident teenager. But it would have been at the expense of my spiritual life. I'd like to think that I would have still turned out okay, that I would have remained philosophically inclined, but I'm not at all sure that I would have.

If I had experienced a conscious orgasm when I had been a teenager (as opposed to nocturnal emissions), it's almost certain that I would not have joined the Center, whatever my spiritual leanings might have been. Adding sex to the volatile mix of my teenage drug and alcohol use and rock and roll (or jazz fusion) would not have led to any foreseeable good.

In a real way, it was my sexual dysfunction and associated feelings of shame that led me to the Center. It was my sexual naivete which left room in my being for a dominant psychic force to play its role. And it was my fledgling sexual maturity that would usher me -- not always gracefully -- back into the world.

The image of Mary, above, was taken by my sister and posted at her "All Things Death" blog here. Mary presides over our family's mausoleum in Queens.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Settling Back In

Great shot of some of the guys at the Rocherolle compound in Stamford, CT. Not sure I can name them all from memory (or whether I can spell their names), but let's try, starting from the back row, left: Kripan (leaning), from Boston; Jwalanta (blue shirt), from Germany; Sahadeva, England; Durdam, Connecticut; Gangadhar (Durdam's dad); Sujantra, San Diego; yours truly; middle row, left: Don; San Diego; Papaha; San Diego; Golapendu, San Francisco; Jeevan (my bro), S.F.; Devashishu (Sahadeva's older bro), England; and across the front, left: Prakash, Connecticut; don't remember the lad's name next to Prakash (sorry, anyone who knows, please give me a shout); Narendra (Durdam's older bro), CT; and finally the mighty Arpan, CT. (Photo credit, I think, goes to Durdam's and Narendra's wonderful mom, Gayatri. Thanks to Narendra for sending it to me -- great memories!)

In the wake of the Peace Run, I was relieved to be back in New York. And with August Celebrations (1989) complete, I began to settle into a routine. Before I digress further though, let me pay tribute to the Rocherolle family, who were kind and generous to me when I needed it.

The Rocherolle family lived in Stamford, Connecticut, where they own and run a bonsai nursery called Shanti Bithi. Gangadhar and Gayatri joined the Center in the late 1960s or early '70s, where they raised their two fine boys Narendra and Durdam.

Narendra and I never got to know each other all that well. After high school in Connecticut, he went off to Princeton and then Stanford for graduate school. Narendra would go on to create Webshots and become a driving force behind numerous Internet start-ups. (Check out Narendra's blog here.) Durdam, however, spent a little more of his free time in Queens involved with Guru's activities. That's how I got to know him.

When I first moved to New York, my running partner was Sundar. For a time, Sundar and I joined a couple of other guys -- Kalatit and Pahar -- for speed work at the Queens College track. Pahar often brought Durdam along with him.

By the time I joined Peace Run '89, Durdam was a full blown athlete himself. Aside from tennis -- at which both brothers excelled -- Durdam was a skilled track and field man. Over the years, his exploits have been as varied as competing against world-class fields in the decathlon, in adventure races, and even in the world body surfing championships.

In the wake of the Peace Run, though, both Durdam and his mom told me that if I wanted to get out of New York, then I was welcome to come stay at their beautiful home in Stamford. For my own reasons, I couldn't accept their generous offer. But it's one I've not forgotten. When some disciples seemed less than enthusiastic about my acquaintance, the Rocherolles offered their open arms.

For better or worse, however, my path lay in New York. Back at Trishatur's place, my new routine included half-days working at Victory Factory and lots of exercise. Typically, I woke up each morning and went for a run. I'd then wander into work around noon and work until 5 p.m. After work, I'd either lift weights at home or head to the YMCA to swim. In my leisure time, I began reading voraciously, particularly the works of Ernest Hemingway and John le Carre. The building psychological narrative for me was "adventure."

I also began going to the movies. Going to the movies was frowned upon in the Center, so I went alone or with the few other guys who were over such prohibitions. And then there was television. Trishatur had cable television in his room, which had only recently made its way into Queens. In the late afternoon hours before Trishatur came home from work at the United Nations -- or at any other time when he was not at home -- I was free to watch. How I relished seeing The Godfather for the first time in that room!

It would be another film that I'd watch that fall, however, that would drive the final nail into the coffin of my disciple life.

Gayatri -- Narendra's and Durdam's mom -- has published a book of her own. Order it here.