When we met, meaning my first serious girlfriend, I’d already jettisoned the now-Methodist teachings and practice after finding them to be vacuous and false my senior year of high school – complicated by the fact I was the president of the largest Youth Fellowship in our denomination (before the big merger). So I smiled, finished my term, and quietly moved on. A few years later, in Indiana, my next girlfriend was from a largely nonobservant Lithuanian Jewish family, but much of our upheaval about the time of my graduation, with her taking flight around the globe, left an emotional devastation that led (in part, at her prompting) to consider yoga. One of the things I liked about yoga was that it wasn’t religious, at least initially. No more so than, say, sitting around a hookah.
With her, and my expecting to spend the rest of our lives together, I once mentioned something about converting – and to her puzzled “Why?” I must have said something along the lines of “for the tradition.” About the same time, someone else asked where I’d wind up religiously, and I blurted, “Probably Zen-Quaker,” knowing virtually nothing about neither religion! How curious the resulting path, then.
A few years ago, then, a longtime friend’s remarks about Swami came as a surprise. As I replied, “I had no idea. And you kept quiet about her influence! Remarkable.” Several years before that, I’d come across a Washington Post story referring to someone else who had been part of the circle and was now a Messianic comic. (I’m not joking – rather, he, too, came back to roots, to some degree.) We both admitted a sense of bafflement and frustration, realizing we had grown spiritually through the experience, yet being hard-pressed to say just exactly what happened, fully.
My novel, Ashram, attempted to hold the action in a single day, avoiding the guru-worship I’ve always found discomforting in the Asian traditions, on one side, as well as the scandal-mongering that eventually accompanied every major teacher of the time, as far as I can tell, on the other.
After my then-wife and I had moved to Yakima, Swami attempted first to order me to return to the ashram and then, failing that, to claim a large part of my small income. That obviously led (as later perspective shows) to my being ostracized – and free to move increasingly into the Quaker realm. It’s now safe to say that as an ashram, we were a renegade outfit. I must now admit she essentially had two sides – one that could be deeply connected to the Source; the other, coldly entrepreneurial and calculating. As I said, “They were not compatible, and I suspect that what you experienced arose from the latter – possibly because you were seen as a threat to my residency and service.”
As I revisited my earliest journals, I was struck by the fact I could have moved to the ashram five or six months earlier, but in doing so, I would have missed an important flowering in my life. Still, my delay puzzles – did I sense potential trouble, or was it simply a desire to be prudent and cautious?
As for handwriting, you should have heard their analyses of mine! I’m still scarred – despite my once adequate art student chancery cursive skills.
And then there was what they saw in reading the palms of my hand.
Still, any way I look at what happened, it was a breakthrough experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And that’s what infuses this story.
For the novel, click here.