Friday, May 30, 2008

The Call

Jeevan didn't come to New York that April (1986), but he was planning on August and I was looking forward to showing him around.

By then I was fully settled in as a local. After months of couch surfing at Databir's and then at Ketan's, I finally sublet my own room from a very nice disciple named Mangal, who worked as a professional artist. (He has long since left the Center and you can see his magnificent work here.)

I not only had my own place, but also had a number of new duties that further secured my presence in Jamaica. Aside from working as a ball boy when Guru played tennis, singing in the New York boys' singing group, washing dishes at Annam Brahma on Wednesday nights, and late night postering with Databir, I had also become a Center guard. Being a guard meant spending one day a month guarding the tennis court from vandalism (during the day), and one night a month guarding the disciple stores (from about 7 p.m. to about 6 a.m. or so -- brutal).

By the time August Celebrations 1986 rolled around, however, the most significant duty I had picked up was helping an older disciple named Vinaya manage Guru's many musical instruments before and after each concert he gave on the East Coast.

The job not only gave me another opportunity to serve Guru directly and to spend more time at his house, but from time to time it also allowed me to snatch moments alone with him. Before concerts, for example, Guru would usually set up shop in a room backstage and practice many of the instruments he planned to play that night.

Vinaya and I would take turns bringing the instruments to Guru one by one as he asked for them and then would wait patiently in the room while he practiced. Once done, Guru would hand the instrument back and ask that the next one be brought.

I loved sitting there alone, meditating, while Guru practiced.

Those were my circumstanes early that August when I got an unexpected phone call from my younger sister, Liz. She had just graduated from high school. I was oblivious as to what Liz had been up to since I had left home three years earlier, and I wasn't prepared for the question she asked me.

"Could you see if I could get permission to come to Celebrations?"

Say what? August Celebrations was to kick off in just a week or two. Liz wasn't even a disciple. Apparently, someone back in California had an extra roundtrip ticket to New York and offered it to her. Now, out of the blue it seemed, Liz wanted to accompany Jeevan on his first trip to New York.

My initial reaction was to tell Liz to forget it. The request seemed procedurally improper. I'd have felt embarrassed relaying such a question to Guru. Nevertheless, I had the good sense not to intrude myself between Liz and Guru. I told her I'd ask and called Ashrita straight away.

I couldn't believe what happened next.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


In March 1986 -- around the same time I was participating in the 200-Mile Race -- Guru accepted my younger brother Andy as a disciple.

A few years later, Guru would give him the name Jeevan, and that's the only name I truly know him by. Jeevan means "profusely dynamic life energy." He is that and more.

I did not recruit Jeevan. He came to the Center on his own. The last time that I had seen him was the previous June (1985), to watch him graduate from high school. By his account, he -- like me -- was lucky to graduate. By 1986, I was aware, peripherally, that Jeevan had been frequenting the cafe and juice bar that Giribar had recently opened back in California. But I don't remember ever hearing that Jeevan had sent his picture to Guru (though I certainly might have and no longer remember).

The primary reason for my aloofness was that I didn't believe that disciples should be recruited. I hadn't been. Either you had an innate desire to find your guru or you didn't. Jeevan obviously did.

Jeevan is a year and a half younger than me and the middle child (we have a younger sister -- more about her soon). As a kid, his fiery orange hair and freckles matched his emotions and his daring. We fought constantly as kids (much to the detriment of our mom's peace of mind, I'm sure). I'm not talking about childish bickering. I'm talking about violent fights that sometimes ended with medical bills due and owing.

With the help of a sandal, for example, I once knocked out Jeevan's front teeth and put him into braces for the next year or so. With the aid of a ceramic coffee mug, Jeevan later broke my hand the night before I wrestled (and lost) the county wrestling championship.

Neither Jeevan nor I hesitated to do dangerous things, but he was more daring. As kids, we both went to the cliff's edge to jump into a lake. While I was busy thinking about the angle of the cliff and wondering about the water's depth, Jeevan simply jumped.

Jeevan and I went to different high schools. While I was on one side of town reading Guru's books in class and hoping for grades good enough to get me a trip to New York, Jeevan was on the other side of town secretly meditating in the bushes at his high school and reading Carlos Castaneda.

Today, when I think of Jeevan -- with his frank detachment from the expectations of others and his direct perception of things hidden to most others -- I think of Swami Brahmananda (pictured).

Rakhal -- as he was then known -- was a student at the Metropolitan School, where M. was the headmaster. Not long afterward, Rakhal was frequenting Dakshineswar. Rakhal's father wasn't happy with his son's spiritual inclinations and had him married to an 11 year old girl. Nevertheless, for some time Rakhal lived at the temple with his Guru. Because of Rakhal's exalted state, Sri Ramakrishna ended up having to attend to Rakhal (rather than the other way around).

In time, Rakhal became more grounded and returned home. Sri Ramakrishna encouraged this. From time to time, Sri Ramakrishna would smile mischievously at M. and Rakhal and tell them both that they still needed to enjoy the pleasure of sleeping with their wives. In the same year that his master passed away (1886), Rakhal's wife gave birth to a baby boy.

A year or so later, Rakhal took his vows and became Swami Brahmananda. About four years later, his wife died. Maharaj, as he would later be known, was wandering the countryside when news reached him of Viswewari's death. He was silent and simply gazed at the night stars. In 1891, his ten year old son also passed away.

Nobody is closer to me than Jeevan.

Check out Jeevan's own memoir here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

At the Gates of Trance

Public School 86 is located right across the street from the Smile of the Beyond and the other disciple-run stores that comprise "the block" on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica. Every Wednesday night, Guru held a public meditation there.

On most such nights, Guru would call the local disciples up to the stage to sit facing him and meditate. When I think of my spiritual heroes from India, P.S. 86 seemed a strange place for spiritual discipline. But when I meditated in front of Guru for much of that year (1986), the inner force that was growing inside me overcame almost all of my mental activity. Almost.

It’s hard for me to write about my spiritual experiences.

First off, there’s the challenge of conceptualizing and then articulating in simple prose an experience that is by its nature subjective and abstract. That’s hard for me to do. Second, there’s the danger of miscommunication – that you, the reader, will understand the words I write in a way I have not intended or anticipated. Nevertheless, when I think back to 1986, I remember my elevated mood – the constant psychic inebriation that I felt – before I remember any of the other things that happened that year. So, I must write about it.

To me, it seemed, I was on the verge of a breakthrough.

Ever since my first meditation on Guru’s picture, I had felt a subtle but persistent glow in the middle of my chest. I felt it physically. Have you ever felt a sad, empty feeling in your chest? This glow, as I’ll call it, was the exact opposite of the empty feeling of depression. It generated or emanated joy organically.

Until 1986, however, this glow in my chest didn’t distract my everyday mind. If I paid attention to it, it was there. And it was especially pronounced after mediation. But if I was thinking of other things – working, for example – the glow in my chest didn’t intrude. By 1986, though, things had changed.

This inner glow had gained strength. It constantly pulled at my everyday working mind. I was aware of the glow in much the same way one is aware of the pleasant effects of a single shot of good vodka, which wouldn’t radically affect your motor skills, but would nonetheless radically alter your mood. So, for example, I could stand behind the counter at the Smile and take customers’ orders and make their food without trouble, but nevertheless I felt inebriated.

The glow was not only stronger by 1986, but it also seemed to have annexed more of my psychic territory. Along with its distracting presence in my chest, I also noticed a constant pleasant pressure behind my forehead. It felt like someone was pressing a thumb there very lightly. I could sense, physically, that the two phenomena were connected. Not just in the sense of being related to each other, but actually being connected through my throat and up along through my sinuses to behind my forehead.

As the months went on, this occult movement became so pronounced that I had to make a conscious effort during my working day to keep it in check. The combined effect of this occult movement and my increased physical closeness to Guru was intoxicating. Nothing, however, inflamed this movement more than sitting right in front of Guru and meditating, usually on Wednesday nights.

When Guru called the local male disciples to the P.S. 86 stage to meditate, I would always endeavor to sit as close as possible. Preferably, so that I couldn't even see those sitting around me in my peripheral vision. I sat cross-legged, my hands folded in a prayer-like fashion and I leaned forward a little with urgency.

I focused my attention on Guru's forehead and buried myself there, noticing the REM-like movement of his eyes. Almost immediately, the force that was alive within me -- which seemed connected from my chest, up through my throat and behind my forehead -- linked me to Guru through our foreheads and eyes. My breathing and pulse slowed, almost unnoticeable now. My jaw would relax and my mouth would open slightly.

After meditating a few seconds, Guru would begin peering at each disciple seated before him on the floor of the stage, resting his shifting eyes for a few brief seconds on each one, before moving to the next. As his gaze neared my own, some part of the primal brain fired with anticipation. While most of my routine mental activity had stopped, as if sedated or stunned by the force that now had free reign within me, some mental cogs seemed to continue to turn independently.

It was as if a few rogue neurons, determined to keep the brain from complete submission, kept firing at a slow but steady mechanical pace. Fighting it did no good, either. It was like the old yarn about fighting quicksand -- the more you struggled, the faster your doom. Thinking about controlling the little mental activity still noticeable just fired up more mental activity. The only answer was poise: to bask in the occult glow and let it grow in strength until it could extinguish the mind altogether.

Guru could tell I was on my game much of that year. His eyes would hover on me in meditation just a little longer and as he moved on to those sitting nearby, he'd often do a psychic double take and look my way again. When the meditation ended -- after perhaps five or ten minutes -- it took real effort to get back to my regular seat because of the euphoric stupor I was in.

All I wanted to do was remain silent, to be alone, to assimilate and own the experiences I had had throughout that year. That would be the only way, I thought, that I would be able to breakthrough the invisible barrier that prevented me from escaping the mind completely. My New York experience, however, wasn't about being alone. So, I did the next best thing: selfless service.

I volunteered to wash dishes at Annam Brahma every Wednesday night, where Ketan joined me (as did a new member of our burgeoning brat pack, Sagar). By the time we were done washing the pots and pans and dishes, it was usually past midnight.

I still cherish the memories of those quiet, late night walks home, still physically buzzing from the earlier meditation, and wondering when the veil between me and the Divine would be lifted for good.

The great photo above of Monument Valley, with the silhouette of the Totem Pole formation visible in the middle, was taken by Abedan. Check out his other stunning photos here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Slowing Down for Context

Not long ago, I commented to a friend of mine who is still in the Center how odd I find it that during all my New York years, I have no memory of ever having a spiritual conversation with another disciple.

Perhaps when you're living the spiritual life at the pace and intensity we were, there's no time or interest. We were so active each day for so many years that in the little spare time we were afforded, talking about metaphysical things was, perhaps, the last thing on our collective mind. But I don't want this blog to suffer the same fate.

All I thought about for much of those years was how to become consciously one with the Divine or how close I was to that goal. As challenging as it is to write about metaphysical experience, my inner life is central to the story. While there's great narrative utility in writing about the big signposts and milestones along the journey, such utility comes at the price of some incompleteness, some lack of depth.

I've purposefully left out many details of my story and forgotten many others -- the myriad small, everyday occurrences and insights that have made me, for better or worse, who I am today.

So, time to slow the story down a bit a talk about the occult, about that which is normally hidden from view.

That's me, Ketan and Sahadeva horsing around behind the counter at the Smile just a few days after the 200 mile race.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The 200 Mile Race

Today, at 43 -- with a seemingly ever growing waistline -- running 200 miles seems inconceivable to me. In mid-March 1986, however, I approached the 200 mile race as another work week.

My plan was simple. With a four day cut-off, I’d try to run 60 miles for each of the first three days, and then finish up with an easy 20 miles on day four.

One thing I wanted to avoid was the temptation to stay on the one-mile course at Flushing Meadows Park all night the first night. After completing 60 miles -- which I figured would take me into the late evening that first day -- I knew it would be difficult to leave the course, but if I succumbed to the temptation to run to exhaustion that first day, then my chances of actually completing the race would be diminished. Better, I thought, to run a little less, have a massage and good meal, shower, and get five or six hours of sleep.

With the notable exception of my daily mileage goals, the plan worked well. As I expected, though, it was emotionally difficult to leave the course that first night. I don’t remember who snapped the picture above, but that’s me looking pretty optimistic on day one. I did manage to cover 60 miles that day using a simple run-walk strategy which had me walking about 200 yards at both ends of the one-mile loop course. When it came time catch a ride home for the night, though, I felt a little guilty.

Aside from a few people who had already dropped out, everyone, it seemed, was on the course grinding it out. When I looked at the leader board (for lack of a better word – the board showed the names and mileage of all the runners), my name was right in the mix with 60 miles completed. Physically, I felt pretty good, too. I contemplated doing another 10 miles, and then decided to stick with the plan. I caught a ride home, took a long, hot shower, ate, and promptly went to sleep.

God was I stiff the next morning. I got back to the course at about 7:00 a.m. and the place looked deserted. I saw nobody on the course. I checked the leader board and my name was at the bottom, just above the folks that had already dropped out. Trishul, who I think went on to win, was already past a hundred miles. Most everyone, it seemed, was in the 70 to 80 mile range.

I asked around and apparently most people had just left the course a few hours earlier. While I was shocked at how far behind I had fallen through the night, I also realized that I had made the right decision. Most of the folks ahead of me were not going to feel all that great for the rest of the race having already dipped so far into their reserves. With that, I began hobbling onto the course.

My goal for day two was another 60 miles, but by late evening I had covered only 50. While I was a little disappointed, it was a good day and my name on the leader board was back up in the thick of things. One hundred ten miles down, 90 miles to go.

On day three, I covered 45 miles. So, instead of having a relatively easy fourth day of running, I’d have to run another 45 miles. It was all good until around the 185 mile mark.

I was just spent. I started walking complete laps, and I’m not talking about power walking. I was literally sleeping on my feet. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet learned that “coffee is the life blood that fuels the dreams of champions,” so I didn’t try coffee. Ketan, however, had a suggestion as I staggered through the staging area. “Why don’t you borrow this,” Ketan said as he handed me his Walkman. (Do people even know what Walkmans are anymore?)

I hadn’t listened to popular music in years at that point, but when Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” came blaring through the headphones I was running again. It was incredible -- an instant wave of energetic euphoria that I’d ride for the next eight or nine miles. By mile 195, however, I paid the price for the sudden burst of ‘80s Top 40-inspired running.

I hobbled and walked the last five miles, but it didn’t matter. I knew I had made it. I finished in 86 hours and some change – just over three and a half days. I went home happy that night and returned the next morning for the finish.

As I recall, I was the seventh male finisher and 15th finisher over all (seven women finished before me, too). There were perhaps 25-30 finishers total. When I got back to the course the next morning, there was a nice awards ceremony, which included a walk-past meditation (that’s me, above, followed by the illustrious Databir).

Monday, May 12, 2008

The 200 Pound Lift

In early 1986, I was still sleeping in Databir's living room right next to a one hundred pound dumbbell on the floor. One day the previous fall, Databir had excitedly told me that Guru had lifted a one hundred pound dumbbell over his head.

Inspired, I picked up the dumbbell on the floor. It was heavy, but back in my school days I had lifted free weights regularly. With some strain, I hoisted the dumbbell overhead with one arm. Databir was genuinely excited. "Wow," Databir exclaimed, "that's great Yogaloy!" Within a day, however, Databir's mood was more subdued.

"Yogaloy," Databir said, "I told Guru about your lift. He said that he doesn't want you to lift more than 60 pounds because it might damage your subtle nerves."

I was a bit taken aback. In retrospect, I don't think Guru meant it as a rebuke, but that's how I took it at the time. I had no intention of going back to lifting weights -- since becoming a disciple, through hard work, I had become a runner. The only reason I'd lifted the dumbbell in Databir's living room was because I had been inspired by what Guru had done. So, I felt a little down after talking to Databir the previous fall.

All was forgotten by March 1986. It was still cold in New York and for a few weeks Guru had been inviting disciples to meditate outside his house each morning for a few minutes, after which there'd be prasad. One morning that month, however, Guru made a special announcement: that morning he had pressed a 200 pound dumbbell overhead with one arm. He then asked those of us congregated in the street outside to come in for prasad.

As we filed by, Guru sat beneath the rack which was cradling the 200 pound dumbbell. He personally handed the blessed food to each of us. Ranjana, who I hadn't previously seen use a camera, snapped the photo above, put it into an envelope and had Guru sign it for me -- very thoughtful of her.

Later that day, we got word at the Smile that there was going to be a 200 mile road race to celebrate Guru's lift. The race would be open to all disciples and would be run on a one mile loop within Flushing Meadows Park. There would be a four-day cutoff.

Sahishnu promptly announced that the Smile would close that week as he (an accomplished ultra-distance race walker), Satyajit, and I (among perhaps 30 other disciples) planned on competing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Personal Mythology

Thanks to some last minute financial aid from my grandparents, I began 1986 with a two week trip to Japan with Guru and many other disciples.

It would be a year of seeming paradox for me. On the one hand, I would achieve a state of exaltation in my meditation that I'd never reach again. On the other hand, Guru -- like a good mother bird -- would instinctively begin pecking me out of the nest.

All systems were go, though, as we returned to New York in the dead of winter. In early February -- just a few weeks after getting back from Japan -- I was invited to Ranjana's birthday party, which was celebrated at Guru's house each year. While I'm sure that there were disciples excluded from the event, it wasn't readily apparent to me who was missing upon my arrival at the house -- it was packed.

While the boy disciples were relegated to the "porch" (the enclosed entryway to Guru's house), Guru and the girls occupied the living room. I don't remember the specifics of this particular party, but typically dinner was served and a movie was watched. And as the night wore on, we boys on the porch would get louder and more rambunctious.

On this night, after the movie, the television on the porch provided a live video feed of Guru in the next room, but it was hard to hear with all the guys talking and cutting loose. At one point, though, I heard Guru's distinctive pronunciation of my name, in which the "y" is pronounced as a "j" (like "Jogaloy").

I scooted closer to the TV and caught other words -- "Rama's brother," "the Smile," "avatar" -- but couldn't make out what was being said or why I was a subject of conversation in the other room. Shortly thereafter, Guru gave out prasad and the party broke up. I sensed some of the girls looking at me -- as if they were aware of what Guru had said -- but no one said anything to me directly.

The next morning, Nilima -- one of Guru's shorthand stenographers and an employee at the United Nations -- came into the Smile and called me over. She handed me a single piece of typing paper. Here's what it said:

4 February 1986


Ramachandra was born so many thousands of years ago. He was the first Avatar in human form, and then came Krishna. Ramachandra's brother, Bharat, has a very strong soul's connection with our Yogaloy. So many times when I see Yogaloy, I see right behind Yogaloy, Bharat standing. Then sometimes, when Yogaloy is running or when he brings food to my house from the Smile, right behind his face I see Bharat. He has a very powerful, very sweet type of devoted connection with Bharat.

Ramachandra's exploits are chronicled in the epic Indian classic Ramayana. Lord Rama had three half-brothers: Bharat, and the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughna. While all the brothers were close, Lakshmana was particularly devoted to Rama, while Shatrughna was partial to Bharat. The image above, which I took from an Indian calendar at about the time I received Nilima's note, shows the scene where Bharat, reluctant to rule the kingdom in Rama's absence, instead takes Rama's shoes and places them on the throne.

I have described previously how Guru never struck me as an authority figure, how his presence in my life was utilitarian in purpose, as if he were a trustee over a development in me that started long ago. Reading Nilima's transcript confirmed that feeling for me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Day in the Park

One Friday night that November (1985), I found myself in the meditation hall at Progress-Promise sitting next to Ashrita.

The night’s function was almost over when a disciple named Trishul approached the microphone on stage to make an announcement. Trishul was a Canadian-born disciple living in New York who had a particular talent for ultra-distance running. He held -- and may still hold --numerous Canadian long distance running records (like, for example, running 221 miles in 48 hours).

As it turned out, Trishul needed some volunteers to run a 50-mile race with him that weekend. Apparently, the race -- which was to be held in Central Park -- had been designated as the National TAC 50 Mile Championship. The last time this had happened (1983), Trishul, Arpan (Giribar’s brother), and another disciple named Sammukh had run and won the team championship for the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.

Standing at the microphone in front of all the disciples gathered that night at Progress-Promise, Trishul admitted that he had no expectation that the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team would actually defend its title. He thought it was important, however, for the Center to at least field a team (a team being three runners). Guru agreed and began begging those assembled -- a few hundred disciples maybe -- for two volunteers.

Almost immediately, a humble disciple named Kirit volunteered. Kirit was born in Japan and worked at the United Nations and he had accomplished some amazing feats of endurance himself (once running around a quarter mile track for 13 days). As Kirit raised his hand to volunteer, Guru said: “Very good, Kirit, very good. Now, who else? We need one more volunteer!”

There was no immediate response from those assembled. Everyone seemed to be looking around hoping someone else would volunteer. I thought about it. By that time I had completed (notice I didn’t say “run”) about a half-dozen marathons and just that August I had done my first ultra (the annual 47-mile race run on the eve of Guru’s birthday). So, I thought I probably could physically complete a 50-miler, but there were clearly a number of other disciples present at Progress-Promise that night capable of running a 50-miler on short notice and of doing it in a much better time than I was capable of.

As Guru continued to implore someone to volunteer, Ashrita seemed like he was about to explode. “Come on, someone volunteer,” he said under his breath, obviously disgusted. “God, I wish my knee weren’t injured, I’d volunteer!” That was no bluster. Ashrita’s knee was injured and he seemed on the verge of volunteering anyway. I felt like an idiot sitting there silently.

I raised my hand and volunteered. The Friday night function ended shortly afterward and then Trishul, Kirit and I met up to discuss logistics. That’s when I found out that the race was the very next morning (and not on Sunday as I had assumed it would be).

The next morning in Central Park , the race began with 43 runners (complete results here). After beginning with a two-mile down and back leg, the course was a four-mile circuit around the park. We were to complete 12 laps. I hadn’t run in Central Park before, however, and I found out the hard way that there were a number of other -- longer -- circuits around the park than the four-mile course we were supposed to run. In fact, a full circuit of the park is about six miles. So, in order to run the four-mile course of the race, runners were supposed to make a turn at a certain point, but I didn’t.

I ran two full circuits of the park before the race organizers figured out what was happening (based upon my “slow” split times). They didn’t tell me how much farther I had run. They just made a point to have someone on the other side of the park on my next lap to make sure I made the turn. Had I known that I’d just run an extra four miles for nothing, I’m sure I would have been dispirited. But, ignorance was bliss and I kept on truckin’.

It was a fine fall day in the park, but as the day wore on into late afternoon, there were fewer and fewer runners on the course. The winner -- a doctor named Michael Fedak who had encouraging words for me every time he lapped me -- finished in 6 hours, 20 minutes. Trishul finished just over an hour later, in 7 hours, 27 minutes. Kirit and I, however, still had a ways to go. Just as the park began to get dark and I was feeling a bit lonely, I noticed something strange up ahead of me on the course.

I was halfway through my 11th and penultimate lap, about 44 miles into the race (and at 48 actual miles run due to my earlier navigation error). Though the park was dark, it was lit at regular intervals by street lights. About a hundred yards in front of me, coming my way, I saw a woman jogging alone as she passed under one of the lights; I could see her pony-tail bobbing with each step. About half-way between us, though, in the darkness, I saw two figures move furtively back and forth across the park street and then disappear into the shadows.

“Come on,” I said to myself with a quiet, exasperated voice. I had run 48 miles and I could just feel something bad was about to happen. Sure enough, as the woman jogged past where I’d seen the two figures disappear, a man jumped out from behind her and started chasing her in my direction.

The jogger let out a B-movie scream of terror that simultaneously shut down my frontal lobes and opened up my adrenals. Without thinking I was running full-speed toward the attacker. Without missing a step I yelled out “Hey!” to get the guy’s attention, but he appeared oblivious to my scream as he closed on the woman. So, I lowered my shoulder and slammed into the guy.

He didn’t go down, but he appeared dazed and confused. Inexplicably, the woman stopped running about ten yards away. Her pursuer stood between us, looking at her and then back at me.

“Keep running,” I shouted at the woman. She hesitated, and then took off, hollering “Thank you, whoever you are!” (Even at the time I thought that line was a little melodramatic.) As she ran away, her pursuer turned on me. Only then did it occur to me that he might have had a weapon. I walked backwards and he took a swing at me, which I blocked. Then I realized that he was intoxicated. His eyes were glassy and he seemed unsteady on his feet. After I blocked his punch, he stopped in his tracks and I turned to continue with the run.

As I turned, however, I noticed a number of people waiting at a bus stop just outside the park grounds. They were facing us through the bushes and just watching – not doing a damn thing to intervene. I was in an immediate rage and cursed them for not lending a hand. They just turned back around and looked for their bus.

As I completed my 11th lap, I told the race officials what had happened and they notified park rangers. It was about then that I met up with Kirit, who was just about to start his last 4-mile lap. So, we ran together. Like me, Kirit had logged some additional miles early on in the race. We finished in 25th and 26th place with the same time: 10 hours, 6 minutes. There was just one other runner on the course, a few minutes behind us (of the 43 starters, there were 27 finishers). Thankfully, Trishul had waited for us to finish. Once we were done, we all headed back to Queens on the subway. What a day.

A few years later, a woman jogging in Central Park at night named Trisha Meili was brutally beaten to near death. When I heard that news, I couldn’t help but think about the woman jogger I had briefly met and wonder if she were the same person.

The great photo of Central Park at night is just one I found on Flickr, with credit here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I Become a New Yorker

I spent the interval between April and August Celebrations (1985) back in California. It would be my last as a disciple. I returned to New York in August fully intending to ensconce myself at the Smile of the Beyond and hope that my dream of moving to New York permanently would become a fait accompli.

During Celebrations that August, I spent my mornings as a ball boy at the tennis court and then would head straight over to the Smile to work the post-function rush. By Celebrations' end, my plan to move to New York was given a fortuitous boost by a change in the restaurant's leadership.

For reasons unknown to me, Shushoban left the Smile and Guru tapped Sahishnu to take over its management. The turnover wasn't limited to Shushoban -- the entire day crew was disbanded. Sahishnu promptly closed the Smile for a few weeks for extensive renovations. When the Smile re-opened, Sahishnu was the new grill man, while I shared salad bar and waiting duties with another California transfer named Satyajit (formerly of S.F.).

We were also aided in the afternoons by Ketan, who had just graduated from high school in Connecticut and was now in New York full-time. My routine became quite simple. I worked at the Smile 13 days every two weeks: I had every other Sunday off. If I didn't run in the morning before work, then I ran after work (typically with Sundar).

After a shower and a quick meal, I'd head off to the tennis court or evening function. Afterwards, I'd usually head back to the Smile to get a start on Bipin's and Databir's night-crew chores (while they were up at Guru's house). Oftentimes -- once they returned from Guru's house -- we'd all work into the early morning hours on some other project, like laying out a new running course for Guru on the streets of Queens or putting up posters in Manhattan. Little did I know that this routine of mine would remain largely unchanged for the next three years.

Early that fall, while having his breakfast at the Smile and reading the the New York Post, Databir looked up at me behind the counter.

"Yogaloy, Guru says you can stay."

I didn't quite follow. "What do you mean: 'I can stay'," I asked.

"Guru said you can stay in New York," Databir replied matter-of-factly, his eyes already back on the paper.

Just like that, the goal was won.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I Get My Name

The Smile was never terribly busy that winter and spring (1985).

The one exception was every Saturday after the morning function let out. The Smile was a natural place for the out-of-town disciples visiting Guru to congregate for lunch. On top of that, Guru's long-standing rule had been that visitors only paid half-price at the Smile on weekends. A pretty sweet deal that guaranteed a crowd of mostly ravenous Canadians.

So, when Guru left the tennis court on Saturday, the Smile became a zoo. It would become so busy that there was little reason for me, as a waiter, to panic. Instead, in a workmanlike way, I had to take orders and chip away at the crowd as best I could. Patience and poise were the watchwords. Only one thing could make such a situation worse: a visit by Guru.

That's exactly what happened one morning that March. Though Guru had a dedicated table at the Smile, it seemed to be more of a shrine than an actual place for him to eat. I'm not sure anyone -- except, perhaps, Shushoban -- knew when Guru had last come into the Smile. It had been years. His presence, however, made things in the Smile that morning much more stressful for us workers.

Shushoban rushed over to seat Guru and take his order. Shushoban would now be working only on Guru's food -- all other grill orders would have to wait (and there were a lot of them). Luckily, the visiting disciples crammed into the Smile that morning were happy to wait in Guru's presence. Nevertheless, I began the task of taking orders.

As I walked past Guru's table to serve some of the disciples seated nearby, though, Guru called me over. With outstretched hand, he gave me a piece of paper. He told me to put the paper on my shrine at home and meditate for 10 minutes before looking at it. Out of the blue, I had received my name.

Still standing there in front of Guru's table, I looked around at the crowd. "Guru," I asked tentatively, "should I go now?"

"Yes, go now," he responded.

Sorry (sort of) to abandon my mates in the middle of a rush like that, I tore my apron off and ran the half block to Databir's place (where I had been staying since December). I sat before my shrine for 10 minutes, too excited to meditate successfully, and then I was Yogaloy: the Abode of Soulful and Fruitful Yoga to please the Beloved Supreme in His own way."

The Abode of Yoga.