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.


Enjoying Doing Cartwheels said...

My jaw dropped when I read this. I had the exact same experience. A physical glow in my chest which after a few months went up to my forehead. And then in meditation it would totally consume me but my eagerness to 'breakthrough' or have some epiphany would always distract me. Guru said "Expectation leads to disappointment" and in my case he was right. I would be on the verge of something and then realise it and get excited and poof! it was gone.
The pressure in my forehead became very strong. it would often sweep my mind clean of all thoughts and I would end up in a sort of blissful stupor. I would just barely be able to focus on a task as simple as ordering food. Sometimes it felt like my mind had expanded to the size of the whole room and everyone was engulfed in it as well. It makes me think of "Autobiography of a Yogi". I can't remember it exactly but he discusses how thoughts are frequencies and the stronger the frequency the more it can affect people around us. Really makes ya think :)

Enjoying Doing Cartwheels said...

Opps sorry he actually said "Expectation leads to frustration".

I am notorious at misquoting...