Friday, June 13, 2008

The Limits of Power

In the days after my Rutgers experience, I was psychically intoxicated during my waking hours, more so than I had been for the previous year. In that state, I learned something important about the limits of my spiritual power (such as it was).

As it happened, I left the Smile with Guru’s lunch in hand one day. Though it’s not clear how often he actually ate it, Guru had a standing lunch order with the Smile: a half grilled cheese sandwich (American cheese on white, with grilled white onion and tomato) and a cup of cauliflower curry soup.

We were to deliver Guru’s lunch to the house by noon and on the day in question, I got delivery duty. So, I turned left out of the Smile and left again on 86th Avenue. I always loved walking to Guru’s house, but in my spiritually inebriated state following the Rutgers concert, I was quite literally ecstatic as I walked up 86th towards 150th Street with my eyes half closed, basking in an internal glow. That’s when I noticed Lavanya walking towards me on the sidewalk from the opposite direction.

I had a crush on Lavanya.

Well, perhaps not a crush precisely. As I’ll discuss a few posts from now, once extinguished, my pre-Center sexual desires were gone. In the fall of 1986, not even a pilot light of sexuality remained. I wasn’t repressing such desires -- they simply did not exist.

No, my unrequited attraction to Lavanya wasn’t sexual. Instead, it was the attraction of -- as Sri Ramakrishna would say -- one hemp smoker to another. Thakur would say that even across a crowded room, hemp smokers could recognize each other with a single look and a knowing smile. Likewise, he said, one knower of Brahman recognizes another.

That’s what attracted me to Lavanya. In the sea of glowing faces amongst Guru’s female disciples -- and there were a lot of glowing faces -- one of the few that appeared to be receiving something during her meditation that looked -- that felt -- familiar to me was Lavanya.

Lavanya occupied a special place in the informal Center hierarchy. During my time in the Center, no other disciple save Ranjana was in closer proximity to Guru for as much time each day. This proximity alone conferred a special status upon her, though I suspect that Lavanya would reject any notion of her uniqueness vis-à-vis the other disciples. That, of course, was an added attraction.

Unlike Ranjana, Lavanya wasn't surrounded by sycophants. While having the highest profile job in the Center, it seemed she tried to stay low profile, to shun the attention of others. She appeared to be down to earth and comfortable in her own skin. All of this, of course, is based only upon my limited observation of Lavanya. The fact is, I rarely spoke to her.

That’s why -- I guess -- I became discombobulated over the next 30 seconds as we drew closer and closer to each other on the sidewalk that day.

Should I say hello? On the one hand, she seemed normal, approachable. On the other hand, the general rule was, boys weren't to speak to girls. And the old sanyassin rule was to avoid even looking at a woman's feet, let alone saying hello. But I talked to women all the time at the Smile -- taking their orders. That was my basic internal dialogue -- like a spiritual George Costanza -- as Lavanya and I passed each other without saying a word.

Then I snapped out of it. Were it in vogue at the time, I would have asked myself: WTF? How was it that one minute I'm reveling in this inner force which has annexed most of my being and the next minute I'm reduced to a bumbling fool in the face of the most basic of social interactions?

On that day, I realized the complete lack of utility of my inner life. Honestly, of what use was a powerful meditation if its effects could be blown away so easily?

Later, I told a friend that I felt like a tall, thin tower without a proper foundation. Perhaps, like Napolean marching east into Russia, I had advanced too far, stretching my inner supply lines too thin. Perhaps it was time for a bit of a retreat.

Photo credit to Subala, whose other photos of Center life can be seen here.

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