Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Words

In the three remaining years of his life, I saw Guru twice, when he made visits to San Diego to give concerts. The two visits were very different.

The first was in October 2004. Guru gave a concert at the local Scottish Rights Temple and Ketan had called me and invited me to attend. I didn't see Ketan before the concert, but we did get a chance to chat for a little while just afterwards.

Apparently after the concert, Guru and the disciples were headed over to the disciple-run restaurant -- Jyoti Bihanga -- for an impromptu function. Ketan invited me there, too, but I demurred. I couldn't crash a disciple function, I told him. So, we said our goodbyes and I went home. It had been nice to have had the chance to see Guru and sit in the back of the concert hall and meditate. I was satisfied.

When I got home, though, Ketan called. He said that he'd asked Guru if I could attend the next morning's function at their hotel and that Guru had said I could. Early the next morning, I drove out to the hotel and picked Ketan up for a pre-function breakfast. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, where the Center had rented a conference room for the morning meeting.

It was strange -- though not uncomfortably so -- to be in an almost exclusively disciple environment after some 14 years out of the Center. The room was filled disciples, men on the right and women on the left. Lots of New Yorkers had made the trip out. Guru sat up front in an over sized lounge chair.

As I recall, the function that morning was all business: a few hours of meditation and then some poetry recited by disciples, followed by prasad (or blessed food).

There were a lot of prasad items laid out in front of Guru to pick up and as I completed the task Guru began saying my name. It took me a few minutes, though, to realize what Guru was saying. In fact, I was about to walk back to my seat when Guru shouted out, "Didn't I give you the name Yogaloy?" I finally got the message.

Guru asked me to come closer and then there were no more words. For about a minute I stood there trying to open my entire psyche to his silent gaze. With a short nod of his head, Guru ended the meditation. As if transported back almost two decades, I wanted to be alone, to cherish the grateful feeling I had in my heart.

That was the last time Guru ever spoke to me.

The last time I ever saw Guru was about two and a half years later, just a few months before Guru passed away. He came to San Diego in June 2008 to give two concerts at the Symphony Hall here in one night.

The first concert of the night started at 6 p.m. and I had walked there straight from work, looking for some private meditation time alone somewhere in the back of the balcony section. From the beginning of the concert, though, I was distracted.

First, Guru didn't look very good. He appeared very stiff and unstable. His playing suffered. Before the concert, Ketan had presciently suggested that I bring my kids to the concert (a practical impossibility) because, he said, it might be their last opportunity to see Guru. I didn't think Guru looked that bad, but he definitely was not in good form.

As a result, people sitting in the balcony started walking out right from the beginning. It was disheartening. I felt embarrassed for Guru and, of course, I couldn't meditate. After about 45 minutes or so, Guru had some disciples perform. That's when I took my cue and left.

I sat out in the lobby for another 20 or 30 minutes feeling frustrated and a bit guilty for walking out, but I just couldn't take it. Once the concert ended, though, things got a little better. Before the second show started, I got a chance to chat with Ketan and a few other guys I hadn't seen in quite some time.

It never occurred to me that I'd never see Guru alive again.

The picture above is of my short meditation with Guru in October 2004. I don't know who to thank for taking the picture, but thank you to Ketan for getting them to me.

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