By Ma Anand Mayuri
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” ~Pema Chödrön
I disciplined myself last month to practice my hour-long meditation for 21 days without missing a day, rewarding myself like a big girl with gold stars on the calendar. In the second week, a new experience came—not new really, but different from the day before. It happened every day in the silent sitting for four or five days. It was something so precious, so beautiful, I felt like holding it, like not defiling it with words or speaking it out loud; but, on the phone with my sister, my closest confidante who is also a meditator, I heard myself trying to describe what had happened. “Didi… in the meditation I felt something new, something like, instead of an absence…”
“A feeling of presence,” she finished. “That happens after doing sadhana for some time.”
Hearing someone else say it made my subjective experience seem more real. My ego of course jumped in, and I secretly felt that I must have reached some kind of benchmark in my practice, and that I would experience the “presence” from then on out. The next day, of course, full of mind and ego and expectations, the feeling did not come. Silence was there; I was not in mind, except for the usual, occasional stray thoughts, but it was dark emptiness, absence, rather that the presence of light. I fulfilled my 21-day goal, but the beautiful experience did not come again. The more I tried to get it, it seemed, the darker and more isolated the silence was.
What is this experience, and is there a way to make it happen? Perhaps it is what the saints and mystics have been trying to describe for thousands of years: disappearing into the whole, becoming one with the source, receiving the grace of God. Truly it felt like a light penetrating me, flooding me from beyond myself; in Fingers Pointing to the Moon, I describe it as deathlessness. Osho described it many times, calling it many things; here, he calls it God:
This presence of the great…Jesus calls it God – that word is just symbolic. Mohammed calls it God – that word is just symbolic. God means greater than you – a moment when you feel that something greater than you is happening to you. And you can feel this only when you are not. While you are there, the greater cannot happen to you, because you are the barrier. In any moment, if you are absent, the God is present there. Your absence is the presence of the divine. Remember it always: your absence is the presence of the divine; your presence is the absence of the divine. So really the question is not how to reach God, the question is not how to attain God; the question is how to be absent (Osho, The Book of Secrets, Chapter 55).
After my 21-day meditation project, I thought the presence, the experience of the source was simply a result of practice, a kind of grace that descended on its own when we can truly let go of the self and the mind in meditation, not just force it to be silent. This may be so, but after today, I think there is another way to get to the same place.
I was doing the fast breathing part of Osho’s Chakra Breathing Meditation. I was up to the crown chakra, and I remembered Osho’s words about intensity—something like, without intensity, a burning, a longing, you will never reach. I pulled all my energy up to my crown; I was panting madly, stomping my foot, and making some sound with my eyes squeezed shut. The sound was not literally very loud, but inside it was a kind of screaming, all my desire and anger and sadness and suffering laid bare in desperation. Inside I saw, or I felt, an opening, a round, reddish-orange portal growing larger, freeing me from my self and connecting me with the source. It was the same experience of presence, but it came from doing something intensely rather than simply letting go.
I recently stumbled upon a video of Gangaji in which she told me to tell the truth and admit that I am a fake, I am nothing. She said that suffering comes from pretending to the world that we are someone when we know, deep down, we are not, and facing the pain of this reality head-on, to paraphrase, leads to peace, acceptance, and light. Perhaps she was talking about the same thing; perhaps it is a way of taking the path of intensity to the experience of the oneness, the source. And at the source, in the source, nothingness and everythingness meet and merge, and that nothingness is no longer isolation and suffering, but oneness and bliss. Maybe the new-age vocabulary is simply a new way of talking about old experiences, like those described in one of my favorite songs of all time, written in the 1700s:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
Who is God? What is the Divine, the Source, Existence? Is it outside or inside? If you ask me I might tell you my mature belief that God or existence is not outside us and not a personality. I will admit, however, that in dire emergencies, again like a big girl, I speak to “Him” directly and submit my important requests. The truth, of course, is that I don’t know.
If I think back, I can remember other times when I experienced the source: When my beloved and I embraced for the first time, I felt it—a vastness, a warm emptiness, a deliciously endless abyss—I felt myself disappear. Another vivid memory is of a dance, after being diagnosed with cancer. I was dancing madly, crying and feeling abandoned by existence, forsaken and alone, and it happened—the light, the grace. It was actually this same method, this method of intensity. At the time, I took the experience as an answer, a sign that I had not been forsaken. Looking back, maybe I was interpreting the experience of presence in a literal, storybook/ God-person kind of way, influenced unconsciously by my semi-Catholic upbringing. Is it egotistical or childish to think that existence “wants” to communicate with me? My logical mind says it is, but then, Didi also told me that we should give as much credit to our subjective experiences as we do to our objective ones, not discount them just because they took place in the inner world rather than the outer one. When something resonates with me inside, I feel it as truth, and this statement definitely struck that chord.
In the end, how the mind chooses to interpret the source—differently for different people at different times—is of course irrelevant, as irrelevant as the path one takes to get there. Perhaps the only thing that does matter, for me anyway, is that I remember that the inner journey is real, and remind myself not to give up. The source is like a flowering tree waiting silently somewhere up ahead on my faint mountain path; it must be near, just around the bend, just around the bend... I don’t know where I’m going, but every time the wind graces me with its sweet fragrance, I know it’s going to be worth it.
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