Monday, October 8, 2007


If anybody had asked me at any point during my ten years plus of living in the ashram, “Are you really doing what you want?” “Are you here of your own free will?” “Are you happy?” I would have answered them easily and honestly. “Yes! I have never been happier in my life. This is what I want to do more than anything else. This is what I truly believe in. I am assisting a saint and doing more for myself than anything else I could possibly do with my life. I am benefiting the world. I feel myself becoming stronger and freer all the time.”

I had no doubt.

For one thing, the ashram had so many great people, people I loved and admired. I saw creative, smart, dedicated, hard-working, warm loving people all around me. There were the chillier ones, of course, but they were the minority. What better place to live, I thought. It was my home and I loved it as a home.

Baba once wrote something about how ordinary people look pale and lifeless to those who are actively on the spiritual path, and vice versa. People on the spiritual path look pale and lifeless to people out in the world. I noticed that. I noticed how people who visited the ashram for the first time, or people who visited from the town, looked different than us. They didn’t have our bright eyes, our bright light. You could almost pick out of the crowd who was practicing with the guru and who was living out there in the lifeless world.

There was no way you could have convinced me otherwise. It was the writing that made the difference. I was not looking for a way out of my beliefs.

I have learned that in real writing two realities cannot co-exist. Not for long, anyway. You cannot write what is real for you and hold onto denial at the same time. The writing will chip away at it. That’s one of its beauties. Writing – real writing, not writing that seeks to reproduce someone else’s writing, not writing that is propaganda, not writing that has a goal in mind and just exists to reach that goal – real writing will always keep reaching for what is real. As all true art does. That’s its purpose.

I think that very gently, and very surely, writing leads you into what is taboo, what you’ve put a fence around. And it’s in moving past these fences that one’s voice and individuality begins to emerge.
I find great satisfaction in writing. Not in the sense that I am proud of what I write. Fred will confirm that I rarely “like” anything I write. Maybe once or twice a year I will “like” something. But I write and I love to write. And then I publish it, I put it up on my blog. Not because I think it’s good but because I am so tired of censoring myself. I do believe there is something real in my writing that is beyond my sense of what is “good” and what isn’t.

Recently, Siddha Yoga devotees have been taking pot shots at the content of what I write, using it against me. That’s really against the rules and I do not listen. In our workshops – where people write genuinely and personally about what has happened in their lives – we are very careful to keep the conversation on the writing itself, not to let it stray into questions (“Did you really steal that car??”), or chit-chat (“I saw that movie too!”), or suggestions (“You should really talk to that boss of yours!”), or even sympathy (“Wow, your brother was so mean to you!”). No, we stay focused on the writing as if it existed independent of the writer sitting across the room. Fred and I even go so far as to remind everyone in the group never to assume that just because someone has written about their divorce that they want to talk about it in the kitchen afterwards. Not at all. What is written is sacred.

So I do not write about my life to get suggestions or sympathy. I don’t write to get anything, except the sense that I am heard. I write to express my world, what I live with, who I am. I have a passion that I cannot explain for translating my world into words. I get satisfaction from it so I keep doing it.

Writing is the greatest weapon I know of against group-think. I define cults by groups that foster group-think. Siddha Yoga certainly did that. I had a thousand ways at the time to justify thinking like everybody else. It wasn’t “group-think.” I called it “surrender.” And if you hadn’t understood me, if you had argued and been unconvinced, I would have just smiled and let you go on your way. This wasn’t something I could explain to you. It was in the guru’s hands.

Imagine, though, if we’d all been doing this kind of writing in the ashram. Not trying to interpret our lives and thoughts through some prism of “guru’s grace”, but honestly writing in concrete terms what we knew to be true no matter how petty and small it seemed under the blazing chandeliers of the meditation hall. The ashram would have been a very different place.

I couldn’t see the group-think for what it was when I was in it, and I am not surprised that people still deeply invested in Siddha Yoga don’t see it either. But I can see that I was not thinking for myself then the way I am now. And I know this through my writing.

I guess another way of saying it is that writing cuts into denial. When I was in the ashram, my life was built around the belief – an assumption -- that the guru was all-knowing and all-loving, that this work was the way to have the greatest life and to benefit the world the most. When I started, in Fred’s workshops, to really explore writing not about my life – but from within my life – I couldn’t go near anything that had to do with my ashram life. I could not write about it in concrete terms. I knew that without “right understanding” it would not be seen as I saw it. And "right understanding " wasn't anything concrete. It was a sort of secret ingredient that only the initiated had. Nothing I could write about.

So I had a fence around my guru-centered life. For awhile, that fence kept writing out. As soon as writing found its way in, that whole area began to look very different. Suddenly, angry words were just that. Angry words. Not the guru's tender teaching.

I didn’t anticipate all the hate mail. It’s funny how they use my own writing that I have published myself as if it were heavily researched material that they have “dug up,” as if they were showing things I never wanted known. I don’t think I would write and publish those stories if I wanted to keep all that hidden. So much for their “scoop!”

It’s funny too how often the writer demands that I retract what I have said about Siddha Yoga. I know that whoever writes something like that hasn’t read much of what I have written. They have probably been prompted to write something aggressive by a phone call from someone else. You can’t retract memoir! You can’t retract the simple honest telling of what you remember. Which is all this book is. If you want to continue believing that the woman in the book, Gurumayi, is an enlightened saint, go right ahead. I guess for a lot of people it works. For me, it didn’t. I wasn’t getting out of life what I wanted. I thought I was for awhile, for over ten years, but I grew out of it. I wanted more. I wanted something else. And I don’t for one moment regret that moving on, this new life I have stepped into that feels my own.

People don’t have to like what I have written. But don’t try and tell me to write something else. You write something else. This is my writing. It’s what’s true for me. In ten years my writing will be deeper. I’ll be able to say more. For now, this is the best I can do.