That dream and the Angel I saw flying alongside the car where I sat in the back, the Angel come to tell me I would live. Later raped, tied to a chair, tortured, I was yet alive.
I had run away. At sixteen, I had run away from what looked like a warm, loving family. I returned, a hollowed out creature, secret scars on my body and deeper ones on the soul that shrank like a thief from everything.
So it was for the years I ran, drank, drugged, partied, worked sporadically, emptied my stomach contents into the always white porcelain bowl, was thrown like those contents out of the house, came crawling back on the tide of my parents’ guilt and their attempt to rise above that with “conditions.” What happened was I met a teacher, a meditation teacher.
I didn’t like him. His contempt for the rest of us lesser beings fell all around, bits of hot charcoal from which we all withdrew. Then his mood changed and he drew us into his magical world of possibility, a potential he wrote in words across the air. He spoke and the world leapt with vitality and hope.
He left for a world tour in September accompanied by nearly one hundred student followers. It was 1972. I had spoken a promise to meet up with them, maybe in India, maybe elsewhere.
A vision: my small third floor living room after my night shift, my teacher saying, “Come now.” I pulled on a cigarette, speaking out loud to no one, “I don’t go half way around the world on the basis of no goddamned vision.”
Within a week, a follower returned from Morocco where the group stayed, begged to see me and presented me with a one-way chance at England.
“The teacher,” he explained, “told me when I left to tell anyone thinking of coming to ‘Come now.’”
Six days later I traveled through India escorted by an elegant elderly woman with impeccable English, who served me tea and fed me fruit as the train chugged us slowly toward her home and my destination, Dehra Dun.
We arrived to the edge of the train, where a man pushed forward through the ubiquitous crowd of beggars. A few sharp words from him and they fell back, as one. In a moment her large black travel bags sat around a 1940’s gangster style, black car.
“This is my driver,” she explained to me and turning to him, said in English, “She will come with us.”
His eyes twinkled merrily. He said, “Shall I give to the beggars?”
“Yes, yes, half a handful each.” The handful of coins flipped through the air and some of the ragged, dirty flock scattered. About half remained hands outstretched, mouths moving.
“Go now!” he thundered at them and they all flew, tiny birds away. He opened the front passenger seat door for her and came to where I waited by the back door for a sign I might get in. To my surprise he opened my door, also.
Keyed up almost hyper alert, I slid in, fighting the urge to warn this kind, sweet Grandmother. I sensed alarm, danger in my body but put it off to nerves, the demands of the journey.
We pulled out of the station. They spoke softly together in the front seat. I was happy to be silent, anonymous, carried along in this great heavy vehicle. Out the windows this part of the country was green and lush in the way I recognized mountain terrain to be.
Suddenly the driver, his brown eyes piercing at me through their reflection in the rear-view mirror stated, “You are a very lucky woman.”
Perplexed, I turned over different aspects of this. Then I smiled and said, “Yes, I am.”
“Do you know,” he continued, his eyes more intent on drilling me than reckoning with the road, “Neru? Do you know who Neru is?”
Great, I thought, 20 questions begun with politics. Try, try to think! “Uhm, wasn’t he Prime Minister of India?”
“Yes, yes!” He was gleeful now. “Yes, and this is Madam Pandit, Neru’s sister. She,” he swiveled his head to reach his gaze directly at me, “is Number Two Lady in India. She is member of the UN.”
Madam Pandit located the group, a five minute walk up the dirt road from her modest home.
Plunged into ten days of Tibetan Initiation ceremony at the newly constructed temple of His Holiness the Sakyapa, with no idea how sitting in a concrete room, sometimes for eight or ten hours, while monks threw water and rice around, flashed colorful cards in front of our eyes, wore red headbands and leapt about, while two Tibetans, one in colorful regalia, the other in simple robes, chanted and spoke, no idea how any of that would have any effect upon my life at all.
I had come because even I knew my home city held all the joys that continued to waste my days and nights: bars, music, drugs and men. I was there because I did not know where else to be, what else to do with this life. I was there because my feelings about life were simple: I didn’t want it. Occasionally a tiny spiritual aspiration flickered off and on, a minute candle in the midnight storms of my unrepentant, undisciplined and self-indulgent psyche. In short I was desperate.
No sooner there than I craved return to that oblivion. I wrote letters begging everyone, especially my parents, to please help.
We flew into Australia over a sand sea of blood red sunrise. As the plane dipped down my mood rose: I was going home! Surely my parents, who had not spoken to me for those last days before I left but had driven me to the airport anyway, surely they would send a ticket. I felt certain.
My father’s large scrawl on the very small pieces of paper he used, “Your mother is well…grandmother doing fine…new furniture here…dog happy…and oh, by the way, Buddha will provide. Get a job.”
Rage, depression, tears, more rage, over the next six months in the worst heat wave in 100 years, rage and depression in the heart of Sydney’s tenement slum called Ultimo. Various wanderers from our group straggled in, camped sometimes in the living room, bearing the flea infestation and oppressive heat long enough to arrange a move to more attractive places.
Six months, many stories later (slugs in the midnight kitchen of that slum, waitressing at a bar, brawls with customers) I had tried to meditate and failed. Repeatedly. Yet we boarded a ferry for the short ride to New Zealand and disembarked, heading for Blue Lake, the first of three settlements where our numbers began their intensive silent retreat.
Three months of silence, no TV, radio, letters, no phone calls and talking to a strict minimum within the houses we shared. Early morning each in her room sitting in meditation, rosary in hand, turning the beads over and over to mantras spilling from mouths while we tried to learn to visualize.
I got to 21 hours a day before the teacher told us to begin shortening our meditation hours. Did this save my life? Yes. But how?
My Impossible Life - Teaser 3!