Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Grief, Love and Loss (Part One - The Guru Dies)

Two years ago today, on September 27, 2009 at 9 a.m. on the ninth day of the Navratri festival of the Goddess, my beloved teacher, guru, and spiritual friend Ramesh Balsekar took mahasamadhi at his home in Bombay. Mahasamadhi is when a realized master finally and intentionally leaves the body to merge with the infinite. Since there is no ego identification, it is said that a sage enters the ultimate (maha) non-dual consciousness (samadhi).

When I got the call, I was an overnight train ride away – working on my Bindi Girl book along the seaside in south India – and knew I couldn’t get north in time for the cremation pyre. When I got the news, my world stopped. There was only silence, and that silence was deafening. Never again would I behold the great spirit and force of Nature that was my guru as embodied Consciousness, in the flesh known as Ramesh.

Even now, two years later, I am only beginning to understand the indescribable union between teacher and student that occurs in a guru-disciple relationship; there is a fusion of hearts and minds that makes it possible for the soul to surrender identification with the ego. It seems to be a combination of the power of defeat and the power of love.

In the days and months that followed my teacher’s passing, my soul experienced an overpowering transformation: intense grief at the loss of a part of my self (like an amputation), combined with a quickening. It was as if this body-mind known as Erin had been placed into a sort of quantum microwave. In a microwave, all the particles are scattered about, vibrating faster than the speed of light, disembodied from the original matter even though things still appear cohesive. Amazingly, such a vibrating mass of consciousness appears to be a whole substance, but there is really only empty space between particles, and empty space within those same particles. Finally, there is only empty space.

And my own ‘empty space’ was getting cooked. My soul wanted to leave the body and dissolve into Consciousness to join my teacher. I couldn’t ground. I fell down a flight of stairs in a monsoon downpour and could have broke my neck. I slipped and smashed my tailbone on a moss-covered bathing platform while stepping into the Ganges to offer flowers during puja. Twice (once in Varanasi and once in Rishikesh) I thought someone dosed me by putting an illicit substance into my chai, I was so high. The phenomenal world grew increasingly permeable and my spirit was lighter than a kite; my soul wanted to fly, far away into another dimension.

The grief rattled me to the core. The hardest part was the fact that hardly anyone could relate or offer meaningful condolences. So-called “spiritual people” would try to tell me I had no reason to be sad, that my guru would always be with me. That didn’t help at all – I was still human, for crying out loud. I still felt feelings! I peered into spiritual texts to see if any sages or students had written or spoke of what happens when a guru dies. I found a couple passages, and I clung to those with all my might: The first was in the classic Autobiography of a Yogi, when Paramhansa Yogananda loses his master, Sri Yukteshwar. He cries the entire river Ganges that he’ll never behold his beloved teacher in person again. The second comfort was the story of Ananda, most devoted servant of the Buddha, who felt his sorrow so deeply the night Gautama the Buddha took mahasamadhi, that he became enlightened through the sheer force of grief piercing his very heart.

A few friends urged me to discuss Ramesh’s death with other disciples, that surely the sangha (spiritual fellowship) would lend support, surely they would understand. I found talking to fellow students, in my case, less than comforting. Whether others were deferring their grief or processing it differently (likely), there seemed to be a rationalizing of the process, such that because one intellectually knows that nothing is born and nothing dies, particularly the mind of an enlightened being, that there should be nothing to cry about.

NOTHING could be further from the truth.

The force of our emotions IS the VERY STUFF OF LIFE, whether grief, joy, ecstasy, laughter, or even anger. My quaking sobs affirmed that I was ALIVE, damn it, I could feel. I have a vital, awakened HEART that can be penetrated and touched, affected to the core.

Intellectualizing or bypassing the emotions, which live in our BODIES where we can FEEL them, is a missed opportunity to experience the rapture of pure existence, which can only be experienced in duality, directly, in the physical body, in the here and now.

It is through our grief that we realize how much we LOVE.

To be continued.

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