The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.
The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.
A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily
Moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.
Each minute the last minute.
All night I could not sleep
because of the moonlight on my bed.
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere,
Nothing answered, "Yes."
~attributed to the poetess Zi Ye (sometime between 6th-3rd century BCE, China), transl. Arthur Waley
"How did I get here?"
I grew up in the US and came to India for the first time in 1987, a couple of years after I first started meditating (or trying to meditate!) on my own. Learning to meditate—especially “insight meditation” and Tibetan Buddhist meditation—revolutionized my life and at the same time fit me so well that lots of things starting falling into place.
I had grown up loving my inner life and community in a Christian context, and as a young adult I even considered becoming a minister. But meditation, partly because of being from another culture that I did not need to adopt, freed my spiritual life from the half-heartedness and systemic gender and other biases of the white churches I knew growing up.
I finished my studies of art and religion at Harvard and returned to India in 1990 with a Radcliffe grant to study women's folk art collectives. I also sensed an inner directive to find access to continuous wisdom teachings—whether from inside or outside myself. On the first day back in Delhi, a woman whom I considered as an elder on the path told me about Poonjaji (Papaji) in Lucknow, and I knew I would go to meet him as soon as I could.
When I first went to Lucknow in 1991, I never planned to stay on so long, but I spent most of my next 6 and a half years immersed in Papaji's teachings-- Advaita (nonduality), humorous yet radical play, and incandescent power. The deep sparkle in his eyes -- and the way his heart seemed to have no border -- stay with me wherever I go. I learned a lot about being around a teacher, as well—both interpersonal dynamics at play (which Poonjaji would sometimes stir up), and the wonderfully non-linear contradictions, from his own history as an ex-army miner who would sometimes dress in saris to meet Krishna...to the way he would tell people not to meditate as postponement of freedom now, and yet would himself sit cross-legged on his bed several times a day.
Meanwhile I became friends with another teacher, literally just down the road. As the Papaji network dispersed to other places with his passing in 1997, I enjoyed self-retreat and was welcomed as part of the family of my next teacher, who preferred to work in a quiet and undercover way in Lucknow. I will not say much about him here, as I do not wish to promote him.
But his support in every imaginable way has taught me, especially by example, about radical love, honesty, and awakening.
Why would I not want to share more about this profound teacher? The contradictions continue to run through my experience of teachings with him. He has done things that have hurt some of his students.
This heartbreak is something I do not want to be involved in.
In addition to offering his time and energy with breathtaking generosity, this teacher has also failed two students around money. Along with mind-blowing patience and confidence in students' ability to have insights for themselves, he has also acted with an autonomy and authority that crossed boundaries without consent.
He has a large photo of the controversial teacher Osho Rajneesh on his living room wall, and he has openly described himself as untrustworthy.
While I accept these contradictions for myself, I do not wish for anyone else to be hurt nor confused about trusting someone else through me.
To read more on what I have experienced with teachers and teachings, and the volatile, tender and important areas involved in relationships to teachings, please read here, in my blog.
Now, back to 1998. Partly to fill the void left by Papaji, my insight meditation teacher Christopher Titmuss invited me to start teaching Dharma. I always assumed that this initiation would be a measured process that would happen some day (maybe never, if I was lucky!) when I was in the UK or in a meditation center in the US somewhere, a few years off in the future. So I agreed.
But in February 1999, at the first Sarnath Dharma gathering, I had the honor and terror of offering teachings along with a rich and varied team, and gradually over the next few years flowed into a rhythm of leading silent meditation retreats about once a month in gorgeous and sacred places around the world.
By about 2002 or so, it had become clear that most people get in their own way in meditation-- with trying too hard, pressure, competition, and the exhaustion and reactivity of fast and heart-impoverished modern lives. And I began to introduce and share the way that meditation happened best for me—lying down.
I love to sit as well, but lying down takes my practice so much uber-deeper, that I gradually dared to say it out loud, out of a kindness that is beyond any personal ideas.
The first retreat with the name “Deep Rest Retreat” happened in 2004, and there has been no turning back. People are, of course, welcome to find any position for stillness and depth in the meditation space, and the different postures can feed each other really well. But in the very way that many people still consider lying down for meditation such an edgy and controversial thing, we can maybe find some of the reasons to try it out for oneself.
“Meditation through deep rest” does not mean “doing nothing” -- an anyway impossible endeavor, until maybe after death. Usually rest has the effect of unwinding burdensome worries and bonds, and filling us with energy, creativity, and carefree clarity. Thank goodness, too, because my life has demanded more strength and flexibility and love than I ever imagined possible, especially since I gave birth in 2007 and began establishing the eco-hermitage of Dharmaloca in Catalonia, Spain in 2008. Both being a mom and living off the grid in the Dharmaloca Permaculture ecosystem have evoked uncompromising 100% love, Dharma fierceness, and a boundless capacity for joy, uncertainty, intensity and beauty. This is just the medicine my self-curated spiritual path had needed.
Without giving ourselves to these challenging life situations, and letting our whole selves be drawn upon, it is easy for our “spiritual path” to remain tame and self-contained in a way that actually blocks awakening.
Being a family on retreat brought deeply humorous situations like breastfeeding under a cape while giving a Dharma talk to a hundred people and offering one-to-one meetings with retreatants in the cab of a parked pick-up truck so my young child could play with the steering wheel while we adults talked.
Some people on retreats felt inspired to uncover and then lose their unconscious assumption that parenting and meditation do not live together. Others got understandably disturbed by the wildness of childhood interrupting the words of teachings or the silence of retreat.
Since 2010, I have also had the luxury of teaching alone for the first time since 2000.
In 2016, I moved back to India, living in air pollution of “hazardous” levels, pulsing in my community of beloved friends and wondering what life would bring next. And ever so unexpectedly, I find myself preparing to move back to my beloved Dharmaloca for family reasons in 2017.
No matter what way the special chemistry of teachings come about—whether on retreat or in a talk or one-to-one online or in person—I am grateful and honored and humbled and filled with joy to be part of this.