Musings from Saint Paul

A Summit Avenue Meditation Sanctuary

The kitchen in this building is a very special space. In it we tend to the health and wellbeing of all who eat here. It is kept especially clean, packages are rotated so they are used quickly, and the space is filled with the energy of mantras practiced while cooking. What could be better for preparing food?

How about meditating? The altar in the main room sits before a large photo of Gurudev, a flower arrangement adorns it, and the space is kept especially quiet.

What about my private meditation space? That space is in my personal room, high on the top floor of the old house. It is a sanctuary for me and my practice. Here is a little altar holding the special brass statue of the Divine Mother which was found for me in Nepal. Gurudev blessed the statue as he told me that I owned that same statue and meditated before it in a past life.

Free Breakfast

This morning seemed very different. The 3rd floor was so hot last night that I did not sleep well at all. So my mind slept while I sat to meditate at 6:30 AM. I woke up in exactly 20 minutes and completed my mantra practice. I sat in the bookstore chair for another 20 minutes. My mind woke me up to tell me the body was hungry and I needed to get some food.

Of course I did not want to cook, and the idea of a bowl of granola was not inviting, especially as I worked for several hours yesterday making all the granola. Time to leave the institute for a while, right?

I grabbed my wallet and sweater and left the house at 7:30 AM. Where to go? I let my feet lead me so I would not have to make a decision so early. Soon I was at the Twisted Fork Restaurant, about a block away. The little restaurant is warm and welcoming, even though the TV is always on with jumpy restaurant music in the background.

The waitress asked if I wanted my regular: fried eggs, potatoes, toast, and a bowl of fruit. Sounded great so I just nodded and began to read the Variety section of the newspaper. I brought it because it also carried the comics section.

Soon there was a strange sound and then all the electricity went off. The TV became silent, the music stopped, and peacefulness lowered itself down into the restaurant.

Ah. The day was beginning to feel better. As my tummy filled up with goodness, so did my mind. I took a few notes for future seminars and talks and decided to leave to begin work. When I found no cash in my wallet, I set my credit card and little attendance ticket on the table for Lisa, the waitress. She was soon there, asking how everything was that day and picking up my payment. Of course everything was wonderful now that I had a little more energy.

In a few minutes Lisa was back. The electricity did not want to go back on, she explained, so they could not use my credit card for payment. My mind ran around inside, trying to find a solution to the problem when Lisa put on a large smile and announced, “So we all decided that your breakfast is free today!”

She laughed at my surprise. Told me to enjoy the rare gift and poured me another cup of coffee.

At Barnes & Noble

I sit in the big, stuffed chair in the busy bookstore watching the people walk by.

There is a young man, shoulders hunched, dragging his feet across the wood floor; the overweight guy whose huge stomach bounces as he comes near, tugging down the edge of his T-shirt; the pretty, no-nonsense woman briskly covering the space between me and her goal; the pair of old women with fluffy white clouds surrounding their faces as they smile at me; the black man with a chip on his shoulder, seeming to dare anyone to touch it; toddlers who stare at me with huge, pure eyes, reading my thoughts; the Hispanic man dressed as elegantly as a fashion model; the worker in a Carpenter's Union 1192 jacket, looking embarrassed to be in a bookstore; the quiet, small man with huge glasses and long hair snailin’ his way along the rows; the two mothers frantically chasing their kids; the young girls with long hair ruffling down their backs, giggling at the book of nudes displayed on a shelf; the stately middle-aged black couple deep in intense conversation as they saunter; the light-skinned, pony-tailed woman clutching a huge pile of books with a blissful expression; the stunningly beautiful woman in red sweater and leggings; the Asian couple musically throwing word notes across the aisle; the young workers in crisp uniforms serving up coffee and sweets with smiles and nods; the old white man with the red face pushed in his wheelchair by his tiny, devoted wife; the crisp instructions of the efficient, assistant manager as she checks on a new display.

If they only knew how much I loved them, they would be shocked. If only I could go hug them all, one by one, and thank them for living, for being themselves, for showing me God in so many ways, for just letting me watch them with joy welling in my heart, knowing that in some strange way as they pass in front of me I look in a huge mirror and see only myself. We are the image of God, indeed, just as God said we were.

Grocery Store Woman

Today, as I stood in line behind my grocery cart, I saw an unusual woman. Dressed in pink tights, brown elfin shoes, and a long pink sweater, she looked unique. She swept the floor and I one glorious movement formed a perfect arc to bend over, tighten the broom head, grasp the dustpan, and sweet the little pile of debris into the pan.

She held the pose—jackknifed in a yoga posture of pure grace and strength—for the time to do these chores. Head down, arms outstretched, chest touching her legs, buttocks high in the air.

It was a moment of electric clarity, of life bounded by the boundless, as the mystics say. Life is full of sudden glimpses of unexpected beauty, marvelous grace, seemingly inconsequential actions.

I stood there transfixed by the stupendous meaning of life until a tooting horn outside the store reminded me to get on with the next action. So many more glimpses of the divine to discover, and it was only morning.

No Students

The office day was coming to a close and I was tired. It had been a very long day with many phone calls, a computer problem, much typing by attempting to complete the next book for press. In between I had made breakfast and the main meal at noon for our honored guest, Swami Hari of the Himalayas. Now it was time to go to the classroom and teach Advanced Hatha Yoga, the last class of the season, after which I would introduce Swami Hari to those who came for satsang tonight. So off I went to change clothes.

While I pulled on the white clothes in which to teach, I realized how fatigued I was. “Oh, if only I did not have to teach tonight, I’d rest a bit and thoroughly enjoy listening to Swami Hari teach.” With a sigh, my conscience reminded me of the privilege I had to share the art and science of hatha yoga with the students, even when I was tired. So I picked up my class outline and ran down the stairs.

No one was in the classroom yet, so I checked the flowers, added extra water to the vase in front of Gurudev’s photo, and went to the front porch to await the students during the last ten minutes. It seemed a bit strange that the usual early people were not yet in class. It was another surprise to find Swami Hari on the porch, sitting in a wicker chair, listening to the birds, and watching a student deadhead the roses in the front garden. “Oh, Ma Devi!” he exclaimed, “Come sit down!”

I checked my watch again, noted I had eight minutes before class, and joined my dear brother disciple. We talked of the glorious weather; I told him of the two baby red-tailed hawks that lived on the ashram property and pointed out their nests; we laughed at a silly phone call that came in that day; we spoke of the children in the new school he started in the Himalayas; we talked of health, karma, meditation practice, future plans, and finally I told him a story about the great love of Gurudev, making us both teary-eyed.

Finally, Swami Hari looked at his watch and said, “OK sister, I’ll get ready for my lecture now.” He jumped up rather quickly and was in the front door before I realized that eighty-five minutes had gone by. And the next realization was that not a single student had come for the hatha class. That had never, ever happened before with this advanced class.

I was stunned. My secret wish had been fulfilled. I felt not only rested, but energetic, and I had spent a good deal of private time talking with dear Swami Hari. With a full heart, I stood up and smiled, ready to welcome the first arrival for satsang.

April In Minnesota

This morning’s walk was as far from yesterday’s as possible. It was a divine joke! No dandelion at all because they were all under at least six inches of snow!

Mine were the first footprints, or rather the long channels, as I trudged around the block. The snow is so white, it will be dazzling if the sun comes out later. But now only me and the birds. They sing expectantly. There is a hush over the roads, however. One neighbor is shoveling a long path to his door. The bushes are ermine, the hedges look like cotton plants ready for picking.

Tracks to my own door, rabbits, squirrels, raccoon. In the white of snow, all nighttime secrets are laid bare. I stop under a low hanging pine, so burdened with snow that it is indecipherable in the snow scene. Underneath it is warm, soft, quiet. I look up to see the green underside pinecones hanging like hidden treasures. One could sleep here; it is so serene.

When I emerge, the wind throws handfuls of icy crystals in my face and then runs away.


Ma Devi at her Summit Avenue home in Saint Paul.

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