To India April 1996
Sadhana Mandir Rishikesh Ashram
The ashram staff is all a-twitter: tonight is an eclipse of the moon. Plans are being made, time-tables verified, pandits consulted. For the natives, this is a time to stay indoors with windows closed because the eclipsed moon will be inauspicious. For the yogis, the air is full of energy, expectation. “Whatever you do during the eclipse will have one hundred times the effectiveness of any other time,” Kamal tells us.
A few hours later, a pandit informs us, “Whatever you do during the time of the eclipse will be one thousand times more effective than done at any other time.” We decide to average the folk lore and realize that even an increase of 550 would be very helpful to us. The eclipse will begin at 3:30 AM. I wonder at the significance of experiencing the full solar eclipse on my last trip and returning for a lunar eclipse now. Light and darkness, major changes, heavenly omens.
At 10 PM we turn out the lights, set the alarm clocks, sit for our meditation, and then lie down to sleep for a few hours. But sleep is elusive. The light of the full moon is magical—the dogs howl at it for hours, the bushes beneath the windows scratch against the wall, full of unseen guests, the wild elephant across the river comes to drink, trumpeting his arrival.
The alarm rings at 2:50 AM, but it needn't have made the effort as I am awake, ready. I sit up in bed, punch my pillow into a seat, swing open the window, pull the heavy woolen blanket around my shoulders and cover my white gown with plaid.
Outside the full moon has spotlighted the garden; I see the dogs wandering through the brush, the flowers, and then running silently, pointedly, after some new challenge. Earlier they had all been howling as the moon rose, round and bright, over the river. Now it seems farther away, above the garden trees, aloft and quiet. Does it know what will soon happen?
I remember sitting up in bed just this way before my First Holy Communion when I was 8 years old. I had been tossing awake in the covers, not able to sleep from the excitement. Carefully and very slowly, I crept down the ladder of the bunk beds, not wanting to wake my older sister sleeping below. Then, in the light of the moon I tried on my new veil—white net with pleated lace and a tiny bunch of silk flowers at each temple. I felt like a bride, a fairy princess, one to whom something wonderful was soon to happen. Tomorrow, tomorrow morning I would hold Jesus in my heart and, just as Sister Immaculate promised, I would be a “full” Catholic at last.
Now I tap down the excitement, wrap myself in silence and continue my beads as I look out the window again. The moon, high in the trees, has a black crescent cut off its left side. The eclipse has begun. I feel in tune with nature’s events, realizing I am beginning to pray with the other ashram members who are, undoubtedly, doing their practice now as well. The trees reach out cool black arms across the garden and the roses send perfume in through the screens.
My eyes close. Soon I fall into the familiar newness of my inner self while the garden turns to stillness and the moonlight is slowly turned to darkness outside my window.
Sitting at the Ashram
I sat in the warm sun watching the tropical birds come, two by two, to eat the trail mix I scattered around the tree trunk outside my room. Nearby the little gardener was chanting spiritual songs as he watered the flowers. “Rama, Rama, Hari Rama.” The Ganges river flower quickly by carrying its secrets along with the marigold garlands and leaf-boats of rose and chrysanthemum petals the worshippers had set on its ripples upstream early this morning. Overhead a huge hawk soared and dipped, searching the forest edge on the opposite bank. I was overwhelmed with joy.
The people walking along the riverbank seemed wrapped in love; the sounds around me were all celebrations; the earth was adorned in beauty as if for a party. Scenes of my life rambled past my mind’s eye and each became a treat, a period film with costumes and beloved actors, but the only emotion was contentment.
This morning as I cleaned the ashram bathroom the commotion dislodged a large spider hidden in the corner behind the wastebasket. I was careful not to hurt it, not to let it get wet with my splashing of soapy water. Do I really care about spiders now?
It was true that the divine had indeed lured me into its web, caught me tight, wrapped me immovable to witness and worry until I could worry no more—and then just wait to be consumed almost willingly. Such a result—brought to death and back again! My own, my teacher’s and all in love. Whatever future events lay ahead, they cannot be more than another enfoldment in another web. Only love and joy can be on the other side of this existence, which surely at its core is also only love and joy.
Yesterday as I sat by the Ganges River re-stringing the broken prayer beads of a student, I lit a perfumed candle and placed it on the little wicker table next to me. Its jasmine scent perfumed the air and its wax provided a seal for the red silk thread. After ten minutes I heard an increasingly loud chorus of humming and looked up to see a swarm of bees surrounding me. They circled my head, landed on my legs, walked over the beads in my lap, and swayed to and fro around the candle, afraid to fly into its flame, but drawn by its sweet, flowery smell.
There was no fear in me; there was only delight when I saw that they were large black bees—an inch and a half long, and totally black, even the wings, except for a thin yellow ring around the thorax. These were the bees my teacher often spoke about over the years. He told of the black Himalayan bees which travelled by scent throughout the mountains, from one type of flower to another, gathering what they found sweet and useful in each blossom and leaving the rest. He told us to do the same with whatever was taught to us.
I had long wanted to see a black mountain bee, and here they were, come to see me! When I felt we all had enough mutual admiration, I blew out the candle and watched the bees fly out of the ashram, disperse across the river and enter the forest on the other side.
As I returned to my work, I pondered the symbol of the black bee. What a wonderful idea to take only the good and leave the rest. The problem was that one needed to know what was truly good and sweet and best and what was only false promise. The need for a teacher became apparent to me. Walking with one who knew the way, who integrated philosophies and practices, who pointed to possibilities undreamed of, was absolutely essential so that our wings, black or otherwise, would not be burned in the flame of delusion.