Among the many jobs that Richard from Texas has held in his life--and I know I'm leaving a lot of them out--are oil-field worker; eighteen-wheeler truck driver; the first authorized dealer of Birkenstocks in the Dakotas; sack-shaker in a midwestern landfill (I'm sorry, but I really don't have time to explain what a "sack-shaker" is); highway construction worker; used-car salesman; soldier in Vietnam; "commodities broker" (that commodity generally being Mexican narcotics); junkie and alcoholic (if you can call this a profession); then reformed junkie and alcoholic (a much more respectable profession); hippie farmer on a commune; radio voice-over announcer; and, finally, successful dealer in high-end medical equipment (until his marriage fell apart and he gave the whole business to his ex and got left "scratchin' my broke white ass again"). Now he renovates old houses in Austin.
"Never did have much of a career path," he says. "Never could do anything but the hustle."
Richard from Texas is not a guy who worries about a lot of stuff. I wouldn't call him a neurotic person, no sir. But I am a bit neurotic, and that's why I've come to adore him. Richard's presence at this Ashram becomes my great and amusing sense of security. His giant ambling confidence hushes down all my inherent nervousness and reminds me that everything really is going to be OK. (And if not OK, then at least comic.) Remember the cartoon rooster Foghorn Leghorn? Well, Richard is kind of like that, and I become his chatty little sidekick, the Chickenhawk. In Richard's own words: "Me and Groceries, we steady be laughin' the whole damn time."
That's the nickname Richard has given me. He bestowed it upon me the first night we met, when he noticed how much I could eat. I tried to defend myself ("I was purposefully eating with discipline and intention!") but the name stuck.
Maybe Richard from Texas doesn't seem like a typical Yogi. Though my time in India has cautioned me against deciding what a typical Yogi is. (Don't get me started on the dairy farmer from rural Ireland I met here the other day, or the former nun from South Africa.) Richard came to this Yoga through an ex-girlfriend, who drove him up from Texas to the Ashram in New York to hear the Guru speak. Richard says, "I thought the Ashram was the weirdest thing I ever saw, and I was wondering where the room was where you have to give 'em all your money and turn over the deed to your house and car, but that never did happen . . ."
After that experience, which was about ten years ago, Richard found himself praying all the time. His prayer was always the same. He kept begging God, "Please, please, please open my heart." That was all he wanted--an open heart. And he would always finish the prayer for an open heart by asking God, "And please send me a sign when the event has occurred." Now he says, recollecting that time, "Be careful what you pray for, Groceries, cuz you just might get it." After a few months of praying constantly for an open heart, what do you think Richard got? That's right--emergency open-heart surgery. His chest was literally cracked open, his ribs cleaved away from each other to allow some daylight to finally reach into his heart, as though God were saying, "How's that for a sign?" So now Richard is always cautious with his prayers, he tells me. "Whenever I pray for anything these days, I always wrap it up by saying, 'Oh, and God? Please be gentle with me, OK?' "
"What should I do about my meditation practice?" I ask Richard one day, as he's watching me scrub the temple floors. (He's lucky--he works in the kitchen, doesn't even have to show up there until an hour before dinner. But he likes watching me scrub the temple floors. He thinks it's funny.)
"Why do you have to do anything about it, Groceries?" "Because it stinks."
"I can't get my mind to sit still."
"Remember what the Guru teaches us--if you sit down with the pure intention to meditate, whatever happens next is none of your business. So why are you judging your experience?"
"Because what's happening in my meditations cannot be the point of this Yoga."
"Groceries, baby--you got no idea what's happening in there." "I never see visions, I never have transcendent experiences--"
"You wanna see pretty colors? Or you wanna know the truth about yourself? What's your intention?"
"All I seem to do is argue with myself when I try to meditate."
"That's just your ego, trying to make sure it stays in charge. This is what your ego does. It keeps you feeling separate, keeps you with a sense of duality, tries to convince you that you're flawed and broken and alone instead of whole."
"But how does that serve me?"
"It doesn't serve you. Your ego's job isn't to serve you. Its only job is to keep itself in power. And right now, your ego's scared to death cuz it's about to get downsized. You keep up this spiritual path, baby, and that bad boy's days are numbered. Pretty soon your ego will be out of work, and your heart'll be making all the decisions. So your ego's fighting for its life, playing with your mind, trying to assert its authority, trying to keep you cornered off in a holding pen away from the rest of the universe. Don't listen to it." "How do you not listen to it?"
"Ever try to take a toy away from a toddler? They don't like that, do they? They start kicking and screaming. Best way to take a toy away from a toddler is distract the kid, give him something else to play with. Divert his attention. Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, give your mind something better to play with. Something healthier."
"Like love, Groceries. Like pure divine love."