This morning, I overslept. Which is to say--sloth that I am, I dozed until the ungodly hour of 4:15 AM. I woke up only minutes before the Gurugita was to begin, motivated myself reluctantly to get out of bed, splashed some water on my face, dressed and--feeling so crusty and cranky and resentful--went to leave my room in the predawn pitch-black . . . only to find that my roommate had left the room before me and had locked me in.
This was a really difficult thing for her to have done. It's not that big a room and it's hard not to notice that your roommate is still sleeping in the next bed. And she's a really responsible, practical woman--a mother of five from Australia. This is not her style. But she did it. She literally padlocked me in the room.
My first thought, was: If there were ever a good excuse not to go to the Gurugita, this would be it. My second thought, though? Well--it wasn't even a thought. It was an action. I jumped out the window.
To be specific, I crawled outside over the railing, gripping it with my sweaty palms and dangling there from two stories up over the darkness for a moment, only then asking myself the reasonable question, "Why are you jumping out of this building?" My reply came with a fierce, impersonal determination: I have to get to the Gurugita. Then I let go and dropped backward maybe twelve or fifteen feet through the dark air to the concrete sidewalk below, hitting something on the way down that peeled a long strip of skin off my right shin, but I didn't care. I picked myself up and ran barefoot, my pulse slamming in my ears, all the way to the temple, found a seat, opened up my prayer book just as the chant was beginning and--bleeding down my leg the whole while--I started to sing the Gurugita.
It was only after a few verses that I caught my breath and was able to think my normal, instinctive morning thought: I don't want to be here. After which I heard Swamiji burst out laughing in my head, saying: That's funny--you sure act like somebody who wants to be here.
And I replied to him, OK, then. You win.
I sat there, singing and bleeding and thinking that it was maybe time for me to change my relationship with this particular spiritual practice. The Gurugita is meant to be a hymn of pure love, but something had been stopping me short from offering up that love in sincerity. So as I chanted each verse I realized that I needed to find something--or somebody--to whom I could devote this hymn, in order to find a place of pure love within me. By Verse Twenty, I had it: Nick.
Nick, my nephew, is an eight-year-old boy, skinny for his age, scarily smart, frighteningly astute, sensitive and complex. Even minutes after his birth, amid all the squalling newborns in the nursery, he alone was not crying, but looking around with adult, worldly and worried eyes, looking as though he'd done all this before so many times and wasn't sure how excited he felt about having to do it again. This is a child for whom life is never simple, a child who hears and sees and feels everything intensely, a child who can be overcome by emotion so fast sometimes that it unnerves us all. I love this boy so deeply and protectively. I realized--doing the math on the time difference between India and Pennsylvania--that it was nearing his bedtime back home. So I sang the Gurugita to my nephew Nick, to help him sleep. Sometimes he has trouble sleeping because he cannot still his mind. So each devotional word of this hymn, I dedicated to Nick. I filled the song with everything I wished I could teach him about life. I tried to reassure him with every line about how the world is hard and unfair sometimes, but that it's all OK because he is so loved. He is surrounded by souls who would do anything to help him. And not only that--he has wisdom and patience of his own, buried deep inside his being, which will only reveal themselves over time and will always carry him through any trial. He is a gift from God to all of us. I told him this fact through this old Sanskrit scripture, and soon I noticed that I was weeping cool tears. But before I could wipe the tears away the Gurugita was over. The hour and a half was finished. It felt like ten minutes had passed. I realized what had happened--that Nicky had carried me through it. The little soul I'd wanted to help had actually been helping me.
I walked to the front of the temple and bowed flat on my face in gratitude to my God, to the revolutionary power of love, to myself, to my Guru and to my nephew--briefly understanding on a molecular level (not an intellectual level) that there was no difference whatsoever between any of these words or any of these ideas or any of these people.
Then I slid into the meditation cave, where I skipped breakfast and sat for almost two hours, humming with stillness.
Needless to say, I never missed the Gurugita again, and it became the most holy of my practices at the Ashram. Of course Richard from Texas went to great lengths to tease me about having jumped out of the dormitory, being sure to say to me every night after dinner, "See you at The Geet tomorrow morning, Groceries. And, hey--try using the stairs this time, OK?" And, of course, I called my sister the next week and she said that--for reasons nobody could understand--Nick suddenly wasn't having trouble falling asleep anymore. And naturally I was reading in the library a few days later from a book about the Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna, and I stumbled upon a story about a seeker who once came to see the great master and admitted to him that she feared she was not a good enough devotee, feared that she did not love God enough. And the saint said, "Is there nothing you love?" The woman admitted that she adored her young nephew more than anything on earth. The saint said, "There, then. He is your Krishna, your beloved. In your service to your nephew, you are serving God."
But all this is inconsequential. The really amazing thing happened the same day I'd jumped out of the building. That afternoon, I ran into Delia, my roommate. I told her that she had padlocked me into our room. She was aghast. She said, "I can't imagine why I would've done that! Especially because you've been on my mind all morning. I had this really vivid dream about you last night. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all day."
"Tell me," I said.
"I dreamt that you were on fire," Delia said, "and that your bed was on fire, too. I jumped up to try to help you, but by the time I got there, you were nothing but white ash."