This was so obviously another one of Swamiji's jokes.
You wanted to be The Quiet Girl in the Back of the Temple? Well, guess what . . .
But this is what always happens at the Ashram. You make some big grandiose decision about what you need to do, or who you need to be, and then circumstances arise that immediately reveal to you how little you understood about yourself. I don't know how many times Swamiji said it during his lifetime, and I don't know how many more times my Guru has repeated it since his death, but it seems I have not quite yet absorbed the truth of their most insistent statement:
"God dwells within you, as you."
If there is one holy truth of this Yoga, that line encapsulates it. God dwells within you as performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person looks or behaves. We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality. This is a classic example of what they call in the East "wrong- thinking." Swamiji used to say that every day renunciants find something new to renounce, but it is usually depression, not peace, that they attain. Constantly he was teaching that austerity and renunciation--just for their own sake--are not what you need. To know God, you need only to renounce one thing--your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character.
So what is my natural character? I love studying in this Ashram, but my dream of finding divinity by gliding silently through the place with a gentle, ethereal smile--who is that person? That's probably someone I saw on a TV show. The reality is, it's a little sad for me to admit that I will never be that character. I've always been so fascinated by these wraith-like, delicate souls. Always wanted to be the quiet girl. Probably precisely because I'm not. It's the same reason I think that thick, dark hair is so beautiful--precisely because I don't have it, because I can't have it. But at some point you have to make peace with what you were given and if God wanted me to be a shy girl with thick, dark hair, He would have made me that way, but He didn't. Useful, then, might be to accept how I was made and embody myself fully therein.
Or, as Sextus, the ancient Pythagorian philospher, said, "The wise man is always similar to himself."
This doesn't mean I cannot be devout. It doesn't mean I can't be thoroughly tumbled and humbled with God's love. This does not mean I cannot serve humanity. It doesn't mean I can't improve myself as a human being, honing my virtues and working daily to minimize my vices. For instance, I'm never going to be a wallflower, but that doesn't mean I can't take a serious look at my talking habits and alter some aspects for the better-- working within my personality. Yes, I like talking, but perhaps I don't have to curse so much, and perhaps I don't always have to go for the cheap laugh, and maybe I don't need to talk about myself quite so constantly. Or here's a radical concept--maybe I can stop interrupting others when they are speaking. Because no matter how creatively I try to look at my habit of interrupting, I can't find another way to see it than this: "I believe that what I am saying is more important than what you are saying." And I can't find another way to see that than: "I believe that I am more important than you." And that must end. All these changes would be useful to make. But even so, even with reasonable modifications to my speaking habits, I probably won't ever be known as That Quiet Girl. No matter how pretty a picture that is and no matter how hard I try. Because let's be really honest about who we're dealing with here. When the woman at the Ashram Seva Center gave me my new job assignment of Key Hostess, she said, "We have a special nickname for this position, you know. We call it 'Little Suzy Creamcheese,' because whoever does the job needs to be social and bubbly and smiling all the time."
What could I say?
I just stuck out a hand to shake, bade a silent farewell to all my wishful old delusions and announced, "Madam--I'm your girl."