The retreat ended two days later, and everyone came out of silence. I got so many hugs from people, thanking me for having helped them.
"Oh, no! Thank you," I kept saying, frustrated at how inadequate those words sounded,
how impossible it was to express ample gratitude for their having lifted me to such a towering height.
Another one hundred seekers arrived a week later for another retreat, and the teachings and the brave endeavors inward and the all-encompassing silence were all repeated, with new souls in practice. I watched over them, too, and tried to help in every possible way and glided back into turiya a few times with them, too. I could only laugh later when many of them came out of their meditations to tell me that I had appeared to them during the retreat as a "silent, gliding, ethereal presence." So this was the Ashram's final joke on me? Once I had learned to accept my loud, chatty, social nature and fully embrace my inner Key Hostess--only then could I become The Quiet Girl in the Back of the Temple, after all?
In my final weeks there, the Ashram was imbibed with a somewhat melancholy last- days-of-summer-camp feeling. Every morning, it seemed, some more people and some more luggage got on a bus and left. There were no new arrivals. It was almost May, the beginning of the hottest season in India, and the place would be slowing down for a while. There would be no more retreats, so I was relocated for work again, now placed in the Office of Registration, where I had the bittersweet job of officially "departing" all my friends off the computer once they had left the Ashram.
I shared the office with a funny former Madison Avenue hairdresser. We'd do our morning prayers together all alone, just the two of us singing our hymn to God. "Think we could pick up the tempo on this hymn today?" asked the hairdresser one
morning. "And maybe raise it to a higher octave? So I don't sound like a spiritual version of Count Basie?"
I'm getting a lot of time alone here now. I'm spending about four or five hours every day in the meditation caves. I can sit in my own company for hours at a time now, at ease in my own presence, undisturbed by my own existence on the planet. Sometimes my meditations are surreal and physical experiences of shakti--all spine-twisting, blood- boiling wildness. I try to give in to it with as little resistance as possible. Other times I experience a sweet, quiet contentment, and that is fine, too. The sentences still form in my mind, and thoughts still do their little show-off dance, but I know my thought patterns so well now that they don't bother me anymore. My thoughts have become like old neighbors, kind of bothersome but ultimately rather endearing--Mr. and Mrs. Yakkity- Yak and their three dumb children, Blah, Blah and Blah. But they don't agitate my home. There's room for all of us in this neighborhood.
As for whatever other changes may have occurred within me during these last few months, perhaps I can't even feel them yet. My friends who have been studying Yoga for a long time say you don't really see the impact that an Ashram has had on you until you leave the place and return to your normal life. "Only then," said the former nun from South Africa, "will you start to notice how your interior closets have all been rearranged." Of course at the moment, I'm not entirely sure what my normal life is. I mean, I'm maybe about to go move in with an elderly medicine man in Indonesia--is that my normal life? It may be, who knows? In any case, though, my friends say that the changes appear only later. You may find that lifelong obsessions are gone, or that nasty, indissoluble patterns have finally shifted. Petty irritations that once maddened you are no longer problems, whereas abysmal old miseries you once endured out of habit will no longer be tolerated now for even five minutes. Poisonous relationships get aired out or disposed of, and brighter, more beneficial people start arriving into your world.
Last night I couldn't sleep. Not out of anxiety, but out of thrilled anticipation. I got dressed and went out for a walk through the gardens. The moon was lusciously ripe and full, and it hovered right above me, spilling a pewtery light all around. The air was perfumed with jasmine and also the intoxicating scent from this heady, flowery bush they have around here which only blossoms in the night. The day had been humid and hot, and now it was only slightly less humid and hot. The warm air shifted around me and I realized: "I'm in India!"
I'm in my sandals and I'm in India!
I took off at a run, galloping away from the path and down into the meadow, just tearing across that moonlit bath of grass. My body felt so alive and healthy from all these months of Yoga and vegetarian food and early bedtimes. My sandals on the soft dewy grass made this sound: shippa-shippa-shippa-shippa, and that was the only sound in the whole valley. I was so exultant I ran straight to the clump of eucalyptus trees in the middle of the park (where they say an ancient temple used to stand, honoring the god Ganesh--the remover of obstacles) and I threw my arms around one of those trees, which was still warm from the day's heat, and I kissed it with such passion. I mean, I kissed that tree with all my heart, not even thinking at the time that this is the worst nightmare of every American parent whose child has ever run away to India to find herself--that she will end up having orgies with trees in the moonlight.
But it was pure, this love that I was feeling. It was godly. I looked around the darkened valley and I could see nothing that was not God. I felt so deeply, terribly happy. I thought to myself, "Whatever this feeling is--this is what I have been praying for. And this is also what I have been praying to."