By the way, I found my word.
I found it in the library, of course, bookworm that I am. I'd been wondering about my word ever since that afternoon back in Rome when my Italian friend Giulio had told me that Rome's word is SEX, and had asked me what mine was. I didn't know the answer then, but kind of figured my word would show up eventually, and that I'd recognize it when I saw it.
So I saw it during my last week at the Ashram. I was reading through an old text about Yoga, when I found a description of ancient spiritual seekers. A Sanskrit word appeared in the paragraph: ANTEVASIN. It means "one who lives at the border." In ancient times this was a literal description. It indicated a person who had left the bustling center of worldly life to go live at the edge of the forest where the spiritual masters dwelled. The antevasin was not one of the villagers anymore--not a householder with a conventional life. But neither was he yet a transcendent--not one of those sages who live deep in the unexplored woods, fully realized. The antevasin was an in-betweener. He was a border- dweller. He lived in sight of both worlds, but he looked toward the unknown. And he was a scholar.
When I read this description of the antevasin, I got so excited I gave a little bark of recognition. That's my word, baby! In the modern age, of course, that image of an unexplored forest would have to be figurative, and the border would have to be figurative, too. But you can still live there. You can still live on that shimmering line between your old thinking and your new understanding, always in a state of learning. In the figurative sense, this is a border that is always moving--as you advance forward in your studies and realizations, that mysterious forest of the unknown always stays a few feet ahead of you, so you have to travel light in order to keep following it. You have to stay mobile, movable, supple. Slippery, even. Which is funny, because just the day before, my friend the poet/plumber from New Zealand had left the Ashram, and on his way out
the door, he'd handed me a friendly little good-bye poem about my journey. I remembered this verse:
Elizabeth, betwixt and between Italian phrases and Bali dreams, Elizabeth, between and betwixt, Sometimes as slippery as a fish . . .
I've spent so much time these last years wondering what I'm supposed to be. A wife? A mother? A lover? A celibate? An Italian? A glutton? A traveler? An artist? A Yogi? But I'm not any of these things, at least not completely. And I'm not Crazy Aunt Liz, either. I'm just a slippery antevasin--betwixt and between--a student on the ever-shifting border near the wonderful, scary forest of the new.