Judging by the row of trees, I knew we were getting near the river. We turned left into a dusty parking lot. A tired Airstream trailer was parked near the water. Several cars were also parked nearby. There was no one in sight, and I wondered what the hell we were doing here.
“Park there,” Melody ordered. I parked. “Now take off your clothes.”
“Just strip,” she responded as she removed her own clothes. “I want you to meet someone.”
We stuffed the clothes into my saddlebags, she grabbed her satchel, and we were off.
We pranced like pixies down a narrow, twisting trail through house-sized boulders and leafy trees. I was praying we wouldn’t come across any Sunday school kids.
“Who are we visiting?” I asked.
“He’s a religious studies professor at my school. We call him the Bhagwan. Keep going!”
The trail dipped down towards water level and I could see the river. Adjacent to it was a dry wash surrounded by more boulders – no doubt a turbulent pool when the snows melted and turned the river into a raging flood. As we got closer, a dozen naked, college-age kids could be seen sitting cross-legged in a semicircle facing a gangly guy about twice their age. He had long, graying yellow hair and a scraggly beard.
No one looked up at us as we approached, though they must have heard us coming.
Melody took my hand, led me down amongst the group, laid out a blanket from her satchel, and sat us down cross-legged. She closed her eyes and started to hum in a monotone along with the others. I was ignored and on my own.
What do I do now?
Why am I sitting naked on a blanket in the dirt under the hot sun with a bunch of people I don’t know facing a guy I don’t trust? Will this lead to an ugly scene like Jonestown?
Do I have to hum?
The sun is going to fry me.
I’ll get sand in my crotch.
When are we going to get something to eat or drink?
Is this Bhagwan guy ever going to say anything?
Why didn’t he acknowledge our arrival?
Damn, the flies are driving me crazy.
The Bhagwan uttered, “Thoughts are like flies; they only bother us if we pay attention to them; better to be here now.”
Did he know what I was thinking?
Be Here Now is a book by Richard Alpert, alias Baba Ram Dass. I’d read it many times in college. Was he…wait a minute. He sort of looks like that lanky, blond guy with the beads in one of the photos. My mind was racing.
I looked over at Melody. I wanted to talk to her, but she was in the zone. God she’s cute.
I needed a beer in the worst way. This whole thing would be perfect had the students brought a keg of brown ale.
The river gurgled on indifferently. It must have seen eons of Indian gyrations, settler migrations, and tourist invasions. What a unique feature of the environment a river is, moving yet inanimate.
The rocks seemed stable, but they’d been polished by water over the course of millennia. That’s a long time. Who can sit in one place for that long? The Creator must have a different concept of time. Is time an illusion?
The Bhagwan spoke again. “You cannot be in the present moment if you are consumed with thoughts. If you wish to be here now, you must silence the mind. You cannot silence the mind with the mind. That can only be done with breath.”
Was he talking to me? He must be as I’m the only one who looks confused.
“Focus on your breath,” he continued. “Fill your lungs with two deep, consecutive breaths, then exhale through your nose. Use your vocal cords to slow the release of air. Auhmmm.
Now repeat. Two breaths to fill your lungs. Exhale through your nose while slowing the release of air with your vocal cords. Auhmmm.
Keep your eyelids closed. Slowly roll your eyes back and forth as if scanning the horizon.”
OK, I’ll give it a shot. There’s nothing else to do anyway.
“Your subconscious will want to feed you an endless parade of thoughts. Be grateful to your subconscious, that’s its job. But with every breath, remind it that this is the time for breathing, not for thoughts. It will surely keep trying, but you must ignore it and return your focus to your breathing. With practice, your subconscious will understand and desist.
Soon, you’ll saturate your blood with oxygen, slow your breathing, and take long pauses in between breaths. But remember to fill your lungs completely with two inhales, not one long one.”
Sounds hokey, but all right, I’ll play along for a while.
At first, my breathing seemed rather rapid, but it wasn’t long before I could slow it down. Thoughts kept drifting across my mind, but as soon as I became aware of them, I returned my focus to breathing and humming. It took a while to get in the zone Melody was in.
I became aware that the wind blowing through the trees was humming in unison with the group. Auhmmm.
The river was gurgling percussion.
The birds were singing harmony.
The wind, the river, the trees, the birds, and us, all singing the same tune, all part of the same cosmic choir – Auhmmmm.
Distinctions are delusional! We’re all energy, everything is energy, the sun, the trees, the birds, the rocks, the river, the other students. Energy is the absolute truth. Energy is eternal. Nothing ever really dies; it just morphs into different forms. I am energy, so I must be eternal too!
I felt elated, my body felt light, as if gravity had relented. I am light, everything is light, light is all there is, it’s everlasting, we all shine like the sun.
I got lost in a great peace which descended over me like warm water. I felt it must be the same tide the others were experiencing. We’re all in the same pool, we’ve always existed here. Nothing ever really changes, we’re here to experience and share – to “one,” not to win.
I felt a great burden lift from me, accompanied by awe and respect.
When I finally opened my eyes, the Bhagwan was cross-legged facing me. Melody was at my side. I smiled, then he smiled. Nothing needed to be said, we both understood, so he got up and walked away. I hugged Melody in joy.
The students were splashing in the river like kids. Melody took my hand and we ran into the river to splash with the others. The water was cool and refreshing. I felt it like I’d never felt water before – such magical stuff. What a blissful afternoon.
At some point, one of the students hollered – “the Bhagwan is calling!” We all got out of the water and walked back to parking lot where the Airstream was located. Several large bowls of food were set out on folding tables in front of his trailer. We helped ourselves with ladles, buffet style.
“Where are the forks?” I asked Melody.
“We eat with our hands,” she responded.
I didn’t much care for that, but at least they were clean, and I was starving.
The students were chattering with excitement, but The Bhagwan, who was now dressed in a saffron robe, didn’t say anything. He just looked around and smiled, like a proud father.
When we were done, some students proceeded to clean up. I just sat on Melody’s blanket not sure what to do. The glow of the meditation was still with me, and I was having trouble getting my mind around it.
The Bhagwan motioned me to sit with him and asked, “how are you feeling?”
“Like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” I said.
“You’ve always been in heaven,” he responded.
“Then why does it so often feel like hell?”
“Life is what you make it; you have all the power. So does everyone, but they keep investing it in others. That makes them slaves to others, and that’s hell.”
“What should I do about it?”
“Start by listening to your own heart. That’s what you did today. When you became independent of your thoughts and physical environment, your heart told you what matters. Every time you meditate, it will talk to you.”
“That’s why meditation is so important?”
“This is good; you are blessed,” he said. “Many never reach this point. As you’ve seen, death is an illusion. Some people say we are living, others say we are dying – it’s the same thing. Water in the river or water in a cup – it’s the same water.” he laughed.
“Keep in touch with your heart and trust what it tells you. Then contempt, anxiety, and fear will turn into gratitude. That’s how hell becomes heaven.”
With that, the Bhagwan got up and walked into his trailer.
In a few moments, he came back out carrying an unfamiliar stringed instrument. Melody said it was a sitar. He started to play and sing Indian music. Everyone closed their eyes and got lost in the experience.
I practiced my breathing looking for what else my heart had to say.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.com/juuucy.