Autobiography Part 3a: "Return to Ordinary life"

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My previous blog entry ended with my return, in 1984, to the USA after 5 years in Siddha Yoga ashrams, the last 2+ in India. This blog entry and maybe a couple more will take me through my first Zen retreat in early 1988.

I had gone from my family’s house to college to ashram, and now at 25, I was ready to begin the practice of being an independent adult. My grandmother had died during my ashram years, and I had a few thousand dollars she’d left me. I’d use it to start a new life in California. I’d grown up in the East Coast during the 70s, old enough to understand the hippies and the counter-culture and the Grateful Dead and all, but too young to participate. Like so many people, I felt a pull to California as a place for a fresh beginning.

I connected with a friend I’d met in India, and we hit the road. (Some adventures we had during this period are on my Strange Trips web page.) I ended up first in the Los Angeles area, then in Arcata, and finally in Berkeley (which had seemed alluring ever since my months in the Oakland ashram in ‘79). In various places, I did temp jobs to get by.

I had one year of college and no particular skills. I saw lots of office jobs available, but they required decent typing skills. I got an old typewriter and began to practice by typing out random paragraphs from the newspaper, hour after hour. It seemed impossible. How in the world was I to remember where all the letters were? But incredibly, after a few weeks of this, my fingers began to automatically know what to do. The power of practice never ceases to amaze me.

In my temp typing jobs, I was usually in front of a computer, and there was plenty of time when the workload was slow, so step-by-step I taught myself word processing, then spreadsheet design and programming. I learned how to support myself and take care of my own life, and these life lessons were as rich as those I’d gotten from philosophy and meditation. Learning how to survive and make a living didn’t feel separate or inferior to explicitly spiritual pursuits.

Life has its ups and downs, successes and failures. I had the usual succession of joy and depression and comfort and anxiety. I kept up with my formal and informal meditation practice. I’d practice attention to the moment, repeating a mantra, sitting still, watching my breath, and remembering that it’s all One. Whatever attachments or desires or entanglements appeared in my mind, I had this practice of returning to witness-consciousness, making it all OK. I didn’t know what, if anything, I should do more or different with these practices.

During this time, news filtered through to me about goings-on in the ashram world. Muktananda’s successors, a brother and sister guru team, had broken apart in a bitter sibling rivalry, filled with lies and violence. The sister (Gurumayi Chidvilasananda) sent out mud-slinging letters against her brother rival (Gurudev Nityananda), even going so far as sending goons to physically attack and threaten those who attended his programs.

The SYDA antics sounded so silly, and removed any lingering allegiance I felt to that group. While I’d always enjoy visiting and exploring different groups out of curiosity or entertainment, I saw no need to be part of a group. No guru or group held the magic or secret. I figured all that any teacher or group could do was lead me to the type of meditation practice and understanding I already had.

[originally posted here]