First, Happy Mother’s Day, to all Mothers, including the Devine Feminine that resides in each one of us!
Also, to acknowledge that the time we are in right now is all about the re-empowering & re-surgence/emergence of the Devine Feminine on this planet!
Spiritual wisdom traditions honor the feminine principle first and foremost. Women have seen degradation as a part of Patriarchal systems, yet at the core of these traditions, too, is the understanding that women are spiritually superior, being in general more naturally attuned to spiritual realities than men.
I am often asked when and how I got into yoga. I do my best to tell the story about it, yet know that “half the story has never been told” and could never be told really. My journey has been as complex and unique and frankly, indescribable, as anyone else’s, and I perhaps would do it more justice by remaining silent. Still, because I am asked, I do attempt to say something that might be helpful. And today, because it is Mother’s Day, and because we are about to embark on this amazing yoga journey together, I feel inspired to make another attempt, with the caveat that this all doesn’t begin to touch what really happened (of course)…
I was first introduced to yoga in the summer of 1994 when my mother and I did a yoga series at the local high school. I know it was that summer because the movie “Forrest Gump” had just come out, and I recall the yoga teacher recommending it to all of us as being a film that definitely has the yoga spirit (and it does! one of my all-time favorites!) Although, I enjoyed this particular yogi’s class sessions, which were primarily Hatha Yoga sessions, I was not really very stimulated or inspired by his presentation, at least enough to continue to practice yoga after the sessions concluded.
I also want to mention that two years prior to this, in the summer of 1991, this freaky, semi-emaciated guy came to a garage sale we were holding and strongly recommended that I read “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Yogananda. I did take his advice and purchased the book at Borders, but read only the first several pages, giving it up for being too weird and not very believable. (Five years later, once I had been exposed to the things I am about to share with you, I read the book hungrily in about a week or so…)
My point is, as we have always heard, “When the student is ready, the teacher (or teaching) will appear.” I was not yet ready…
So when I am asked about how I got into yoga, generally I say that I was on a spiritual quest that led me to the study of philosophy as an undergrad, and ultimately to a deep encounter with my own birth religion, Judaism, after college. I actually studied Judaism in-depth in Israel from late 1991-1994, in the process becoming an Orthodox Jew, and as a result somewhat intolerant of, and intolerable to, people, mainly close family and friends. This never sat too well with me, because i didn’t feel myself to ultimately be a judgmental or intolerant person, and I kind of felt I needed to be that to some degree. Perhaps that was my misunderstanding. I also intuited, correctly I feel, that my path in this lifetime was not to get tied down to anyone religious system, or any system, period, and rather to dive deeper into the quest to understand an experience I had when I was 19…
That experience was an experience of falling in Love for the first time. Without going into details right now, for me this experience was the experience to end all experiences. This experience was nothing other than enlightenment itself. And yet, I wasn’t enlightened, for though it lasted for several months, I ultimately could not hold it and finally returned back down to my far more earthbound, prosaic existence. Yet, as with all such experiences, it was only when it’s over that you realize you had IT, and then the quest/ion becomes: How to get it back?!?!?
And the truth is, you never do — at least not THAT experience. But that was an initiation into the Quest, which leads to gradually, over time, to embodying more and more what you learned from that experience. Until at some point, maybe, you are fully embodying Love all the time, and you never go up or down again, but retain in a state of “samatva” (a Sanskrit word meaning evenness, balance, equilibrium) all the time. I speak here not from mere hearsay or belief, but from knowing based in lived experience.
So after that experience at 19, I was on a constant quest to understand what THAT was all about, and I was searching all the time, though with more or less urgency. To make a long, involved story short & sweet, the quest took me back from Israel, out of being an Orthodox Jew, to the study of Comparative Religion in Grad school, and then into the wide, wild world of yoga. I was introduced to it all through a woman colleague in the Religious Studies Dept. who was an Indologist, meaning a student of all things Indian (East Indian). She saw that I was searching for something and took me under her wing and began to introduce me to people and things I would never have believed existed in this day and age.
Again, to make a long story short, in the Spring and Summer of ’96, I essentially met 4 women teachers from India, all considered “saints” (also, gurus, holy mothers, Goddess incarnate, and so on), who all assisted in turning my world upside down, and not just through standing on my head (I got into Hatha Yoga later). I also met a woman who is considered God incarnate by her many devotees, but which I had much difficulty seeing as such, and which led me to learn to differentiate from spirituality which is truly Universal and applicable to all, and that which is self-serving and cultish.
What I felt and learned at that time in my life was so immense that words will fail me. Let me just say that it felt like a kind of homecoming, truly. I had been searching for something I knew not what nearly all of my adult life, and now here it was — my path, my tribe. The people who had experienced what I had experienced, in their own way, and were on this path of the heart as I was. I never imagined such a thing even existed in this world, partly because I felt so different than everyone — and yet, here it was. I often quote the opening lines of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”: “He was born in the summer of his 27th year/coming home to a place he’d never been before/he left yesterday behind him/might say he was born again/ might say he found the key to every door…” That was what happened to me. It was a re-awakening, and a discovery of my true calling in this lifetime. I knew then that I would be on this path for the rest of my life, and indeed, I still am after 16 years, and it looks like I’ll be on it for another 60 (and that’s just a figure of speech, it doesn’t matter to me how long I live, just as long as fulfill my highest dharma in this lifetime).
I also learned that I probably hadn’t gotten into yoga or even had it on my radar before because I needed to be introduced via the Divine Feminine. It had to be my woman friend and mentor in grad school, and then also through these women teachers I met, as well as my first girlfriend and spiritual partner in this lifetime, who interestingly materialized in my life right at this time, too. Ironically, as well, this was all happening while I was staying in the room my maternal Grandmother had lived in all throughout our childhood(!) It was all too cosmic. And I also probably didn’t even truly appreciate it enough!
So you’re probably wondering what all happened with all of this (I am, too!), and who my teachers were, etc. I do want to honor my teachers today by just saying a few words about each, and directing you to their websites. I am still blown away by all of them, and I still wish to learn more from all of them. At the same time, I realize, too, that they will only help to bring out what is already within me, and that there is wisdom in not being attached to the teacher, but rather to thoroughly imbibe and embody the teaching.
The first woman teacher I met was Shree Maa, and her Swami, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, who I actually don’t see as 2 people, but really just one awesome teacher. My friend knew they were coming in to one of the New Jersey airports (forget which one) to visit some devotees, all the way from their ashram in Napa Valley, so we drove together to receive a private airport darshan (audience) with them. My friend and I sang the Hanuman Chalisa (40 Verses to Hanuman — a well-known traditional chant) all the way there, which I so loved! I also loved meeting these 2 holy people, their energy was just so amazing, I was so high from the whole experience. The Swami had me doubled over in laughter almost immediately, and I could tell that Shree Maa was seeing something in me when she asked, “Are you planning to go to India?” (I wasn’t yet, but I did make it there not long thereafter.) Anyway, that began a relationship with these 2 spiritual powerhouses that helped to radically alter my life For more about them, their website is www.shreemaa.org
The next teacher my mentor took me to see was Ammachi, who is often called “The Hugging Saint,” because her darshan consists of hugging people — literally thousands of them a day. Ammachi is perhaps the highest profile living Indian saint today, but back in ’96 when I first met her at a church in New York City, she was nowhere near as famous and celebrated as she is now. In a way, I didn’t as much personal connection with Ammachi as my other teachers, and yet there was a sense in which I found her to be the most inspiring of all. My first darshan with her was just incredibly devine & sublime, and when Ammachi looked at me in the eyes after my hug, I really sensed that she saw me, she really knew who I was, and that I had returned home again in this lifetime. This message came in just a few seconds. I subsequently read all of the Ammachi books, and was also very influenced by the music put out by her group. I received her darshan each summer for the following 5 years after that. For more about Ammachi, her website is www.ammachi.com .
The same week that I went to see Ammachi with my friend, I also received the darshan of Anandi Ma at a private gathering in the home of one of her devotees. Anandi Ma wasn’t as high profile as Ammachi, and clearly didn’t attract the multitudes like her South Indian sister, yet there is a sense in which Anandi Ma played the most central role of all in my spiritual development. Not only did I receive my spiritual name, Jagadish, from Anandi Ma, but I also received Shaktipat Initiation, which is essentially an energy transmission from teacher to student to stimulate the kundalini energy, awaken the chakras, and ultimately lead to liberation. This initiation that I received ultimately led me to perceive certain spiritual realities that I at that point doubted were even possible, let alone something I could actually perceive in my body. A simple example was just feeling my chakras, that they were real, that they existed and would move in response to the practices I was doing. I attribute these experiences to my shaktipat initiation from Anandi Ma, as well as several other experiences, some quite subtle, some more tangible. Being around Anandi Ma’s group, I also saw people having some of the most amazing experiences right before my very eyes, things that my overly critical, academically-trained mind could not deny or reason away. It all radically altered my worldview. In any case, that’s all I will say right now. For more about Anandi Ma and her organization, DYC, please visit www.dyc.org
Finally, and last but certainly not least, that summer my mentor also took me to see another Devine South Indian saint, Sri Karunamayi, and interestingly for me, it was the synagogue in Philadelphia that had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Of all of three teachers I have mentioned, it was with Karunamayi that I developed the most personal, Mother-Son relationship, going to visit her ashrams in South India no less than 5 times (5 separate trips to India), and also receiving mantra initiation from her. My heart was opening to greater and greater depths around all of my teachers, and perhaps none moreso than Karunamayi, who as her name says (it means “Compassionate Mother” in Sanskrit), is truly an embodiment of lovingkindness, of compassion for all life. From Karunamayi, I learned to smile even more from the heart, and to live ever more deeply in my true nature, which is blissful, loving union. As with all of my teachers, I don’t feel that I was sufficiently grateful to Karunamayi, nor did I truly recognize the degree of their greatness, as my little ego felt threatened. I write this in acknowledgment of this, and that I am now ready to return to the fold, the rest under the wings of the Great Mother again. For more about Karunamayi, go to www.karunamayi.org .
Well, thank you for reading this, and for hearing a little of my story, which must still remain a mystery both to you and to me. Yet this might have been helpful, I hope it has, and I do welcome your comments about it all.
So 3 Cheers for the Devine Mother in All Her Wonderful WoManifold Forms — in Nature, in SuperNature, in all women, in men, too, everywhere!
3~’ 3~’ 3~’ JAI! JA! JAI! Hooray Hooray Hooray!!!
Mahalo Ma! Mamaste! (Mama Stay in My Heart!:)