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Soul Rush

The Odyssey of a Young Woman in the 70s'
(Excerpts)

by S. Collier. Published in 1978
 

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Chapter 11: First Steps in DLM's Headquarters.

ONE DAY LATE IN APRIL I TOOK A WALK IN THE SPRINGTIME
rain. I was alone on the streets except for the brief company of a man who hurried past me huddled under an umbrella. It was raining hard, and the water made the sidewalks shine.

(..........)

The next day I was out walking again, enjoying the spring.

I stopped at the local cigar store to pick up a paper, but found them out of stock. "Damn," I thought, "can't even get a paper after ten in the morning," continuing into town in search of a store. After walking several blocks I began to meditate on my breath, puffing on its going-in and comings-out like an old man puffs on a pipe. With each block I could feel my consciousness change, its normal humdrum preoccupations replaced by the keen awareness of meditation.

On the way home I saw an old woman walking slowly ahead of me. As my visual concentration came to rest on her I felt a deep, aching pain in my right hip and in both knees, as if they were, all of a sudden, swollen and blistered on the insides. I limped forward to catch up with the old woman. As we slowly made our way down the street, the woman told me she had arthritis in her hip and both legs. I knew this was true because literally, I could feel her pain. When she turned the corner and I looked away from her, my legs once again took on their springy and comfortable walk.

I did not take time out to think about this experience right away, as my mind was taken up with the logistical arrangements for a large vegetarian dinner I was planning for the Portland premies.

During this time I was on an unyeasted-bread kick. "Unyeasted" is actually a misnomer for this fine kind of bread, as the leavening within it is derived not from packets of yeast but from the natural yeast in the air. In the vegetarian menu I was planning for our coming feast, unyeasted whole wheat bread figured prominently on the baked goods list.

The evening before the party, I mixed up the ingredients for my unyeasted favorite and set it in a warm place to rise overnight. The next day, when I got up, I went straight to the kitchen to check the bread's progress. When I lifted the damp cloth off the mixing bowl, I was delighted to see that the flat, brown pancake of flour and water I had left the night before was now a rounded mass of leavened dough. The yeast from the air had done its work.

I picked up the heavy bowl and walked over to the kitchen window to look at the day. A gentle breeze was ruffling in the curtains and the sunlight looked especially yellow and bright as it came through new small leaves of the maple tree beside the house. A bird chirped, sitting in the tree. It was the first week in May and spring was really here.

I set the bowl on the counter and scooped the dough up. Holding it made my hands tingle a little bit as I realized that the yeast had made the dough alive. I laughed slightly to myself and looked at the dough closely. If this dough is alive, then the air is alive, too. I took a deep breath and felt the same tingle of life as the air came inside my lungs.

I put the dough on my wooden cutting block and began to work on it, kneading it slowly. Shortly, I heard more chirping at the window. I got some birdseed from the pantry and sprinkled it on the ledge. When I returned to the bread several sparrows came to peck up the seeds and sing.

As I kneaded the bread the rhythmic motion in my back and arms made me feel relaxed and peaceful. I knew there would be plenty more of this peaceful time ahead of me today, stirring soup and watching the bread rise and bake. I settled myself in for a spell of thinking.

The main thing on my mind was my recent experience with the old arthritic woman and the other times when I had apparently gone beyond my ordinary bounds and briefly felt part of another person's life. As I thought over my experiences I remembered the first time I realized that I was a separate person-when I was in kindergarten and wished to look out of a classmate's eyes. I had closed my eyes and set my will on making the journey from inside me to inside her. Then I had opened my eyes and found myself stuck, tightly wedged within myself.

I had hated to accept this limitation, but I saw no way around it. Eventually I got to rather like being only one person, only me, Sophia. But now something, most likely meditation, was loosening the glue. Though my experiences could be thought of as spiritual eavesdropping, I didn't think I'd run into any problems about illegal wiretapping. I wasn't invading anybody's privacy, I was just learning how to tune in on a public access channel which wasn't normally in use. If Jung was right that people have a uniform mental functioning (allowing for certain differences in intelligence and background), then anybody could have the experiences of literal empathy I had had.

When I considered what the world would be like if everybody was evolved spiritually to the point where they could use this communication channel regularly, I imagined a community of saints. Then I remembered Rennie's remark that Knowledge could be the basis of a new kind of social movement. The new part of the Knowledge movement would not be the brilliant policies set forth by it, but the changing, evolving consciousness of the movement's members. Each new realization would be a rung in a ladder leading from our present world into a future, better one. Fine thoughts to make the bread rise.

In the middle of the day, Sandy, one of the men who lived in our monastic household, came into the kitchen. By this time the bread was in the oven and I was halfway through a pile of dirty dishes. Needing someone to dry the growing stack in the dish drainer, I handed him the towel and we started to talk.

"You know, Soph," he said, "when I was in Boston I went to see Bal Bhagwan Ji, Guru Maharaj Ji's brother who's in charge of the Astrodome festival. I told him about the lasers."

Sandy was an art student whose main interest was holographs, three-dimensional photographs made with lasers.

"Bal Bhagwan Ji said I should go to Houston and do some holographs for the festival. Apparently he wants to do a big spiritual exhibit in the convention hall next to the dome."

Houston. I thought it over looking at all of the unwashed dishes. "It sounds great, Sandy." For a moment I imagined all the things one could do if one had the Astrodome. Then I smelled the bread baking in the oven and looked out the window. "But what about everything you are doing here in Portland?" I asked. Sandy had another two months to go in art school. He was very popular in our household and carried organizational responsibility in the premie community. Besides these school and church commitments, Sandy also had other reasons to stay in town. Unlike so many of the people I met in Portland, Sandy was a local boy. His widowed mother lived about thirty miles away off in the woods. "You have roots here," I said.

"Well, the way I figure it, I don't have a big name, so I'll probably never get another chance to do a large show like this. At least not while I'm young. Plus, I can do it with a spiritual theme. The people who come to the Astrodome to see it will understand my message much better than if it was in a museum where it would be viewed by the general public. Does that sound reasonable? That's what I told my teachers at school.

"But I'll tell you the truth, Sophia, I don't really care so much about that part of it. The real thing I feel is that I want to help the mission. It is really nice here in Portland, but I'm starting to feel I didn't just come into the world to do for myself. I want to do for others, too. And, really, the best thing I can think of to do for anybody is tell them about meditation. If we tell enough people about it, I'll bet we can change the world."

My unyeasted bread was a hit at the dinner party that night. Tracy had come up from Boston to visit. After the feasting was over, I found myself over dirty dishes again; this time I was drying and Tracy was up to her elbows in the suds.

"Sandy's going to Houston," I told Tracy.

"Yeah?" she said nonchalantly. "You should go, too."

We looked at each other seriously for a moment and then Tracy's impish look came over her. "You want to, don't you?" she said.

In the months Tracy and I had rooms next to each other at our old house on Waterville Street she had gotten to know me pretty well. "Yes," I answered, realizing for the first time that it was true.

I wrote a letter describing myself in glowing terms to DLM's personnel department at the headquarters in Denver. I said I had experience in writing, business, and food management. After a week, I got a phone call from a young woman at DLM in Denver. She told me that if I could go to Houston right away, I'd have a ground-floor opportunity, starting up a food-buying club for the festival staff. The terms of employment were exactly the same as I had in Portland. In exchange for my work I would receive room and board in one of the mission-run monastic houses.

Next, I started to settle my affairs in Portland and withdraw from my commitments to a summer job and autumn schooling. The festival was scheduled for November. I figured I'd be down South at least until then.

My first call was to Bryn Mawr. A young woman in the admissions office answered the phone and I told her I wanted to withdraw my application. Looking through my file, she said, "Oh, I remember you. Why do you want to withdraw? You are going to be accepted."

I briefly told her of my plans to go to Houston.

"But you'd make such a fine doctor," she said. (Did you hear the trumpets?) "I am fascinated by these spiritual movements. My little brother is in one of them. You know, I am a graduate student in social anthropology and I have done a great deal of thinking about the implications of Eastern thought on our action-oriented world."

"Really?" I said. "I'd be very interested to hear about your ideas. Tell me about your brother."

"My little brother used to be at Stanford; now he's shaved his head and all he does all day is sit, crosslegged, staring, eyes drooping, at the wall. I think he wants to go to Japan now to see a roggi, I mean rishi.

"I asked him why, and he said, 'Sister, Buddha promised to return age to age until even grass was realized. I betray life if I do not take up this noble path.'

"I asked him about his former ambitions, marriage, money. When addressing these subjects I initially felt his tone was somewhat blase. I wondered if in our family we had set his ambitions too high, and then he had become disappointed, frustrated, and rejected the past. However, I gradually formed a different impression. He seemed to have no bitterness, only detachment. I sensed he was feeling something meaningful, even profound. And this experience, whatever it was, was motivating his actions. Though I continue to be baffled by the directions his actions are taking. Shaving his head . . . quitting Stanford. It is all so alien to our society.

"So, Miss Collier, please tell me why you are joining this group. It is important for me to understand what young people are doing."

I smiled at this last remark. If this stiff-sounding lady at the admissions office had a younger brother in Stanford recently, she couldn't be thoroughly beyond the pale of that age-group herself. I ran my story down for her as I had done many times before, to explain why I was involved with DLM.

"Since I was very small," I began, "I have had many experiences which showed me that our normal waking consciousness is not the only way of looking at things. Neither is it the best way. According to our way of seeing, each person is separate from all other people, separate from nature and separate from God. From my experience this is a fundamentally mistaken impression. And not only is it wrong, it runs in diametric opposition to the course life-humanity -needs to follow if we are to survive. The reason is this: If every person is separate, it is morally correct for each person to try to gather everything to himself. However, in a limited and overpopulated world, this will not work. New forms of greater cooperation must be developed.

"But it is not enough to think intellectually, 'Sure, we all have to work together.' Instead, there must be a feeling of essential unity that pervades every level of a person's being, so that a person's natural reaction is not the 'territorial imperative,' but a cooperative instinct."

"Sounds good so far," she said. "But what is the means through which this transformation will occur?"

"Meditation, I believe, can be that catalyst."

"Meditation?" The woman started to laugh. "I have heard that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And that water, the softest thing, has worn canyons. But meditation versus immorality sounds like an everlasting war. The flesh is weak, Miss Collier, the flesh is weak."

"Okay, now listen, may I ask you a personal question?"

"Yes?"

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-eight," she replied.

"Have you ever been stoned?"

"You mean, smoked marihuana?"

"Right," I said.

"Well . . . uh . . . yes."

"Okay. When you smoke, after a few puffs there comes a point where you 'get off,' after which you are stoned. Your consciousness is completely different from the one moment before when you hadn't yet felt the dope's effects."

"So?"

"Meditation, from my experience, is like that," I explained. "It is like the alchemist's stone. Of course, sometimes when you are trying to meditate it doesn't work. You don't 'get off.' It isn't foolproof like dope."

"What sort of experiences have you had which lead you to believe meditation has this sort of alchemical power?"

I gave her some examples. I told her about the guard dog and some of the other things I have already mentioned.

"All right," she replied. "From what you have told me, your plan is to become a saint by the transformational qualities you attribute to the mystical experience of meditation. And it seems to be working for you. But you are looking at it on a larger scale. You see the need to reform the existing weltanschauung of all people. In order to do this, you must get other people to do meditation too. That is the purpose of your Astrodome festival?"

"Yes," I said.

"But herein lies the difficulty with your plan," she went on. "St. Thomas Aquinas said that people could become saints merely by wanting to. Your idea at least is more functional than that. You have something to aid the mere power of will, you have this meditation. But, as with Aquinas, you also face the problem of will. If a person has no desire to transform his consciousness and improve his moral nature.... I, for instance, have never yearned for sainthood."

"So forget about sainthood," I said. "How about a little peace of mind? Would you like that?"

"Oh, I see. For those who are not attracted by humanitarian virtues, you hope to attract people through their more selfish motives. Very much like the TM ads I see around campus. They claim 'increased creative intelligence,' 'relaxation,' everything but a better sex life. And then, once you have hooked them on the practice of meditation, they will improve spiritually and morally. Well, this is very ambitious. I share your excitement. But I will put your application back in our file. I do not believe our age is ripe for the sort of thing to which you aspire. And one other thing, your leader-is he the young one? The one in his teens?"

"Sure. Guru Maharaj Ji."

"I think I saw him on television. And I am sorry to say, though you sound like an intelligent young woman, a woman who'd make a fine doctor, I found your leader, well, less than attractive. Please don't be offended."

The woman wished me luck and we said goodbye, she wondering why I was giving my time to such a dubious prospectus for world peace and I wondering why such an insightful woman was not more interested in the new frontiers of consciousness.

The next call I made was to the director of the camp I had gone to as a child. She had hired me for the summer to build a sailboat. I had more or less talked her into the job, so when I called and said I wasn't going to do it, she was very surprised. The conversation was brief. I hung up feeling sorry that I hadn't been able to share more with someone I cared about so much.

In another week I was ready to go. Since the first day I had thought of going to Houston I had been in close communication with my mother. When I called her and said I was ready to leave Maine, she asked me one thing. "Have you become enlightened? I know you always wanted to be."

Confessing my lack in this regard, I told her I would call once I got to Houston. This was, in her opinion, one of the less wild ideas I had come up with on how to spend the summer. After a month she came to visit me in Houston. Staying several weeks, she helped me with the laundry and bought me and my DLM friends large quantities of ice cream in a suitable motherly way.

As you may have noticed by now, I had a very positive outlook, but I knew a more serious involvement in DLM wouldn't be all roses. I knew that Divine Light Mission would need a lot of work in order to get into fighting shape. The mission's biggest problem wasn't hard to miss-it was the overwhelming Indian influence pervading the entire organization. The least dangerous way this influence was exerted was in the Indians' predilection for things which struck me as tasteless and gaudy. Their tinsel garlands and crowns for the young guru were not my idea of haute couture. I did not share their enthusiasm for rooms whose primary decoration was a huge altar with pictures of the "holy family," Guru Maharaj Ji and his kin. If given my way, my tastes run to a room full of pre-Victorian handmade antiques with Chinese rugs on the floor, a Ming vase holding flowers, and some Paul Klees on the wall.

Naturally I do not expect everyone to go my way on matters of decor, but decor was not where the Indian influence ended. As mahatmas, or close disciples of Guru Maharaj Ji, they felt they had a certain authority which they could use to spread their views on every subject. Since few of them were actually renaissance men or women-people with a wide understanding and education in the arts and sciences-the opinions expressed by the Indian faction were rarely the last word on any subject. More often the ideas were simply Indian folklore, quotes from the scriptures, prejudices from their place in the class structure of Indian culture, misinformation, Indian nationalism, or Indian mythology applied to modern situations.

One thing that amused me and many of the Western premies was the Indian fascination with systems of numeration. I have heard mahatmas expound with great authority on: The Nine Grievous Errors, The Four Graces, The Eight Million Four Hundred Thousand Forms of Living Things, The Sixty-Four Powers of the Guru, and the Five Manifestations of the Satguru. This last one was a particularly potent and popular idea. And, as far as I can tell, it is one of the few bits of original cosmology developed by DLM in India.

Most of the mahatmas were of the opinion that not only was Maharaj Ji divine himself, but so were the four other members of his family. I think it was Mata, Guru Maharaj Ji's mother, who came up with this idea and then spread it around. In this scheme, Mata embodied the compassionate characteristics of God. She was the Holy Mother, Mother of Creation. Bal Bhagwan Ji, the eldest brother, embodied wisdom and intellect. Bhole Ji, the next brother, embodied art and music. (This was a singularly unappealing idea, because Bhole Ji's appearance and speech were not very graceful. Believers in the "five fingers of God" idea, ever inventing ways to patch up leaks in their cosmology, excused his lack of aesthetic appeal by saying Bhole Ji "hadn't gotten out of his deep meditation yet.") Raja Ji, the third brother, was supposed to embody courage or the qualities of statesmanship. In the future world the mahatmas envisioned, Raja Ji was the King.

To offset all the bad taste and the fascination with numbers, the mahatmas did have one redeeming social value that made their other qualities tolerable, at least in my mind. The mahatmas did understand, after all, that Knowledge worked. Their complex other ideas concerned the explanation behind the experience. Even if all of their explanations were just crazy mumbo-jumbo, they had understood the most important part about Knowledge well enough to teach it to me, to help me open the door into my own inner world. A similar situation might be found among the early medicine people of Europe and Asia. They used the flowered plant we call foxglove to treat certain kinds of illnesses. The folklore abounded with the how and why behind the healing power of this pretty purple-flowered plant-all of which we think of as incorrect; in fact, we regard foxglove as a dangerous poison. Those early medicine people did not know that foxglove could cure because it contains digitalis, as scientists now believe.

Just as I respect the administrators of foxglove for what they knew, I respected the mahatmas for their Knowledge. Beyond this I admired their dedication. They were not paid, receiving only expenses in exchange for their work; but still they continued to travel and teach people the one really great thing they knew.

With eyes wide open to all of the potentials and problems, I got on the plane and went to Houston. When I arrived I scanned the faces of the crowd for the right smile. I didn't have any idea who would be picking me up. When the crowd of people thinned out I saw a nice-looking young man with a Maharaj Ji button on. He drove me from the airport and showed me to my new accommodations. They turned out to be a lovely little place on the floor where I could put my sleeping bag. Not exactly the Plaza.

I have a theory that at people's birth they are endowed with a certain amount of "put up." Because young people still have an ample supply of this valuable commodity, they can put up with more than older people. At seventeen I still had plenty of put up left, so a sleeping bag on the floor and a little place in the closet to hang up "everything I owned" seemed fine and dandy to me. I shared this room with three other women who, fortunately, were pleasant people without any odd habits.

After a day's rest I went to the festival offices to see one of the principal organizers and learn about my new job. I was to organize a buying club to serve the eating needs of the thirty-five staff members who were presently in Houston, and then gradually expand its capacity as the staff grew. Eventually the "co-op" would be serving the several-thousand-member staff at festival time. Another person, a bright fellow named Peter, was also going to work with me building this accordion-like co-op.

Peter and I got along immediately. I felt he had a rare and valuable character, and insight into life. Twelve years older than I, he had traveled all over the world and met many fascinating people. He was originally from Long Island and had an M.A. in English Literature. Traveling around in the red VW bus we had been given to use for the food business, we had many lively talks about subjects ranging from the works of Shakespeare and Sartre to the worth of Buddhism and bisexuality.

We loved what we were doing. Peter had been working in a large food co-op in Boston before he came to Houston. He thought of co-ops as a mutual aid philosophy made practical. Our present job of feeding our large spiritual "family" was to him a dream realized. We worked very hard, often getting up before dawn and driving far out of town to the farmers' market to buy the best produce. Because of our demonstrated ability to get things done, the houseparents asked us to buy all of their household goods as well as the food.

Then, in some stroke of management brilliance, Peter and Sophia, the wonder kids, suddenly were put in charge of laundry, plus food and the other services we were already providing. Of the two of us, Peter and me, guess who got to do the wash. Right. Me. The same credential that had recommended me in Portland-my amazing ability to operate a washing machine-was now recommending me in Houston.

Peter was too good of a pal to abandon me to a pile of dirty laundry. Until I got another assistant, he helped me quite a bit. Together we sorted the clothes at the beginning of the day. Then he would go off on his errands, buying food. At the end of the day he returned to help fold.

Our days were very long, but it didn't bother me. In fact, I somewhat enjoyed going to bed tired for a change. Throughout my life I have always been a very energetic person. Once when I was nine, after running around the outside of the house a few times, I badgered my father for something to do. He suggested I turn one hundred cartwheels. When I finished doing that I was not satisfied, so I decided to stand the other way and turn one hundred more.

In the laundry I met a cross section of the Houston population. I met an honest-to-God bank robber, who shortly afterward was caught and thrown in the slammer. I met a former IBM executive who was getting away from it all, working as a dry-cleaning counterman. Then there was a midget who fell in love with me. And a Spanish woman with sixteen children; a black mother on welfare; assorted wealthy young bachelors, who, incidentally, didn't have the amazing ability to operate a washing machine.

Hanging around the laundromat all day, I heard a lot of stories. I couldn't help but be moved by many of the people who came into the "mat," dragging their laundry, and then sitting down to sweat while the clothes washed and dried in the Houston summer.

Some of the premies at the festival offices put out a small newsletter about the activities and progress of the festival plans. To spruce up this Xeroxed rag, occasionally they included a story or poem. In the lull between "wash" and "spin" I couldn't resist writing about the mat and the people I met there. After a few of my vignettes had been published, Diana Stone, a premie who was coordinating some of the PR for the festival, called me.

"You're an artist," she told me. "You should come up here and work with me. Write stuff for the Divine Times, for our leaflets."

And so I was delivered from the laundry.

When I told my laundromat friends that I was leaving, they all were glad for me. The woman with sixteen children told me, "Listen, it isn't often a laundress gets a chance to write for a newspaper."

Or a writer gets a chance to spend a month in a laundromat, I thought to myself.

It was around this time that I met Guru Maharaj Ji. He had recently arrived in the United States from India and was stopping over in Houston on his way somewhere else. The dance troupe which was to perform at the festival had also arrived, and had arranged an audience with him. Since I had never met my guru before, one of the dancers suggested that I come along. We gathered in the large room where we had our evening lectures, and waited. And waited. In the three years I was involved with DLM, I only heard of one occasion when Maharaj Ji arrived at a meeting or program on time. I believe Maharaj Ji came late on purpose to create a mood of anticipation, but not so late as to make anyone really mad. After forty-five minutes he pulled up in a Mercedes-Benz and jumped out like a dapper star arriving on a movie set. He looked great-shiny, clean, and cheerful. He was wearing a nice suit. His jet-black hair was fashionably long and accented his strong, dark eyes. He wasn't as fat as people said.

Once he was in the room, he wouldn't sit down; instead he stood and chatted informally. The dancers had some business questions they wanted to ask, but he would have nothing of it. He ignored their attempts to be serious, making jokes, laughing, and telling them how much he liked their dancing. Throughout his good-natured conversation there was something of the stern father in his voice, mixed in with the more obvious sound of a mischievous playmate. It struck me that he was a subversive character along the lines of Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat.

Gradually, I felt myself becoming completely intoxicated. I felt very close to Maharaj Ji and the dancers who were present. As in a romantic novel, everything got "kinda misty," and I felt like I was falling in love in a general way with the whole world.

Upon seeing Maharaj Ji, I did not collapse into a sobbing pool of tears as Baba Ram Dass reports having done upon meeting his Maharaj Ji, an older, more traditional guru. But I definitely felt a warm glow. I liked him.

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