For those who have followed this blog from the start, then you probably know that I am drawn to Mooji’s teachings. You might also know that a while back — two years ago — I felt the need to “forget about” Mooji, forget about every spiritual teacher, all the books, all the retreats, all the effort. I felt the need to stop trying to do anything particular in my “spiritual life” — to “call off the search”.
What I realized, afterwards, was the importance of this forgetting. This was the period when I began to transcend the part of my identity that felt like it had to do something to “attain realization”. It wasn’t that I needed to forget about “Mooji” — I had to forget about me. I had to move beyond the feeling that “I” was directing my spiritual path, in order to open up greater space for surrendering to Life. In letting go of this spiritual identity, I also came to see more clearly that there is no difference between “Mooji” and me — or me and anyone else.
After a while, I began to sense that when I felt compelled to pick up a book, or sit with a meditation group, or watch a satsang video — it was not because “I” was doing it. It was simply because the Self — Consciousness — was unfolding in this way. These are things I don’t have many words for, but those who have experienced it will understand.
At some point, I found myself thinking that it would be nice to visit Mooji’s sangha. I didn’t have any particular question — at least not one I could articulate. I just felt that I should explore the possibility of being in Mooji’s presence. I had some concerns, though. I’d never met anyone who visited Monte Sahaja. Although I’d done one day retreats (for example, with Thich Nhat Hanh at Blue Cliff Monastery), I had never stayed overnight at an ashram. What if these people were weird? What if Mooji, the man, was vastly different from the Mooji I’d met in my heart? Would this community be a safe place for me, as a bisexual woman? I noticed that Mooji almost never acknowledged queer people in the stories and anecdotes he shared during satsang — and I couldn’t remember hearing anyone get up and ask a question related to being bi, lesbian, gay or trans. Troubled, I wrote him to ask why this was the case. I wasn’t sure if I would receive a response, but to my pleasant surprise, Mooji answered my inquiry, explaining that the sangha welcomes people regardless of sexual orientation. Shortly after this exchange — perhaps a week or so later — I watched a live satsang broadcast and saw, for the first time in all the videos I’d seen, a woman get ask Mooji to address the particular suffering of queer people who deal with homophobia. I experienced this synchronicity as a reassuring wink from the universe.
When I found out that I’d received a grant to spend two months working on my book in France, I knew that this would be my opportunity. I hadn’t been to Europe in 4 years and this was as close to Portugal as I would get for the foreseeable future. I wrote Mooji and the sangha to find out if I could come during this time. It took a bit of persistence, as I did not hear back right away. But eventually I did receive a gracious response. I would be welcomed at Monte Sahaja for a few days during my stay in Europe.
Mooji’s ashram is located in a remote part of Portugal, several hours from Lisbon. I’d never been to Portugal before and I don’t speak Portugese. There are certain things visitors are instructed to bring along, among them: bug spray, sun screen, a hat and a flashlight for getting around at night. I knew that the weather would be very, very hot – in the high 90s during the day – so I packed a small bag with light, comfortable clothes. I was mindful of the ego’s tendency to create projections about people — especially, perhaps “spiritual” people that we admire or learn from. I did not know how I would personally feel at Monte Sahaja. I remained open to the possibility that I would not “enjoy” my time there. But mostly, I just felt excited and in disbelief that I would finally be meeting someone who helped guide me to a clearer understanding of my true nature from thousands of miles away.
What was most helpful for me was resting in the knowledge that I was not going to meet Mooji as a “person” — that is, I was not interested in a personal meeting. And so I came to Monte Sahaja with this inner knowing — that I was not going to meet someone on the physical plane. I was interested in a meeting of the heart. And I felt incredible gratitude to have this opportunity.
My trip from Paris to Lisbon was long and stressful. My flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 11 hours later. I’d have to spend the entire day at Orly airport. I was sleep deprived and felt as though I’d pass out from exhaustion. At one point, when I was already frustrated and weary, there was bomb scare right behind my queue — a small black valise had been abandoned right where I was waiting to receive my new ticket. Eventually, French soldiers with machine guns evacuated the terminal. I followed along, resigned to a difficult day. I was both terrified and amused, knowing that in so many ways, I was already in satsang. Eventually the crisis passed, the luggage removed and disaster apparently averted.
Thankfully, I had resources to pass the time comfortably enough. I ate a pain au chocolat from Paul for breakfast, French onion soup at an airport bistrot for lunch and something overpriced from La Durée for dinner. I skyped with my girlfriend. I watched Mooji videos on my iPad while sipping kir royal. I chuckled at the ridiculousness of practicing inquiry while drinking champagne. I meditated while observing planes taking off, one after the other. I looked down to see that my phone was ringing — an unknown number. I answered. It was a woman with a warm, kind voice — someone from the sangha calling to see how I was doing. I’d emailed to let them know that my travel plans had changed. They wanted to make sure that I was okay and that I had a place to sleep in Lisbon that evening, as it would be too late for me to get to Monte Sahaja. I was surprised by the kindness and generosity of this woman, reaching out to me — a stranger — to check on my well-being. Later, I would see that this gesture was in alignment with other acts of kindness I experienced at the sangha.
When the plane finally sped down the runway, leaping into the air, I breathed a sigh of relief — until the electricity and engines seemed to power off. A murmur passed up and down the aisles. I gasped and laughed, simultaneously – my life flashing before my eyes. A moment later, the power flickered back on and the journey continued.
Last night, a cab dropped me off at apartment in Paris around 9 PM. I get in, warm up dinner, relax. Two hours later, I’m on the phone with my girlfriend when suddenly — in the middle of our conversation — I realize that I can’t find my wallet.
I spend 10 minutes methodically searching the apartment. Nothing. Another ten minutes unpacking my bags. There is no wallet anywhere to be found. With growing disappointment, I see that I must have left it in the cab. I know that I must cancel my cards. I begin to wonder how I can possibly get new cards while abroad. I take a breath, tell myself to relax. I get the phone and start to look up numbers for my bank. A flood of self-judgment: How could I have left my wallet in a cab? Why didn’t I look down at the seat as I usually do before getting out? Is mercury in retrograde? In my mind, I tried to retrace my steps. Had I taken the wallet out to pay, and then put it down to find my keys?
The driver said that if he couldn’t find me, he would have left a note with his information. But how amazing is it that he didn’t have to? What if I hadn’t listened to the inexplicable thought that said “go to the window”, hours after my taxi drove off? I listened.
He was there.
Years ago, when I began intentionally “listening” to the Universe, I had a lot of doubt: How could I trust something that I could not explain? As I prioritized spirituality, Life began to speak to me in ways that seemed increasingly magical. But I had to stop trying to explain it. I’d have a dream that something happened, and would wake to see it actually happen. Or, discover that it happened while I was sleeping. An intuition would compel me in a certain way. I began to listen, without knowing why, but only knowing that it felt “right”.
The idea that everything in life is unfolding as it “should” is not something I would impose on anyone else. It is a difficult notion, one that requires a nuanced understanding of different levels of analysis for taking stock of life in all of its complexities. Because the truth is that lots of awful things happen every moment of every day — across the conscious experience of every living being on the planet, unimaginable levels of suffering coexist with joy, love and feelings of peace. What one person experiences as a “blessing” is another person’s “curse”.
But it seems to me that if anything at all is as it should be, then everything is as as it should be — for everything that has ever been, everything that is now and everything that will be is inextricably interconnected. It may be a stretch for some to say that everything as it should be, given the realities of oppression and suffering. Indeed, it is obnoxious, unhelpful and even abusive to try to make someone else believe that an awful thing that happened was “meant to be”.
But there is part of me that holds space for this paradoxical truth. There is something in me that feels that it must work to change things about myself and about the world, even as there is something more profound that knows that nothing needs me to change anything at all — rather, there are simply changes taking place, changes that are changing me, changes that must take place, changes that are meant to be.
The human concept of a blessing is often very selfish, very confused, dualistic and dependent on a Santa-Claus-like image of “God”. And while it’s fine to feel blessed and acknowledge blessings, I personally feel that accepting all of life as a blessing, as one interconnected and mysterious unfolding is my spiritual work. I’m grateful to the taxi driver, for sure. But I’m even more grateful to the Universe for continuing to wink at me in such a delightful way.
So I’ve decided to completely give up exercise for the purpose of changing my body. Instead, I use physical activity as spiritual practice.
This means, for me, engaging in 60- 90 minutes of walking meditation & light jogging several times a week. And listening to inner guidance from the still small voice. It means realizing that my body doesn’t belong to my ego.
I hate the idea of hitting the gym or exercising to attain a certain physical state. But I love approaching movement as contemplation and conscious union with God.
I’ve also realized that it is only possible to hate your body when you fundamentally misunderstand it.
There’s no such thing as your body and God.
If you understood your body as the miraculous expression of God/dess that it is, you couldn’t help but fall in love with it.
I relinquish my waistline to the All-There-Is. 🙂
I have absolutely no role to play in managing my body. If God can handle the entire Universe, She can handle my wellness.
The best, best, best thing I’ve ever done in my professional career was attend the week-long Creative Connections Mindfulness Retreat in Yosemite last month. This beautifully conceived retreat was organized by colleagues/super-women Tanya Golash-Boza and Zulema Valdez at UC-Merced and France Winddance Twine at UC-Santa Barbara. Words cannot express how life-changing and life-affirming this experience was.. but I’ll try anyway 🙂
Our schedule included everything from workshops, yoga, hiking, swimming, professional massage and meditation. Every morning, we got up around 6 AM for breakfast. We were writing, in silence, by 7:30. We prepared and ate healthy meals together, supported each other’s work and laughed incessantly — all in an incredibly gorgeous environment surrounded by natural, rustic beauty.
One thing I know for sure is that I would not have been invited to participate in such an auspicious gathering if I had not “come out” about my spiritual practice and commitment to holistic well-being via this blog two years ago. Writing about my experience integrating mindfulness, self-care and meditation into my everyday life allowed me to build community with other scholars with similar perspectives. Those friendships, in turn, have fostered connections and opportunities I could have never imagined when I first sat down to pen this post.
One of the things that made this retreat such an incredible and unique academic environment is that it was a completely bullshit-free zone. Amazingly, I was the only junior scholar in attendance (someone actually got tenure during the retreat!) While everyone else there (with the exception of yours truly :)) was a senior scholar/rockstar, we all left our professional identities at the door. There was no sense of “you should know who I am”, no “Dr. this” or “professor that”. There was simply an assumed knowledge that everyone in attendance was valued and valuable on multiple levels.
This attention to creating a holistic space for creativity and productivity was evident in details big and small. The conveners of the retreat selected participants with overlapping interests and areas of expertise. Our small-groups were organized around specific themes pertaining to our research. Every morning, we discussed issues of wellness, self-care and handling professional dilemmas. We worked together to cook delicious meals and keep our cabin clean. The space we created was fun, productive, friendly and nurturing. I wrote everyday, had breakthroughs with my book project and left feeling refreshed, invigorated, cared for, inspired and encouraged. Most importantly? I left with new and renewed friendships as well as a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever seen in academia before.
Here are some of the highlights…
I love that a Black woman asked this question about disease and spiritual awareness in satsang ..