Spiritual Musings

The Moment I Met Mooji (Part 1)

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”.

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Visiting with Mooji’s sangha in Portugal, May 2015

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.

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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.

Continue reading “The Moment I Met Mooji (Part 1)”

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Academic Musings, Spiritual Musings

The Nondual Academic: Timeless Being.. or Tenure-Track?

“One has to work in the world; naturally, carry on your worldly affairs, but understand that which has come about by itself -that is, this body, mind and consciousness–has appeared in spite of the fact that nobody has asked for it. I did not ask for it; it has come upon me in my original state which is timeless, spaceless, and without attributes. So that whatever has happened is doing this business in the world. The life force and the mind are operating, but the mind will tempt you to believe that it is “you.” Therefore, understand always that you are the timeless, spaceless witness. And even if the mind tells you that you are the one who is acting, don’t believe the mind. Always keep your identity separate from that which is doing the working, thinking and talking.” –

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, “The Ultimate Medicine: Dialogues with a Realized Master”

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This is the fourth in a 12 week series of essays on doing academic work from a nondual, spiritual perspective. The idea is to open up a new conversation about academia and the ego. Most Sundays, I’ll share my reflections on a variety of topics related to writing, researching, teaching and mentoring in the light of teachings from Hinduism, Buddhism and Christian mysticism as well as my own experiences.

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My life is not quite turning out as I thought it would. Prioritizing my spirituality wasn’t really at the top of my agenda when I finished graduate school a year and a half ago. I had a conventional idea of success. After the Ph.D., I thought I would singlemindedly focus my energies on research, publications, gaining my colleagues’ respect, perhaps even starting a family. I wanted to leave my humble mark on the world, gain recognition, make my mother proud, be a “credit to the race”, give back to my communities, build some wealth, win some prizes, become a prominent sociologist and a public intellectual. Oh yeah, and a wife and maybe a mother and blah blah blah.

And to a certain extent, some things have gone according to plan. I landed a fab job in a supportive department. I’ve won some prizes – most recently the APSA’s Georges-Lavau award for the best dissertation on contemporary French politics. I have had a steady publication record. My research program has developed. I’m not a total disaster.

And yet, I never anticipated that I would have an encounter with God that would swallow me -and my ambitions- whole. I always wanted to be “somebody” — I did not know I would come to recognize my self as Timeless Being.. that I would come to know that I am literally no “body”.

Living as “Timeless Being” is quite at odds with most everyone’s idea of the tenure-track. Junior faculty are almost always future-oriented — preoccupied with establishing a professional reputation and securing semi-permanent employment. Increasingly, I have found myself struggling to reconcile these two very different ways of viewing life — one anchored in the present-moment, one tied to a professional future.

Along the way, I’ve felt at turns liberated and appalled by two paradoxical sentiments. On the one hand, I feel liberated as I’ve come to care more about my spiritual life than anything else. On the other hand, I’ve been appalled to see that my ego still worries and despairs over the fate of my professional life — not to mention my material existence. I worry over what the future holds if I really surrender to the full embrace of my spiritual path. What will happen to me if I really offer up everything — the fate of my work, my projects, my income — to the Supreme? My inner wisdom knows that I have nothing to fear. And yet, the old egoic grasping, the doubts arise. To my chagrin, my attachment to professional success continues to manifest in my experience. Are these lingering ambitions standing in the way of my full reliance on God?

This fundamental question — of how to live in the world as your worldly desires wane — is quite common for people on a whole variety of spiritual paths. Mooji has a great teaching on this topic that you can check out here. His basic insight – echoed in the quote by Nisargadatta above – is that, despite appearances to the contrary, we are not the “operators” of our own lives. The sense of doership is itself an illusion. (This is a tricky subject, given the emphasis I place on agency in my social theorizing – a topic for another day). In any case, the basic teaching of nonduality (that we are one with all there is) asserts that Consciousness/God – indeed, the entire Universe – acts through ‘us’. Fully realizing this truth requires giving up all of our concerns – including our need to know how the future will work out – to the Supreme. It means realizing that personal ambitions are the egoic projections of the mind — they do not define who we really are. From this perspective, what ultimately matters is surrendering to God’s divine will, allowing the flow of life to have its way with us, as Spirit sees fit.

It’s a terribly frightening predicament for the ego — the small ‘self’ — because it frets over how to provide for our material existence, how to strategize for success. But the ego-mind doesn’t exist (Mooji likes to say that “the ego is a ghost afraid of dying”) and since it doesn’t exist, it obviously is not in control of our lives. And if it isn’t in control, what is? Ah.. the Beingness. God Herself. So the process is one of allowing egoic ambitions, striving & anxieties to increasingly give way to faith & total reliance on the All-There-Is. And the vexing truth is that this is not something one can try to do — it simply happens naturally in the process of awakening.

So where does that leave me? I haven’t the faintest idea. But, I wanted to share these ruminations with you, as this is the primary concern I face at intersection of my professional life and my spiritual practice. These days, my intention is to simply allow Consciousness to guide me in whatever direction It sees fit. We’ll see how it goes.