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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Life Musings

Parisian Memories

It’s been three and a half years since I returned from my two year stay in Paris.  I have not taken much time to reminisce or delve into the experience.  When people ask how it was, I find it difficult to convey what took place for me during that time – emotionally, culturally, intellectually.   It fundamentally changed me.  In ways I’m still grasping – ways I’ll probably never fully understand.  The other night, I dreamed I was in France again – and in the dream itself, I paused to consciously breathe as I walked along a boulevard, closed my eyes and said to my Dream-Self, “I’m back in Paris!  PARIS!”  Pure elation.

What struck me most about living abroad was how intensely alive I felt.  Alive–because I was forced out of my element.  Alive–because I had to struggle to communicate in basic sentences as I painfully transitioned from broken French to fluency.  Alive–because I had to figure out how to gather data for my ambitious dissertation.  Alive–because I was in a foreign place, in a culture that I did not understand.  Alive–because I was constantly pushing myself against the boundaries of my own limits, my own fears.

I spent a total of almost 3 years living in France during my twenties.  In college, I participated in Wellesley’s amazing study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence during the spring semester of my junior year.  I then returned for several extended trips during the early phase of graduate school and then settled for two years in Paris where I conducted over 120 in-depth interviews and completed ethnographic fieldwork for my dissertation research.

I did not take the time to keep a detailed journal when I was living in France.  But I suspect that many, many memories are still there, waiting to unveil and avail themselves.  I’ve decided that from time to time, I’ll blog about some of these memories.  Everything will be out of order and jumbled, but I’m curious to see what I’m able to recall after all these years.

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Anyone who has ever lived in Paris knows that one does not live not live in Paris at all, but in an arrondissement–a district.  I lived in the 14th, on the border of the 6th, on a very small street called La Rue Leopold Robert, tucked between Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail.

My apartment was in a building on the corner, with a Caribbean restaurant on conveniently located on the first floor.  There was a touchpad on the front door, which lead to an entry way with black and white tiles, another door, and then the tiny burgundy elevator — just enough room for two people.  I knew I was lucky to have an elevator at all — many buildings in Paris do not — and my apartment was on the sixth floor — all the way up.

The studio I lived in was smaller than most college dorms.  Upon entering the apartment, you immediately found yourself in the kitchen.  I’m using the term “kitchen” loosely, here.  In fact, it was a 3 ft by 3 ftspace with a sink, a microwave and a tiny counter.  There was no oven.  I did, however, have a stove.  With two eyes.

There was a bathroom – with peach walls – and a luxuriously large bathtub that I miss dearly.  But the shower was awkwardly arranged such that if you moved too far to the left or the right, you could easily knock yourself unconscious by bumping into the built-in shelves that were built-in too low.  There was a little metal table next to the sink and a huge, ornate floor-to-ceiling window.  My “bedroom” featured a futon, a desk, another huge, ornate window, a mirrored wall, a small flat screen TV, a small table, two chairs and a bookshelf and a radio.   I estimate that the entire space was probably about 250 square feet.  And that’s being generous.

I did, however, have the great fortune of living in a fully furnished apartment designed by someone with great aesthetic taste – a woman who started off as my landlady and later became a dear friend. She had arranged the apartment to be efficient and beautiful.  There was plenty of closet space, built-in drawers and cabinets, pretty drapes.  It was a simple. ridiculously tiny apartment, nothing fancy, but fairly comfortable by Paris standards.  The one complication was the plumbing — the toilet, to be exact — but I don’t have the energy to delve into the depths of despair caused by the broyeur in that bathroom . . . another story for another day.

There’s something that happens to you when you spend several formative years in a single Parisian neighborhood.  The atmosphere of the place gets stamped on your soul.  So long as I have consciousness, I will never be able to undo what Montparnasse place did to me.  The taste of the toursades and the croissants au chocolat from the bakery on the corner.  The smell of the soap in my laundromat.  The flashing green lights of the pharmacy signs on boulevard Montparnasse.  The rush of happiness I felt slipping into my cave, La Rotonde, the famous brasserie where I was a regular.  For reasons that still evade me, the staff – from the waiters on up to the management – treated me like a mini-celebrity.  “Un café creme, s’il vous plait.”  I almost always got the same thing.

I lived in an incredibly central location.  Thirty seconds to the closest metro – but only a few minutes to several other lines.  Four minutes from my door to the Jardin du Luxembourg — the elegant Senate gardens.  On my street alone, there were about 5 restaurants — and about a hundred more within a few block radius.  My gym was around the corner. There was a major mall down the street, several movie theaters, art venues, the whole nine.  What there wasn’t a lot of was black folks.  Or brown.  It was a decidedly white, largely wealthy area.  My landlady — an incredible woman who also happened to be African American – was an exception.

I remember how frightened I was when I first disembarked.  I had to write down basic sentences – sometimes on flashcards – to make it through the day.  I didn’t have time to be paralyzed by my fear, though, because I started doing research — that is, interviewing people in French — right away.  I was incredibly rusty when I began my fieldwork, but I jumped right in.  There’s no other way to do it.

I didn’t write much about what it was like living in France while I was living it because it was an experience that overwhelmed all of my senses.  Remembering now how incredible it was to visit Monaco – once with a friend and later with my mother.  Standing on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea, watching the neon blue waves crash beautifully onto the rocks below.  People watching in the Marais.  Dancing with a dear friend on the roof of her apartment overlooking the sparkling Eiffel Tower at sunset as we drank champagne.  Jogging from my apartment to the Place de la Concorde and feeling like a badass.  Attending a largely black French church – with a white American pastor – in a suburb north of Paris with a friend.  Picking cherries off of trees — and eating them — at a friend’s home in the south of France.  Being lovingly adopted by the family of Camerounian classmate at the Universite de Provence, Aix-Marseille. My intense involvement with Democrats Abroad as a spokesperson for the Obama campaign in Paris.  Being whisked off in private cars (Mercedes – always Mercedes) to do countless TV and radio interviews in a language I had not yet quite mastered. Feeling awkward and afraid and nervous and exhilarated and excited and alive — so alive.  So many memories.  So many that I left aside and repressed.

One of the reasons I pushed so much of my French life aside is because of how it ended.  I spent my first year in Paris getting my bearings and learning how to take care of myself on my own in a foreign place.  Then I began a romance with a Frenchman that would last almost four years and follow me across the Atlantic.  Although it was often very charming to feel so in love and lust in the city of lights, it was in fact a very difficult relationship – one fraught with emotional trauma and drama that unfolded in two countries, in two languages.

My memories of Paris were tainted with the turmoil of that relationship.  It is only now – 15 months after I ended it – that I am able to begin to look back at France with fresh eyes and remember my life there without the painful memory of  our story defining my Parisian experience.

Still, it is not without some trepidation that I reconstruct this period of my life.  Who knows what I’ll recall?  Or, worse, what I’ve irreparably lost?