You know, I’m often tempted to start many of the article I write with marveling at how synchronistic our world is.
How missing out on one event meant that I turned up to another. How I ended up at the right place at the right time.
So forgive me for overstating it right up front, but isn’t life’s timing perfect!
In this instance, I am referring to Gangaji’s visit to Australasia late last year.
Timing had it that I missed out on her New Zealand visit, something I really wanted to support given it was her first time to our shores. But as luck would have it, I was in Byron Bay, a favourite haunt of hers, when she popped over there just before Christmas.
And as life would have it I was deep into my pain leading up to her visit.
Personal events back home in Wellington had left me feeling dislocated, lost, hurt and frustrated, and amplified all the more because I wasn’t in the groundedness and presence that home offered. Away from my support networks, I was looking for a way to alleviate my suffering.
My first instinct was to push outwards; to try and take control of the situation.
That made matters worse.
As my world started to knot and tangle in on itself, it was plainly clear I needed a more functional way to deal with the rising conflict in my mind. I was boring into the details of ‘back home’ – a place where I was not, and I noticed that when I tried to make ‘back home better’, I was filling my world with anxious thoughts.
My shoulders squared off like I was fronting up to a southerly gale, and I pushed through miserable thoughts despite the soft beauty of eucalypt reserves and rippling rivers and expansive blue skies around me. Just as the hum of cicadas brought me back to my present situation, a mantra flew into my head; there is only this.
There is only this.
I tried it out as I sat on my yoga mat that morning. A deep peace rose in my attention.
I repeated it as I drank my morning dandelion chai, savouring the earthy spicy creamy tea heating up my palate. How wonderful to notice that full taste. I repeated the mantra each time the anxiety rose to claim my peace.
I was practicing the art of presence. I was practicing being kind to myself.
I could still feel the choppiness of ‘back home’ thoughts around me, and the emotions of anger and despair associated with them, but they were not pressing in, and I knew these emotions could crash in if I gave them my attention.
So I didn’t.
I offer this back story as the starting place in the journey to my ah-ha moment sitting with Gangaji.
On the first day of satsang with Gangaji, she talked about our spiritual practice as the boat that gets up across the river. Indeed, with my practice of presence, my mantra of there is only this, I was staying afloat amid some rather daunting emotions.
Gangaji distilled her message further: Just Stop. Stop the practice of picking up your identity.
Well what does that stop sign look like?
Gangaji quoted from her teacher Papaji:
He told me to be still. Recognise who you are. He was telling me to stop ALL of my ideas.
Stop all of my projections of the future. Stop all of my fabricated memory – you know the past memory is totally made up each time you remember it, that we rearrange the pieces to fit what ever the current evaluation of yourself is. Be willing to stop that rearrangement and open to what is here.
Throughout the night, Gangaji encouraged us to be vigilant to this stopping.
What does Gangaji mean by being vigilant?
According to Gangaji, vigilance is the willingness to see everything that arises.
Vigilance is not hard and rigid. It is not some kind of carefulness. Vigilance is not separate from awareness. See what arises in your life moment to moment. Then experience what is behind the arisings.
I wanted to see what “being vigilant” would look like in my life, so as I sat down on my yoga mat the next morning, I asked how do I be vigilant in a soft and effortless way?
In the quiet rest that followed my stretches, a not-so-new thought popped into my mind, but with a radical new application for me. Why not honour this moment? Why not honour what the Buddha mind represents; Stillness.
“Just experiment” said Gangaji the night before, “see what that would look like for you”. So I spent the entirety of that day honouring stillness, to see where it would take me.
I found surprising results. When I honoured stillness, it meant I was not able to give attention to the thoughts of the “drama back home”. It meant that when I started (again) to communicate my point of view to those concerned, this time I was mindful of what I wanted to say, and the motivating energy behind it.
As I began honouring the people in my drama, I could clearly see the cause and effect of my actions, and I wanted – more than the desire to be heard or my desire to be understood, or even to be ‘right’ – I wanted my action out into the world to cause as little a ripple as possible.
In honouring the stillness, I became more sensitive to the vibrations of language and I could feel the reverberating effect of my actions as like-energy that would come back to me. Like attracts like as they say.
As I tuned in to what I was drawing in to me, I realized that in allowing my self to be motivated by love, I could see that what would come back to me would have the quality of stillness I was longing for.
It seemed, to truly honour stillness, I needed to honour the purest of motivations.
I read a poem recently by Sufi poet Rabia (c.717-801) that expounds just that:
How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love
As I sat down at my laptop and composed my response to the drama that had started to escalate out of proportion, I yielded to love. I did the best I could from the clearest space of mind I had access to and from a heart that wanted the deepest peace.
And I felt that peace as I walked away from my story.
I turned up to the next Gangaji satsang in joyful spirits, an emotional state I hadn’t reached for many weeks.
I was sailing my boat Presence & Honour safely over to the other side.
That second night, Gangaji sunk my boat.
» Read the second part in the series, Rolling with Gangaji… and how she scuttled my boat.
By Alys Titchener, author of the poetry blog Squashed Mosquito. Alys is a freelance writer, with a commitment to writing from the heart of direct experience. Her favourite ice cream flavours are travel and inward journeying. Together, they taste really sweet.
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