11/18/10

Epilogue: Personal Visionary Stories




Epilogue 
"An Imaginary Book" 
Personal Stories 
Visionary Recitals
Encounters with the Sacred




This photograph is from the project "Prayer Stones"
Click on image to enlarge   

Introduction
After completing The Green Light of Sufi Travel, the last project in "An Imaginary Book," I began to have a feeling that the book needed something more in the way of closure.  I left open the possibility of another chapter and continued my reading on the sacred art and sacred knowledge of Islam, Sufism, etc. 

I had been reading Henry Corbin's book Avincenna and the Visionary Recital as I was completing the Green Light project.  Corbin concluded this fascinating book with an epilogue in which he wrote: "The simple word 'epilogue' allows us, instead of closing a meditation, to prolong its perspectives."  When I read these words it became clear to me how I needed to conclude "An Imaginary Book."  My epilogue would be a collection of personal stories of my encounters with the sacred.  This would be most appropriate since the inspiration for the book's initiating chapter, Prayer Stones, was essentially a series of stories of my personal encounters with the Sacred while traveling through Turkey in the spring of 2011.   

The last three stories below, #21, #22, #23 are a retelling of those experiences first published in Prayer Stones.  Interestingly, my epilogue to "An Imaginary Book" essentially concludes by returning (ta'wil) to the book's Origin.   



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Henry Corbin and the Visionary Recital Corbin says a visionary recital is not a fiction, and it is not an objective retelling of some historical fact; it's the personal story of a subjective experience, a psychic event which is part of the soul's inward journey of return (ta'wil) to the Orient, its Origin, its Celestial Twin, or Guardian-Guiding Angel, one's divine Self.   

Corbin says the scenes and actions of a recital are in "neither the sensible nor the intelligible worlds, but in the intermediate world," the world of symbols and archetypal images, the Imaginal World "in which spirits are corporealized and bodies spiritualized." And because recitals are personal stories of the soul's own journey they can only be told in the first person.

Encounters with the Sacred, and the stories or Recitals one brings back to this world from the Imaginal World, are part of the soul's process by which it struggles to become conscious of the divine Self.  
C. G. Jung called the process individuation.  Medieval alchemists called it The Great Work or The Magnum Opus  

Tom Cheetham, who has written four books, quite beautifully and with great insight and clarity, about Corbin's ideas and their implications for the contemporary world, challenges his readers to take up this important work.  He writes that becoming conscious requires stepping ". . . to the edge of the cosmos in order to free one's self from exile," from a cosmos conceived as exterior to the soul, a cosmos of "rational constructions."  Cheetham The World Turned Inside Out      

The cosmos, says Corbin, exists within the Soul, not the other way around.  The recital can help us know the archetypal, divine Face we had before the cosmos was made.  Again, the words of Tom Cheetham:

"It is the great challenge of human existence to find an entry into the stream of life--to find the myth we are living, the story that is ours, the world that is ours to inhabit.  It lies within the power of the recital to make us present and open to Things, to other people, and to the Angel.  It is the Lost Speech of the spirit, without which we are doomed. . .  All of life can be transformed in the presence of the figure of the unknowable Guide, who offers the possibility of seeking the true Self, the Face we had before the world was made.  The supreme paradox is this: you cannot know who you are without opening to the darkness of the unknown."  Cheetham, After Prophesy     



My Personal Stories
Of course artists, poets and writers are naturally blessed with the ways and means to give form to their encounters with the Sacred and share this "news of the universe" with others.  For those of us who cannot write or give visual form to our experiences, we nonetheless have our personal stories, our uniquely individual experiences which bring us "into the steam of life."  (see below, Story #17)

Though I am not a writer I do have my photographs, and my experiences--my personal stories--to share.  Thank you for "stepping out on the edge" with me here via the Epilogue and the entire collection of projects entitled "An Imaginary Book."  I encourage you to write your own personal stories and share them with others.  

Steven D. Foster
The Epilogue was first
published in early May, 2013


I dedicate my "Epilogue" to my meditation teacher, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, and to Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham for their insightful writings about the visionary recital.  I have collected multiple text excerpts on the theme from several of their books: visit The Visionary Recital: Text Excerpts.




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The Stories
Visionary Recitals

Personal Encounters with
the Sacred 

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Story #1  
Seeing the Grand Canyon in the Eternal Moment
"Each of us carries in himself the Image of his own world, his Imago mundi, and projects it into a more or less coherent universe, which becomes the stage on which his destiny is played out.  He may not be conscious of it . . ." Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital 

I was on a road trip with my wife Gloria in June, 2000 to visit the Grand Canyon.  We assumed there would be plenty of places to stay overnight near the canyon's rim because of it being such a popular vacation destination, but we didn’t realize until we got to the park entrance that the North Rim was an hour’s drive from the nearest town through a beautiful meadow-like space, and that reservations for park lodging, the only lodging on the North Rim, needed to be made over a year in advance!   

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the visitors lodge, and we immediately went to the reservations office.  There was a long line of people checking in; finally 
when we got to the man at the reservations desk he told us there were no available rooms, that cancellations were unusual, and since they didn’t have a waiting list the only thing we could do was try checking back from time to time to see if any cancellations were called in.  

Just as he was finishing his instructions to us the phone rang . . . a couple had just canceled their room for the night . . . and we were permitted to fill the vacancy!

We walked out to the lodge terrace for our first view of the Grand Canyon.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the canyon.  The late afternoon light softly filled the canyon’s vast misty space with a mysterious golden luminous presence.  The subtle colors in the layered canyon walls gently separated from the earthy dark browns and grays; the colors floated in suspension toward me in slow motion.  I felt very close to the canyon’s gentle, graceful gem-like beauty.  And, as so often happens when I encounter the sacred, tears began to fill my eyes.

The next morning we drove along the edge of the North Rim.  At the first look-out stop we parked and got out of the car and looked out over the rim's edge into the vast space of the Canyon.  We  saw three different thunder storms over the Canyon and each one had it’s own rainbow!  In the Hindu tradition, rainbows are very auspicious signs of the presence of the sacred.  

At the next stop we were able to walk out onto a long narrow viewing point.  I felt like I was in the center of the canyon and in the center of the cosmos.  As I tried to comprehend the vastness of the space before me I noticed the wind  blowing into my left ear in a rhythmic pulsating manner.  My awareness gradually began to shift in some strange way. 

Slowly my whole being became pervaded with a sense of stillness.  I could hear children playing and laughing in the parking lot behind me, and yet I felt enveloped in a profoundly deep silence.  Time seemed to be slowing down to a halt.  My visual perception began to contract until it was reduced to what seemed to me a single concentrated point.  

A wedge of luminous imagery was being projected out from my point of conscious awareness onto something like a large screen in front of me.  I was the projector; and I was the screen receiving the projection; I was the point of origin of the image, and I was the expansion of space so vast I couldn't comprehend it.   I was the seer and the scene, the projector and the screen . . . all at once.  

I was seeing brilliant, astounding images of the Grand Canyon, and yet I was aware that the images were coming from me, from inside myself projected onto a "screen."  I felt as if I were in the center of all space.   

I began to feel the wind; I felt open and expanded; then gradually this extraordinary mode of perception, which was more like a mode of being began to dissolve away.  When finally I had mostly retuned  “to my senses” time seemed to be running pretty much at its usual pace again.  

But my "heart" felt open and expanded with awe and wonder, and it stayed open for several hours afterwards.  The experience had shaken me to my core; I felt as if my whole being had been turned inside out.  Every time I tried to talk about my experience with Gloria I would start sobbing.  I felt overwhelmed with love for the world, for myself and for something I had no words for.

That night, before going to sleep, I re-read as I often do, a few paragraphs from the most recent essay by Ram Butler for his monthly Siddha Yoga correspondence course.  Each month he focuses on a particular theme on the teachings of Siddha Yoga. I had been practicing Siddha Yoga since meeting Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in 1987 and received Shaktipat Initiation from her (see below, story #13).  Ram Butler was focusing this month on the concept of the present moment, the eternal moment.  He wrote that when we truly are living in the present eternal moment our hearts are in a state of pure openness; we can observe and hear the things in the outer world, and at the same time we are fully aware of being in a space of absolute stillness and silence.  This is an experience of grace, he said, an experience of our own Divine Self.   

I realized then, as I was re-reading this essay in our Grand Canyon Lodge room, that I had been graced with an actual experience of the teachings on silence and the eternal moment.   
  



Story #2  
Hide and Seek
I loved playing Hide and Seek when I was a young child.  My favorite part of the game was hiding.  And the best time to play was after supper, in the twilight hours when the light of day was turning into the darkness of night.  In this in-between half-light appearances begin to dissolve into a grayness of tone in which everything appears the same.  All things blend into each other.  These are ideal conditions under which to hide.   

The secret to hiding is mostly mental.  Of course finding a good place to put one's body is important, but once you are in a space, the secret to hiding is becoming transparent, in other words, merging into the space.  Once you have become the space you become hidden, invisible.  

My favorite place to hide in the spring was in the center of the large flowering lilac bush.  The sweet smell of the flowers would become thick enough to make you disappear.

  
Another favorite hiding place was beside our neighbor's old garage, in the rhubarb patch under the large leaves.  

I also really liked climbing up and into the cherry tree and sitting in that place where the main trunk split off into three smaller limbs.  At dusk no one could find me there.

I liked hiding in the fox hole we dug in my neighbor's yard for when we played war.  But I was easily found there.  I liked curling up in the hole and smelling the damp earth.  

When we played inside our house, my favorite hiding place was in our long closet, way in the back, where the old coats and musty dust covered shoes had been left forever.  It felt like I was hiding in time past.  The history of those old things created a very powerful sense of lived presence.  I liked imagining the lived expereince of those old things around and under me.  

Once I got settled into my hiding space, no matter where I was. I would become totally silent, I would close my eyes, and I would became invisible.  I would become the place I was in.

When I became a photographer I played the seeker.   With my camera I would constantly be looking for the places hidden inside me outside in the world.  The pictures I made were a way of holding the two together as one.  I was looking for the consciousness in places and things.  Perhaps I was looking for me.  My best photographs are a form of revelation; the images function as visual symbols which in some strange way unveil the hidden God within me and within the things of the world, or perhaps in that twilight zone in-between.


Story #3  
Epiphany
The summer of 1955, just before I turned eleven years old, was mostly spent with my cousin Bobby and my Aunt Lilly and Uncle Bob.  My dad was in the hospital.  My mother needed to be with him as much of the time as possible.   

One day my cousin went into town with Aunt Lilly to do some errands.  I was hanging out by their garage at the end of the alley waiting for Bobby to get back home.  Finally I saw him running around the corner of his house down to where I was waiting.  He was anxious to show me something. 

He was holding a large batch of little snapshots he had just gotten back from the drugstore.  He excitedly thrust them into my hand.  I will never forget that moment when I looked down at all those photographs:  I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I was going to be a photographer.  I wanted to make photographs.

It seems I was destined to be a photographer; I just needed to see those little photographs to awaken me to the fact.  Up to that point in time the idea had never occurred to me.  

Between 1994-2000 I produced a large body of small photographs entitled Studies dedicated to this epiphany and my dad, who died that summer either just before or just after this epiphanic experience.  I can't remember.  Though I would not have a father, I would have photography for as long as I lived.  It has been a life-saver for me.

I have known so many people who suffered great internal pain not knowing what to do with their lives.  I never had that problem.  It has seemed to me that everything of any real consequence in my life has been part of a script written in advance.  

In regards to my epiphany, I went from what seemed then like an ideal American Dream type childhood, full of baseball and pie . . . to a very anxious, angery-sad and frightening nightmare of a life after my father died.   My Aunt Betty told me, days after my dad had died, that I was "the man of the house now."  That terrified me.  It took me years of hard interior work to get over that injunction.  But I had photography, which opened all kinds of wonderful doors for me as I moved ahead with my life without a father.


Story #4  
The Night My Dad Died  
I was staying with my cousin Bobby while my dad was in the hospital.  Bobby and I slept in his attic bedroom.  I liked the space.  It was like a secret hut in a tree, high up overlooking a small woods near by.

It was one of the hottest July evenings of the summer; and to get out of the house Aunt Lilly decided to take Bobby and me out for an ice cream cone and to the band concert in the Piqua City Park Pavilion which was only a few blocks away.   I had started coming down with a fever, but we decided to go anyway.  I wanted the ice cream.

At the concert I began feeling very cold.  I started shivering so intensely that I had to be taken back to my cousin’s house and wrapped in blankets up in the warm attic bedroom.

I woke myself up during the night finding myself pounding my fist on my pillow: harder and faster, harder and faster. . .  I didn't know why I was hitting my pillow but I couldn't stop it, and the pounding kept growing more and more intense.  It was like a compulsion, something I had to do.  The pounding woke up my cousin and it the frightened him so much he ran downstairs to tell his parents.  


By the time Bobby retuned with my Uncle Bob the pounding had stopped.  I didn’t know how to explain to my uncle why I had been hitting my pillow.

A few hours later, as the light of day was breaking, I heard a bird crying out in the woods.  It sounded sad and lonely.  Then I heard the phone ring downstairs.  A little bit later I heard footsteps climbing up the attic stairs.  


My Aunt Lilly asked me to come downstairs.  She had something important she needed to tell me. 

We sat on the living room couch which faced the picture window looking out toward the front of the house.  Aunt Lilly was very upset.  As she was telling me that my dad had died in the night I was looking out the picture window.  I remember quite vividly seeing the telephone pole by the alley.  There was a big transformer on it, and several cross bars, and lots of lines running to and away from the large dark pole at the center.  That image has haunted my memory ever since . . . and many of the photographs I would make later in my life.  


Story #5  
Death Wish 
In the summer of 1984 I took my kids Shaun (age 12) and Jessica (age 9) on a camping / canoe trip on the Wisconsin River.  I was working on a photography project at the time entitled “Family Life."  I was photographing only things and events that related directly to my immediate family-life experience.

The kids and I were having a great time swimming off the sand bars in the Wisconsin River when I absent-mindedly dove head first into the water and hit my head on a large tree limb that was hidden under water.  

I was is a state of suspension under the water: I was very nearly unconscious.  An interior voice -- or perhaps it was a thought or feeling -- let me know I had to make a choice: I could remain unconscious and drown; or I could choose to live.  

I had the choice!  I remember, quite poignantly, how a thought bubbled up into my awareness that if I chose to die, I would be leaving my children just like my dad had left me when I was nearly eleven years old.  

I always felt cheated and was angry about my father “leaving” me, and I didn’t want to do that to my kids.  With all my will I lifted myself up out of the water.  

Blood was all over my face and chest.  I had badly scraped myself  on the tree limb hidden under the water.   I still have visible scars from this event which was as much psychic as it was physical.  The scars remind me when I see them that I chose life.

I later read about a phenomena known as the death wish.  It helped me realize there probably was a connection between my near-death experience in the river and my dad's death.  I looked at the dates of the two occurrences and the results seem to support the idea of the death wish: my dad had died in July – when he was age 39; and my near-drowning river event took place in July of my 39th year!   

Henry Corbin would probably say I had heard the voice of my Angel trying to help me face this strong secret desire to be unconscious, to die.  The symbolism is quite striking:  the river, the stream of life has it's dark side, it's hidden obstacles.  When I hit my head on an invisible tree limb I nearly allowed myself to merge with the darkness of the unconscious.  A voice, an interior life force, perhaps my guide or Celestial Twin or guardian Angel helped me come to terms with my death wish.  As I look back at such intensely personal experiences it becomes more clear to me how everything in life is a metaphor; if only I had a way to see it.  These experiences are the way.

Henry Corbin writes: "The soul reveals all the presences that have always inhabited it without its being aware of them.  It reveals its secret; it contemplates itself and tells the story of itself as in search of its kindred . . .  The Angel individuates himself under the features of a definite person . . . It is through the integration of all its powers that the soul opens itself to the transconscious and anticipates its own totality."  Avicenna and the Visionary Recital

Tom Cheetham writes: "Once the Guide has appeared, the return can begin, but the itinerary varies . . . The nostalgia and the desire that the earthly soul feels toward its Celestial Twin is the energy of salvation.  To leave this world is to discover one's status as Stranger and to become instead a stranger to the world of metaphors that were taken for literal reality."   All the World An Icon  Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings


Story #6  
The Boy the Bat and the Ball
I have had some remarkable experiences of Time while practicing my photography.  Here is an example:  (note: this story is taken from the Epilogue for my project "An Imaginary Book")

It was the late afternoon of a perfect warm summer day.  The sunlight was bright and crisp and clear.  I was walking around my neighborhood with my camera looking to make photographs for my Studies project (1994-2000).  I walked by an alley entrance and saw in the distance a little boy throwing a ball into the air and trying to hit it with his large plastic bat.  He was very concentrated on his task.  

I sensed a possible photograph so I nonchelantly walked toward the boy trying not to project any interest so as not to draw attention to myself and thus distract him from what he was doing.  I readied my camera in my hand, which was hidden behind my back, as I approached the boy.    

When I got about eight feet from him I positioned myself so that the the sun was directly behind him.  When he threw the ball up into the air again I raised the camera to my eye and quickly took a photograph.  

As the shutter opened I experienced an intense flash of white light; time stopped; the world dissolved for a period of time; then I saw the ball suspended in the air.   Everything in that blinding moment was light except the boy, the bat and the ball.  I believe to this day that the light I experienced was internal.  

I don't think the boy even noticed I took his picture; he threw the ball up in the air again as I walked away.  The photograph I made looks very much like what I experienced.  Often when I contemplate photographs my mind becomes still, time seems to become suspended.   Click here to visit my Studies project and see the image.


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The Inner Sound


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The remembrance of a sound, an experience of music, can be very powerful and lasting.  I will never forget the sound of the crying bird in the early morning hours of day my father died.  Every time I hear that bird song I remember that experience.  Below are some  stories involving the spontaneous experience of the inner sound, what is known in certain yogic traditions as nada, the "unstruck sound."  


Story #7  
Primordial Sound  
I had a dream one night (early 1980's) in which I found myself inside a dark, mysterious  space filled with huge, medieval looking machine parts.  I think they were gears; they were turning, very slowly. . .   Perhaps I was inside something like a gigantic clock, that is to say a clock of cosmic proportions.  The parts of the machine were suspended in a dark vast space with points of starlight visible all around.  

I became aware of a humming sound; a very deep, low frequency vibration.  It began to increase in volume or intensity of vibration until the sound shook my whole body, my very being . . . and woke me up.  As I vividly remembered the dream, I became filled with a living energy and the presence of the numinous. 


I had read a book in the mid 70's by Joseph Campbell in which he explains the concept of AUM, or OM, which in the Hindu tradition is the primordial sound from which the entire universe was created.  The primordial OM sound spontaneously emerged out of total silence; then from the sound came the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet; and then from the letters of the alphabet came the words, and from words . . . all the things of the apparent world were created.  The Islamic tradition has a similar creation story. 

My meditation master (see Yoga Stories 13-18 below) teaches that the primordial sound is pulsating inside each one of us constantly.  One approach to meditation is to silently repeat the sound OM along with one's breathing, aligning the in-breath and the out-breath with the silent repetition of the sound OM.  The goal of meditation is to reach that point of origin, within one's own self, from which the sound of OM spontaneously emerges.


Story #8  
Christmas Bells  
When I was very young I would become nearly ecstatic with excitement at Christmas time.  Everything would become magical for me.  I remember watching a tv program in which the farm animals in a barn began talking to each other at the stroke of twelve midnight, when Christmas Eve turned into Christmas morning.  It was a miracle and I was stunned by the magic and mystery of it.  Every Christmas season after that I hoped to see that program aired once again on the tv.  I never saw it again.  

One Christmas eve, when I was around five years old, I just could not get to sleep because I was so excited.  I lay in bed and the harder I tried to sleep the more the energy in my body seemed to escalate.  I began to hear some church bells silently ringing in the distance.  The sound was beautiful, as if it was coming from very large bells far away, perhaps from some old church bells swinging in a tall dark tower, like ones I had seen in the movies . . .  

The bell sounds grew louder . . . and closer . . . louder and closer . . . until I became frightened from the feeling of being overwhelmed by the loudness and closeness of the sounds.  I jumped out of bed and ran to my parents' bedroom and woke them up.  I asked them to please make the bells stop ringing.  They told they couldn't hear the bells, that I was dreaming, and that I should go back to bed and try to get some sleep because tomorrow was a big day.



Story #9  
The Siren Event  
I would spend a lot of time sitting alone as a young child: up in our cherry tree, or on a cinder block at the corner of our neighbor's garage, under the cellar steps, or just watching life go by from our front porch.  I would go into a deep and silent space within myself that I now think was something akin to daydreaming, perhaps a child's version of meditation.  

Once, while sitting on our front porch steps, I heard a siren approaching to the left of me on South Street.  The sound got louder and louder.  I turned my head and looked left expecting to see the fire truck coming toward me.  But there was no fire truck! 

I could still hear hear the sound of the siren; it still getting louder; then the sound began to die away quickly.  

Perhaps I had seen a flash of red as I turned my head to look left . . .  so I looked to my right to catch up with the passing truck.  But I saw nothing.   

Perhaps I had seen just a slight glimpse of the fire truck as it turned left at the nearby corner on my right.  I wasn't sure about any of it.  And more quickly than one would expect . . . there was silence again.  The sound of the firetruck was gone. 

I was dumbfounded, confused, surprised, disappointed!  How could I have missed such an important dramatic event?  

The time and space of that experience was so odd, so inexplicable.  The remembrance of that siren event still casts a kind of enchantment over me.  



Story #10  
Music Experienced from the Inside
In 2004 I attended a solo piano concert in Milwaukee by my friend Louie Goldstein in which he played the 90 minute Morton Feldman composition entitled Triadic Memories.  The concert was held in conjunction with an exhibition of my photographs inspired by Feldman's music.   

In Triadic Memories Feldman suspends repeating and subtly evolving and transforming sound patterns in a (musical) space he called the chromatic field.  The "field" is generated by requiring that the pianist hold down the piano’s sustaining peddle throughout the duration of the performance of the piece.  As the piano hammer strikes the strings, the sounds emerge from silence—become suspended in silence—and then after becoming intertwined and transformed in their state of suspension, they are allowed to slowly decay, or de-compose back into silence.  

While listening to Louis Goldstein’s live performance of Triadic Memories I began experiencing internal, synesthetic visual images in response to the sounds.  At first I saw slowly changing shapes and forms of color suspended in black space.  Then I would spontaneously, imaginatively, empathetically enter into these visual forms in which the light was effulgent; the space infinite.  I was experiencing the sounds, the music, from inside the images

The experience was luminous and peaceful; the sense of time dissolved into a state of stillness.  I was hearing the music being performed and yet the sounds seemed suspended even as I could hear them emerging from a space of silence.  

This experience of music, imaginatively, from the inside led to my making a series of photographs entitled Abstract Photographs which are visual equivalents, symbols for my experience of Feldman’s music.  The images have a meaning for me which language cannot articulate.  Indeed, some of the most important things in life and in art necessarily are not sayable.   Visit my Triadic Memories project.
  

              
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Gloria Stories

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Story #11  
The Blind Man
Tom Cheetham:  All the World An Icon Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings  2012
"We are all captives of our own unconsciousness, and the constraints and obsessions that bind us, drive us, and prevent us from realizing our freedom and individuality are largely imposed on us by our blindness."

After graduating from college in Chicago in the spring of 1968 with a degree in fine arts photography, I moved to NY City to try to find work related to my field of interest.  Mostly I went there because my best friend Jim and his wife Phyllis were going to move to NYC later in the fall after getting married; and I had fallen madly in love with Phyllis's sister Gloria who had been living and working in Rochester, NY but had decided to move to Brooklyn in the Fall to finish her undergraduate degree in art at the Pratt Institute.  All the people I loved most would be living in Brooklyn and I wanted to be near them.  

I got an apartment and a job working for a commercial photographer in NY City.  I learned a lot on the job, but most importantly I learned I was not cut out to be a commercial photographer.  I wanted to be an artist and perhaps a teacher.  But more than anything at that time I wanted to be close to Gloria.  

I lived in Manhattan; Gloria lived in Brooklyn, and Jim and Phyllis had gotten an apartment in the the same building that Gloria was in.  I took the subway once or twice a week from Manhattan to Brooklyn to spend time with them.  I was reading Proust at the time.  

I was really getting fed up with the commercial photography job.  Fortunately an old college friend was working as an intern in the Photo Department at the Museum of Modern Art.  We spent a lot of time together when I wasn't in Brooklyn.  He told me the Photo Department had gotten a poster from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque advertising full MFA teaching fellowships in photography.  Perhaps I should apply for one.  

The fellowship would pay full tuition and a stipend for selected candidates in exchange for some teaching responsibilities.  I thought this could be the opportunity I had been looking for: a way out of my commercial job and NY City; a degree that would enable me to teach photography as a fine art; and I would get paid to earn my degree while gaining valuable teaching experience which would help me get my first teaching job.

I applied and was offered a fellowship.  I was very excited -- expect now I was faced with the dilemma of what to do about my relationship with Gloria.  Could I leave her in Brooklyn and go on to New Mexico alone?  Should I ask her to come to New Mexico with me; she could finish her degree work there?  I really struggled with these questions; and what if I asked her and she didn't want to go with me?  I became very anxious about what to do.

Then one night I had this dream:  I was walking through a dark and rather dreary, run-down carnival fairway lined with games and sideshows.  I came upon an old man sitting on a wooden crate.  He had long white hair and held a cane in his hands, and I could tell that he was blind.  He started talking to me as if he knew I was there, as if he could see me, as if I had asked him a question.  He said:  "You have to ask her to marry you."  I woke up, stunned, and yet now I was certain about what I should do regarding Gloria. 

The Wise Old Man is a familiar archetypal symbol in both classic literature and in the world of Jungian depth psychology.  The old man's blindness may have been a reflection of my own confused state of mind, I'm not sure, but the communication from this deeper transconscious aspect of my self --which Henry Corbin would say was my Guide or Celestial Twin or Guardian Angel-- told me what I consciously needed to hear.  

Gloria agreed to go to New Mexico with me, but first we would have to get married.

Corbin writes: "The Angel individuates himself under the features of a definite person . . . It is through the integration of all its powers that the soul opens itself to the transconscious and anticipates its own totality.  This totality can be expressed only in a symbol.  . . . He who practices ta'wil [the interpretation of symbols, the return to the point of Origin] is the one who turns his speech from the external form towards the inner . . . hidden Reality, to the esoteric truth, with which it symbolizes."  Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
  

Story #12  
Blood Inside the Line Drawing ~ Out of the Body  
Gloria and I got married in early August, 1969 then we went to New Mexico together.  A few weeks before we got married the following happened:
     
Gloria needed to go to the corner store for something she was cooking.  I was listening to music with headphones so she went alone.  After a while, because she hadn't returned,  I went looking for her.  When I got to the grocery store there were sirens and flashing lights and a crowd of people standing around.  

I worked my way through the crowd to try to find out what had happened.  I saw on the street a chalk drawing outlining the figure of a body; and inside the drawing was a pool of blood.  

Gloria had been sideswiped by a runaway car and taken to the hospital.  She was alive but in pretty bad shape: she had been hit in the face by the car's side mirror.   She was black and blue all over; she lost some front teeth; a bone in her foot had been broken; and she suffered a concussion.  For the next two years I would often find her in a trance-like state, with her eyes glazed over.  It was as if she had left her body and was in some other world.


*

We were able to get married in August as planned.  A few days after the wedding we were on our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico with all our belongings stuffed into a U-Haul van.  

We found a nice place to rent near the University.  One night shorty after we moved in, as part of the adjustment process I guess, we decided to try switching the sides of the bed we usually slept on.  

In the middle of the night I woke up and saw Gloria standing beside me, looking down at me in bed.  She was wearing her white cotton nightgown, but her figure had a strange presence or glow about it.

I rolled over to refresh my sleeping position and felt Gloria's body next to me.  I woke up in a startle!  She was laying next to me . . . and standing by the bed . . . at the same time!   

I woke Gloria -- that is to say, the part of her that was laying next to me.  I needed to get fully awake and talk about this with her.  But she had experienced ghosts, apparitions, spirits - whatever you want to call them - many times before and this was no big deal, as far as she was concerned.  

Nonetheless I insisted that we switch back to our usual sides of the bed, and pretty soon Gloria was back to sleep.  I stayed awake contemplating the mysteries of life until the break of dawn.  Once the world became visible again, and I could hear the birds chirping, I was able to get some sleep.   

I knew this was not a dream experience; whatever it was, the lines I had commonly drawn between different kinds of worlds or realities or states of mind had just become much thinner for me.



*

Yoga Stories

*

I began practicing Siddha Yoga Mediation in 1987 and I continue the practices today.  Siddha Yoga has been for me a powerful path of grace; I have had so many personal, transforming experiences of the sacred on this wonderful, living path.  I have included below a small sampling of my Siddha Yoga stories.

My meditation teacher, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, is what is known as a Sadguru, a True Guru or meditation Master --one who lives constantly in the awareness, in the experience of Her union or oneness with God.   She received the power (the divine energy or shakti) of the Siddha Yoga Lineage
 from Her teacher, Baba Muktananda in 1982, just before he passed; and he received the power of the Lineage from His teacher Bagavan Nityananda in 1956.    

Gurumayi gives shaktipat initiation, the transmission of divine energy or shakti to her disciples which begins a dynamic yogic process in the recipient that leads him or her on the path of Self realization.  My Story #14 below is about my shaktipat initiation.  

There is a similar tradition in Sufism, the spiritual, mystical branch of Islam, in which the mystic saint, the Sufi Master, initiates his or her disciple with the divine energy of their attainment once the disciple has become adequately prepared.   click here to learn more about Siddha Yoga 


Story #13  
Gurumayi's Hands : My Shaktipat Experience
I met Gurumayi, the living Master of the Siddha Yoga Lineage, in 1987 at her U.S. ashram in South Fallsburg, NY.  Gloria and I went there (this was our first visit) just to take a two day meditation Intensive with Gurumayi.  The story I am about to tell you is what is known in Siddha Yoga as my Shaktipat Initiation experience.

Intensives are programs which were created by Baba Muktananda, and continued by Gurumayi, with the specific intention of giving shakitpat initiation.  In the two day Intensive, which I took in August, 1987, we listened to Gurumayi give talks, we chanted God's name with Gurumayi, She led us into meditation several times, and we meditated with Gurumayi.  Throughout the Intensive we were being exposed to an intense outpouring of her creative, divine energy known as shakti.  I could feel the energy in the Hall; it was becoming more and more palpable; the increasing thickness and heaviness of it made me sleepy.  I could hardly keep my eyes open at times.  

The Guru's shakti affects each person differently according to their capacities and needs.  Not everyone experiences shaktipat initiation in the rather dramatic way I did; on the other hand, as I learned more and more about Siddha Yoga and the practices, I came to understand that my experience was relatively classic in many aspects.  

The first day of the Intensive was physically painful for me.  I sat on the floor cross legged, and I wasn't use to it.  My back hurt, my legs hurt, my whole body ached.  A hall monitor noticed how uncomfortable I was and on the second day asked if I would prefer sitting in a soft chair near the back.  I am so grateful that she saw my struggle and suggested this; and I'm so glad I accepted the offer.  I think being more relaxed physically and feeling cared for by the hall monitor helped me to be more receptive to the shakti of the Intensive.  

In the morning session of the second day, after Gurumayi gave a long talk, we chanted together for a while.  During the chant I began to feel some pain in the heart area of my chest, and I felt like crying, but fought back the tears.  

After the chant we were given a break, and as we were filing out of the meditation hall to stretch our legs and refresh ourselves . . . again my heart started aching.  

It was a bright, sunny summer morning and just as I got outside, in front of of the Nityananda Temple, the pressure in my heart became really intense.  The pressure grew in waves; it would grow stronger then it subsided, repeatedly.  After a few rounds of this I began to feel a bit overwhelmed and frightened, but I was certain that what I was experiencing was related to the Intensive and tried to remain open and receptive to what was happening. 

Then I saw an interior image of two beautiful hands; they were the hands of a woman, with long elegant fingers.  They were pushing hard against two large rusty steel doors, the kind of doors you might see in a medieval castle.  As the hands pushed harder, my heart ached more. . . But the doors would not open.  They had become sealed together with rust from years and years of neglect.    

Then I saw Gurumayi's face.  Her image, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say Her presence, starting to feel as if it was enveloping me.  I was experiencing Her inside my entire being, and I felt Her presence everywhere outside me.  When I saw Her face I understood that it was Her hands, and that She was trying to push open the doors of my heart.  

Finally the doors broke open, and I experienced the release of a huge reservoir of emotions.  It was as if a great floodgate had been opened inside me.  I sobbed with love; I sobbed with anger and gratitude and sadness.  Everything it seemed, was being released.  I fell to my knees in front of the Temple and sobbed some more.  I remember the tears being hotter than I could ever have imagined.  I could't stop crying.  I felt embarrassed, but I could tell that others around me understood whatever was happening to me . . . it was good and the process was being guided by the Guru. 

Then I heard a loud interior voice full of anguish and longing: "Where have you been all this time!?"  Memories of painful experiences were flashing through my mind--so many memories of the  things that had driven me to search for a true teacher.  Interestingly, until this experience was actually in process I hadn't consciously realized I longed for a teacher.  

I had never really considered that a Guru from India could be something that I would be able to accept.  At that time I was still very involved with the psychology of C.G. Jung.  I was believing that I could grow spiritually though my own efforts alone: reading about psychology, studying and making art, especially art that had a spiritual underpinning.

I had actually taken the intensive (I thought) because Gloria's sister, who had been practicing Siddha Yoga for many years by that time, had given it to each of us as a gift.  She wanted us to meet Gurumayi in person and see directly from our own experience what Siddha Yoga was all about by visiting the ashram and taking an Intensive.  Gloria and I accepted the offer, in part because we felt it was our duty to learn what Florence had been into all those years; if indeed she needed help to break away from this possible "cult" we were willing to be of assistance. 

When Gurumayi opened the doors of my heart I was able to experience the secret longing that was pent up inside me.  I experienced the feeling At last I had found my teacher!  On the other had a lot of anger toward God surfaced; why did I have to experience so much pain?  And then I would feel confusion about all the love and gratitude that was pouring out of me with all the hot tears.  For the first time in my life I felt open, pure, clean; I was lacking nothing.  

I have told my shaktipat story many times to many people and friends over the years.  However, one day, as I was preparing to share this experience yet again for a public Introduction to Siddha Yoga program, my friend Pat, who was helping me prepare my talk, provided me with a possible new insight about my shaktipat experience.

When I spoke those angry words I had heard inside me "Where have you been all this time!?" Pat intuitively got an idea.  She understood that I thought the words were mine, the words of my aching ego angrily striking out at God, Gurumayi, for having remained hidden from me for so long.  But Pat offered an alternative interpretation: could it be, she wondered, that those words I had heard inside me were coming from a higher aspect of my Self, the inner Guru, the God within?  Perhaps it was God addressing me: "Where have you been all this time!?"

This experience was deeply transforming.  I went home and began reading the yogic teachings voraciously; I meditated regularly; I got involved with the local Siddha Yoga Center in Milwaukee.  My relationship to Gloria, and my practice as an artist shifted to new levels of understanding.    



Story #14  
Baba Muktananda Ocean of Bliss
Baba Muktananda initiated Gurumayi into the Siddha Lineage before he died in 1982.  His autobiography The Play of Consciousness is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. It's full of his personal stories of his spiritual journey seeking God, how he found his teacher Bhagavan Nityananda, and all the amazing interior experiences he had that led up to becoming fully realized, enlightened, consciously united with God.  Baba's book is certainly what Corbin would call a Visionary Recital; it is full of amazing images from what Corbin termed the Imaginal World.   

I read Baba's book during the weeks leading up to the intensive Gloria and I would be taking with Gurumayi in August, 1987.  Gloria's sister had given the book to us as a Christmas gift several years before.  I had avoided reading it up to now, but with the intensive looming just ahead I thought it would be a good way to become acquainted with Siddha Yoga.     

It is understood in the Hindu tradition that the words of a True Guru are a vital form of the divine shakti, and that shaktipat, the transmission of divine energy or grace, can be experienced through a saint's written or spoken words, his photograph, or just being in his physical presence.  Baba was a sadguru, a True Guru - I have absolutely no doubt about it.  I have experienced his shakti, his grace in so many ways though I never met him in person.  One's own experience is the only means by which one can know if a teacher is a True Guru.  Here is one of my experiences that I believe was related directly to reading Baba's words. 

One night after reading The Play of Consciousness I had a dream, or a vision in which I apparently was lying on a beach at the edge of a vast dark Ocean because my point of view was quite low.  The sky was black, the water was a dark velvety blue tone, and there were gentle, frothy, foamy waves, pinkish in color, rhythmically breaking on to the shore.  The waves had an unusual, luminous quality about them; their pinkish tone was radiant with a light that seemed to come from inside.   

I was very calmly and closely watching the waves quietly rolling onto shore and dissolving into the sand.  There was a steady, natural rhythm to the waves coming in and dissolving into the sand, coming in and dissolving.  

I believe this imagery, perhaps its rhythmic quality, like breathing, put me into a deep state of mediation, because when I was aroused from this dream by Gloria's voice, I had a very difficult time getting back into "ordinary" consciousness.  

Gloria was shouting out of our bedroom window down to some college kids in the yard next to ours.  They were having a late night outdoor party and they were being very rowdy and loud.  All the noise and commotion made it impossible for her to sleep.  Gloria was furious and was threatening our neighbors that she would call the police.  

She asked me to get up out of bed and make the call to the police.  But I couldn't move.  I was in a deep state of what in yoga is called Bliss!  I felt ecstatic.  Scintillating energy was flowing through my body;  I felt "drunk" with love and joy and I felt totally calm.  I could hear all the noise next door, and Gloria's screaming, but it didn't bother me.  I was at peace with myself and the world.    



Story #15  
Bhagavan Nityananda : Darshan 
Bhagavan Nityananda was born with the full realization of his own divine nature.  He was one of the most revered True Gurus of the modern era in India, though he spoke or wrote very little.  People just wanted to be near him; he was radiant, people would say, with the divine energy or shakti.

When I first became involved with Siddha Yoga my full attention was on Gurumayi and her guru, Baba Muktanana.  I would hear about Bade Baba, as Nityananda was affectionally called, and I visited his Temple at the South Fallsburg Temple often because it was the most peaceful, quiet, sacred place in the ashram, it seemed to me.  But Nityananda was Baba Muktanana's guru, and Gurumayi was my guru, so Bhagavan Nityananda was a distant mystery to me, part of the history of Siddha Yoga that I was not yet connected with in any conscious way.  

I had just begun meditating regularly when I first met Gurumayi and received Shaktipat from her in August, 1987 (Story #14).  Before getting involved with Siddha Yoga I had read some books about how to meditate, and in fact some of what I read was frightening to me.  Some authors warned to be careful not to go too deep into meditation for it could be dangerous. That was a scary thing to read for a newcomer to meditation!  

My story about Bhagavan Nityananda has to do with a meditation experience I had a few months after I met Gurumayi and received shaktipat from her.  I was sitting on my bed as usual, with my back against the wall for support.  My eyes were closed and I was focusing on my breath.  Nothing seemed particularly different about the session, though I still had fears about going too deep into meditation.  

Then, spontaneously, without any warning, I saw a large, towering dark skinned male figure before me.  He was bald, and his head seemed much smaller than one would expect in relation to his torso which was very large indeed.  Though I was surprised I wasn't particularly frightened; the figure seemed heroic rather than threatening or overwhelming.   

Then the image disappeared.  I was staring into a blank space.  Not black space or white space or deep space or vast space, but just blankness, like a nondescript screen had been placed in front of me so I could see nothing else.  There were no images or thoughts or sounds.  No fear or anxiety.  Just stillness, silence . . . blankness.  

I must have been in this state for a minute or two, but I have no idea really.  Then I started thinking:  "I had lost control!" which was something the authors said could be dangerous in their meditation manuals.

Then the figure I saw earlier was before me again, but this time he was a little further away from me.  I noticed some features of the environment he was in: he was sitting on a rustic wood floor with his back against a rough plastered wall.  His form was dark and round; his skin was very dark and yet shiny, and reflecting sparkling highlights.  

Before I could react to his presence he started laughing, and laughing, and laughing.  He threw back his head and his mouth opened wide revealing an absence of teeth.  He laughed so hard that he fell over onto the floor and started rolling over as he continued laughing . . .   Then I snapped me out of meditation!  

I later realized that that I had been graced with a vision of Bhagavan Nityananda.  In the Hindu tradition this kind of spontaneous experience of seeing a great being is called Darshan.

The remarkable thing about the experience is that I received the blessing of the vision even before I fully understood who it was I had actually seen.  That is to say, after that meditation experience I never felt fearful in meditation again.  I sensed and understood on some intuitive level that this large dark toothless man, full of laughter, was my protector, my inner guide, what Henry Corbin might term my Celestial Twin or Angel.  I somehow knew that Bade Baba was in control, not me, and that He would not give me more than I could handle.  The inner image of his laughter has continually helped me to remember to have a sense of humility and to laugh at myself, my fears, and the ways of the world, and to live in the awareness that all of life is a divine play, The Play of Consciousness.   

My trust in my inner "protector" grew as I consciously understood that the figure I had experienced in meditation was the Origin of the Siddha Yoga Lineage.  Though Bade Baba had died many years before (1961), he became a living presence for me then and continues to be now. My Darshan of Bade Baba has been a constant touchstone for me over these past 27 years.  Every day when I meditate I always remember Bhagavan Nityananda as I experienced him in that surprising and life transforming psychic event.



Story #16  
The Stream of Life  The Stream of Knowledge 
"It is the great challenge of human existence to find an entry into the stream of life--to find the myth we are living, the story that is ours, the world that is ours to inhabit . . .  All of life can be transformed in the presence of the figure of the unknowable Guide, who offers the possibility of seeking the true Self, the Face we had before the world was made."  Tom Cheetham, After Prophesy 

When I read the quote above by Tom Cheetham I was reminded of a very important dream I had involving Gurumayi's presence.  Before I share that story, however, I need to give you a little context; then after I share my personal story I will discuss it briefly in relation to some of things Cheethman has written above. 

One of the most powerful practices of Siddha Yoga is chanting the Guru Gita, the "Song of the Guru." This long chant which contains 182 verses is performed regularly in Siddha Yoga ashrams and Centers around the world.  Particularly in ashrams, it is performed daily.  Gloria and I chant it every Sunday morning, and we play it every morning as we are having our breakfast. 

It is traditional to following the recitation of the Guru Gita text to sing the Arati while a woman waves a light (usually a candle) before the pictures of the three Siddha Yoga Gurus.  The waving of the light is a form of honoring the Guru; the eight verses of the Arati is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to the Guru and a heartfelt request for the Guru's continued blessings of grace, guidance and protection.  (Gurumayi once said the only thing we need protection from is our mind.)  


One Saturday night I had a dream of Gurumayi.  However I did not remember it until later on Sunday morning while I was singing the Arati.

I had completed chanting the Guru Gita and had just sung the first five verses of the Arati when I got a very strong impulse to read the english translation of the sixth verse of the Arati.  This was very strange for me.  I practically never read the english translations of the  Arati verses.  I often will read the Guru Gita english translations to the sanskrit texts, but usually not for the Arati verses.   

Here is the english translation of the Arati's sixth verse:  "The Guru has revealed the undifferentiated in the midst of differences.  [The Guru] has delivered us from transmigration.  We are fortunate to have obtained the clear stream of knowledge of the Godhead."

When I read these words the dream I had forgotten from the night before flashed back into my full awareness.  Here is what I had dreamed:

I was in a beautiful Paradise-like natural setting.  There were magnificaent mountains all around, a nearby flowing stream, and there were many flowers all around.  The light was extraordinarily clear, brilliant, radiant; there was a sacred or divine quality about the light that pervaded everything.   

The stream was moving rapidly; its water was clear, bubbling and light blue in color.  The rocks along the stream seemed to glow from the inside.  

Then I realized I was wading in the stream.  I looked down at the water and watched its movement for a while, then I looked up and saw a figure in the stream ahead of me.  The figure was dressed in red.

It was Gurumayi!   She was moving up the stream at a very steady, determined and vigorous pace.  She didn't look back, so I tried to catch up to Her as best I could.  Finally I got close enough that I could see some of the red silk material of Her robe dancing joyfully in the blue water. . .   Then I woke up. 

Of course when a disciple dreams of one's Guru it feels very auspicious; it's like a blessing, an affirmation.  The most important part of the dream for me was being in the stream with the Guru, that is to say, the stream which symbolized the "knowledge of the Godhead."   The water was alive and moving, and it was made sacred by the Guru's presence.  I was standing in the water of the knowledge of the Godhead along with my Guru.

The image projects a clear sense that Gurumayi was leading me or guiding me on a path upward toward the water's source.  She was leading me upstream with determination toward a goal, which in Siddha Yoga -- and in Sufism -- is the sustained, conscious awareness of one's true Self.  

I don't understand why I didn't remember this dream until I was made aware of it by reading verse six of the Arati.  "God works in strange ways."  In Corbin's and Cheetham's world view the dream I had was a spontaneous revelation that I was being led on a path of true knowledge by my inner guide.   

The setting of the dream--the primordial Paradisal landscape, pervaded by divine light-- is particularly interesting.  In the Prophetic Tradition, everything on the eartly plane originates in the archetypal world of Paradise; the goal of the spiritual seeker is to find a way to return (ta'wil) to one's Origin, the true Self.  I think this is what Cheetham was referring to when he wrote "the Face we had before the world was made" and "the world that is ours to inhabit." 

I'll close by returning once again to Cheetham's words that served as a prelude to my personal story:  "It is the great challenge of human existence to find an entry into the stream of life--to find the myth we are living, the story that is ours, the world that is ours to inhabit . . .  All of life can be transformed in the presence of the figure of the unknowable Guide, who offers the possibility of seeking the true Self, the Face we had before the world was made."  Tom Cheetham:  After Prophesy 



Story #17  
The Face of God
"Wheresoever ye turn, there is the Face of God"  Qur'an (11:109)  

This yoga story involves my son Shaun, who was about sixteen years old at the time.  Our family was visiting the Siddha Yoga ashram in South Fallsburg, NY for a week during the summer of 1989 to spend time with Gurumayi, do some seva, and take some yoga courses.  

Gurumayi often gave free evening programs at the ashram in the late 80's and early 90's.  Sometimes there could be several thousand visitors in attendance at these programs which usually included a talk by Gurumayi, and some chanting and meditation session led by Her.  


One night I was delayed by some seva I had been doing for the ashram and so Shaun and I got to the program after it had started.  There were so many people in the outdoor auditorium that we had to sit in the very back, on the stone wall which was about four feet high.  We were very disappointed to be so far away from Gurumayi; we could hardly see Her.

While Gurumayi was taking I could feel Her divine energy or shakti growing in intensity;  I had to fight to stay awake and pay attention to her words because there is such a strong pull of energy to take me inside, into meditation.  As Gurumayi continued her teaching I spontaneously experienced a vision of her face; it was large and alive and luminous; Her face was right in front of my face.  Her eyes were looking into my eyes.  It was as if she were maybe twelve inches or so away from my face.  At the same time the image of Her face was clearly inside me.  It was startling and wonderful; I felt so close to Gurumayi through this vision, this Darshan, even though her physical form was so far away from where Shaun and I were sitting.  

After Gurumayi finished her talk, as soon as I had a chance, I briefly excitedly told Shaun about my experience.  He was not only surprised to hear my story, but he was also excited and astounded too, for he had experienced the very same thing!  


A visionary experience like this is extraordinary on its own terms of course, but when it is shared by a father and son together, at the same time, that is very remarkable indeed!  Such is the power of a True Guru, who teaches over and over again:  "The Guru is within; the Guru, God, and the Self are One."


Story #18  
The Bloody Hand of Forgiveness
This story also takes place at an evening program at the South Fallsburg, NY ashram.  It occurred in the summer of 1988, during my first week-long summer visit to the ashram one year following my shaktipat initiation experience with Gurumayi.  Before I share the experience, though, I first need to provide some context, some personal history.

My mother remarried a few years after my dad died.   My stepfather was nicknamed "Blackie."  I think he wanted to be a good father, but he just didn't know how to handle me, my mom, or family life.  He was a very good meat salesman . . . and a gambler and a drinker.  On Friday nights after work he typically would not come home.  He would go to the local taverns and play cards and drink.  

On one Christmas Eve I spent the whole day with him at work on his sales route, which involved traveling on to towns as far as fifty miles away.  We had a good time together.  I was glad I spent the day with him I saw how he worked.  When we got back to the small town we lived in he said he needed to stop at a tavern for "a minute."  I waited in the car for at least an hour hoping he would return.  Then I gave up and walked home.  

Another Christmas Eve, Blackie was supposed to come home right after work to join me, my sister and my mom for a Christmas Eve party, but he didn't show up.  He had gotten drunk, really badly this time.  I was still up when he got home.  I had never seen him so drunk: his face was red, his eyelids drooping, nearly closed. . .   

Blackie did things I just didn't know how to forgive.  When he died from a freak medical situation in 1967 my mom discovered he had several large outstanding gambling debts, and she was being pressured by some of those people to pay off the debts.  That's enough context.

When you visit the ashram, especially for more than a few days stay, you are expected to offer seva, selfless service; it's one of the ways visitors can help keep the ashram running smoothly, and its considered a spiritual practice . . . a very powerful, mysterious vehicle for grace.  I have many stories I could tell associated with seva, but this particular story has to do with Blackie, and it begins with my being placed on an ashram seva crew with several young men, some of whom were visiting from India.   

We were given the task of reorganizing various storage spaces in the ashram.  One job consisted of moving metal bunk bed frames out of an old house, into a truck, and then re-storing the frames in another, better storage space.  While we were loading up the truck one of the Indian boys hurt his hand on the metal frames.  He held his hand up for the rest of us to see: his hand was bloody from a scratch on the inside of the palm.  It wasn't too bad; he wrapped his hand with a cloth and we kept on working.

That evening at the program Gurumayi gave a talk and then we chanted together, and then She led us into a meditation session as usual.  During the chant I noticed that the young man doing the drumming was the same guy who had hurt his hand doing seva with me earlier in the day.  I learned later that he was Gurumayi's favorite drummer; he played for Her at all the major programs, including intensives.  I remembered his bloody hand and  thought about how he was serving his Guru by playing the drum for Her even with an injured hand.  

During the meditation period I spontaneously saw an image of the bloody hand.  Then the image became associated with the story of Christ on the Cross.  I saw internal images of Blackie's face overlapping transparently with the images of the bloody hand of Christ on the Cross.  A sequence of painful memories associated with my relationship with Blackie flashed into my awareness; the images of the bloody hand continued to be mixed in with these painful memories associated with Blackie.   

It was a lot for me to absorb and try to understand.   But the experience was quite cathartic: I began to cry, and all kinds of hurt and angry feelings started pouring out of me, until finally a sense of forgiveness began to generate a sense of relief, then inner peace and eventually some resolution.

When we were brought out of meditation I felt like I had been dragged through a ringer.  It's a fitting metaphor because the experience turned out to be very cleansing.  When I returned home from the ashram visit and contemplated this experience, it initiated a very long and ultimately successful process of grieving and forgiving Blackie.  I would eventually come to see his role in my life from a position of compassion, understanding and love.

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Yoga Story #18A  
The Shiva Nataraja This personal story (and several others) are presented in the Introductory Chapter of my photography project entitled: "Photography and Yoga"  Click here

Yoga Story #18B  
The Purifying Power of Grace  Click here 
This personal story is told in Part 5 of my project: "Photography and Yoga" 

Yoga Story #18C
Abhisheck Water   Click here 
This personal story is also told in Part 5 of my project: "Photography and Yoga"


Yoga Story #18D
The Darshan Line   Click here 
This personal story is also told in Part 10 of my project: "Photography and Yoga"

Three Yoga Stories #18E, 18F, 18G 
"Making Photographs?"    
Fireworks & Rainbows   
Between the Jokester and the Guru   
These three personal stories are about my experiences of photographing Gurumayi during her visit to Milwaukee in May, 1992.  They are all presented in Part 13, the Epilogue, of my project: "Photography and Yoga"  Click here

Two other yoga related stories on this page: 
     Story #1 above, "Seeing the Grand Canyon in the Eternal Moment"
     Story #20 below, "My Mother's Passing"  

  


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My Mother

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Story #19  
Above and Below
Sometimes we get "news from the universe" that is to say communications through dreams, intuitions, or surprising and even mysterious events occurring in the natural world, that inform us of how we are doing or what we need know.  I had such an experience immediately after a talk I had once with my mother. 

A little background information:  Blackie had passed away a few years before Gloria and I got married.  My mother was very jealous of Gloria and our marriage and as an unconscious expression of her feelings she began to act out in various inappropriate ways toward Gloria and me.  Finally they reached a point where I knew I had to talk to my mom, alone, face to face about it.  She was hurting Gloria, and our marriage was being affected by the way my mother was acting toward us.  

It was the summer of 1980.  I called my mom and told her I was driving down to see her, that I needed to have a talk with her.  It was a six hour drive from Milwaukee to Piqua, Ohio.  I was anxious about doing this, but I knew it was necessary, for me, for Gloria, and hopefully it would be good for my mother as well. 

It seemed to me, at that time in my life, it was the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. 

Though our conversation was intense, and my mother was defensive, she did listen, and she ended up telling me things that I think she needed to say that perhaps could never have been said in any other situation.  It was an important meeting that changed both of us. 

This confrontation with my mom would be the beginning of a very important growth period for me.  I think my mother and I had both been emotionally stuck, in part at least because of the early death of my father, and then all the difficulties we had to face with my mother's second marriage to Blackie.

Nonetheless I made the trip, talked with my mom, held my ground firmly, and accomplished what I had set out to do.   

After our talk I suggested we go out to eat.  My mother suggested a place in a nearby town about fifteen minutes drive away.  

It was a clear summer night, and the road we traveled happened to go right through the middle of a huge stone quarry.  On both sides of the road we were surrounded by the vastness of what seemed to be an infinitely large black hole.  Driving through that space was a bit like traveling through the night sky.  I noticed little sparkles of light twinkling like stars in the black spaces on either side of the road below.  It was mysterious; I thought perhaps I was seeing stars reflected in a black body of water.  I pulled the car over to the side of the road to take a look.  

It was an astonishing thing to behold.  What I saw was almost unimaginable: the black holes on both sides of the road were filled with a display of fireflies twinkling on and off like I had never seen in my life.  It was an other-worldly, magical light show giving life to what otherwise would have been an empty void.  

And the sky above was sparkling as well with its display of bright twinkling stars.  Below me and above me, I was being treated with a spectacular display of heavenly light.  The two spaces were like mirror images of each other creating an even greater feeling of vastness and at the same time providing a roundness to the space, of which I found myself in the center. 

This experience was news from the universe.  It was as if I was being given a sign that it was indeed important that I had shored up my courage, made the trip, and talked with my mom, alone and face to face.  It was perhaps more important than I could understand, that it was somehow a matter of life, and light, and love.  Standing between two dark worlds filled with twinkling lights that seemed for a moment to have been united in celebration, I was perhaps given a glimpse of the cosmic proportions that our little acts of love might could have within the larger scheme of things. 


Story #20  

My Mother's Passing
My mother struggled with pneumonia in the last years of her life.  This time, when my Aunt Gin called in April of 1991 to tell me my mom was in the hospital again, it was clear I needed to come to Piqua.  It might be the last time I would see my mom alive.  

She was just barely conscious when I arrived.  I stayed over night with my Aunt Gin then visited my mom the next morning.  As I was sitting in the hospital room with her, telling her how grateful I was for all the sacrifices she had made for me, all the love she had given me and my sister . . . the room began to fill up with light.  It was not an ordinary kind of light that would come through a hospital window filled otherwise with florescence, but rather it was a very mysterious and wonderful light that seemed to be all pervasive, non directional, as if coming out of the walls.   And as the light grew brighter I
 could also feel a sacred presence. 

I had been practicing Siddha Yoga for a few years by this time.  Whenever I was in a stressful situation like this I would invoke the grace of the Siddha Lineage:  Gurumayi, Baba Muktananda, and Bhagavan Nityananda; I would see their faces in my mind's eye; I would repeat the Siddha Yoga mantra; I would pray for grace, for protection from my mind, my fears.  In really tense situations like this, I would even chant the 187 versus of the Guru Gita.  

While the room was being bathed in this other worldly light I thought for sure I could perceive the presence of all three of these grate saints.  It certainly was a subtle feeling; I don't know how to understand that I sensed all three present rather than just one or two; perhaps it was a projection, perhaps just hopeful wishing, or my imagination making this up.  But even as I write about this, I can remember the distinct feeling of the three divine presences in that illuminated room with me and my mom.

The next day the nurses told me to call my Aunt Gin and my sister to let them know that if they wanted to be with my mom when she passed, they had better get to the hospital quick.  My sister lived an hour away; Janice she said she'd be there as quickly as possible.  On the way the police stopped her for speeding, but when they  found out why she was driving so fast they escorted her to the hospital!  My aunt came within minutes.

My Aunt Gin and I were holding my mother's hands, creating something like a prayer circle, when my sister Janice came into the room.  It had taken her less than an hour to get to the hospital.  When Janice joined hands with us, my mother took her last breath and passed on.  It certainly seemed seemed she had waited for her daughter to arrive so we could all be together when she passed on.

I felt a tremendous release of energy when my mother died.  I thought perhaps I was feeling the freedom she was experiencing after all those years of illness and the many struggles she had been burdened with in her life.  At last she was free.  Now, perhaps she could fulfill the only dream she talked about after my dad died: to finally be with him again in heaven.  I was sure she had been blessed by the Gurus of the Siddha Yoga Lineage.  I felt content.  



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Addendum  
Less than a year later, Gloria experienced an inner vision of my mom while performing Arati in front of the pictures of Gurumayi, Baba Muktananda, and Bhagavan Nityananda.  She was in the middle of taking an intensive with Gurumayi which was being broadcast live via satellite from the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Ganeshpuri, India to Centers around the world, including our Center in Milwaukee.  While waving the candle before the pictures, Gloria spontaneously saw my mother, rather youngish, in a flowered dress, smiling, happy with her arm around her husband, my dad. 




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"An Imaginary Book"

Its  Stories of Origin

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The following three stores which conclude my Epilogue were first told in slightly different versions in Prayer Stones, the first chapter of  "An Imaginary Book."  The experiences these stories tell were essentially the Origin of the entire book, which for me is a visual and textual meditation on the Sacred, Islamic sacred art and knowledge, and my creative process.  I am presenting these stories again, here, in the spirit of remembrance and gratitude; and to participate in what Henry Corbin termed the ta'wil.     


Story #21 from Prayer Stones
Ezan I Istanbul
We began our travels in Istanbul.  We had arrived at our hotel room in the afternoon.  Our window was just across from one of the many minarets or towers one would see in most any Turkish city or village.  We soon discovered that the tower contained loud speakers which broadcast the Ezan, the Islamic Call to Prayer five prescribed times each day.  

Before sunrise of our first morning in Istanbul I encountered an intense experience of the Ezan.  I was awakened by the BLASTING sound of the Call to Prayer from the minaret just outside our opened hotel window!  As I lay in bed in a half-sleep listening to the alone quavering voice so full of longing summoning Muslims to prayer, I actually got goosebumps and shivers in response to the sacredness of the sound which was hauntingly numinous, spatially vast and atmospheric.  The Ezan mysteriously resonated throughout the ancient part of the city at times resembling the deep echos I have heard in a large canyon.  

The Call To Prayer drew me deeply inside myself; my mind stopped; I was experiencing something truly sacred . . .  This was my official welcoming to Turkey, I thought; and as it turned out, it was only the first of several spiritual awakenings I would experience on the trip, that is to say, experiences of the sacred that would transform my vacation in Turkey into something much more like a pilgrimage.


Story #22 from Prayer Stones

Ezan II In the Mountains near Pergamon
Another magical experience of the Ezan occurred on the side of a mountain while visiting Pergamon.  Clouds were floating through the mountain tops as I was looking down at the ancient ruins of the Acropolis Stadium when I began to hear The Call to Prayer being broadcast in the sprawling Turkish city below the ruins.  The haunting sound rose up like the gentle fragrance from a beautiful flower; and it's sacred presence seemed to permeate the clouds, the surrounding mountains, the stone ruins . . . and some interior place deep within myself

I came to feel that the beautiful, musical language of the Ezan with its heartfelt outcry, it's longing for God, pervaded everything I had come to love in Turkey: the landscapes, the mosques, Rumi's Shrine, the illuminated Qur'ans . . . and especially the stones and marble surfaces of the ancient buildings and ruins.  Now, when I look at my photographs of Turkey, I feel the presence of Ezan pervading the images; the Call to Prayer is inside the objects, inside the spaces, inside the light . . . 


Story #23  from Prayer Stones
The Illuminated Qur'ans 
I had never before seen an illuminated Qur'an, but the ones I saw in Turkey, and my experiences of seeing them, transformed me.  We saw exquisite Qur'ans when we visited the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum in Istanbul, and the Rumi Shrine in Konya.  Truly speaking I had no expectations of what I would see or experience in these amazing places.   Though I had loved the poetry of Rumi, I knew practically nothing of the Islamic or Sufic traditions.  When I saw the ancient illuminated Qur’ans on display at the shrine and at the museum, I experienced a palpable sacred presence in those holy books.  The presence was very similar to what I had experienced when I heard the Ezan that first morning in Istanbul or in the mountains surrounding Pergamon.  

I was deeply moved by the ineffable beauty of the opened, double-page illuminations I saw: the complex interwoven arabesque designs, the rich organic and gold colors, the elegant calligraphic forms of the divine words of the Prophet.   My heart achingly began to open, my mind stopped, tears filled my eyes, I secretly silently wept.  The illuminations appeared to glow from within as if they were alive.  The Qur'ans were Self-luminous!  The pages seemed to pulsate with life, as if they were breathing.  The double-page illuminations were carrying on a silent dialogue between themselves!  I was seeing something extraordinary, other-worldly.  ~  Later, as I contemplated these experiences I understood that I had been graced by an encounter with the sacredI had been seeing and experiencing those holy books through the "eyes" of an open heart


The Real Gardens and Flowers are within;
they are within man's heart, not outside.

Rumi 


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New Additions

Personal Visionary Stories   
since completion of the "An Imaginary Book" project



Story #24  added September 10, 2014  
The "Fall Upwards" 
Gloria had asked me to come upstairs and get our 14 month old grandson, River.  I was to take him downstairs while she and our daughter Jessica finished arranging the room for our visit in Vermont with relatives.  Gloria handed River to me over the baby-gate at the top of the stairs, and I proceeded down with him, backwards, like we had done several times before at his home in Milwaukee.  As we descended, counting off the hardwood steps one-by-one, all of a sudden I stepped into space  . . .  

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I remember landing awkwardly on one foot at the bottom of the stairs and then falling over and hitting my head on something very hard.  The right side of my head was hurting and bleeding profusely;  . . .  Gloria had seen the entire event from above and came running down the stairs after me, terrified, and all the more so when she saw the blood pouring out of my head.  Jessica had come down to get River; when I looked up and saw them, River was crying -- he had been frightened by  the fall, but Jessica assured me that he was not hurt, that I had protected our grandson during the fall by holding him close to me. . . .

This is the prelude to a series of encounters with what Henry Corbin would term the Angelic Presence of the intermediary Imaginal World.  The experiences occurred in August, 2014, a few weeks after I had begun working on a photography project which would become entitled  The Angels: Photographs Inspired by the Art of Paul Klee and the Writings of Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham.  I had been re-reading Corbin and Cheetham, focusing especially on their writings on Angels, which in my first reading, for the 2011 project "An Imaginary Book" I had mostly passed over.

I decided to write a recital about my experiences and include with it the photographs I had made at that time.  I could not figure out how to concentrate the recital for inclusion here, and I wanted to include the photographs that are an integral part of my experience, thus I have decided it would be best to invite you to go to photography project page which contains both the full version of the recital and the photographs.  Please click on the following link:  The Angels: Part III, A Personal Story  Thank you.



Story #25   January 21, 2017 

The Luminous Meadow Experience  Click here  
This  story is included within the project entitled Creation-Dissolution of a World.  The story is about an interior experience of the Light of the Supreme Self, which I believe was associated with the grace, the sacred command within Gurumayi's New Year's Message 2017.  



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Addendum


Text Excerpts 
Henry Corbin & Tom Cheetham
On The Visionary Recital


Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Event of a recital : An Encounter with its own Archetypal Image
The Event of the Avicennan recitals was an exodus from this world, the encounter with the Angel and with the world of the Angel.  For the Event to be expressed in its truth--that is, for its expression to restore consciousness of self as that of a stranger in the world into which the soul has been cast, and at the same time as an awakening to a celestial kinship and origin--this Event could not but be visualized and configurated in a symbol that was its eminently individual expression. . . . What the soul suddenly visualizes is its own archetypal Image, that Image whose imprint it simultaneously bears within it, projects, and recognizes outside of itself. . . . 


Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Symbol and Transmutation
The symbol is mediator because it is silence, it speaks and does not speak; and, precisely thus, it states what it alone can speak.  If one undertakes to achieve its meaning once and for all . . . nothing is left but pallid "allegories."  The Avicenna doctrine teaches that the human intellect does not perform abstractions, but receives the illumination of the Angel.  For the soul, it is a question of at once undergoing and performing a transmutation.

The event perceived is transmuted by the mode of perception that leads it back (ta'wil) to the higher plane on which, spiritually understood--that is, transmuted into symbol--the Event then "occurs" spiritually. . .  In this sense it is in truth not an ordinary external event, but the Event of the Soul, which, by comprehending it, lives it and makes it its own.  . . . It is only then that the soul attains the configuration and the vision of its most personal symbol, the central symbol of the Self, which is not knowable in any other way . . .


Tom Cheetham:  After Prophesy  2007
The recitals are the track of the exodus of the soul from estrangement and disorientation and towards its Orient, its celestial origin--towards the Face of the Angel.  . . . This is the meaning of Oriental philosophy . . .   The goal of philosophical contemplation is finally to bring us Home--to ourselves and to a world come alive with meaning and with the light of Heaven.

We are necessary partners in this creative, intimate, personal relationship with the transcendent.  The bond with the Angel requires everything from us.  . . . The power of the creative imagination, the gift of Gabriel, the Angel Holy Spirit, enable each of us, if we consent, to give birth to the Angel, whose grace allows us to see all the world as an icon.  For we give birth not only to God, but to the world itself, transfigured in the light of a personal vision.


Tom Cheetham:  All the World An Icon Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings  2012
Philosophy, and indeed rational thought of any sort, only reaches its proper culmination in a "rupture" of plane, a profound event of the soul--the soul's own projection of its own inmost reality.  The world is our projection, and to become conscious of this and to realize the symbolic and "personal" nature of reality allows us to escape the bondage that so-called objective truths can impose.  . . . Corbin believed that any philosophical or theological system, if it is to fulfill its profoundest human potential, must culminate in a personal revelation--a rebirth of the individual through coming to full consciousness of the soul's relation to the cosmos, a relation that breaks the bounds of any rational system.

When philosophy turns to poetry, then we are on track toward our personal truth.  This is the significance of the "short spiritual romances" that Corbin calls "recitals" in the works of Avicenna and Suhrawardi.  They reveal the personal truth of what was previously projected as an objective reality.  



Note: These text excerpts were selected 
from a larger collection. To see more visit
The Visionary Recital: text excerpts





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This webpage was first posted in early May, 2013
exactly two years after I had traveled to Turkey.




Related links: 

"An Imaginary Book" the complete list of projects

The Visionary Recital: text excerpts

Prayer Stones

Sacred Art, Sacred Knowledge

Intuition, Correspondence, Contemplation



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Death, Art, Writing : More Personal Stories  A collection of brief stories on the theme of Death and its relationship to my creative process.

A Personal History of Photography  An Illustrated Annotated Chronology of my life in relation to photography
This project, made in 1976 is a real-life personal encounter with the archetypal mythological tale of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades.



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Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.
























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