Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Did a Nice Suburban White Boy End Up Worshiping Kali? Part I

I didn't know what I was getting into.

The Bible up on the high closet shelf, that's what started it... or was it the drugs? Or-- let's start at the point of no return, the moment when, without knowing it, I took the red pill. Then we'll look even farther back, then forward again. 

I'm 34, it's 1998. I've loved the Goddess for 12 years, since I had a startling and unexpected vision of Her as the living, intelligent Earth dancing in black space. Except--She's dead now, or I'm dead to Her, because whenever I think of Her, my Beloved, I feel washed out, like I've got to the end of a night shift at work and just want to have a beer, drag the curtains closed, and go to sleep. Bouncing around in the wake of Her unveiling 12 years ago, I became in short order an atheist, a Catholic, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, and a Wiccan. With every shift of my metaphysical shape, I felt more myself, closer to the supernova I dimly knew dwelt in my heart, the nut uncracked, the universe in a hazel nut like God showed Julian of Norwich...

In 1998 I'd more than fulfilled my ten-year mission to go boldly into libraries and meditation rooms and try to figure out what in the heck had happened to me 12 years previously. I'd voyaged so thoroughly in the realms of books that everything having to do with the Goddess was now a concept, a belief, a word. "Maybe She's not real," I had to admit to myself. There seemed to be so many cultural, neurological, pharmacological explanations of Her that She Herself might be superfluous, and anyway, how could a loving Goddess allow all that suffering, blah blah blah... ? The idea of a personal deity, so gut-true in 1986, was by the late 90s quaint, and anything "spiritual" I did was in the spirit of academic inquiry: reading new scriptures, trying new methods of meditation, fitting them into my or someone else's theoretical (not theological) model.So here I was, just out of grad school, preoccupied with a new relationship and finding a job, my whole life ahead of me, but missing Her, my true love, suffering from phantom heart syndrome.

All but the initial vision had been frustratingly dry. I wasn't smart enough to know you could--had to--create your own path, so I constantly searched for the best path others had cut, but they all lacked in some serious way. Buddhism was dull, Catholicism baroquely silly, Wicca disgustingly well-intentioned, and none of them offered me any room to lose my mind. It had been in delirium I had first met Her, first embraced Her, first been taught by the two female spirits who, years later and with a shudder, I would read always come to those who seek knowledge from the sacred vine tlitlitzin. The two spirits guided me for several days after my initial, stunning vision of Gaia. They said, "We're going to show you some things you'll understand now, and some you won't understand until later. And no matter what happens in your life, no matter how far you think you get from this moment, all you have to do is call on us and we'll be there."

If you believe in Angels, as my friend Mary Daly did, you know that They can intervene violently in one's life. They can whisper in your ear, or They can orchestrate a symphonic explosion of events to get your attention. I've always been somewhat spiritually hard of hearing, so I've tended to get bombs thrown at me, but by 1998 the bomb of 12 years back, the Big Bang of my life and the reason I'm writing this, the reason I've done most of what I've done since--even that had echoed itself out like last year's Fourth of July. I would ask Mary all kinds of questions about the divine--"But if there's Goddess, then how can there be ______" or "But what kind of sense does it make to understand Her as both imminent and transcendent?" and Mary would answer the questions usually but once in a while, and once pretty finally, she said something along the lines of "You're trying to intellectualize something that can't be intellectualized." Yes! The famous--intellectual! With three Ph.D.s! The philosopher who called herself a reincarnation of Aquinas! I know! That's what I said: sounds like a copout.

I could hardly have imagined what was about to happen, there in 1998 in my house in the gentrifying urban neighborhood, wanly thumbing my religion books, resignedly doing pranayama because Robert Anton Wilson said it worked for him when he was out of a job and going through the Dark Night of the Soul and he and his family were on welfare and living in the projects. I wrote to ask him how to do the heart chakra exercise he said made him "come alive" in the midst of all that hopelessness, but never heard back.It kind of hurt that he didn't return my letter, but part of me thinks that he knew he wouldn't need to; if I was that determined to find the doorway into my own heart, I'd find it.

I wanted my heart to open. I wanted Her, but I knew She probably wasn't there. Shakta lore says that if you do pranayama regularly, Kali will appear to you. In 1998 this would have sounded to me like instructions for summoning an alien spaceship to a clambake, but I was doing pranayama as an intellectual exercise anyway, timing my breathing sessions and noting any effects from them in a notebook, adding to my catalogue of other people's beliefs, rituals. Other people had those because they believed in something, and that was fine for them, but I didn't have the luxury of belief, or the foolishness. It was interesting that some people felt like they'd meditated or prayed their way into the company of gods or Angels, but I no longer saw that as a possibility for me.

What I didn't know was, it isn't all in your head. What I didn't know was, "when you're ready, they come for you."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dream, 10/30/10

I'm at a conference and there's a party tonight. I'm walking to the hotel with this guy who's very excited about the party and I have to say, I'm looking forward to it myself. We get into the lobby elevator area and this elevator is sitting there open, with several people we know in it. They're in a festive mood, and my friend runs over to the elevator, joyous that party time has begun. 

I start over to the elevator and chance to look over to my right as another elevator opens up. In it are my Guru, Ammachi, and Mother Meera, all seated and in saris [I have never seen my Guru in anything other than a saffron robe, and come to think of it I don't think I've seen Ammachi in anything other than her white robes.] I do a double take, and all but run over to this new, astonishing elevator. 

Once I'm in it, I sit down with these three saints and say aloud, "Thank you, Kali, for putting me here with these amazing lovers of God. This is going to be the best elevator ride ever." I'm not even embarrassed at the latter gush; it's purely how I feel. 

My guru asks the other two, "Have you ever heard him sing the Sri Kali Chalisa?" They say they haven't. "He's quite good, and he even incorporates other influences." The dream ends too quickly for me to react to her saying this-- 

[What does this mean? I have no idea. It was good to see Her again, that's for sure. IRL I'm not sure I've ever sung the Sri Kali Chalisa except maybe one time when I was hanging out with my Guru. Here is an English translation of the words.] 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Read The Sparrow

You know all those questions I'm always asking, and you maybe are, too-- questions about God, and God's will, questions about evil, questions about doing the right thing and how to live in the lap of God and What Does It All Mean and Can It Really Mean Anything? I just read an astonishing book that asks all those questions, and hints at answers to some of them, and will blow your head apart: Mary Doria Russell's brilliant, disturbing, enthralling novel, The Sparrow.

I don't have time to write a proper review, so I just want to implore you, if you have ever wondered how there could exist a loving God or a divine plan in the midst of suffering, death, and horror: read this book. If you ever wondered how people could be so craven or unimaginative as to use myths of divine purpose to explain evil, read this book. If you just love a good story, love to see a writer strut her stuff, love the way someone like H.P. Lovecraft can build and build a sense of dread to the point of delirium, love the way someone like Elmore Leonard can weave the strands of a tale into a dizzying Persian rug, or love the way someone like Hermann Hesse or Ursula K. Le Guin or J.G. Ballard or Monique Wittig or Ralph Ellison can permanently alter your vision, then read this book. If you've had your reader's heart broken by Dorothy Allison or James Baldwin or Rachel Ingalls, had them burn a story onto your mind like a smoking afterimage while you sit there stunned, in tears, wishing with some medium-sized part of you that you'd never picked up the book in the first place, and you still have the guts to risk it again, then read this book.

The Sparrow re-imagines the first contact of European explorers with the New World: in the year 2019, the interception of music broadcast from Alpha Centauri leads to the formation of a secret, charmingly DIY space mission. A small group of well-intentioned humans (not a conquistador among them) land on the planet Rakhat, where, as you have already guessed, very little is what it seems. Though the mission is sponsored by the Society of Jesus, the participants have varying levels of faith, from zero to mystic, and so all kinds of readers-- atheists, mystics, those in between, and those who aren't sure what they believe-- will find in these pages someone to identify with and a whole lot to push their buttons. The narrative cuts suspensefully, and finally relentlessly, between the mission to Rakhat and the official investigation, decades later, into the mission's disastrous end. Both on Rakhat and on Earth, Russell forces us, Ludovico-style, to witness the struggle within the heart and mutilated body of the mission's only survivor, a priest accused of murder and sexual deviance and blamed for the failure of humankind's first contact with another world. As characters on both worlds see their certainties crumble like the geocentric model of the cosmos, you will find your own certainties -- about what it means to love, what it means to be human, what it means to have faith-- gloriously troubled.

The Sparrow isn't just a novel about faith or love or colonialism (with echoes of the Holocaust--Russell, who is Jewish, was influenced by Rabbi Arthur Green); it's about families, social structures, trust, art, brutality, terror, mystery, courage, despair... in short, like every great novel, it's about everything. In a world where more and more of us crave simpler and simpler myths about this staggeringly complex universe, a work like this is a treasure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coming Soon...

...the long-awaited "how did a nice white boy from the suburbs end up worshiping Kali?" post! 

...more Bhakti CD liner notes!

...more Kalibhakta sutras! 

...the long-ass post about the problem of evil, or death, or whatever! 

It's just that Sophia and I had a conference and our anniversary and then we went camping and I have all these papers to grade and all these T&P files to read, and Sophia's legendary Halloween party is looming... but my thoughts are with you.