A few years ago, I went through what I now refer to as my "meat cleaver" cycle of heart tenderization. It seemed as if a series of razor sharp blows fell so rapidly, one after another that there was hardly enough time to catch one's breath. This period was marked by: major illness with prolonged fevers of 106 degrees F, death of both parents, traumatic deaths of close friends, sudden loss of my first husband followed a few years later by another marriage and much hope.
The all too transitory bliss was soon shattered by the death of our 5-1/2 month old baby to Sudden Infant Death Sydrome (SIDS) , ever present job stress with onerous overtime hours, betrayal by co-workers in a cause we'd long fought for, eventual abandonment by my second husband in the face of unrelenting stress/unexpressed grief, and a severe auto accident resulting in complicated medical problems. Still reeling from the staccato like blows, I groped my way toward some stability. Swimming daily, connecting to the earth through my garden, psychotherapy, group work, countless workshops, meditation, spiritual work including service work, reading, Sufi Dancing, prayer...all helped me reconnect with my center.
Gradually the sharp pangs became more dull, less intense and periodically I'd experience a very unusual occurrence: a very strong odor of roses would completely pervade my surroundings. This did not occur on any regular schedule, but seemed most frequent when significant events were happening, or it would underscore some realization I'd just made. Usually, I was the only one present, except during an Arny Mindell intensive at Mt. Madonna, when the conference leaders had randomly matched me with a roommate who seemed like a long lost sister-- she'd even been initiated by Muktananda some fifteen years earlier, as had I. The pungent odor of sweet roses drenched our room three times over the course of that week, and she also experienced it on two of those occasions.
After nearly a year, I began to sense a name and felt this was associated with a specific person--it sounded like "Ba..Ba.." or "Ma..Ma..". "Events seemed to lead me much as the proverbial carrot dangling enticingly in front of the donkey--the goal seemingly within grasp and only a heartbeat away. Synchronistic episodes connected the pieces, and I learned of an Indian avatar called Sathya Sai Baba, who was reported to have remarkable powers. He emphasized all religions were one and performed many miraculous feats which he referred to as "calling cards" to get one's attention for the more significant work. He'd reportedly cured every imaginable illness; appeared simultaneously in diverse parts of the world, and even raised an individual from the dead.
I knew nothing of this man and had never been inclined to follow any one religious leader or sect. I felt more of a Sufi than anything, believing, as is their teaching, that there are many philosophies and paths one may follow and each helps sculpt ones consciousness/awareness. Nonetheless, the odors continued, and during one of my daily swims, a "vision" occurred over the course of about 50 or 60 laps. A spectacular lotus formed and opened revealing a vibrant, egg-shaped object, which I later learned was a Shiva lingam. Next an upright triangle surrounding it and with it's apex pointing up toward the Heavens. Over the next 20 or so laps another triangle formed, it's apex pointing downward toward the earth. Intersecting the first triangle, it formed the ancient six-pointed cross. "as above, so below"-- man's spirit descends to earth and physical form, followed by his search for return and reunion with Spirit. I glimpsed what appeared to be a deer, then a heart framed the picture with a crescent and star near the top. Finally, a brilliant halo seemed to radiate from this vibrant, combined symbol and it gradually solidified to what seemed a huge "afro”: encapsulating a compassionately beaming face which could be faintly seen over the entire picture.
Three weeks later, I was off to India..still in pursuit of that carrot. An interminable flight: countless connections/delays, and a 4 hour taxi ride over primitive dirt roads finally culminated in my arrival at Prashanti Nilayam, Sai Baba's ashram in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, Southern India.
Each day a message from "Baba" was chalked on a blackboard under a large tree in the center of the ashram. The message greeting me upon my arrival seemed intended just for me: "Joy is a deceptive trap; grief is the real preceptor, teaching caution, circumspection, discrimination, detachment, awareness and vigilance. Death is not the merciless foe he is made out to be. He is the friend and companion, the teacher, the kindly kinsman who takes you into his fold and clothes you with the halo of remembrance. The heart of man has to be toughened, not hardened. It has to be made soft, not slithery. This can be achieved only by the blows of loss, grief, and distress. It is God's way of shaping us in the Divine mold."
I soon fell into the rhythm of the ashram-- arising early for morning walking meditation, attending darshan (where Sai Baba greets his followers and bestows blessings), participating in bhajan (singing sacred songs in celebration), as well as group discussion and study. I was amazed at the ongoing synchronicities and growing sense of peace. Each day's events seemed to be meaningfully addressed by the daily chalkboard message. The gentle peace gathered momentum..glowing faintly at first, occasionally flickering. With steady puffs of cosmic energy, it was soon to burst into full flame on Christmas Eve. Although winter, the temperature was near the 90's. As we gathered for darshan, hundreds of thousands of devotees flooded to the ashram. I'd sat in meditation posture for a seeming eternity, jammed closely by anxiously seeking devotees. Though hot, cramped and uncomfortable, I was nonetheless among the fortunate, as many had been turned away for lack of space.
At long last Sai Baba emerged and rather than making his customary circuit among his devotees, was seated in front of the Western choir for a special performance of Christmas carols. He was only a few feet from where I was sitting, and I noticed, as he listened, he seemed to wipe tears from his eyes. Distracted from my meditation, I mused, "His devotees consider him God...I wonder if God cries." I fell into a deep reverie. Suddenly, I popped from my physical body and seemed to merge with every atom in the universe. Wondrous, all encompassing, unconditional love engulfed my senses in great waves of bliss. I lost track of time, location, body awareness and was consumed by gratitude and overwhelming love. Tears were streaming down my face, though I was scarcely aware of them. Eternities and lifetimes may have elapsed..everything seemed perfect and unfolding according to a great cosmic order.
Then I felt a couple of strong nudges on my side and bolted back to my physical body, gradually opening my eyes to an orange blur directly in front of me. It was Sai Baba standing with those piercing, all-seeing eyes looking deeply into my own. Once contact was made, he moved one hand slowly to his eye and made a graceful gesture as if wiping away a tear. That simple gesture conveyed both an answer to my silent question, and an acknowledgement of the intense "bhakti" (as I later learned it was called) experience I'd just had.
The following afternoon we gathered for Baba's Christmas address. I had helped my friend who was in a wheelchair to a seat, so found a place far back in the large auditorium. While waiting for Baba to appear, I began talking with a German woman, a psychiatrist involved in many innovative therapies such as rebirthing, regression, bodywork, psychodrama, etc. She asked how I'd come there, and when I related the series of events... the odors, synchronicities, vision,..she was astounded as she'd had many directly parallel experiences. She kept talking of the amazing grace with which, out of hundreds of thousands present, we'd be seated next to one another. She'd just returned from a month long period of study in Tibet, where she learned that there were not only colors and sounds associated with each chakra, but an odor as well. Narcissus, the aroma she'd been smelling, was associated with the third chakra: and rose( the odor I had experienced flooding my awareness for the last two plus years was connected with the fourth or heart chakra.
As I listened to Sai Baba's words on that special Christmas day: the importance of love and service; attention to substance in one's spiritual observances... not mere form; development of communities based upon pure love and desire for peace... I wondered at the awesome beauty of our connection with one another and the Divine. As I walked from the Poornachandra Auditorium, my eyes fell upon a beautifully carved rose on the side of the wall. Alongside it was inscribed: "Make your life like a rose that speaks forever silently in the language of fragrance."
A few days after my return from India, the video "When Jesus Lived in India" by Richard Bach (a long time Sai Baba devotee) arrived. During one segment a close-up of the chakras from an ancient Tibetan text is shown, and the diagrammatic drawing of the heart chakra was a remarkable duplicate of the evolving vision I'd had while swimming. Inspired by this coincidence, and having learned Sai Baba's birth date and time, I constructed his astrological chart. His Sun sign was the same degree and minute of Sagittarius as my moon sign, and my moon was conjunct my mid-heaven--reaching for union with the Divine.
That old adage, "When the student is ready the teacher appears" took on a very personal significance as I basked in the glow of this wonderful series of gifts. Though my heart had certainly been tenderized and made ready by repeated blows, it seemed to have served a purpose in preparing for this awesome opening and healing.
And now the real work begins in earnest--continual surrendering of control and ego, heartfelt service, ongoing observance of the patterns so as to ever release and purify-- hopefully in the end making my life like that fragrant rose which gracefully affects others by it's sweet presence.
Gayla Reiter, MA, CHT
P.O. Box 2314
Benicia, CA 94510
Tel: (707) 745-0105
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