The Blues, a Spark. Or, In and Out of the Sad Sack

Dear Friends,

First let me warn that this post gets more philosophical, spiritual, less narrative-like, and doesn’t have a lot of pictures–no photographs allowed at the Aurobindo ashram.   No talking, either.  Just silence.  But it gets to a good place.

So, as I noted, after my ecstatic time in Pune, when I got here to Pondicherry I felt a little isolated, out-of-sorts, listless, sad. I don’t know anyone in the ashram. I’ve always been a little bit shy, and I felt a little intimidated about going up to the resident monks, saints, and other holy people and saying, “Hi, I’m Michael Sowder from Utah!  Can you help me in my quest to attain Cosmic Consciousness?”

So, Thursday, my first full day here, I just hung out mostly in my room, reading and writing. And then went out for honey. But you know all about that.

I was also having a tooth ache, nothing too severe, but I was terrified of the thought of getting a root canal in Pondicherry, India. Not that there aren’t wonderful dentists here, I just don’t know any of them.
*  *  *
Then, I got word that my two sons were having a lot of trouble, missing me, and because of that, making things hard for Jennifer.  And I learned that Aidan is having a tooth ache, and is going to have to have a root canal, in Dallas, Texas. (Now, who is that quantum physicist who talks about psychic-like connections between atoms happening over vast distances?) Anyway, I was feeling very blue.  But maybe it was the work of Shiva.
Shiva Nataraj — Lord of the Dance

Or Kali.

 Now, if you don’t know a lot about the Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Truth), or “Hinduism,” as it was called by those from the West, upon crossing the Indus River, the main thing to know is that while there appear to be some 300,000,000 gods and goddesses, these are all just manifestations or aspects of the One, Formless, Infinite, Blissful Consciousness that pervades the universe, or for short: “Satchitananda”: “Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.”   Sort of like what we in the West call “God.”   Or, since it has no form or qualities, what Buddhists call “emptiness.”
*  *  *  (sorry about the asterisks, but the program wants to cram these paragraphs together!)
*  *  *
(It turns out that being raised Catholic, surrounded by statues and paintings of all those saints was actually a good Western prep for encountering all these deities everywhere!)
*  *  *
That formless Consciousness, also sometimes called “Brahman,” takes these forms, or is given by us these forms, merely to help us conceive of the Inconceivable, approach the Unapproachable, speak about the Ineffable.
*  *  *
The 300,000,000 gods and goddesses are able to embody every aspect of our lives.  So, death and destruction get deified, too, and there they are.  Destruction is necessary for new birth, new beginnings.  Everything is impermanent.  All things pass away.   These are the lessons of these aspects of Shiva and Kali.  (In fact, they have other aspects, too, such as Shiva being the great yogi who meditates for millions of ages, millennia, epochs.  But we don’t have to go into all that right now.)  We can seek Kali’s or Shiva’s help in overcoming or destroying our ego, our anger, greed, jealously, or other obstacles to liberation.
*  *  *
But, in reality, all these deities are just stand-ins for the Infinite, Formless Divine Blissful Consciousness that sustains and pervades the Universe.
*  *  *

So, in spite of my reservations, I decided to go over to the ashram.   After leaving my sandals outside, I went in from the busy street, and found myself in a garden, full of flowers.  There were arrows pointing to the right and I walked a path along a wall and into a courtyard canopied by a tremendous rain tree, whose branches touched every wall of the wide courtyard.   It was beautiful!   I could feel the powerful energy.   There were signs saying to maintain silence, and then I saw the samadhi tomb.  Like Ma’s, it was about three feet high, marble, about ten feet long and five feet wide, flat-topped, covered with flowers. (No photography is allowed, so that people snapping pictures don’t detract from the contemplative atmosphere, but we can take a photo from the web.  Here it is:)

I could really feel the energy.  People were lined up and moving slowly around it.  After bowing and putting my forehead onto the cool, white marble, I went over at sat against the wall of one of the buildings that made the perimeter of the courtyard.  (A sign said, “Do not meditate on or near the samadhi tomb.”)   Other people were  also sitting there.  No one really meditating.  Mostly just sitting.  A lot of people were writing.  Then, I saw that people were writing on pieces of paper and depositing them in a round, metal tube or canister at the foot of the samadhi tomb.  I suppose  they were asking for blessings or favors or help in their lives.
*  *  *
I remember hearing that people always came to Ma Indira Devi and asked for things in their lives.   She said that she had so much to give, but people often came for trinkets, not knowing what she really had to give them.   Which was liberation.    Similarly, Amma (Amritanandamayii Ma) says that people come and ask her for practical, personal favors, rather than for Realization.  But she says, it’s okay.  It brings them here.  And eventually, they will seek for something greater.

*  *  *

So, I sat down and folded my legs in lotus and started meditating.  When I got to India, to Ma’s ashram and in other places, I was surprised that I didn’t see more people  sitting in lotus.  In the 1970’s, in the yoga order I was involved in, we were taught to sit in lotus when meditating, and as a young,  idealistic aspirant, I was of course going to learn to do so.  It took about a year of trying.   I am the only one in my sangha meditation group that sits in lotus.   Few Buddhists do.  I sometimes feel self-conscious about it, imagining people thinking I’m showing off.  But it helps still the mind, as the ancient scriptures say, and it is much easier on my back.


So, I folded my legs in lotus, and started meditating, but also feeling self-conscious among all the people.  As I settled into my meditation, I could hear the quiet footsteps of the people filing by, some coming to sit down near me.  Then, I felt the bite of a mosquito.  “Damn!   Forgot the repellent!   I can bear bites, but what about malaria?  I’m on doxycycline.  Okay, relax.   Just focus.”


Then, my mind just completely stilled.  I was amazed at how easily.   My mind became like a vast blue lake, utterly, perfectly still.  I could feel a powerful energy coming down through the top of my head, or maybe going out.   But going in or out, there was a powerful energy there.  I could feel my  consciousness as something larger than my body, somehow outside of it, inhabiting the space around me, filling the whole courtyard.


Then, thoughts came back.  I started to worry about the people.  Do they think I’m being pretentious?  Presumptuous?   Look at the white Westerner coming here and sitting in lotus.  He  thinks he’s some kind of great yogi.  What does he know about India and our saints?”

Then, I had the thought, coming from my Buddhist training:  What really am I feeling?  Drop the story-line.  Go into the body.   I’m just feeling fear.  I’m feeling scared of these people.   I went into the fear.  Then, I remembered a practice that I’ve been learning from reading Ramana Maharshi’s book, Be As You Are, a book of dialogues compiled by his devotees.  (Ramana Maharishi was one of the most famous twentieth-century gurus, who rarely wrote anything down himself.  In fact, much of his teaching  happened in silence.)

Be  As You Are

is the most wonderful book I have read in a long time.   It has a simple, mind opening practice,  which is this:   We all have a sense of ourselves, of being “I.”  For example, I am a writer.  I am a seeker.  I am a professor.  But he says, the “Self,” is behind these identifications.  The real Self  is not the limited, separate self, the ego, which thinks it is this or  that.


The ego is the mind, and the mind  is just thoughts.  Thoughts are always identified with objects, physical, mental, conceptual, etc.  So, the Maharishi’s practice is a practice of self inquiry.  Find out who this “I” is.  Instead of identifying the “I” as  something external, just ask yourself, “Who is this ‘I’ — without identification with an external form.  Go within and ask “Who is this ‘I’?”   Or, “Who am I?”  Don’t try to answer the question with a thought.  Just be present with that sense of “I-ness” without external objectification.   Seek the source of the “I.”   When thoughts arise, ask, “Who is thinking ?”  Or, “To whom do these  thoughts pertain?”


What happens, according to RM is that the ego sense  of “I” dissolves and the greater Self, which is not a separate self, which is One with all Things, Eternal, Fresh, Self-Luminous, Infinite begins to be felt.  He says, just stay with this feeling.  Stay in the feeling sense of “I” without external definitions or limitations or  objectification and the Greater Self (which  in Hinduism, is another name for God) will become present, apparent, perceptible.  Ramana quotes the Bible, “Be still  and know that I am God.”   That’s all that’s necessary.  And says that “I am that I am,” is the complete Reality.


It is an effortless practice, because that Greater Self is the Reality in which live and move and have our being.  The false-, ego-, thought-created self requires immense effort to maintain.  Resting in the real Self becomes effortless and something that we can maintain throughout the day.  Eventually, by remaining in this Great Self for longer and longer periods of time, eventually the Great Self destroys the
ego-self, and one is Enlightened or Self-Realized.


So, I asked, “Who is it that is feeling this fear?”   And then after a little while, I felt that largeness, that spaciousness, again, and before long I started to see that the fear was something apart from me, like an automatically self-generating phenomenon.  Fear and the thoughts around it were just generating themselves, and I was this deeper, wider, vaster presence watching it.  The thoughts were like a cartoon strip or a stream of images on a roll of film.  I could clearly see that the film and its thoughts and images were not me, at all.  They were just doing their own thing.


It was amazing.  I felt so free.  And then the fear was gone.  And what I suddenly felt instead was love, compassion, tenderness for all these people around me.  I felt joy and gratitude for being with them.   I opened my eyes and looked up at the huge, beautiful far-branching tree, with watery-green, fern-like leaves, all filled with light, spreading and filling the whole courtyard.   I watched all the people and just felt immense love for each and all of them.  It was amazing.


3 thoughts on “The Blues, a Spark. Or, In and Out of the Sad Sack

  1. Finally catching up with all your posts after the DIDL. Thank you again and again for how you share your experiences (in body and in mind!) so openly. I know you are not exaggerating the bliss because you so thoroughly share the hard stuff too. I could palpably feel that heat. The HEAT. Talk about something I fear! And I can feel your joy and giant appreciation of all that is happening with you. Love those physicists! Btw, in case you haven’t already heard from others yet, it was wonderful. All about wise/right speech, being in the body, and acting from the heart. Susie just keeps outdoing herself, and I guess we “students” do too! Also got to say, as a past astronomy teacher I always loved that old woodcut of the guy pushing through the stars to heaven
    Namaste and take care,

    • Thanks, brother. I’m at my next spot. It’s amazing here. I’ll be uptdating my blog today. Thanks for the message. I forgot the sangha email! I’ll do it next week, no problem. No internet here, except at a cafe. M

      Michael Sowder Associate Professor of English Chair of Creative Writing Poetry Editor, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing Department of English Utah State University 3200 Old Main Hill Logan, Utah 84341 435.797.7100

  2. Michael~ I was so touched reading through these blogs it brought tears to my eyes twice. Just beautiful. You, & J especially, have been such blessings in my life. Thanks for sharing the India. Cami

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