Looking back, I guess my earliest kalyanamitras were Carol and Venu, who dispensed solace and help as I careened wildly in and out of their lives during my frenzied adolescence and twenties; without them, and without exaggeration, I may not have survived.
At a time in Manhattan when I could not see beyond the thicket of my personal problems, Joneve insisted I start writing again. Her persistence unleashed a force within me that soon began to roar like a tiger; simultaneously, a wellspring of courage began to flow, allowing me to grow to meet the challenges I faced.
Silver-haired and gracious talk-therapist Amy met with me once a week for years in her spacious office in lower Manhattan. As I listened to myself trot out a nauseating stream of excuses about why I could not change my domestic circumstances, I realized the sniveling coward in the mirror would have to die if I was to thrive again. Amy taught me how to cut through the babble of guilt, fear and social conditioning in order to hear the still small voice within.
Joel, violinist supremo and software genius, arrived at my doorstep early one Sunday morning and ordered me into his car. Both of us had divorced recently and were assisting each other through the miserable aftermath. He drove me all the way to Rhode Island, just to see the waves crashing against the shore in a magical twilight, with the mansions of the filthy rich looming behind us. In his delightfully wacky way, he was trying to show me there was a bigger picture than the one we were both locked into at the time—and it worked.
During my temping days on Wall Street, Lenny, a gay off-Broadway actor and fellow temp, deftly drew a hairpin on a scrap of paper. “See this?” he’d asked, pointing to the portion just before the curve. “This is where you are now, honey. I know…life can really suck. But if you move ahead, one step at a time, you are going to get to the other side. Soon you’ll be in a fabulous place…and you’ll see why all this crap had to happen.” I can’t count the times I’ve closed my eyes in times of trouble and seen his fingers deftly drawing that hairpin…
Riding high on the wings of major success, Theo, a Broadway actor who belonged to a spiritual group I attended in Manhattan, married his childhood sweetheart, bought a loft in Soho, and produced a son. Then, out of the blue, he lost his lucrative gig. (Now that’s the Big Apple for you.) Desperate, he hit one audition after another, with no luck. When he’d almost given up hope, he won a role that made him the envy of the Manhattan theatre world. “Hey man,” he’d announced happily to a bunch of us, “if I’d got any one of those earlier gigs, I wouldn’t have been free to take this one. Rejection, man, is actually divine protection.” Here was a kalyanamitra who taught me that tragedy can turn into success—if we persist and keep faith in the essential goodness of the universe.
Erik, a wordsmith and philosophy buff I met at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, used to drag me down to 6th Street in Manhattan’s east village to eat at the smoky and cramped Bangladeshi restaurants he unaccountably favored. Over watery cabbage and insipid dhal, we would argue over our differing notions of karma, reincarnation and enlightenment, using them as a lens to understand just why we were both so screwed up. Nothing like laughing at yourself in the company of a good friend to disappear the blues.
Mark drove down from Pennsylvania to Takoma Park as often as he could, treating me generously during times when I was conflicted about whether to return to India or make a fresh living in the west. We spoke everyday on the phone for months, supporting each other mightily through mutually dreary situations. “It’s all a dream, Mira, can’t you see? It’s all a dream.” His simple words, rooted deeply in the eastern philosophical view we both shared, never failed to bring me back to equanimity.
Katherine shared her lovely home after I’d sold my own home in south India and was racked with confusion about the future. Marilyn befriended me while we waited in line to see an exhibition of modern art at the National Gallery in Washington DC; for the next couple of years, she served as my surrogate mother, sharing with me the Zen wisdom she had absorbed during her years in Japan. When her heart suddenly stopped as she drove herself home from a doctor’s appointment, I had already left America for Rishikesh. The grief I experienced was so thick I could not cry for weeks.
KB supports me unstintingly on the highest level, enjoying my little successes and helping me through blasts of angst, even as he makes smooth the rough edges of my mundane life. Ryan writes to me regularly from California; we share creative and spiritual views, allowing ourselves the freedom to be different, and yet united, on the common path we have chosen. Raj’s gentle energy reminds me of the younger brother I lost decades ago; unflappably equanimous, he works out the technical snags of my creative life, inspires me with the purity of his intentions, and accompanies me and my divine canines on evening strolls along the mysterious Girivalam Road.
Literally hundreds of other souls have blazed their light into my darkness, showing me the next step forward. In return, I try to be a good kalyanamitra, holding the torch of perennial wisdom aloft as best I can, offering both soft and tough love, the latter which, I must admit, is appreciated mainly in retrospect, if at all. And yet I continue to see it as my sacred task to care for those who are querulous with need, and mired in confusion—by presenting their own situation back to them through the liberating lens of karma and reincarnation theory.
Finally there are kalyanamitras who appear in the form of great gurus. My first hatha yoga guru emanated a golden aura as I sat in abject despair before him in a yoga room on 13th street in Manhattan. That distant event was a radical turning point in my life: I dropped the agnosticism I’d been flirting with, and saw the universe as a living being of infinite mystery and beauty—of which I was an integral part.
Other great ones followed beloved Swami Asokananda, transforming my dour view of reality as the years rolled by. Though my quest for a satguru, a perfect teacher, ended when I began to immerse myself solely in the teachings of the sage Ramana Maharshi, I find that my need for kalyanamitras endures.
If you do not find a mate who is your equal, or better than you, as the Buddha remarked in his succinct way, it is better to trod the solitary path; one does not find comfort with fools.