I flew from south India to Manhattan in the summer of 1986 as a young bride with great expectations. Almost none of these hopes were met; as the saying goes, the Great Goddess laughs when you tell her your plans.
For one thing, I had yearned to study creative writing for film at New York University. My husband (now ex) had assured me I could. It didn’t take long for this exciting plan to be shot down by my mother-in-law, who wielded a powerfully negative influence on our life. I was urged to find a job instead, so I could get used to a new culture and lifestyle—and assured this was all for my own good. Once I found my feet, they both promised earnestly, I would be in a better position to really study.
Gnashing my teeth, I learned how to wear a suit and pumps so I could interview. Soon I had a job I did not deserve: I had been an advertising copywriter in south India but now I was Director of Media and Public Relations of a small but prosperous trade advertising agency located on downtown Broadway. Apparently the confident demeanor I had projected along with my excellent speaking English had impressed my new employer. Shell-shocked by the prospect of what lay ahead, I could see no way out of this predicament other than to brazen things out.
Big Boss enjoyed chatting with me. Every now and again he would enter my cubicle to see how I was doing. In the process, he would slip in a snide joke about India/Indians/the “Third World”. I had to bite down hard on my tongue to keep from striking back. (What I did want to say was something to the effect that while his ancestors were likely clubbing women over the head and dragging them into bushes in order to propagate the species, mine were engaged in demystifying the cosmos; I stayed quiet only because I didn’t want to get fired too quickly).
Fortunately Immediate Boss was a fey Irish American junior to me by a couple of years; rumor had it she’d gotten her job because her father was a big gun in the carpet industry that my company served. She was a serious young woman who patiently taught me the ropes. I learned quickly, although I hated every minute of it: all I really wanted to do was write.
The result of being appreciated by my bosses produced a bizarre consequence: the two women who ran the administrative side of the company began to detest me. One was an obese black woman with serious gastric problems who oozed bitterness; Two was a busty peroxide-blond Italian American with a chin as sharp as a needle, false eye-lashes and glittering blue eyes that cast malevolent looks at me every time I happened to walk past their area. Number Two had just discovered her husband was having an affair with a Pakistani girl a good fifteen years younger than herself; she seemed to alternate—and understandably so—between fits of rage and despair. Since there was no difference in her angry head between a Pakistani and an Indian girl (we were all sluts to her), you can imagine why I made such a great target.
Desperate to create harmony, I tried to make them see I was a good person; but the more effort I put into public relations (that was my title, remember), the worse the situation got—until I did not know what to do any more except quit.
One Friday evening, just as I was just about to head home, the lanky middle-aged copywriter employed by the firm approached me. In a stammering undertone he explained that he’d just been given a creative assignment by Big Boss—an advertising campaign for a range of exotic wood floors imported from Burma, Thailand and India. He’d heard through the grapevine that I’d worked as a copywriter in India and wondered whether I could give him some ideas—since the product came from my part of the world. No hurry, he said, Monday was fine. His hands shook as he handed me a copy of his brief. He looked exceedingly pale and kept looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was listening. I was too thrilled to wonder at his odd behavior—a member of the firm finally wanted me to do something easy and fun and that was all I really cared about.
After dinner that night I remembered his request. I read the brief he’d given me and sank into a creative trance. Then I pounded out three alternative copy campaigns on my Olivetti typewriter in about an hour. I wrote headlines, body copy and offered suggestions for the visuals. I clipped the pages to the glossy product brochure he’d handed me for inspiration and shoved it into my office bag.
On Monday morning I was rooting about in my bag when I found the copy. I placed it on my desk hoping to personally deliver it to the jumpy copywriter as soon as I had dealt with an urgent matter. Just then Immediate Boss walked in, saw the brief on top of my work and asked what I was doing with it. Innocent that I was, I told her what had happened. She took a look at my copy and, with a mysterious smile, grabbed the lot and headed for the office of Big Boss.
That very afternoon the copywriter was axed and I was asked if I was willing to take over his job—in addition to my own duties. I was given a small raise and all the higher-ups seemed pleased. It was only later that Immediate Boss informed me that the ex-copywriter was a raging alcoholic—and that this campaign had been his last chance to prove he was worth holding on to. C’est la vie.
My inadvertent success further infuriated my enemies in administration. Matters rapidly deteriorated: important material “disappeared” from my cubicle, critical phone messages remained undelivered, nasty sexual comments were passed about the Big Boss’s new “third world” favorite. Miserable to the max, I finally took my problem to Immediate Boss. She sort of knew what I was up against, she admitted, but had believed things would soon settle down. She begged me to reconsider resigning and offered to get Big Boss to speak firmly to the Terrible Two about changing their evil ways. Then she gave me advice I still treasure: Consider the source, Mira,” she said persuasively, “please consider the source.”
Much water has flown under the bridge since that unpleasant time; the advice I received, however, has turned into something profound. Today I live the life I’d always subconsciously longed for—a simple life devoted to my inner path and to creative work. As an over-empath hypersensitive to an extreme degree, life is still not easy for me. I feel my own and others’ suffering too deeply. This pain has led me to seek a variety of spiritual solutions to my angst: I began with hatha yoga, moved to Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, onward to Sant Math (the way of the mystic), played with the Tao and Sufism, and finally came home to roost in the cradle of Advaita-Vedanta, thanks to the luminous teachings of Ramana Maharshi, the greatest sage of modern India.
A Ramana devotee (and a guru in his own right) said something like this: in the future, people will make money out of drugs, guns and satsanghs. (Satsangh is a Sanskrit word with many meanings; in this context it refers to a guru holding court with devotees/disciples, or just spiritual company). This cynical prophecy has come true: I see so many who lose their way due to false messiahs. Most of these so-called “gurus” get away with their scams—often becoming wealthy and famous—mainly because their flock has not deeply considered the source before committing to them.
However, in order to properly “consider the source”, one must know what a guru is in the first place. A guru is one who dispels darkness, and many can do that for us, from little to great ways. Which is why it is important for the serious seeker to be able to distinguish between ordinary teachers and a satguru (what I personally call an “end” teacher)—who can guide you all the way to a permanent state of freedom from desire and fear (moksha).
Most humans today cannot afford the luxury of focusing on spiritual evolution. For those privileged to do so, I say humbly, and with reverence for all who have so generously helped me—learn enough so that when a teacher attracts you strongly, you can tell whether he or she is the real deal. Please don’t let ignorance lead you to a guide likely to abandon you along a thorny path because he or she lacks the wisdom to take you all the way up the mountain. If you yearn for spiritual freedom as I did, make it your business to know enough to intelligently consider the source—before you commit to the right teacher/teaching for you.
Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path (Atma-Vichara/Self-Investigation) is all about considering the source. The source of what? Our suffering. Where does our misery emanate from? From our false sense of self, our egoic identity, cobbled together into something so blindingly believable that most humans are unable to see that it is actually an illusory matrix (yes, that movie was real!).
The Maharshi’s powerful teaching: Who am I? asks us to consider the deepest source of our being—who we are beyond body, mind, emotions, status and track record. When we follow this profound dictum, we find we are indeed much greater than what we have ever imagined ourselves to be—that we are sat-chit-ananda, pure existence-consciousness and bliss, and that our true nature is joyful and immortal.
Greetings from Arunachala, the hill millions worship as the living embodiment of Shiva the Destroyer, who aids us to annihilate our ego so we can experience the radiant bliss of our true Self!