Karen was an opera singer at the start of her career; like me, she supported herself by freelancing in Manhattan law firms and on Wall Street. I admired her creativity, courage and higher values. Often after work we’d walk across Manhattan to my apartment and chat while I cooked us dinner.
“Let’s go to Central Park tomorrow,” she suggested. “We can talk freely there.” So next day we strolled through that gorgeous park and I told her, tears streaming down my face, that the husband I once believed I’d love and respect to my dying day had turned into a materialistic stranger.
“Why are you so scared to leave him then?” she asked in her direct fashion. “Sounds like you have good reason.”
So I told her about the conservative family I’d fought in order to marry this guy, and about the in-laws who stood against all my higher values. Neither would support me in seeking my freedom, I said. How on earth would I ever make it alone in this expensive and chaotic city?
“Because I heard too many ghost stories growing up,” I explained haltingly.”Because, ever since childhood, I’ve seen some pretty weird things. Truth is, Karen, I’m afraid to be alone at night.”
“Scared of spirits?” she interrupted. “And what are you, pray tell?”
Her answer took me aback. Already I’d begun diving into eastern philosophy for an answer to my angst. I knew the theory well—that in essence we living beings are immortal spirit encased in mortal flesh—but this truth had not percolated down into the fiber of my being. Now my friend had brought up a big question—why was I so scared of the spirit realm when I too was spirit?
Nothing changed on the outside after that talk in the park, but on the inside things began to simmer. And when I finally picked up the courage to quit my painful domestic situation, things got even worse when I lost every cent I’d earned to my angry spouse who had always controlled our finances.
It was a sharp woman lawyer who convinced me that I should cut and run no matter what. “You’re young, smart and talented,” she said. “You can make it on your own. Fight him and all I can promise you is a nervous breakdown.”
I took her advice; but every single day for the first few months of being alone, I fought the phantoms of fear. What helped was talking to my therapist on a weekly basis, meditating morning and night, dumping toxins on willing friends, hatha yoga and walks in the park.
As for the phobia I had about sleeping alone at night, another friend, also in the process of dissolving his marriage, gave me two of his cats. Sweetie and Liza flanked me in bed, and another friend installed night lights all the way from my bedroom to my bathroom—just in case I had to go in the night!
Time passed, and my internal sun began to shine again. Seven years later, I quit the relative safety of Manhattan for the mysterious Himalayas, and continued to make major errors of judgment. I also came close to death several times. The worst experience was when I was literally trapped in a guest room in Rishikesh, dying excruciatingly due to an untreated infection caused by a spider bite.
Looking back on those crazy times, one thing stands out: that the most intense maturing and surrender I did was during times when I was alone and had no trustworthy human to turn to—times when I honestly would have preferred to be dead.
Today I am utterly grateful that I did go through that darkness—for those who never dare leave a comfort zone also never have the chance to crumble and change on the interior. I’m not recommending my form of savage rebellion to others, but now that I’m doing what I’d always craved to do—which is to deepen my spiritual quest as I write novels designed to inspire others on the path less traveled—I see that it was those stormy times when I was alone that carried me from darkness to light.
The other day a friend dropped in for a visit. She told me about her new boyfriend and admitted she doubted he could be a life-long partner. “He can’t stand being alone for any length of time and that really bothers me,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’ve come to believe that it is in deep solitude that the soul shines. Unless he can be happy on his own, I don’t want to commit. I’ve been burned too many times.” I nodded in agreement: Better to walk the path alone than with a mate who cannot fully support you.
Today I love the dark. It is friendly, rich and warm. It smiles, whispers and caresses. I owe this ongoing transformation in consciousness to an ancient tool I received via the grace of Ramana Maharshi, the greatest sage of modern India: for Atma-Vichara removes the darkness of a mind gone berserk with worry, fear and false imaginings as it reveals the light of our Self.
Greetings from Arunachala!