Someone close to me has been suffering greatly; one morning, post-meditation, I thought of her again, and memories of a distant time when I too had been just as sad came back to me in a rush.
At the time, I lived in Manhattan, and was married to a man who was gradually morphing into a materialistic stranger. One evening I walked alone to Central Park to find relief from my constant thoughts of worry and confusion about the future. It was fall and the Park was absolutely wondrous, alive with color and beauty. I walked down a long inner path and began to weep soundlessly because, despite the surrounding beauty, inside I was a mass of feverish suffering.
I looked up at the darkening sky and cried out for help—and oddly enough, the face of a woman I’d recently met at a spiritual meeting flashed across my mind. A gray-haired Jewish woman of Russian ancestry who had grown up in a family of atheists, Miriam had never believed in God. So, when the hard times came, as they come to us all, she had nothing to fall back upon. She began drinking heavily and her life slipped down the tubes. One day her suffering got so intense she tried to kill herself. But her suicide attempt didn’t work, and she kept on living in utter misery—until a friend coaxed her to join Alcoholics Anonymous.
In the rooms, Miriam began to hear people speaking of their Higher Power. But no matter how hard she tried, she still could not believe in God, which to her was a word loaded with negative meaning; but a power higher than herself? Yes, that she could believe in. She mused about what she would call her own personal higher power and came up with the name “Harry”.
Miriam began to talk to her invisible higher power all the time. She told Harry every detail of her seemingly insurmountable problems, of her trials and her tribulations, of her searing loneliness and alienation, and begged him to help her find the peace and clarity she craved. Soon, just the idea that some power was close to her at all times, watching over her with indulgent affection, began to make her feel better. She got herself a good job and began to make new and sober friends who supported her journey back into herself—and she never let go of Harry.
Playing Miriam’s story back in my own head as I continued to walk through Central Park, I realized that I too had lost my connection with God. The old God I had learned about—the old man in the sky who looked down on us miserable creatures and made arbitrary decisions on rewards and punishments et cetera—had never worked for me. So, like Miriam, I too decided to personalize this being. I decided to name her after a quality that would make me happy above all else. Since I had already mingled with rich, famous and beautiful people in the course of my interesting life, and rarely seen them at peace, I decided that if I could have one thing, it would be the gift of serenity. Why? Because when one is serene, nothing else matters. As I headed for home, I decided to christen my personal higher power “Seryna”.
Months passed but my misery did not abate and I forgot all about that evening in the Park. One evening I was walking across Manhattan after work; I felt hopeless, unable to see a way out of my misery. It was misty and my eyes blurred with tears. As I turned down an Avenue, I bumped into a sign. I stopped and read it: “Seryna, Japanese Restaurant” it said—and I begin to laugh so hard that folks turned to see this crazy Indian girl going hysterical in the rain.
Seryna hovered around me until I outgrew her. By this time I had begun to delve seriously into eastern philosophy, and my old notions of God began to shift into the gnosis that God is nothing less than existence, consciousness and bliss (sat-chit-ananda). Through my practice of hatha yoga and meditation, by reading a thousand books on wisdom traditions and mulling over and digesting their insights until they became a part of my view, my insides began to transform. I also found a guru who blew my mind with the meticulous way he imparted to me the Mahayana Buddhist teachings, and fell in love with the true meaning of Tantra, which for me meant the transmutation of darkness into light, and not the easy sex and licentiousness that many in both East and West believe it to be.
Today, after going through several major pathways and finding them enriching but not fully satisfactory, I have returned to my old love for Advaita, the simple but profound teaching that we are One. My guru is Ramana Maharshi, who taught in simple ways his Direct Path or Atma-Vichara (Self-Investigation). Who is this Self he speaks of? The Self is the One, God to some, pure consciousness to others. Ramana’s Direct Path appears to be easy on the surface of things, but I have found it to be a subtle and elusive teaching. Only an unwavering commitment to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow can break the puzzle of our suffering and lead us within, to the infinite reservoir of peace and bliss that is our birthright.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a mountain, who vows to destroy our clinging to that false sense of self that causes all our suffering, so that we can know ourselves to be nothing less than the blazing light of the cosmos.