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Commentary: Swami

By Patricia Mora

Dallas, TX –

Sometimes the very thing standing in the way of a better life is ourselves. So writes commentator Patricia Mora.

On February 13th, 1985, I met the Indian swami Elizabeth Gilbert writes about in her bestselling book, Eat, Pray, Love. At the time, the only interest I had in yoga was as a rubbernecking Roman Catholic.

I stumbled into a swanky Dallas hotel ballroom with the aforementioned swami some 25 years ago. There was incense and chanting and a hallowed atmosphere. I didn't like the piled shoes on the floor. I didn't like the rumbling mantra. I wanted out. But the only way "out" was a darshan line. "Darshan," I later learned, means "to see" in Sanskrit. So, if I wanted to exit, I was going to have to "see" the swami whether I liked it or not.

I dutifully stood in line and was shocked when she looked away from a couple with whom she was conversing and hit me on top of the head and across the heart with a peacock feather. Even more weird.

So imagine my astonishment when what followed was a three-day experience of non-stop joy and contentment. I made a deliberate attempt to remember the things that had troubled me prior to meeting this swami. I couldn't. It seemed as if someone had taken a broom and swept my mind clean. No dust in the corners, no nagging wants or doubts or fears.

But I did keep checking with a friend who had been at the same event I attended. I would say, "Do you feel different?" She inevitably responded by saying, "Yes, I feel different. Really different."

I later discovered that Eastern texts commonly refer to this state as "a spiritual awakening," the kind of unspeakable serenity that comes about when you cease to dwell within your own private sphere and enter, well, nirvana. It's a very common experience in the Indian tradition.

I felt the boundaries between "me" and the outside world had been smudged. The whole experience eventually pointed me back to my own Catholic tradition and I understood more fully the notion of incarnate divinity. God was not "up there" with us "below." Instead, the whole world blossomed into a fused life from which I no longer wished to turn away. I was willing to "see" it.

Needless to say, this triggered an interest in various traditions and, in fact, I recently took a Comparative Religion class taught at Harvard. It was mentioned that, "Just as you only know what language is when you know two, similarly, you only know what religion is when you're familiar with two traditions."

Like Ms. Gilbert, I was plucked out of my fishbowl of a world and given a means of understanding things more fully by way of contrast and experience. No wonder the disciples wanted to put up tents and stay with the Transfiguration. If only that were possible. But the next best thing? An experience a radical departure from daily life that becomes a place of retreat for years and years. I wouldn't trade this tremendous shift in perspective for anything. I encourage everyone to use as many lenses as possible to see their own tradition more clearly. You won't be diminished. Far from it. You'll be immeasurably richer.

Patricia Mora is a writer from Dallas.

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