I met the guru in stages. I first came into the presence of Oneness on my first LSD trip. Of course, I had been primed for the experience. I had heard Timothy Leary give his “turn on-tune in-drop out” talk at the Fillmore East (along with his sidekick Richard Alpert!) in an Easter special called “An Evening with God.” The upper rafters, where I sat with my college boyfriend, reeked of pot, which I had not yet ever tasted. I thought the evening was extraordinary—the psychedelic slide show alone was mind-boggling—although my boyfriend thought it was all a bunch of baloney. We broke up shortly thereafter.
Three weeks after I first dropped acid and dipped my toes into the ocean of non-duality, I met Ram Dass, who was imbued with the presence of the guru. After the summer of living at his father’s farm, I went to New York to figure out what to do next. At a girlfriend’s apartment in Spanish Harlem, we dropped acid. The next day, home alone, as I fell into lower (and somewhat frightening) astral levels of consciousness, I got scared. Sitting in front of the little black-and-white picture of Maharajji that Ram Dass had given me, clutching my New Hampshire pine mala, I recited a mantra: “I’m scared and you have to help me.” Over and over again.
The picture disappeared in a flash of blue light, and I saw Maharajji, live and moving. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough for me to get through the down side of the trip in one piece, knowing he was with me.
I got a larger picture, hung it on the wall of my rented room in Manhattan. During the day, I worked at a PR firm so I could earn the money to get to India, but I spent a lot of the rest of the time in relationship with that picture. And I would see Maharajji twinkling at me. Sometimes he was bearded, sometimes he just had a mustache and I thought someone else was showing up. (Later I learned about the barber who periodically shaved him.) I did everything in my life in front of that photo. Needless to say, I didn’t tell anyone I was talking to a picture all the time.
Fast forward to India. Finally, after months in South India followed by six weeks of hepatitis in the Evelyn Hotel in Nainital during monsoon, I walked across the bridge and entered Kainchi ashram for the first time. There he was, wrapped in his plaid wool blanket, sitting on his tucket, twinkling. I was home. My heart knew it.
Maharajji turned to me. “You used to talk to my picture all the time,” he said. “You asked many questions.”
It’s a good story. I can talk about it. It doesn’t explain the feeling I got when he touched the top of my head with one finger and changed every molecule in my body. Or the waves of ecstasy when he gently brushed my arm with his hand. Or the way my brief seven months with him, almost 40 years ago, is still present today.
After that first terrible 9/11, when Maharajji left his body in 1972, I had to relearn my relationship to the guru. It’s been a struggle to find the place where “god, guru, and self are one,” as he used to tell us. There are no easily tellable stories, but the goal still stands before me, beckoning me on.