Offswitches • 24 February 2010

Lights cut out in the shala this morning. I was upside-down in a prasarita as the raft of us went under. Then after a moment the generator bellowed so strong I could feel it in the floor, and the glass of Sharath’s new office flickered. The terraced chandelier and the sconces relit, and we were back in motion. Nothing different, no ruffles in the fabric of reality, no jokes about Samadhi in the gaps.

Two weeks ago, on Shivaratri, Narasimhan was discoursing about abhinivesa in the noon heat. We began to hear a marching band from the street (at least I think I wasn't the only one who heard it…). The band turned a corner and zeroed in on our location, but he spoke right through the din. The rest of us stayed with him. The band oompaed past the opaque windows behind his head, and still he made no reaction. Nothing. At that moment, the beeker-shaped bulb on the wall flickered and went, the fan cut out, and the suddenly power-deprived water purifier in the next room started to whine. Narasimhan stayed on discourse like the TMer he is on mantra, preempting the self-referential humor or differerance that would have made “abhinevesa” the joke instead of the subject.

I did get pretty far out on the limb of dharana this past couple of weeks. Lots of bhakti, and then the first and second padas sort of took up residence in my Circle of Willis and wouldn’t leave. Woo hoo, mind transplant! Best vacation! The usual cognitive tics replaced with rhythmic Sanskrit wisdoms. It is very good to go there for a period of time, to break old thought-cycles and find out how my heart responds to the energy savings.

But also, creativity surges in the gaps that the new rhythms plugged. The way writing usually happens is like this: I’ll be walking down a staircase or cutting a vegetable or washing my hair and three or four words will make contact with a feeling, and then together they’ll hatch some paragraph. This is a good process, and one that stops when the Sutras are staging a sit-in.

Today I remembered Franny, from Salinger’s book, which I read in college while tending the front desk at the library. She gets her cognitive function snagged on the Jesus Prayer and, both absorbed and unmoored, goes from bliss to misery to bliss.

Depth at the expense of complexity? I dunno. But my friends the hashtangis are a warning to me: empty mind not same as quiet mind.

The last few days I have fumbled around for the off switch and found it, gotten back in to work. It seems my subconscious is willing to get behind that decision, more or less. That said, I love a little steam of devotional babble. Maybe there is something to the notion of praying without ceasing.

But anyway, about the subconscious, such as it may be. Twice this week I’ve dreamed of a huge airplane filled with many rooms. A flying arc. The hallways are filled with friends in the shapes of animals: a heron, a mayura, pidgeons and crows. Birds inside a bird, I guess.

But the image that comes most nights is of a huge cylindrical monument on the side of a mountain. It’s red with gold at the edges. Sometimes the edges are covered in small yellow light bulbs. The sides are scalloped and the base rises to a high point in the middle. The monument is able to spin in circles on an axis that drills down from the center in to the ground, and at times it can also tilt from side to side. The first time I dreamt it, I thought it was just a stupa—like the crazy Vajrayana monument at Gampo Abbey, overlooking the Nova Scotia sea. But it is also like an upside-down top or dreidl, the spinning children’s toys; and when it tilts it is exactly like The Round Up, a greasy carnival ride I used to take at the fair between roller coasters.

Mostly what is happening in the dreams is that we are hiking up to the red stupa circus ride, or just standing there looking on it against the backdrop of some Himalayas, but also sometimes painting it, and sometimes dangling off it over a cliff. The sky in the dreams is enormous, and there’s a vast ocean as well as incredibly beautiful, mysterious mountains.

Sometimes people come and jump on the red stupa and it spins like crazy, until they stumble away and throw up. (One time, I was spinning and someone I love threw a breaker to shut it off.) Sometimes they worship it.

And, sometimes… they use it to illuminate the rest of the landscape.