Gangaji – Thanks for the tuning
I wasn’t planning to post again this week, but I went to a public event of Gangaji’s last night, whom I had not seen in several years, and feel compelled to share some of what transpired. If you are not familiar with Gangaji, you can check out the profile I wrote of her for the Heroes of Healing project, or her own website.
For the cynics among you, I feel compelled to say that I am not a ‘student’ of Gangaji’s (she doesn’t really structure her programs that way anyway), and in fact haven’t seen her in five years. At one time I did attend many of her public events and a five-day retreat with her, but there were many people at these and she wouldn’t know me from Adam. This is all to say that I have no vested interest in marketing Gangaji, and am not a Gangaji ‘groupie’, if there is such a thing.
But at this point in my own spiritual path and teaching, she is by-far the best living example of ‘truth’ and ‘silent awareness’ (words she likes to use) that I have found (and frankly, I have seen most of the big-name spiritual teachers out there.) Simply being in her presence provides a ‘tuning’, because the purity of her state of awareness throws any resistance in my own awareness into sharp relief. Much like a piano-tuner tunes a piano by striking his tuning fork and then hitting a piano key to compare, Gangaji provides a pure example for me to assess my own awareness by. She is my tuning fork (sorry I couldn’t come up with a more poetic metaphor.)
She is also excellent at what she does. And what she does is invite people to sit with her on stage to share experiences or ask her a question. Through her own questions and transmission, she then takes them deeper and deeper into their own being. The transformations that often take place are beautiful to watch. And while it is easy to sit in the audience and pass judgment on each person that goes up, the real value is in seeing yourself in each person, or rather, seeing your own habits of mind reflected in them. Then every transformation is your own too.
So here are some of my favorite lines from the night, all things Gangaji said to individuals on stage, and what they meant to me:
– While the first person was on stage with her, practically gushing devotion and joy, which made many people uncomfortable, Gangaji said to the audience, “As an experiment” (one of her favorite phrases), “try dropping the narrative going on in your own head, the ‘what does this have to do with me’, or ‘what is she talking about’…just as an experiment try dropping all that…not because it is the right thing to do, or a good thing, or a holy thing, but just as an experiment for yourself.“…This is the essence of spiritual practices for me – they are experiments and tools to help us realize ourselves. It isn’t about ‘beliefs’ and ‘shoulds’, which too often only clutter (and confuse) the mind.
– “You have to be able to receive in order to give.” We often equate spirituality with giving – with compassion and service. But to be able to give, we have to be open to receiving. We can’t give love unless we are open to receiving it. We can’t transmit peace unless we are open to receiving it. And truly receiving is much harder than we often realize, because it means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable – vulnerable to potential pain, or difficulty, or whatever may come.
– “So are you going to add to that suffering or do something different? You always have a choice.” This was to a woman who described how sensitive she had become to suffering recently (after 15 years of spiritual ‘self-absorption’ by her own account). She described watching a movie on torture in Afghanistan and not being able to sleep for a week. As Gangaji said, that is not what opening your heart is about – it is not about taking the suffering into your own mind and body so that you become miserable too. Guilt can often lead us to take that path, and patterns of emotional indulgence. But we can, as Gangaji put it, ‘open ourselves to the pain of the world, not deny it, and yet allow it to go through us, without taking us down with it.’ If we do that, there is a chance we can do something about it, at least in our own awareness, and hopefully even beyond that.
– The woman she was speaking to then said, “There is this story in India of a saint, and of how when his cow bled, he would bleed too, out of compassion”. Gangaji replied (in my favorite line of the night), “I wish I had met that saint…he might still be with us!”
– A woman came up who was experiencing a great spiritual shift in her life, but she doubted its validity because her external life was a mess. As she said, she was expecting some sort of alignment between her inner and outer life. “Not necessarily”, said Gangaji, “this isn’t about perfecting your life, or perfecting yourself, or perfecting the world. And thank goodness, or we’d all be waiting forever. This is about finding that presence, that you are feeling right now, all the time, regardless of what else is going on.” I think this exchange is particularly helpful considering how popular teachings related to the law of attraction have become in the last few years. While I believe these teachings have tremendous value for healing, and attaining goals, and all that, none of that has anything to do with discovering who we really are. That peace, that presence, is always with us, regardless of the state of our external lives.
– “Now, what are you going to do with all that power?” Gangaji said this almost under her breath, as one woman stopped on the front of the stage before sitting down, to gaze out at everyone in the crowd. While Gangaji had asked several individuals to gaze like this while sitting with her, what this woman did was different – she thought she was connecting with the audience, but on an energy level she was thriving on the focus. This is not a judgment, just an observation, and it was a potent example of the power of our ego, and its insatiable drive for attention. All of us spend a lot of time and focus collecting power of different types, almost out of habit, and Gangaji’s question is a great one – now, what are we going to do with it?
– One young woman started her exchange with the statement, “I am just at the beginning of being spiritual’, to which Gangaji replied, “STOP. Stop right there! Stay at the beginning! Don’t go any further. The beginning is where it is all at. The problems start as soon as you think you know something, or have something, or had something you have to get back.”
– “Who says you have to be calm and happy to be at peace?” You could substitute almost anything we think we need for the words ‘calm and happy’ – healthy, wealthy, in love, married, divorced, parents, childless, working, not working, travelling, in a cave…you name it. We all start our spiritual journey with projections and ideas about how it is going to improve us or our lives. We all want things, whether material, situational, or experiential. And there are lots of teaching out there to help us get them. But, what does that have to do with being at peace? If your peace is conditional, what good is it? Just find peace now, be peace now, and forget the rest.
For another Gangaji inspired post, try Form and Emptiness, Spirituality and Politics.