An Essential Flavour of Feeling

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 I once sat only yards away from the meditation master, Gurumayi, at her ashram in New York state. She was singing a melody that had a heart piercing, entrancing effect. I experienced a profound stillness along with a sense of wonder and joy. I had not thought it was possible to feel so blissful. 

 Here was music I’d never heard before and yet I somehow recognized it. It had a certain quality or flavour to it that, in a sense, I had always been hearing, or at least been searching for, longing for, all my life. 

 My sense was: ‘This is it - I have never done better than to be here in this place.' As I told someone later: “It was like all my dreams had come true.” 

 Nothing externally had changed. Internally, everything had.

 It all had to do with a particular flavour of feeling, an essential one, I would say. I felt myself fully to be in an eternal dimension.

 As a young Christian in my early twenties, I was cautioned against a reliance on feeling, even though, interestingly, it was someone like John Wesley’s experience of a heart strangely warmed that served as the primary catalyst of his ministry. 

 Yet I took the advise against feeling seriously and tried to heed it. But in time I came to realize that my guides had been men who lived mainly in their heads and who knew little or nothing about the quality and depth of feeling that I am trying to describe here. 

 Thus all these years later, I continue to cherish the essential feeling evoked by a chant sung at an ashram. I tasted something then that has remained the chief feature of my life.

 A word in East Indian thinking may, to some extent, capture that feeling. The word is rasa. Rasa is the sense of an essential flavour - the felt sense of a kind of electrifying juice at the heart of things. 

 To be in a state of rasa, is to experience an inner explosion of feeling that has the effect of suffusing everything with an incredible juiciness. 

 Rasa, put in other words, is a certain feeling for the Divine - for God - for the Absolute - for the Highest - for Transcendence. 

 It’s the mental state of someone who has undergone an aesthetic arrest, or aesthetic rupture, when her mind has been seized and calmed so strongly that streams of living water are released and flow upwards, from hitherto buried depths.

 I don’t know if there is anything more important that to find ways to evoke such a feeling in yourself - this taste for the infinite, or yearning for contact with truth. 

 I don’t know what matters more than to cultivate such a sensitivity until it becomes the preeminent orientation of your life. 

 Now it seems to me that there are in contrast many lesser feelings than rasa, various passions of one kind or another which, when followed, have a devouring or consuming effect.  

 Hence the warnings in all scriptures not to be hypnotized by worldliness -  not to be caught up in 'getting and spending and thereby laying waste to your powers.'

 As someone so ensnared testified. "I disappear when I shop. I vanish from the planet. I diminish and impoverish myself by this addiction and others like it."

 As in the case, similarly, when any of us diminish ourselves by feeding the habit of always finding something to complain about.

 In this regard, philosopher, Jacob Needleman, writes: “I began to notice the same complaint coming from almost everyone I knew. People would say something like: “I’m going through a very bad time just now.” Or they would say of someone else, “This is a rough period for her.” 

 He kept hearing friends and acquaintances report that they were at present only "passing through something," but that soon they would "break into calmer water."

 But Jacob started to realized that the “rough periods” were becoming the "permanent feature of these people’s lives.” 

 One hears this kind of complaining in my rainy city of Vancouver: “I’m going through a rough period. Right now, I'm experiencing seasonal disorder." 

 "It’s the latest diagnosis I’ve received to account for my condition. I’m a victim of seasonal change." 

 "I’m stuck with this condition because I live in Vancouver. It happens every year. It explains my bouts with depression. I’m just fine and then the weather changes and I get sour and moody. It overpowers me. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

 But, amazingly, the mood swings and crankiness appear to go on through each and every season.  

 It’s a way of pulverizing yourself, the way of disempowerment, accompanied by the sense of waiting, always waiting, for the better day, for some big thing to happen: "I’ll get it together when my ship finally come in. Or when the season changes. Or when I win the lottery. Or when my prince shows up, or princess, as the case may be." 

 Or when it’s finally your turn to hear those magical words: "Come on down, Betty Sue! You’re on The Price is right!" And then you can run like a crazed fool up on to the stage, to claim your prize, delirious with excitement.

 Or perhaps you dream of owning something a neighbour has. As a young lad, for example, Jacob Needleman, "knew that my schoolmate, Paul Meyer, who lived in a big house at the corner of our block, was rich."

 "Whatever I wanted, Paul Meyer had, “the latest evidence being his new Schwinn bicycle.”

 "We went down to his large playroom in the basement. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw what he had there. Every toy I ever dreamed of having, and many I had never even heard of before, were neatly arrayed on wide shelves all around the room.”

 "When I saw his set of electric trains, I gasped and trembled. Half the floor was covered with gleaming silver tracks, crossing and looping beyond all comprehension, passing by exquisitely realistic switching and loading stations, bridges, and signal poles with tiny lights flashing, and through a long mountain tunnel that had an actual miniature village with little houses and streets nestled on the slope." 

 "As for the trains themselves, when I saw them, I nearly exploded. They seemed a hundred times bigger than any toy trains I’d ever seen. They were exact in every detail.”

 “And especially, the heavy locomotive, with moving wheels and great rods and countless spinning, interlocking parts - more real than reality itself.”

 "I thought with shame of the miserable, tiny little set of trains that I owned.”

 And yet, in this wonderland of toys, young Jacob noticed something else. It was his friend’s sadness.

 The little boy who had everything wasn’t happy. He was in fact deeply sad. He was a “sad, little prince.” 

 Nevertheless, putting aside that perception, Jacob "returned home, and "ran to get my own cheap train and set the tiny locomotive on the small circle of tracks. Something had long ago broken in the rusting switch box, so I clumsily pushed the locomotive around the tracks.” (p. 21)

 It broke me up to hear of the young Jacob Needleman pathetically pushing his locomotive around the tracks. Surely, I, too, have done something like that, wishing that I could have a powerful, speeding locomotive instead of my own little choo-choo

 But then, years later, Jacob saw a face that reminded him of Paul Meyer’s - with that same sad look. That same look of emptiness, indicating an inner poverty, despite the dazzling externals. 

 In his book, Money and the Meaning of Life, Professor Needleman describes this multi-millionaire, a grown up rich kid, who had everything externally, but nothing internally.

 Here was the same sadness again, the result of a missing inner dimension.

 But in contrast to that rich, but empty multi-millionaire, Needleman tells of a business executive, also well off, but whose primary feature was of something essential, an evident capacity, that “set him apart from many other teachers and guides that I have met over the years.”  

 Here was someone who had cultivated that essential feeling to the point that he had become a remarkable presence. 

 One day he was talking with this busy president of a corporation, and noticed once again that he “did not seem the slightest bit driven to get back to his business.” He was fully immersed in the moment - not distractible.

 All that mattered to him was now, not then. His presence was an “even, calm attention.”

 Jacob had been feeling somewhat restless in contrast and began to leave. 

 But upon making his way out the door, he found a question arising inside: "What am I doing? Why am I leaving the presence of this person who embodies something that I am searching for?

 Well, it's my conviction that to find that dimension of feeling, to relish its power and flavour, means so much, if not everything.

 And it seems to me that any attempt to block that awareness is of the nature of evil.

 I posted on Facebook the other day a picture of my three and a half year old goddaughter, Marta, whose presence radiates innocence and openness. She’s a vehicle of Divinity. The feeling I’m describing shines through her. She’s radiant with it. Hers is a flavourful presence. She’s full of rasa.

 Someone commented that there is more to Marta than prettiness. There is a certain feeling there. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

 I’m trusting that if I live long enough, I will have a conversation with Marta about this essential feeling, this feeling for God.

 And I will say, if I have the chance: ‘When you’re searching for a life mate, Marta. When you talk about this essential feeling with him, and if in response his eyes glaze over and he has no clue what you’re talking about, I trust that you will, without delay, give him a strong heave ho.'

  'For you don’t, Marta, want to live through years of loneliness with a man who doesnt understand this, who doesn’t get it.' 

  'For, frankly, it doesn’t even matter what else he gets. If you’ve experienced this feeling, this rasa, and he hasn’t, he’s not marriage material, Marta.' 

  ‘Send the boy packing.'

  For we as human beings are built to allow this contact with truth.

  And it is therefore "the most practical thing in the world to intensify the experience of truth,” until it becomes more intense and interesting than anything else in your life.

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 Fair Lord Jesus, Swami Nirvanananda