The Heart of the Matter
March 25, 2016
The Orange

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Every spiritual tradition in the world has its own collection of rites and rituals that make up the warp and woof if it's particular path. These rites and rituals, the origins of which are not always understood, give its practitioners something to do -- something not just think about or meditate on, but a physical activity they can focus on to help them remember the metaphysical connection to the essence of their path.

I get it. I do. Rituals work. Or as my rabbi liked to say, "If you want to learn to dance, sometimes you need to start with the box step."

My kids, for example, cannot celebrate Christmas without leaving milk and cookies out for Santa, even though its been years since they realized that the fat guy in the red suit didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of making it down our chimney.

While I have never been a big fan of rites and rituals, I definitely have experienced their benefit, the most memorable one happening for me in 1974. That was the year I lived in a spiritual commune, on a 600 acre farm, 12 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Three times a week, the six of us would sit, cross-legged, in our living room and, as a part of a spiritual practice given us by the same wonderful Teacher, share from the heart.

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It was at one of these gatherings that I first heard the news about an ashram that would soon be moving to our little town. An ashram! A center of spiritual life! A divine abode of God-seeking souls -- students of the same teacher I had -- who had dedicated their lives to the realization of the highest truth.

I couldn't believe my good fortune. Now, I would have a place to go and serve whenever I wanted to dive deeper into the depths of the spiritual path I was on. Cool.

Back then, as I understood it, the prevailing ritual of welcoming a new ashram was to bring a gift -- usually a flower or a piece of fruit -- and place it on the altar. And so, on the day the ashram was going to open its doors, I made a pilgrimage to my favorite grocery store in search of the perfect piece of fruit.

The cantaloupes looked great, but seemed a bit too big to place upon an altar. The apples also looked great. They were red, unblemished, and shiny. Too shiny, I thought -- almost as if they had been polished in some back room to make them stand out. Uh uh. No way did I want my offering to stand out. I wanted my offering to fit in with the other flowers and fruit. Hey, this wasn't about me and my offering. This was about selfless giving, right? That's when I noticed the oranges -- perfectly round, unpolished, and delicately textured pieces of fruit. Yes! Oranges!

Choosing the roundest and most orangey orange I could find, I blissfully made my way through the 5 Items or Less check-out lane, carefully positioned my orange on the passenger seat of my 1966 Volkswagen, and began driving to the ashram -- a destination that was going to be the radiant sun around which the Pluto of my longing was going to revolve.

Driving more slowly than usual to ensure my orange didn't roll onto the floor, I closed my eyes and meditated at every traffic light and stop sign along the way. Beauty was everywhere around me. The dogwood trees were blooming. The robins were singing. And the sweetest of fragrances filled the air.

And then, as if choreographed by the hand of an all knowing God, the perfect parking space opened up right in front of the ashram. Whoa! If this wasn't heaven, it was pretty damn close. How fortunate I felt! How graced! I closed my eyes and meditated some more.

Five minutes passed. Then another five. If there was one thing I was sure of it was this: my front seat meditation was not going to be of the token "minute of silence" variety. Nope. No way. My meditation was going to be the real deal -- as real as the feeling that brought me here in the first place.

Lovingly lifting my orange in the air, inspecting it for dust and dirt, I made my way out of the car, ascended a few steps, and found myself standing on the front porch. Pausing briefly, I lifted my hand and rang the bell. What a sweet sound it was -- a chime for all times. And then... as the sound slowly faded away... I enjoyed an even sweeter silence. A few seconds passed. Then the door opened. Standing there was a hairy, pot-bellied man in a stained undershirt. He had a bottle of beer in his left hand.

"Yeah?" he said. "Whaddya want?"

"Um...er.. is this the ashram?" I asked.

"Hell no," he barked. "Those people don't move in until tomorrow." Then he slammed the door.

I just stood there, unmoving, a perfectly round orange in my right hand.

The above story is not included in my recently published book

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at March 25, 2016 12:59 PM

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