The Heart of the Matter
May 04, 2020
Rolling Around on the Floor, Laughing, Laughing, Laughing


When I was 13, living in the suburbs of New York, there were three things I wanted to be when I grew up: a major league baseball player, a writer, and much taller. At no time during my adolescence did I ever once dream of becoming a modern-day monk. But at the age of 30, that had become my aspiration.

Coming out of a failed marriage and being very disillusioned with the world, I found myself on the cusp of taking a lifetime vow of renunciation and entering into one of Prem Rawat's ashrams -- not exactly the future my parents had envisioned for me.

Back then, the process for moving into an ashram was a simple one -- get together with like-minded people of the same gender, rent a place, and begin living the ashram lifestyle as best we understood. Soon after, one of Prem's instructors would visit and make sure we understood what we were getting into.

So that's what I did. I rented an apartment on Adams Street, found six brothers with the same aspiration and moved in.

For the first week, everything went according to plan. We meditated each morning and night. We put fresh flowers on the alter. We ate a lot of rice and beans.

And then something quite unexpected happened.

It began with a visit from Rich Neel, one of Prem's instructors. Rich sat with us in the living room, shared some heartfelt inspiration, and explained what the ashram lifestyle was all about. Inspiring stuff. Practical stuff. It made a lot of sense.


As the evening's gathering was coming to an end, all of us stood to join together in song -- more specifically, to sing Arti -- an ancient Indian song of praise, half in Hindi and half in English. I had sung this song every night for the past few years and loved everything about it -- the words, the melody, and the feeling I had when singing it.

I pretty much knew what to expect. Someone would wave a silver tray of candles to set the tone and then everyone else would chime in -- verse 1 followed by verse 2 followed by verse 3 and so on, all the way to verse 14 where the song would end and everyone would linger a while in the sweet spaciousness that had opened up.

But that's not what happened.

Totally out of the blue, after verse 3, I was overwhelmed by laughter. Big, BIG laughter. Beyond belly laugh laughter. A totally different kind of laughter than I had ever experienced before -- a welling up from the underground spring of laughter... a tidal wave of laughter.... an all-bets-are-off-and-you-have-no idea-what-laughter-is-about laughter.

It was so overwhelming, in fact, that I could not stand. Standing became impossible -- my vertical position some kind of blatant disregard for the Gods of laughter.

The next thing I knew I was on the floor, rolling around, howling with laughter. Everything was so unbelievably funny! Hysterically funny. An absolute riot. In that glorious moment, I was absolutely free -- free of the struggle, free of the past, the future, thinking, trying, not trying, doubt, worry, judgment, ego, self, and everything else that had ever brought me down. All of it was gone.

In it's place, total joy.

As I continued rolling around on the floor, my six beautiful brothers, standing above me, continued singing. No one shushed me. No one asked me to stop laughing. No one tried to get me to stand up.

That night's singing of Arti (what promised to be the soundtrack of the rest of my life), had become a very different kind of two-part harmony: six men standing, one man on the floor. That is, until the very delightful Kelly McGuiness fell to the floor beside me. Now there were two of us rolling around on the floor.

I don't remember how long this went on -- but it felt like forever.

On a night I assumed that reverence would have been the appropriate tone, it was irreverence that reigned supreme -- not the kind that diminished or disrespected the sacredness of our gathering. Quite the contrary. The irreverence I refer to was merely the spontaneous expression of how utterly blissful it was to completely let go of all my ideas, concepts, and beliefs.

These two whirling dervishes walk into a bar...


Prem photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
Laugh photo: Tim Mossholder, Unsplash
A funny story about buying minced garlic

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 4, 2020 09:54 AM

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