Storytelling at Work
July 12, 2020
The Many Faces of Love

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There are many forces at work, in our lives, that defy logic and the mind's ability to comprehend. These forces have been variably referred to, over the years, as serendipity, synchronicity, grace, lila, karma, God's play, maya, and the great mystery of life. All of us, in our own unique way, have had these experiences -- small, medium, and large -- unforgettable moments that cannot be explained.

The following story of mine, one that I have hesitated to write for the past 49 years, is infused with some of these moments for your inspiration and delight. My purpose in sharing it with you is not to call attention to myself or promote my particular point of view, but to focus your attention, however briefly, on the magic of life we sometimes forget, ruled as we are by the density of things on planet earth -- especially during these dark and difficult days of the Coronavirus.

Ready? Here goes:

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The year was 1971. I was a long-haired, 24-year old hippie, living on Martha's Vineyard, having what appeared to be a beautiful life. To most observers, I had it all -- a country home, a loving relationship, a dog named Zeke, great friends, meaningful work, and plenty of time to explore the idyllic island on which I lived. But at the molten core of my being, something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was, but there was no denying the fact that I was experiencing a growing sense of restlessness, emptiness and, on a bad day, despair.

Like many of my generation, disappointed with the world and the so-called "material plane", I had become a seeker -- madly looking for God or whatever the non-denominational word was for the universal essence of life. Whether I was trying to find myself or lose myself, I wasn't quite sure, but one thing I knew, in my bones, was this: something existed beyond what my two eyes could see and it was calling me -- sometimes with whispers, sometimes with howls. Yes, a deep thirst was welling up from within me and I needed to honor that thirst, follow it, and see where it lead.

And so, inspired by this feeling, I began reading every holy book I could find -- the only way I knew, at the time, to learn what I thought I needed to learn -- the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Tao The Ching, the Zen Teachings of Huang Po, Autobiography of a Yogi, The Aquarian Gospel, Be Here Now, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and anything else I could lay my hands on that would open my horizons and my heart.

Clues. I was looking for clues. Peace. I was looking for peace.

I did yoga. I meditated. I fasted. I refused to speak on Sundays. And I experimented, like most of my counter-culture friends, with psychedelics -- driven as I was to experience the "Divine". Oh, I almost forgot, as often as possible, I listened to George Harrison's My Sweet Lord and danced around my living room, spinning in great circles.

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But dancing didn't pay the bills and whatever money I had managed to save was disappearing quickly, so I decided to apply for a job at Cornocupia, my neighborhood health food store.

Upon entering, I noticed two things: a bunch of 100-pound bags of chickpeas on the floor and ten photos on the walls of an extraordinary-looking man. I had never seen anyone like him before. He was beaming. Radiating. Glowing. If love had a face, it was his. I stood there, totally transfixed.

"Who is that man?" I asked Skip and Susie, the owners of the store.

"That's Meher Baba," they replied.

"Who is Meher Baba?" I asked.

"He's the Avatar of the Age -- here to usher in the age of love."

"Well, whatever he's doing," I thought to myself, "sure seems to be working," blasted as I was by the simple act of looking at his face.

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Noticing I was, shall we say, "open" to the man whose photos graced the walls of their store, Skip and Susie, the next day, brought me a three-volume set of his books -- Discourses -- the covers of which were sky blue. I devoured them in a few days. Everything he said made perfect sense to me. And even though some of his writing seemed complex, at first blush, especially his description of the different varieties of enlightened souls on Earth -- something in me understood what he was getting at in a heartbeat.

One particular passage jumped off the page for me -- his reference to the phenomeon of a "Perfect Master" -- and his strong suggestion that, if one should ever have the good fortune to hear about a such a being, to seek him out as soon as possible and ask for his knowledge.

The next day I posted a photo of Meher Baba on my meditation room door and, with that posting, I felt I had the complete set of big time beings on my walls -- enlightened souls who, somehow, I believed, could help me on my way: Krishna was in the living room, Shiva in the hallway, Jesus in the kitchen, and Buddha in the bedroom.

Covered. I felt covered.

One of my God-seeking practices at the time included the periodic ingestion of psychedelics -- the fast track, it seemed, to new and improved dimensions of reality. And so, one fine Spring day, "under the influence," I found myself laying on my back, alone, in the middle of a meadow, when I looked up and was amazed to see that the entire sky had become Meher Baba's face. As the clouds moved, only the expression on his face changed -- and his age. One minute he was the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" guy, the next minute he was a young Persian mystic, eyes on fire. I don't know how long I laid there, transfixed, but it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that this man, born in Poona, India, in 1894, someone who chose to remain silent for the last 44 years of his life, was having a huge impact on me. I couldn't explain it. Nor did I want to.

And then, a few days later, came the letter from Ed, my best friend -- a man who was a kind of spiritual big brother to me -- five years older and probably several lifetimes, too. Ed was the real deal -- deep, authentic, grounded, wise, and very solitary -- a gent with a huge BS detector and never a "joiner" of things. In his letter, Ed explained that he had recently met some devotees of a 13-year old "Perfect Master" from India -- a young boy named Maharaji (now known as Prem Rawat.)

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Whoa! Dude! Really? A Perfect Master! Like the one I read about last week in Meher Baba's Discourses?

Ed, God bless him, went on to explain that he'd received Knowledge from the young Master and wanted to tell me more about it -- and would -- if only I would make the trek from Martha's Vineyard to Cambridge. And so I did.

The first thing I noticed, upon arriving, was a framed, black and white photo of the young Master on Ed's kitchen table. It was xeroxed, off center, and looked nothing like what I imagined a Guru was supposed to look like, always having pictured, in my mind, an elderly man with sallow cheeks, long hair, beard, and penetrating eyes.

I was not impressed. And yet, there was Ed -- a man accustomed to chewing his rice 100 times before swallowing -- absolutely radiant, attributing his off-the-grid well-being to the Knowledge he'd received just weeks ago from this young boy. I could barely keep up with him as we walked the streets of Cambridge. He was a man on fire with love and I could feel the warmth.

I had a lot to think about on my long trek back to The Vineyard. And as I did, it became increasingly clear to me that thinking was only going to take me so far. Thinking had its place, of course, but it wasn't the only game in town. Like a menu, in a 5-Star restaurant, it indicates that something's cooking in the kitchen, but the menu isn't the food.

Something else was needed, something beyond my mind and my love affair with seeking and I found out exactly what that something was, just a few weeks later when I has the great good fortune to receive the Knowledge this young Perfect Master was revealing -- an experience far beyond what I had the capacity to imagine. Indeed, if I had to die on that day, I would have died a happy man, the reason I came here, fulfilled. Every prayer I had ever prayed was answered and many I had no words for.

Mind blown, heart open, promised land now beneath my feet, I found the friends I had traveled with, got back into our car, and headed to Harvard Square for a celebratory dinner before we hit the road. Parking space located, engine off, I opened the door, exited, and stood. And as I did, the first thing I saw was the face of Meher Baba, smiling at me from a large button on the jacket of a woman walking by. It was the same photo as the one on my meditation room door.

Fast forward three years...

While I was very much enjoying the practice of Knowledge and the blossoming life of being a young devotee, my marriage was falling apart. On the inside, I was happy, On the outside, I was not. Still holding onto the possibility that our marriage could be healed, my wife and I decided to go on a month-long pilgrimage -- one that would take us to Florida where Prem would be hosting a festival in honor of his long-gone father, Shri Maharaji. Hans Jyanti it was called -- a celebration of the Guru's Guru.

The pilgrimage. Oy. Don't ask. About as painful as they come. Lots of long silences in the car. Lots of tension. Lots of failed attempts to find something mutual to talk about. Yes, we had taken a vow a few years earlier to love each other until death do us part, but I couldn't recall a single vow we'd taken that referred to the unglamourous moment we now found ourselves in -- the unraveling of earthly love... the social distancing before it was fashionable ... the emotional pain. And while our bodies were both in the front seat of our 1974 Fiat, our souls were very far away.

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On the second day of our journey, four hundred miles closer to our destination, the sun setting in South Carolina, out of the blue I remembered there was a Meher Baba retreat somewhere in that state.

"How cool would it be if we could stay there for a while?" I thought to myself. And so I called.

An elderly woman answered. I made my request and she followed with a series of questions, wanting to know what my relationship was with Meher Baba, what I knew about his life, what books of his I had read, and why I wanted to stay at the retreat. I don't remember what I said, but whatever it was inspired her enough to drive to meet us where we had pulled off the road.

Thirty minutes later, her car pulls up, she exits, and walks towards me. There in the middle of nowhere -- literally at a crossroads somewhere in the boonies of South Carolina -- the two of us continue our conversation, she asking me more questions about Meher Baba -- who I thought he was... what did I know about him... what I remembered from his books and so forth and so on. She asked. I answered. She asked again. I answered again.

And then, seemingly satisfied with our exchange, she paused, smiled, and took one step closer to me.

"Mitch.... I understand your request... but as fate would have it, we're full up at the Center. There are no rooms available. But... um... er... there is one room left and that is Meher Baba's bedroom. We don't usually let anyone stay there, but I'm going to make an exception for you and your wife. Just get back in your car and follow me. I'll lead the way."

Toto, we're not in Kansas, anymore, I believe the expression goes.

Meher Baba's bedroom was an absolute oasis for me. A haven. A heaven. A womb. The warm spot on the lost pillow of my life. For the next three days, Toni and I were received with great love and graciousness into the Meher Baba community. Effortlessly, we became a part of it. We cooked together. We ate together. We shared from the heart together. Pure sweetness, it was. An eternal Sunday. Nothing to do, but be.

On the fourth day of our unplugging from the drama of our life, having lunch with some of our new found friends, I let everyone know we were leaving after lunch.

"Where are you going?" one of them asked.

Not wanting to ruffle feathers or speak about a Master different than theirs, I tried to be as vague as possible.

"To a festival in Florida," I said.

"What kind of festival?" came the reply.

"A festival of love," I said.

"What kind of festival of love?"

"Um... a festival in honor of our Master's father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj."

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Pin drop silence. And a side of pin drop silence after that.

I don't know if there's a word for the curious moment we now found ourselves in, the moment when a group of spiritual practitioners, all with the same Master, simultaneously realize that their collective assumption about something or someone was completely unfounded, but that was the moment we were in. Maybe in German there's a name for it... or maybe in Hindu or Sanskrit, but here, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, sitting in the dining room of Meher Baba's retreat, half-eaten plates of organic cheese cake before us, there was none.

And then, much to my surprise -- perhaps in honor of a wrathful Tibetan deity I still had karma with, one very agitated woman stood and started screaming at me.

"I COME HERE TO GET AWAY FROM PEOPLE LIKE YOU!" she bellowed, then turned and stormed away. And as she did, everyone else at the table turned to us, eyes full of love, and asked if we would join them for a short walk to the lake house so we could tell them more about that young Master of ours -- someone they had heard about before, but didn't know much.

And so we did, Toni and I, sitting with them by the still waters of a beautiful lake, enjoying their company for a hour or so and the common ground of love. It was then, at that precise moment in time, I felt a surge from deep within me of immense gratitude for all the great beings in my life who had helped me on my way -- each of whom had paved the way for me find my own Master, Prem Rawat: For starters, there was Meher Baba... Yogananda... the Dalai Lama... Baba Ram Dass... Neem Karoli Baba... Chogyam Rinpoche... Buddha... Krishna... Jesus... Suzuki Roshi... Kirpal Singh... Swami Satchitananda... and so many others. I thanked them all and still do.

It is now 49 years after the moment I first saw Meher Baba's photo in that health food store on Martha's Vineyard. It is now 49 years after the moment I received the great gift of Knowledge from Prem Rawat. I am 72, not 24. My hair, what little I have left, is no longer long. But the love in my heart continues to grow. It is sometimes uncontainable. I sing. I laugh. I cry. And I am very grateful for all three.

If I may, before I take my leave from my brief virtual time with you, my friend, I would like to offer a big shout out to the two beings in my life who have been of enormous service to me in ways I barely understand. First, to Meher Baba for waking me up to love and the possibility that someone like Prem Rawat might exist. And then, of course, to Prem Rawat, himself, a man who continues to be an unending source of inspiration, love, comfort, guidance, laughter, wisdom, and gratitude. I have learned more from him in a single glance, gesture, or word than all of the holy books I have ever read. Not only has he awakened the deepest thirst for the divine within me, he has quenched that thirst. And then, just as that thirst was quenched, he deepened it even more... and then quenched it once again. I have no words to describe this man, even though I've written hundreds of pages about him and what his impact on my life has been. We play the hands we're dealt, my friends. I've been given words and the gift of gab. And even though I know I am only clearing my throat backstage in an empty theater, I will continue making the effort to express my heart's desire until my very last breath.

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Prem Photos: Courtesy of TimelessToday
PremRawat.com
Prem's recent series of lockdown videos
Meher Baba
Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 12, 2020 05:14 AM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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