Cash (in) and Carry (on)

Someone asked me about people charging money for the natural state.  It was refreshing to have the question put so directly. “Do you think that people who have attained the natural state do not sell their “spiritual” power in order to have an income? Actually I have strong indication that many of them do it. They sell books and they give seminars. So, what is the difference they have with U.G, considering that they also live in the natural state?

I don’t know that anyone is in a state natural or otherwise. I certainly won’t be inclined to believe them if they tell me they are. The question was a refresher. I forget things about UG which I take for granted. Of course, firstly there was the way he kept the audience around him so small by simply refusing to engage in self-promotion of any kind. Who does that? Especially in the spiritual community where so many people have a genuine spiritual awakening and the first thing they do is to rush out to ‘share it with the world’.  Of course this sharing usually starts with them charging money for the privilege. So what is the difference between a spiritual awakening and a job change? So what was wrong with UG?

There was a quiet Italian couple who offered the use of their apartment to him when he visited Italy. He started to visit them, staying in their place for the next few years. The couple sincerely wanted to spend time with him and that seemed to be the only prerequisite. On the other hand there was one wealthy person who wanted him to visit, but they were always changing their mind, so he would go, have a coffee, then make excuses and leave after about 10 minutes. This happened over and over.  When once the Italian man asked UG why he moved around the globe so much, UG gave his standard answer about migrating birds, then at the end of the visit the man invited UG to his home. “I will come for her sake and not yours!” he said, smiling and indicating the man’s wife, who was too shy to talk to him. “I knew then the reason for his moving around the globe.”

There was Major, who UG would stay with in a remote hill station Farmhouse. UG rented it on the spot when Major showed it to him, paying the deposit on a four year rental himself. Then the Major was directed to stay there and keep his own satsang. Was UG driven to this place, with this person for personal gain? There was a young woman in Palm Springs with who UG stayed with for several years while she got her professional life together after years of living on the edge as a seeker. He saw to it that she started small but gradually she developed her own business and was soon enough on her own too feet. The only prerequisite for UG’s company was total devotion. In each instance there are details of the person’s story that indicate that UG simply could not refuse a person if they sincerely wanted to spend time with him.

Then there is the story of the original appearance of “The Mystique of Enlightenment”. Two years after ten thousand rupees had been given to a publisher to print the book, UG was asking what ever happened to it. The fellow responsible said, “I am going to publish it immediately!” Indeed, he soon held a press conference and there sat the brand new copies of  “The Mysitque of Enlightenment” with a nicely decorated cover. The press was in full attendance and the book was released and discussed. I wish I could get my hands on that first edition of “Mysitque” where his real teachings were present in all their pristine purity! Nevermind the fact that there were no words printed on the pages!

UG loved these sorts of people, the ones who took him for granted, or dismissed him as a charlatan. Often they would be celebrated in his company while the rest of us squirmed. A good friend told me the story of a holy man who was supposed to come for lunch one day. UG prepared a nice lunch and the fellow never showed up. He and his friend waited and waited all afternoon for the man to come. Alas, the following day he called with some lame excuse and rescheduled his visit. UG gracefully complied and again a lunch was preparded. This time the fellow showed up, but a few hours late. His friend was incensed after the man left but UG comforted him. “You don’t understand sir, he is not an ordinary person like you and I. He is a holy man!” and there ended the story.

If any of this seems baffling and contradictary, it should. UG was not the usual sort of fellow in any field. He bashed all the rules but never broke the law. He assured people they would get nothing from him, while spending the bulk of his time talking freely to whomever would come to his doorstep. In his own words UG was a ‘complete and total failure’, since, “My words have failed to hit you” … but the result was not his concern. That was left up to those who were attracted to him, but mostly to life itself, (if there is a difference).

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Spammed again

Hi all.

In an effort to be all-inclusive, I approved a post I could not read in French. Apparently it’s porn spam. Be aware.

my apologies to all. I will try to fix this now.

Louis

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Chocolate Spagetti

I don’t speak Italian. That’s one reason I probably feel more relaxed in Milan. I can’t read the bad news in the paper and I can’t overhear anxious conversations, the TV news is just blather. Meanwhile, because Milan is a fashion center, there is a constant promenade going on and I like the sound of the Italian language that goes with it. In this setting and stripped of its content, it sounds even more theatrical. In my ignorance I savor the impression that it means nothing. It is as if it were a song shared by an entire city. Hell, imagine an entire country full of people who enjoy making sing song noises accompanied by excessive gesticulations for no good reason. It beats Dadaism! Of course they appear to be doing the same things everyone else in the world is doing, but are they? Are those really their children? Do they really all have jobs, or is this a parallel universe advertizing frivolity and flair? I know this is a fancy neighborhood, but are those smartly dressed people actually foolish enough to go to work if they don’t have to? Maybe they are using the street as a stage, strutting from one dressing room to another for a costume change. Maybe all this is being filmed… The other day I saw two identical twin blondes in their late middle years, still attractive, dressed the same in stylish black dresses with zebra striped heels. I’m not making this up, even if to me it really looked like a set up. They were down by the Duomo. The two of them had the center stage as they took a seat in an outdoor cafe against the wall, facing their audience with complete studied indifference. As if they were the only thing that existed in the entire universe!  I spotted them again about an hour later having what appeared to be a serious conversation. I know they were just jabbering for show.

Of course it was unsettling to hear a baby crying in the early hours of the morning yesterday. No translation necessary for that noise. The muffled wails of an infant somewhere in the building are disturbing without meaning a thing.  They interrupted my laziness as I lay in the bed, slightly hungry, not wanting to get up and face another day. What could be so wrong in the kid’s life already? Doesn’t it know that mommy and daddy are going to feed and clothe it for at least another 20 years or so? Judging by this neighborhood, mom and dad are doing just fine too, so why doesn’t it relax and lead a babied life for a while? I can’t help remembering another Italian youngster I got to know in Manali in North India some years back. He was about 3 years old. His mom was Italian and his dad was a crazy Englishman. I was teasing him, suggesting he might enjoy some Spagetti Chicolatti, for lunch. Of course he embraced the idea with the full enthusiasm of childish imagination, and immediately started pestering his already stressed mom about this possibility. I’m sure she didn’t find my cleverness in the least bit amusing. She was already dealing with a demented daddy who believed the Aliens were going to land. He was organizing a welcoming party for them back in the UK to assure them that “Love was the Answer”. (I don’t know what planet he was from).  Daddy believed that love was the answer to all his problems. His wife was a little more concerned about the financial future of the shared products of their particular expression of love. Their love recently resulted in another mouth to feed and dad wasn’t exactly the most practical fellow. I had a brief chat that evening about UG with two young mothers by the fire at the guest house. The two were friends and wanted to know what that book I was writing was about. When I talked about UG’s practicality the mothers were a lot more interested than dad was. Something about UG’s practicality was unsettling to him, particularly when I quoted the line “relationship means ‘what do I get out of it’?”  They exchanged knowing glances with each other, rolling their eyes while dad raved on about ‘the only answer…’

Junior meanwhile, was by now crying constantly for that chocolate spaggetti. Even now I feel a twinge of  guilty laughter at the memory of her telling the poor little scoundrel “Marko! Spagetti Chicolatti non-essisto!” Wow. How easy was it to plant that idea in the kid’s head? Just the hint of a combination of a practical food group with candy went right into his little brain housing unit without a hiccup. Not much different from telling people there’s hope for their future happiness in getting a better job, a more beautiful girlfriend or boyfriend or wife or husband, learning a new language, having kids, getting more money, getting married, visiting a new exciting country, or getting enlightened for that matter. Put some things in a person’s head and they just never leave. Chocolate Spagetti indeed. It’s out there.   That’s why I’m glad I don’t understand what the people around me are saying for the moment. At least for a while and by force, I’m immune to more ideas that could change my life. I already have a head full of chocolate spagetti melting and dripping from my eyes ears and nose, making it impossible to see things the way they actually are…

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Purple notes

After my first night in the apartment I discovered an envelope on the bedside table with my name on it. Inside was a Five Hundred Euro note, pale purple, funny color after a life time of using green currency. The pale green 100 notes look equally unconvincing, like play money, only with more serious consequences. This sense of them was enhanced by watching UG handle these peculiar pieces of paper like toys. I remember him walking through an airport in Italy actually, where I find myself today, flourishing a bundle in his hand. There he was, a frail-looking old man, waving the cash in someone’s face as a joke. Most people hide money, conceal it carefully in a pocket or a purse. There he was showing it off, waving it around like a lunatic. He was fearless about money along with everything else.  More than once he handed a child a 50 euro note in a cafe by the side of the road just because he was moved to. The child’s mother flew into a panic for some reason and had to be assured that UG only wanted to give the money, he didn’t expect anything in return.

This apartment is large and elegant like the set of a an Italian movie.  I am here because of someone who read the book I wrote about him. They needed a cat watcher. How fortuitous. Now I’m here for a couple months, trying to write another book. People ask me all the time about sales, but I hate to think about it. Seems like this is the kind of doors that book has opened, the unexpected opportunities to interact with other people interested in him. Its richer than cash flow, although there is no doubt that is essential. Used to be I couldnt get anything to work in my life, now things fall into place despite what I do or do not do. The less effort I make the easier life is.

I took my new friends up to Gstaad before coming here in order to show them where I met UG and also so they could meet some other friends of his. We talked to them about UG for a total of 17 hours 0ut of 20. The Chalet where I met UG all those years has been demolished, “a great big hole in the ground” was the way he described the sight of the Grand Canyon. I would describe him that too way but it’s to simplistic. Anyway, there goes one more item of sentimental value checked off the list. What remains is life. That’s something so big since meeting him that the house is a moot point. It was weird to see that hole, but the space he cleared in my life has more than made up for the loss of some building where things happened a long time ago. As a matter of fact, the memory of all those events is entered into the computer already, so the outside reference is irrelevant now.

 

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Toward the end of a drive by visit to my mother I slipped down to have a look around in the basement while she sat with my sisters finishing dinner. I needed a quick breather to take in something of the house alone. It was cool down there. The space is full of antique furniture and some of my father’s unsalable paintings on table tops and against the walls. It was a relief to poke around down there away from the noisy dinner table where they were all talking about family stuff. I am rarely around for long, so my sisters raced over when she called to inform them that I would be home for a few hours.

It has now been ten years since my father died. The summer they discovered the cancer I was in Switzerland with UG for three and a half months. It was the longest period I’d ever spent away from the world of my studio/loft. Now I have no home to speak of. I received this news over the pay phone on the street in Gstaad down the street from UG’s cave. I was instantly panicked that I’d be called back and relieved when they told me he would have the operation in September after I’d returned. By December of that year he was dead. I was away again, in Miami this time, working on the big fair of the year. Already weak, he collapsed in the front hall of my parents house on the way to a doctor’s appointment. “Would it be cheaper to die at home or in the hospital?” he asked my mother. Sensing his flair for the dramatic, she said “I don’t know, probably at home. Now come on, get up!” I can picture her trying to lift him up, fully dressed, (he was a vain dresser), when he died in her arms. His feet were pointed at the door apparently. “Probably the only practical thing he ever did in his life.” She joked later. She was not as sentimental as he was.

She very quickly took charge of her new life. She bought a new, much smaller house near by, then a new car. She downsized her organized life to downsize immediately from his extravagant tendencies. It took weeks, months, to sort through the lifetime of his obsessive collections of stuff, antiques, electric trains, ship models, hand painted toy soldiers, nautical stuff, books, maps, furniture, and his artworks, some worthless, some with minor value.

My mother sold the family house within a week of buying the new one.  The thirty-some years we’d lived in the big house evaporated into boxes, bags and then a moving van. As the truck sat in the driveway under the huge beech tree they called “The Disney Tree” I sat in my parents empty bedroom as a breeze blew the curtains inward and a slant of sunlight illuminated a slice of floor and wall. An act had come to a close. The drama was over. The character who’d occupied the main role in the plot had exited and we were wrapping up the props to move on. “I want you to live your own life.” He said to my mother before dying. “I already am.” was her revealing reply.

Ten years later I sat in my mother’s basement during a 6 hour visit from my life on the road. A big coffee table monograph of Edward Hopper’s paintings I’d given my dad for Christmas one year sat in a book stand on an antique cabinet. I flipped through the pictures to ‘Sun in an Empty Room’. A faint pencil inscription in my father’s hand was scrawled next to the title. “ALL GONE!”

I cut the image from the book and rolled it up. No one looks at that book but me. I brought it to another nearly empty room, my sublet where I’ll stay until the end of the month before moving on again. Life is sure different now from what it was when all those things happened. No more home. That’s all gone now. No more UG. No more dad. Everything comes and goes. Its all on the way out with the tides and lately that seems more than acceptable. I’ll be here until the end of the month, at which point I will continue hopping from place to place. Nothing was ever permanent, it just seemed like it at the time.

 

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oops

Oops is the word of the day. I leave India in the early morning hours, heading back to the west, back to NYC, the heart of the world of commerce. Some of my final hours are spent with Bob hanging out in a mall in an attempt to cool off. Ahh, the mall, the contemporary place of worship I came to frequent only after meeting that strange man called UG. Bob and I sat talking about him as new India swarmed around consuming soda, cheap fast food, movies, clothes, and mostly the practice, the sadhana of shopping western stye. Tee shirts with silly sayings have become one of those tasteless vogues here. “I’m your future boss” “Being Human”, and other such tedious expressions of Hallmark sentimentality are expressed in the attire of young and old. At the mall there was a woman wearing one that read, “I’m with stupid”, summarizing India’s embrace of American culture in one perfect line.
Bob met UG in 1966 before the ‘calamity’, then again later in 1978 in India at his invitation. The difference, he said, was the vacancy. During the 1980’s UG stayed in his house so on occasion he found himself sitting around with UG when there was no one else there, in the room and also, presumably, in the person sitting in front of him. In one of those quiet moments he looked at him and said, “Make it simple for me UG.” UG just looked at him and said, “It is simple Bob, this is a tape recorder.’ Indicating himself, “And that also is a tape recorder”, indicating Bob, “nothing more”. And that was that.
When you sit with westerners in India, much of the discussion is about the differences between the east and the west. In the west, the shared cultural goal is about conquering nature and becoming famous, wealthy, standing out in history. In India, the cultural goal, rarely actually sought, but nevertheless lingering in its philosophy, is simple, ‘renounce’. This afternoon I stood in a stairwell hoping for a breeze, staring at a brown patch of field where some boys were playing cricket in the sweltering landscape of endless highrise apartment buildings. The thought came to me that India is as unnatural in its superstitions as the west is unnatural in its insistence on logic and reason. Somewhere between all our habits of thought whether eastern or western, lies the reality we can’t see. According to him, it was simple, a glimpse of that would finish us, reboot the computer and the whole thing would collapse inside us like a house of cards. The natural current of life, were it to interrupt this flimsy continuity of one memorized thought path after anther, would fry the habitualized channels of thought, and once and for all, we wouldn’t know what the fuck we were looking at, nor would we care. If we were to let go of that tiger for one second, ‘he said’, we would be thrown off, and get up and walk away.
Alas, there is fear, the fear of losing what I have.
“If you have any sense, you would walk out of here and not walk in anywhere else.” That would be the end of UG as I know and experience him. I would lose UG.
They say that meeting a half baked swami-guru-teacher-enlightened one, is no where near as painful and desperate as meeting a real one. Having met UG I now know what that means. There is no way to back out, there is no way forward, there is nothing left but to cling to bullshit. The painful thing is I can no longer tell myself it is anything but bullshit. The habit is so strong I cannot fully participate, yet I cannot back away, stop, or fool myself that I can control myself. The only thing left to do would be to shut up, but to shut up deliberately will only excite the beast. Any attempt at self control, “This is the last time I’m going to buy into that…” is met with a redoubling of efforts to hang in there, hope for the best, put one foot in front of the other, rather than let it all fall to pieces.
Ooops.

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Here and there.

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