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In this series, Art of Living Journeys, we come face to face with people, their lives and their own journey in the Art of Living. The backgrounds are various: from backstreets in cities to dirt roads, and as we see in our first experience, from Detroit to South India. These are exciting stories, sometimes humorous and at times poignant, which touch on the heart of the spiritual journey. Our first story comes from Daniel Kaufman, 500 RYT, therapist and resident at the Art of Living Retreat Center. – Andrew
December 7, 1998 – 9:33 am – 8 Mile and Woodward
I’m awake but my eyes are closed. Still breathing in the mist of last night’s dream before it evaporates completely.
I was wearing all white. Navigating some strange place with friends. I didn’t know what we were doing and I didn’t care. I was so happy for some reason. Everyone was so happy.
Undercover with eyes still closed a sly smile spreads across my face. Something ridiculous about seeing myself all in white like that. I mean I don’t own a single article of white clothing. Nobody wears white in Detroit.
Soon I realize the dream’s last vestiges are gone and now I’m just lying in bed procrastinating. I need to get up and drive down Woodward Avenue. Past 8 mile road and the dilapidated old pizza shop with the roof caved in. Past the arson houses. Past abandoned East Grand Boulevard with its shop windows all boarded up. Past all that, to Warren Avenue and the Wayne State University campus where my class starts in. . .
I glance at the clock. . .
3 minutes ago.
I blink and shake my head hoping the digital red numbers will rearrange themselves. To my surprise they do. Now class started 4 minutes ago. I jump up out of bed, throw my bedroom door open and bound out into the hallway. But something goes wrong. Instead of moving forward into the hallway I’m tumbling backward through exploding stars. I wake up a second time lying on my back. Head throbbing. Left eyebrow feels wet for some reason.
It takes me a few seconds to put it all together. My bedroom door hit a pair of bunched up shorts on the floor and stopped halfway. But I didn’t stop. I ran full steam into the edge of the door and knocked myself out cold. My left eyebrow is full of blood.
I get up a second time, kick the shorts into the corner and push the door open all the way. In the bathroom I clean up the blood then pull on my black jeans, black t-shirt, and black hoody. I look up into the mirror at my new black eye. At least it matches my outfit.
February 29, 2016 – 12:28 pm – Bangalore Slums
If I didn’t know better I’d think I was dreaming. I mean how did I get here? My head swivels on its axis to take in the scenery.
Dusty buildings leaning at dangerous angles. Unintelligible script on signs. Mangy dogs lounging on piles of trash. And brown skinned people with the brightest eyes and smiles I’ve ever seen. These people look like they just stepped out of a fairy tale or came from some mystic land or something. Well I guess this is some mystic land.
This is India.
We’re led off the street through a rusty iron gate and down a cramped corridor. Left, then right, then left again and we emerge into the large atrium of a local primary school. I’m with a group of internationals from Russia, France, Costa Rica, Argentina, Mauritius, China, Canada. We just finished the Art of Living blessings course at the Bangalore ashram with senior teacher Akash. Akash is a story all by himself but I’ll leave that for another time. He passed on to us the ability to give blessings. From our Guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to Akash, to us. What exactly was passed on I could never explain. Something subtle. Something I never would have believed if I didn’t experience it for myself.
Now I’m standing in the center of this atrium. Hundreds of kids beaming their smiles up at me. Waiting eagerly for their blessings. Their teacher signals it’s time to begin and the kids come running. I place the palm of my right hand on the first child’s head and do what I’ve been shown how to do. He looks up with a smile that almost electrocutes me. Then he touches my feet and runs off laughing. Next in line is shy girl of about nine with long black braids. Same white smile. Same shining eyes. I give a blessing and she touches my feet then goes off running with her classmates.
I’m so lost in the experience I don’t even notice how surreal the whole scene is. That would come later. For now it’s just blessing after blessing. School after school. Hour after hour. By late afternoon I feel a strange sensation below my temples. My cheeks are sore from smiling for so long. My body feels like a superconductor with a million volts passing through. My body doesn’t even feel like a body. Feels like a current. I’ve never felt this good in my life.
Then I realize my Guru’s trick. We aren’t here giving blessings. We’re here receiving them. Or maybe there’s no difference between the two at all. I look down and notice I’m wearing all white.
Some half remembered dream creeps in along the edges of my consciousness and I can’t help but wonder again at how I got here. I think back to the day I first heard of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living.
July 9, 2013 – 9:12 am – Charleston, South Carolina
Woke up again this morning. Same as yesterday. Same as everyday. Cloud from last night still hanging around my head. Cloud from the last 10 years. Nothing a hot shower and a 20 minute meditation can’t fix. So into the shower I go. I steam myself until my fingertips look like Caucasian raisins then get out, dry off, and plop down for meditation.
20 minutes disappear into the void.
Since moving in with my flatmate Anthony meditation has started happening for me. He’s been meditating all his life and somehow something must have rubbed off. Hanging above our fireplace there’s this stunning black and white photo of Anthony’s Guru’s hands. After meditation I like to sit and stare at it.
Anyway enough rumination. I’ve been good for 20 minutes and now it’s time to indulge the day’s first addiction. Coffee.
My feet carry me to the kitchen on their own. My hands move unconsciously. They know exactly what they’re doing. Water goes in the kettle. Beans get ground. Grinds go into the french press. Boiling water tumbles in. Steam rises.
A few minutes pass in slo-mo anticipation while the infusion steeps. Then my left hand presses the plunger down and pours the thick black nectar into my favorite mug. Mouth watering, my right hand lifts the brew for that intoxicating first sip.
But for some reason it stops halfway.
Has my right hand seceded from the union or what? I look down in disbelief to see my renegade hand setting the mug back down on the counter. I have no idea what’s going on. Nothing like this has ever happened before. I mean that’s my morning coffee. I NEED it.
Then a voice in my head tells me I should go out for coffee today.
I can’t tell if it’s my voice or someone else’s. Can’t tell what language it’s speaking or if it’s even speaking a language at all. All I know is I have to go out for coffee today.
I’m a little mad about the whole situation but it doesn’t seem wise to argue with disembodied voices, plus I haven’t had my morning coffee yet so I’d probably lose the argument anyway. I pull on my shoes and leave a perfectly good cup of coffee steaming on the counter.
At the local cafe I take 3 long glugs before I even pay the barista. The aperture of my eyes adjusts. The scene comes into focus. I let out a long exhale. Coffee. I head outside to sit at my favorite table under my favorite living oak.
At first glance I see the table’s taken and I’m about to turn around when the arms of the girls at the table start waving at me. On approach I see it’s Sharla and Lindsay, two friends and fellow yoga teachers.
“Hey Daniel!” They say it in unison like we’re in an 80’s movie.
“Hey,” my voice sounds like I swallowed a desert.
“What you up to?” asks Lindsay. I lift my mug and eyebrows a quarter inch. My way of saying “coffee” without actually having to say anything.
“We have a business meeting in a few minutes but you should stay.” Sharla pushes an empty chair in my direction. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything.”
My friends look beautiful in the dappled sunlight and it’s nice to be with people who can tell when my coffee guage is too low for conversation. I sit down and a few minutes pass in the sunshine at the table under the oak.
Before long an Indian girl about our age walks up and and smiles. Her teeth and eyes are very, very white. They remind me of something but I can’t quite place it. We all stand up and introductions are made.
She smiles. I nod. We all sit down.
The business meeting commences. Something about commercial real estate and energy healing. I pull a Murakami paperback from my backpack and get through all of 3 pages before the meeting ends. Sharla and Lindsay promptly stand up, say they have to go, and walk off waving.
Coffee is kicking in and my mind starts in with the questions. I mean why did I abandon my first cup of coffee in the first place? How did I wind up here with this girl I’ve never met before? The whole thing is starting to feel like a set up. But that would mean someone managed to plant a voice inside my head this morning. Impossible. And anyway only the voice of God himself could make me abandon a perfectly good cup of coffee.
Wait a second . . . am I dreaming?
These thoughts and a thousand others bolt through my head like scattering gazelles but I don’t let on. The upside of being uncomfortable in social situations all my life is that now I’m comfortable being uncomfortable in social situations.
The conversation turns to me. I nod from behind my mug. I’m hiding and I think she knows it.
At some point, she pulls out a photo of her guru. It’s an Indian man in his fifties with an impossibly broad forehead, long hair and a beard. He’s smiling like an innocent child but his eyes look a million years old. Like bottomless pits or far off galaxies.
“He’s coming in a couple weeks,” Her voice pulls me back from the edge of the abyss. “You should come meet him.”
The words echo around inside my skull for a long time before I manage to answer.
She goes on to explain that the man in the photo is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his organization is called the Art of Living. It’s the second largest non-profit in the world and does humanitarian work all over the globe. She says he’ll be visiting the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone in less than two weeks. Then she says it again.
“You should come meet him.”
I feel my whole life hanging in the balance and I don’t know why. I don’t know that the Art of Living Retreat Center is about to become my home. I don’t know that my addictions are on their deathbeds. I don’t even know the sound of my own Guru’s voice (otherwise I would have recognized it this morning telling me to go out for coffee). I don’t know anything yet.
Later, back at the apartment, I do my best to explain the bizarre events of the day to Anthony. I tell him the whole story from morning coffee to “you should come meet him”. When I finish I glance up at his Guru’s hands. They’re upturned and empty but offering something all the same.
“You realize you have to go right?” Anthony’s smiling this peculiar smile. Like he knows something.