I am posting my writing assignment below as a way of introducing myself to my fellow students. Since I live in St. Louis, I don't have a chance get to know or even meet many of you. So, here is a little bit about me and my journey.
What attracts me to Ma Kali and Kali Mandir is such a hodge-podge of experiences, drives, aspirations and circumstances that it seems hard to pick a coherent theme to present in a few paragraphs. I would like to tell you some dramatic experience that happened with me in reference to Ma, but nothing like that happened. My experiences with the sweet Mother of Kali Mandir has been gentle, quiet and ordinary. Nothing flashy or even particularly noteworthy. And I don’t think I would want it in any other way.
You see, I have had my share of flash, wonder, mystery and even a touch of the miraculous when it comes to gurus and spiritual groups. I was in the inner circle of a charismatic and now famous spiritual teacher. I got to see it all up close. It was wonderful, amazing and sometimes down right transformative. I experienced deep silence and stillness in long meditation retreats as well as ecstatic joy and bliss in satsangs. I enjoyed a shared community and made some deep friendships. I got to teach meditation in India and throughout the US. I got to see people’s hearts melt, physical health issues healed, prisoners find peace and inner freedom. I got to experience incredible things while I was with this teacher. I celebrated and soared high, but eventually I also crashed and burned out. At the end of the day, I realized that I wasn’t particularly happy. The contentment and inner peace I were pursuing was still elusive.
I was in my mid thirties at this point in my life and I had to step back and take stock. Those issue from childhood that I was hoping would just be meditated away were still there. I still was haunted by shame and unresolved trauma from growing up Catholic and gay in the 70’s and 80’s. I also, was questioning my involvement with the spiritual group I was with and coming to terms with its cultish nature.
Around this time, I stumbled upon a process of inquiry call The Work of Byron Katie. This process was a godsend and it helped me question the 1001 hidden, painful beliefs I had about God, sexuality, gurus, religion, self, life, death, afterlife and whatever else was bothering me. It was through this work of questioning, that a new and more gentle view of God and self began to be experienced.
My old images of God didn’t work for me anymore. Something had to replace it. The experience of a loving Presence needed a focal point for me. I instinctively was attracted to the idea as God as mother. Having grown up Catholic and having a deep devotion toward the Blessed Mother it seemed natural. As life would have it, I was introduced to Lalita Devi and formal mother worship through Sri Karunamayi. The devotional practices of Karunamayi resonated with me, but I was reluctant to get too involved with another guru cult again.
So, I started exploring and eventually I came upon the website of Kali Mandir and Swamiji’s podcasts. I started listening to them and found them to be a breath of fresh air. In these podcasts, I found what I was looking for – a deep devotional tradition that was open and non-dogmatic. An ancient tradition that was modern in its outlook, but not trendy nor was it proselytizing.
I started visiting Kali Mandir and discovered a sincere, low key community of real devotees who took the spiritual life seriously. The Swamis and Usha Ma simply lived dedicated lives devoted to Ma. They weren’t trying to save the world or recruit disciples. They allowed me to visit and hang out, but they weren’t eager to convert me. Given my background this was a bit disorientating but oh so welcomed. Another thing I really appreciated was the depth of spirituality along with openness. Many of the more serious and deeper spiritual traditions tend to be anti-gay. Kali Mandir has that connection with a deep tradition without the closed-mindedness that often accompanies those traditions.
As for my experience with Ma, she glowed with a quiet presence that was intimate, loving and kind. I felt like she took me where I was at. She didn’t need me to change or do anything special. She gently communicates her care for me and slowly I am drawn closer. There is no fuss or flash, just love. I am experiencing a more solid and grounded relationship with the Divine that is more intimate and much freer of inner conflict, drama and turmoil. What a relief!
I feel like Ma guided me to Kali Mandir as an answer to a not-so-fully conscious prayer for a safe spiritual haven. One in which I am not rejected for being gay nor exploited for what I have to offer. It is a gentle place that is so solidly a blessing that it doesn’t need to advertise or announce its greatness. It just shines quietly. I am very grateful. Even though I may only go to Kali Mandir once or twice a year, I find my heart and my mind often visits. The temple itself is a sweet spiritual home, but just as importantly so are the teachings. Many pranams to Ma, the swamis and Usha Ma.