Yesterday I was cold. Not surprising, as we live at 6,000 feet altitude in an inadequately insulated house with no heat. Yesterday was not only cold, but gloomy and dark. The combination put me into a rebellious, irritable mood. I could think of nothing but solutions to warm the house and myself. "This too will pass," I reminded myself, a short biblical phrase that has helped me in other tough situations. I didn’t believe it. "Trust!" said Daniel, reminding me of my past deep exploration of the need to trust in life and in God. It didn’t work.
Last night it got down to 10 degrees, with snow. Today the sky is clear, the sun is bright, and it’s still cold. I’m still cold around the edges but it’s bearable because of the sunlight. I’m a light-junkie. But I wonder, "Is my trust in God this shallow that I can’t retrieve it without sunlight?" I am reminded of the saying, "To a hungry person, God can only appear as bread." Or, to me, as Light—which I equate with warmth and sustaining life support. After yesterday, I have a deep understanding of why humans have, for thousands of years, worshiped the sun as God.
What is God to us? How often do we examine our concepts of the Ultimate Reality, the Source? Do we see in these concepts that we are equating God with bread? Our "bread-God" concept varies, but mostly I find that we stop short of insistence on an experiential knowledge of God. It’s only when all our "bread-notions" have failed and we are still in deep trouble that we may stumble on the formula to let us in on the true nature of God.
This happened to me in 1995, in Lucknow, India. My husband, Craig Carter, and I went to India in August 1994 so that Craig could receive Ayurvedic treatment not available in the U.S. In July, Craig had been diagnosed with two rare, fatal blood diseases. His doctors told him that without treatment he’d be dead within four to six weeks. As the projected medical treatment had never been successful before and could kill him in nine days, we opted for a different route. What we’d thought might be a six- to eight-week sojourn in India, if Craig survived that long, ended up lasting 13 months. That was why we were in a cab careening around the streets of Lucknow, seven months after arriving in India.
Craig and I were having a discussion about a recent encounter with another American on the grounds of a hotel. We were upset with each other. "What did I do wrong?" I asked him. "We’ve been trying to connect with Richard for two weeks, and he’s been avoiding us. There we were, sitting at the same table, talking nonsense, and he finally mentioned what he does in California: puts people in touch with alternative medical practitioners. I only said we’d like to know more. Isn’t that what we wanted to talk with him about? Why did you step on my toe, grab my arm, and say good-bye to him—dragging me along!—just when we were getting somewhere?"
Craig was silent—fuming, it seemed. Finally he said, "We won’t get any information from him now. You stepped into my vacuum trap!"
I was astonished. With questioning, Craig explained his technique of successfully interviewing people who didn’t want to divulge any information. For seven years Craig and I had a business locating unknown and missing heirs in probate estates. Craig, as our principle investigator, solved many old cases unresolved by more experienced investigators.
"I set vacuum traps for hostile informants, or ones who were sure they didn’t remember anything of value," Craig told me. "I act very casual, as though I really don’t care if they give me any information or not. When I am working on a case, I say it’s my job to interview them. Then I get a feel for who they are and their interests. We talk about whatever they want to discuss—never anything relating to the case. We have a good time. I end the conversation early, asking them if I can call them again if I have to. They say sure."
Craig stopped. I waited. And waited.
Finally, in frustration, I said, "Then what? That doesn’t explain anything! How is that setting a vacuum trap? I don’t see how that accomplishes anything!"
Craig gave his crooked grin. "See? You just fell into one."
"My vacuum trap," he answered. He explained that he purposefully talks about anything but what people expect him to ask them. They are prepared to say no, or that they don’t know anything. He doesn’t call them back for a week. "Meanwhile," he tells me, "they’ve been thinking of all the things that they could have told me—except I didn’t ask them. When I call again, they may say something to indicate that they could have more information on the case. I immediately tell them that I have to go now—I don’t know if I’ll need to call them again. This frustrates them. No one wants to think they are inconsequential. Usually by the third time I call they can’t wait to tell me all they know. I crack the case."
I ponder this. His technique reminds me of something, of someone . . ."Papaji!" I exclaim.
"Papaji! He sets a vacuum trap! We all fall into it—and spill everything that we’ve never told anyone else, that we’ve been carrying around as our personal burden, our shameful—or at least private—secret."
We came to Lucknow to visit H.W.L. Poonja, called "Papaji" by his followers. Originally we had gone to Pune, 1,000 miles south of Lucknow, where Craig was treated by an Ayurvedic doctor recommended to him by another Ayurvedic doctor in the U.S. This new doctor insisted that all illness was spiritual in nature. He told Craig that in order for the Ayurvedic medicine to work, Craig would have to lay his case before God.
"But I don’t believe in God," Craig replied. "I don’t disbelieve in God—I just don’t have any opinion. So, how do I lay my case before a God that I don’t know exists?"
"It’s not important if you believe or don’t believe in God," replied the doctor. "God is the Judge. You are the plaintiff; I am your advocate. With my help you lay the case for your life before God. God decides."
East meets West. Craig was caught in a quandary that he couldn’t solve. He tried to meditate but fell asleep. His health continued to deteriorate, though not at the rate predicted by his U.S. doctors. He became convinced that he had to go to a spiritual expert to solve whatever spiritual requirements there were for him to get well. After all, that’s how he solved many investigative cases when there was a need for expertise he didn’t have. "It needs to be an Indian spiritual expert," Craig explained to me, "because this is an Indian system of healing."
We were told of Poonja or Papaji, said to be an enlightened guru. With great difficulty, we had traveled to Lucknow for a short visit with Papaji—and when Craig became too sick to travel, we became stuck there.
We attended satsang, or "meetings with the guru," with Poonja. It was amazing to us how people from all over the world came to him and in public spilled out the deepest secrets of their lives.
"Poonja talks all around what they want him to talk about," I told Craig. "He never talks about how to obtain enlightenment anymore—like he used to do. He just smiles, tells stories that don’t seem to make any sense, and seems to get one person mixed up with another." We both sat in silence for awhile, thinking of all the times we’d seen Poonja respond in ways totally at variance with what was expected—and fervently hoped—from him. "Remember when people prostrated themselves at his feet," I continued, "like the Indians do to their gurus, and asked him for the ‘guru glance’ to give them enlightenment? He didn’t even respond! He just went on to the next person!"
After our discussion, Craig decided to invite people who had the most puzzling responses from Poonja to come to our guest house room. There, he’d interview them. We were amazed at how the seemingly inconsequential stories Poonja told spoke directly to their situations. Sometimes Poonja would say something to them that was actually untrue—but was just what they needed to uncover their true strength. We watched this 86-year-old man, who often seemed to be getting senile, transform the lives of many people. And yet, as far as we could see, he did essentially nothing.
Suddenly I had what felt to be a profound insight. "That’s God!" I said. No response from Craig. I paid no attention to him. I realized that Poonja created a vacuum and into it, as a natural reaction, came all the loose flotsam and jetsam that each of us carries as burdens. If we didn’t volunteer what we needed to release, Poonja prodded it loose. We were truly seen—for the first time. With Poonja’s nonjudgmental and often humorous acceptance of us, we felt lighter and free for the first time in years.
I saw that it was the equivalent of sitting in Friends meeting for worship, at its best. More surfaced than messages to be shared with others! Sometimes we swim in inner garbage—until we can release it. The same happens when we enter deeply into the Silence: all that we’ve hidden from ourselves begins to surface. In this process we feel supported—by the same Spirit that we all felt radiating from Papaji.
"All right, I give up," said Craig. "What are you talking about? What do you mean, ‘That’s God’? Do you think Poonja is God?"
"No, of course not," I replied. "But he’s linked to God. He’s using God-energy to vacuum us of all our stuff!"
"Humpf!" Craig snorted and leaned back against the seat, eyes shut. We were slammed into the back of the front seat as the driver of the cab stamped on his brakes again, narrowly missing an oncoming bus that had swerved into our lane to pass a herd of water buffalo.
I felt a growing excitement at my discovery. "We don’t need Papaji to vacuum us free of all our attachments," I thought. "We can do this ourselves! If we let go of everything that’s holding us down, won’t we naturally be pulled into God? If God is as I think: a vacuum trap."
I decided to give it a try. What was I holding onto that seemed impossible to release? It was my need to love and be loved, and recently my need for Craig to be healed. It wasn’t that I feared death for Craig, or couldn’t release him to death if it was his time to go. I just didn’t see how we could put right what had gone wrong with our family if Craig, who was a party to a lot of the damage, died now. He needed to live—so that we could find healing, together. Also, though Craig would never talk about this, I knew that he was deeply afraid of dying. If it was his time to die, I believed he needed more time to come to trust the process of dying: to know that he was held in love.
I realized that I was also deficient in trust. Why hadn’t I trusted God, the Lover and Seer? Surely God knows best what we need. I saw myself holding up a drinking straw to catch the wind, which was blowing strongly and freely all around me—God’s love. In my mind I threw away the straw—the forms I’d given to what I thought I needed. Then I was in deep space, attached to a spaceship by a lifeline. I cut the lifeline and fell. I had a strong sense of falling, falling—I relaxed into this rather than fighting it.
I stopped falling. It was dark. There was no light, no form, nothing I could identify—except awareness. I was aware. Nothing was missing in this awareness: it was All that Is. I was joy. How to explain this—the fullness, power, sweetness, and all-encompassing completeness of this awareness? There was no time—no sensation of passing time. All the while, a part of me was aware that our near-misses in Lucknow traffic continued, that there was a body I claimed as my own that was sitting in a cab in Lucknow. Nevertheless, "I" wasn’t focused there. What I called myself had expanded to include my Lucknow identity and All that Is—in this dark, vast awareness.
Out of the darkness there was a sudden explosion of light. It became a waterfall: a thick stream of light flowing out of the nothingness, the darkness of awareness. In the light were all the forms that life takes: galaxies, worlds, animals, plants and people—all tumbling together in beautiful colors and diversity.
When I returned focus to my identity in the Lucknow cab, something had shifted within me. I’d always sought the Light as the ultimate expression of God. I yearned toward the Light even when I was small. I’d never sensed that behind the Light, more all-inclusive, was this all-knowing Absence-of-Light, this Presence-of-All: God.
This experience gives me a metaphor for God that for me is true to God’s action in our selves and our world. It is not so much that we have a "seed" or portion of God in us; it is rather that in our deepest essence, we swim in God. We are one with the very nature of the Source of all life, Light, and form. We are one with God-awareness. This is true communion: when our awareness includes our sense of self and the Other; when we are aware that the Other is also aware of us.
Today, I am remembering: to allow myself to be one with God, I need to release all that I hold onto as my burden and my security—including my need for warmth! Including even my need for light. I know that I am part of life’s expression in human form and as such, I am perfectly safe. Then God, the ultimate vacuum trap, will pull me into Its Being.
Note: Craig died at our home in Petrolia, California, in December 1996 after two and a half years of caring support from friends, family, neighbors, and strangers. He was powerfully affected by the love he received. Healing happened, in him and in our family.
This article is part of an unpublished book manuscript, Net-Caught, written with the assistance of a book clearness committee of Berkeley Meeting.