Frequently, when I reflect on Sreejit’s Dungeon Prompt for the week, I end up writing about something very different than what I had originally intended to write about. This week was no exception. The topic was “Where the Wild Things Are” and the directions for the prompt were:
Tell us all about one of the more wilder things you’ve done in your life that looks a little out of place when put up next to the rest of your life’s journey. Or take it in another direction and tell us about your monsters, or demons.
Initially, I intended to write about my early days with Amma. As the deadline approached, however, I realized that there were many other times in my life when I did things that other people might consider “Wild” or perhaps “Strange.” I decided I would share some vignettes of those memories.
I grew up as an “army brat.” I was compliant, at least in my behavior (as opposed to my mind). We were taught children should be seen and not heard and I complied by becoming a “good girl.” When it was time for me to go to college, I picked one as far away from my home in Florida as possible.
Sometime in 1968 I started volunteering at the First Avenue Service Center. First Avenue was Seattle’s “Skid Row.” I remember another student at the conservative Christian college I attended saying, “I wouldn’t even take a bus on First Avenue. Your mother must have raised you different than mine did.” My response was “I doubt it!”
Around that time, I wrote my mother and said something like “Mom, I am hanging out with ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens, and prostitutes… and I love it!” I was shocked when she called or wrote me saying that she would be sending me a plane ticket home. I don’t remember what happened next but I certainly didn’t go back to Florida. (I have a lot more sympathy for my mother now than I did then. I would definitely have been concerned if my daughter had sent me the same letter.)
There were times during college when I earned money by picking fruit. My friends who grew up in Seattle had earned money by picking blueberries when they were younger and had no interest in doing it again, so I picked fruit alone. Most of my jobs were in the Seattle area, but I remember traveling to Yakima, a city on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, and getting a job through the Farm Labor office. When I worked in Yakima, I slept in a sleeping bag under a bridge. I can’t even imagine doing that in this day and age but I don’t remember ever feeling unsafe then.
After I graduated, I decided I wanted to do something really different for the summer, so I convinced three friends to travel throughout the U.S. doing migrant farm labor with me. We picked fruit and vegetables in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington State. We worked in canneries when we couldn’t get picking jobs.
We started the trip by showing up unannounced at my parents’ home in Florida. Most of the adults we talked to seemed excited for us. I believe that only my uncle recognized the inherent danger in our plans. That summer was life changing for me. It was difficult, but I loved it. If you would be interested in reading my posts about that experience you can find them at: 1970- My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer.
By the time I graduated from college, I had become very cynical about religion. I described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. I maintained that stance for almost 20 years. During those years, even hearing the word “God” made me feel sick to my stomach. After I graduated, I worked as a Labor and Delivery Room nurse, got a Master’s degree in Nursing Science, taught as an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington and became a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Swedish Hospital. I did two years of coursework towards a PhD in Nursing Research. I was very left brained and emotionally shut down.
After doing several years of personal therapy, I left the PhD in Nursing Research program and instead became a nurse psychotherapist. I was still very left brained. When someone described me as a “woo woo” therapist (because the type of therapy I offered was non conventional), I felt insulted. I was not “woo woo.”
So, I was one of the most unlikely people in the world to become the devotee of an Indian guru. Early in 1989, much to my displeasure, spiritual people started showing up in my life. One of them invited me to meet Amma in 1989. I was not the slightest bit interested, but somehow either “OK” or “Yes” came out of my mouth. My whole life changed the night I met Amma. It was like my soul had come Home. Six weeks later, I was at Amma’s retreat in New Hampshire and six months from that I was in India. I have gone to India 28 times.
I once participated in a psychotherapy therapy intensive led by a therapist that I had known for several years. In the opening exercises, she had us divide into three groups- those who took a victim approach to life, those who were over-adaptive and did what others wanted them to do, and those who were rebellious. I put myself in the over-adaptive group. The therapist was much shorter than I was. I remember her walking close to me and looking up. “Who do you think you are kidding?” she said. She started listing a series of things she knew about my past. I quickly moved to the rebellious group. I don’t remember what behaviors she listed, but I’m sure one of them was that I married Al, a black man, in 1971. My father disowned me as a result of that decision. Al and I raised two wonderful children during a time when interracial marriage was still unusual.
As I mentioned earlier, I left college furious with God and the church. A year or so after I met Amma, there was a tent revival near my house. I attended one night and had an incredible experience. I loved the gospel music and the people that I met there.
I let the pastor know I wanted to come to his church, but that I wouldn’t come if he was going to try to convert me. I told him about Amma. He told me that he believed in saying what God told him to say and that if he said something I didn’t like, I could assume the message was meant for someone else. He also said that if Amma could get me onto such an intense spiritual path she must be doing something right. I was surprised that a conservative minister would think that way.
I attended that church for many years, immersing myself in the bliss that came when I listened to or sang the gospel music and when I “danced in the Spirit.” Amma remained the center of my spiritual path but attending this church was also an important part of my journey. I remember a church member once telling me she loved to watch me dance because people said that type of dancing only happened to them because they were black. The fact that it happened to me too meant a lot to her.
I could go on and on with examples of times I have found myself doing things that other people, and even I, would describe as “Wild” when compared to how I used to be or to how many people live. I love how my life has unfolded and look forward to whatever adventures lay ahead of me.