My lower back doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s been hurting for seven years. I’ve been to chiropractors, physical therapists, fabulous massage therapists, who alleviate the pain for a day or so – and it feels so good to go to them and have them dig into that pain that never seems to go away — and it does go away for a while – but it always comes back. I kept Aleve in business just trying to get some temporary relief. I walked stooped over, and my son would laugh as I ran for the subway, telling me that I had that “old lady shuffle.” My back hurting made me look old and feel old and I hated it.

My back doesn’t hurt anymore. I almost don’t believe it myself, except that – there it is. I walk straight up, I exercise, I feel good all the time. It’s a miracle.  I know.  A lot of people don’t believe in miracles, but I believe in miracles – and that’s what counts.

A month ago, Pope Francis came to New York City.  I so wanted to go to the mass at Madison Square Garden, but my church had only 20 tickets and they pulled them out of a box, lottery style, and I wasn’t one of the winners. I was so disappointed. I thought I wouldn’t get to see him.

Nevertheless, I was excited that Pope Francis was coming – I love him. What he says and how he says it is so “Christ-like” – loving, compassionate, certain, but not demanding, humanistic and spiritual at the same time, raising us all to a new level of consciousness. What an amazing thing it would be to be in his presence!

My friend, Karen, posted on her Facebook page that she had two tickets to see the Pope in Central Park – did anyone want them? I was quick to say, “Me! Me, I want them!” And, so, I was going to see the Pope after all!

I called my friend, Victoria, with whom I have experienced many revelatory moments, spent many days with her in spiritual practice, and who I just love, period. I offered her the second ticket and she said “Yes.”

We made plans to meet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, near where our entrance to the park was to be. I guess we must have had visions of sauntering into the park, finding a spot to relax on the grass, and wait for a few hours for His Holiness to roll on by.

How naïve we were! We entered the beginning of the line on Columbus Avenue, a block from Central Park, thinking that we would just follow the line and walk on in. When the line reached Central Park West, we were both amazed to see that there was tape up, creating a maze of a line that wound back and forth about four times before ever reaching the security checkpoint at the Southern tip of the park.

Victoria had brought these foam covered floor seats, which had a back that you could pull up to create a back rest – Oh, how comfortable we were going to be when we got into that park! In the meantime, however, we had to carry them straight and unfolded, so that it looked like we were each carrying a three-and-a-half or four-foot long foam navy pillow. It tucked under my arm and almost hit the ground and there was only a little piece of fabric-flap to hang onto in case we wanted to switch the way we were holding them. The longer we carried them, the heavier they got until I felt prompted to say, hours later, that we were carrying our own crosses to Golgotha.

Yes, hours later. We were on line for FOUR hours. It was the longest four hours of my life, childbirth notwithstanding. And, for every minute that passed, my back was hurting more and more. I thought it was just me until Victoria announced that it was starting to feel like “back labor.” I nodded my head in agreement and said, “Yes, but just like back labor, you know that it goes away the minute you see your baby! So, let’s just think of this as the labor to see the Pope and, the minute we see him, this will all go away and become a memory.” People around us laughed, but someone told me later that they were motivated to go on just because I said that.

As we were waiting near the checkpoint, we started to see people pointing sky-ward and an amazed murmuring went through the crowd. I looked up to see the tiniest of rainbows, right over Central Park. There was no rain, and very few clouds, and it wasn’t really a full rainbow – it was just a little curved arch between two cloud streams that almost looked like tracks or curbs by the side of the road. From one curb to the other was this little “rain-arch.” Everyone was taking pictures. It was another miracle, surely.

We finally got to the security checkpoint and went into the park. Then we had to find a place in that sea of humanity to actually get a view of the road that the Pope would be traveling on – that was not easy. There were 80,000 people in the park that day, in three different sections, so easily there were over 25,000 people in our area.

We did finally find a spot that was high up on a mound of a hill and not too far from the gates that would keep us separated from him when he made his turn through the Southern part of the park, just before he turned out of the park to go down Seventh Avenue to say mass at Madison Square Garden.

Victoria opened her seat and plopped down to claim her space and I opened mine too, but I was afraid to sit down for fear I’d miss him.

We heard the murmuring that he had entered the park in the North corner and shortly afterwards, there was this wild roar: yelling and applauding even before he rounded the curve into sight. The minute I heard the crowd, I couldn’t control how overwhelmed with emotion I was – I was crying and I felt as if I could not stand – but stand, I did. Victoria asked me if I was crying from pain or crying from Joy. “Joy! Joy! Joy!” I yelled out.

I saw him.  It was just as I predicted, the pain was gone and all I could see was this beautiful figure in white in his Pope-mobile, waving to everyone. The car curved around the southern end of the park where we were and pulled to the side of the road. Everyone started running to the wire fence, including me and Victoria, but I pulled her back at the last minute – I didn’t want us to be trapped against that fence if anyone pushed too hard.

There was a rock mound about ten feet from the fence and I pulled Victoria up there and we had a clear view of Pope Francis leaving his Pope-mobile to walk to his car for the drive down Seventh Avenue. He looked as if this white light was shining in Central Park that afternoon.  My heart felt so full that I thought it would burst. Yes, just like seeing my son for the first time.

Pope Francis passed out of Central Park and we heard the crowds along Seventh Avenue start to roar as he drove into sight there.   Victoria and I opened our seats and sat on another rock to wait until the crowd dispersed a bit. After all that standing, we didn’t want to have to fight our way through 25,000 people to get out of the park.

Everyone looked “in the glow.” I heard some people make fun of it — or of themselves: “Well, I guess I’m enlightened now, ha ha!” People were smiling and happy and Victoria and I were blissed out, for sure. At one point, she leaned over and whispered to me, “Do you think that they would have voted him in as Pope if they had known how ‘Christ-like’ he would be?” I don’t have an answer for that. What I do know is that there was a peace in the park that day that 80,000 people couldn’t put a dent into with whatever opinions, political views, or any other differences we all have as human beings.

Seeing Pope Francis changed me. No, it transformed me. I was a different person when I walked out of that park than I was when I walked in – my faith is deeper, my belief is stronger, my heart is bigger.

And, my back doesn’t hurt. It hasn’t hurt since that day. I sometimes feel stunned that it doesn’t after all those years of pain, and I find it hard to believe that the experience of  of all that pain, waiting to see the Pope —  and then seeing the Pope — should make such a difference.

All I know is that it did. I am pain free.

That whole day was a miracle, his whole visit was a miracle – the way he made people feel, whether it was a physical healing or the fact that people were nicer to each other, it doesn’t matter.

I saw the little rainbow over Central Park and my back doesn’t hurt anymore. Call it what you will, but I know that I stood in the presence of a Holy person – a great holy man — and that was a miracle.

Deliciously yours in the Love that is all, Linda

 

For the original post, “Confessions of a Darshan Junkie…” when I went to India and visited Sai Baba’s ashram, here is the link:  https://spiritualchocolate.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/confessions-of-a-darshan-junkie/

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A dear friend emailed me this morning that Sathya Sai Baba died yesterday morning in India.  I was sad at the news and then, almost immediately,  I felt peace.  He was Love on earth and is still Love now.

Sai Baba connects my friend and me in that we both have been in his presence; we both have felt the love that everyone feels when they are with him; and we both have experienced a healing, either of ourselves or someone close to us as a result of our contact with him.  This is a story of the healing that I didn’t even know I was receiving for myself – and, because of a letter my friend asked me to bring to Baba – a healing for her daughter.

It was 2003.  That was the year that I heard of Sai Baba from Landon Carter, one of the original EST leaders and someone who had lived at Baba’s ashram in India for six or seven months when he was younger.  I remember being intrigued when Landon said, “I have never felt such love around anyone the way I felt it around Sai Baba.”   Curious, I went to a Google map and looked up where Sai Baba’s ashrams were.   I said to myself, “When I go to India, I will go see him.”

At the time, I had no plans to go to India, I had no resources to go to India, and, if I did have the financial resources to go anywhere, India would not be the place I would have chosen.

Shortly after that, I got a job at a mens’ designer firm that I knew was partly owned by an Indian company, but didn’t think much about that.  After working there for about four months, the owners told me that I would go to India in November to work on the private label program for the company.

I was going to Bangalore.  I knew that Baba’s main ashram was in Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Peace), about 3 hours Northeast of Bangalore.  I wondered how I would get there.  India is not an easy country to get around in.  I thought, “Something will happen.  I will get there.”

My travel to India was long and arduous.  I became sick in the Amsterdam airport as a result of the Maleria medication I was taking, and  spent the next two hours in the airport mini-hospital.  I missed my plane to Mumbai.

I was so sick, I could not travel until the next day.  I wished I could have done something in Amsterdam (my first time there) but was so ill,  all I could do was sleep until the next morning, with the doctor calling me at the hotel every 2-3 hours to see how I was doing.  I’ve since learned that I had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the Malaria medication.

I was able to get a flight to Delhi the next day.  I arrived in the middle of the night, only to find out that, in order to fly to Bangalore, I had to take a taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal.  Not so difficult, you say?

It was a bumpy ride on a back road in a tiny cab with a smelly, turbaned Indian who spoke no English.  It was 3:00 in the morning.  As we drove in the pitch-dark night through what seemed like a long, dry country road with no other cars on it, I arrived at an empty terminal building with two gate doors.  I paid my taxi driver and got out.  I was too tired to be scared — not from the ride in the dark and not of the empty terminal — so I curled up on a filthy seat in the waiting room and slept until the 6AM flight to Bangalore was called.

This was my week in India: one culturally-taxing event after another – during the dry season when everything is dusty and dirty and tin huts line the sides of the roads with dirty, barefoot swamis praying before home-made alters as the noisy traffic rolls by, horns blaring, dust swirling, beggars screaming for your attention and your hand-out.  I kept the windows closed on those rides, locked inside the equally dirty cab with three or four of my other co-workers, traveling from hotel to factory, to and fro every day.

We only felt safe eating in the hotel.  Even so, I had physical reactions to the food.  I never actually got sick to my stomach, but something in the spices made my blood pressure spike to a dangerous level and I had to have the doctor come to the hotel no less than 5 times.  He prescribed medication and, if I wasn’t well enough to go into work, he would come back in the afternoon to check on me and take my blood pressure again.  Blood pressure medication escalated to anti-anxiety medication and he ordered me to bed.  Fortunately, those were the days the samples were being made so I didn’t need to be at the factory every moment.  Still, it added to my fear and tentativeness about India.  I wished I could go home and sleep in my own bed.

By the end of the week, I was ready to leave India, but had another week to go.  I told one of the people in the factory that I wanted to go visit Sai Baba, but had no idea how to do that.  I noticed a change in the people with whom I worked the moment I mentioned his name.

On Saturday before the only day I had off, this one woman with whom I  had shared my desire to visit Baba  told me that she was a devotee of his and she would see what she could do.  She came back a few hours later to tell me that the owner of the factory had offered his car and driver to take me to Puttaparthi, where Prasanthi Nilayam is, if she could come with me.  Of course!

We woke up at 3AM to start the journey.  It is not very far in kilometers, but the journey is on dirt roads through a barren part of India, so the trip took over 3 hours.  We arrived about a half hour before “darshan” was supposed to start.

Darshan.  How do I explain this?  “Darshan” is to be in the presence of a holy person.  It is supposed to be the most incredible experience one can have.   I had heard of the “darshan junkies” who travel from city to city, around the world, to be in the presence of a holy person in order to experience the “rush” of that experience.  I was ambivalent.  I mean, really?

I arrived at the ashram at the first light of dawn.  As I walked through the gates, I could see hundreds of pairs of shoes.  Oh, No!  I was going to have to take my shoes off and walk around this dirty place barefoot?    Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to have to do.

As we headed to the temple to line up for Darshan, I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom.  I had been in the car for 3 ½ hours already, and once we went into the open-air temple, we would not be allowed out – or, if we were, how would I know how to find my companion?  There were thousands of devotees there!

The bathroom was primitive.  Open holes in the ground with plastic pitchers by each one to wash down the urine and – well, whatever…. And, I’m barefoot and the entire floor is wet from all the water being sloshed about.  I was disgusted and upset and wanted to run out of the place and head back to Bangalore!

But, I made it.  I took a breath, did what there was to do, and walked out to join my fellow “devotee” to head to the line where they wouldn’t allow us to take anything into the temple, not even a water bottle!

I followed a brightly sarong-ed old woman who could not have been more than 4 ft tall.  She kept throwing me dirty looks every time they pushed us closer together in the line.  I don’t know how, but I always smiled back – while continuing to think, “What on earth am I doing here?”

They lined us up inside the temple VERY close together and then gestured that we were to sit down.  Right there.  On the hard tiled and cement floor.  No cushions, no pads, no nothing.  I knew that my delicate Western behind, hips, and knees were not going to like this – and I was right.

I sat down and curled my legs and feet to one side.  In the process of doing so, I accidentally touched the older woman with my foot.  The feet are the lowest of the low in India, perhaps only surpassed by the left hand (the bathroom hand).  She growled and yelled and pulled her sari tightly around her and brought her legs closer into her body.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is a spiritual devotee of a famous guru?”  I was surprised at how “un-spiritual” she seemed to be, but what did I know?   I wasn’t sure of anything at that moment except that I had probably made a grave error by coming here.

We sat and waited for a long time.  Baba is notorious for being late for Darshan.  The crowd grumbled and fidgeted.  People glared and tried to pull away, except that there was nowhere to pull away to!  Monkeys swung from the rafters, gibbering their monkey talk at the crowd below.  Birds flew in and out of the temple, chirping and screaming their hysterical screeching at all the people.

In the distance, I heard the sound of a car starting up.  Baba had suffered a fall and had to be driven to and from Darshan every morning and afternoon.  The shift in the crowd was palpable. What happened next would be forever burned into my memory — and into my Being.

The chanting started and then the movement – back and forth, hands raised up in  front of each devotee, singing out at the top of their lungs, “Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba Om” over and over again, until the entire crowd was raising up on their knees, undulating as one body, like a snake curling through the crowd, chanting, chanting, louder and louder…

His car drove into the temple and I saw Baba’s face – he was looking my way – and that was it.  I was washed over by a love so pure that everything else faded away.  It was the first time in my life that I went from worry and fear to utter Joy in  a moment!  The tears ran down my cheeks and I had no tissues, so I was wiping them away, making mud of my blusher and foundation and I didn’t care.  I curled up onto my knees and joined the sensuous snake, arms raised in devotion and supplication, “Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba Om!”

I looked around and everyone looked beautiful.  Everything was Joy and I felt such love for all of them.  I caught the eye of the old woman and she was transformed – her face was radiant – and she smiled at me with tears in her eyes.  I returned the Joy, the tears, the cries of devotion.

Baba went inside the building to meet with the people who had appointments.  The rest of us sat outside and watched for glimpses of him – Swami would come to the door every now and then and wave to us – to more chanting and devotion!  I remember that he was always smiling.

I looked around – how beautiful it all was!  Why didn’t I notice that before?

I sat there for hours, speaking to a woman who had come from South Africa just to be in Baba’s  presence – she slept in the sparse accommodations, on a cement floor with no pillow, for $2 a night.  She had been there a week.

The joy I felt was astounding.  I didn’t want to leave.  My hips stopped hurting even as I sat longer and longer on the hard floor, under the monkeys swinging from rafter to rafter.  I looked up at them in pure bliss – I would not have it any other way.

After two hours, Baba got back into his car and was driven out of the Temple.  I was too joyful to feel sad that he left.   I was in the after-glow of Baba’s darshan for hours .

I didn’t want to leave so I talked my companion into getting some food and having a picnic on the grounds.

I bought some Vibhuti, the sacred ash that Baba manifests out of thin air.  I bought 5 bags.  One for my friend and her daughter and the rest for anyone else who needed healing.  I saw very sick people walk into Baba’s temple that morning, only to see them later on, sitting on the grass  — with color in their cheeks and laughing and walking and singing.  Say what you will, those were miracles of healing.

I was healed, too – healed of my complaints about dirt, dust, bathrooms with plastic pitchers, barefoot gurus, and people touching feet.   Everyone is beautiful.  Life is Bliss.

That was the day I fell in love with India.

After my life-threatening experience in Amsterdam and my high blood-pressure the week before, I suddenly had no physical complaints at all!

I have not been seriously ill since then.

We found our driver who had been frantically trying to find us, although not frantic enough to miss Darshan.  As we walked the grounds, I remembered the letter that my friend had asked me to give to Baba.  That was not possible in the temple, but each of the postal boxes was only for mail to Swami.  I slipped the letter inside the box.

I drove back to Bangalore in a dreamy state of perfect peace.

I came back to the states and gave my friend her bag of Vibhuti and told her I had mailed the letter to Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam.  She was happy.

I forgot about that.  Many months later, my friend told me that her daughter had been miraculously healed and was disabled no more.

I was raised a Christian and am one to this day.  I DO have unorthodox ideas about what that means, but I know one thing.  People followed Christ because he was pure Love – it must have been a blessing to be in his presence — the ultimate darshan!  People like Christ, like Baba, like Krishna, like Buddha are Avatars —  and they offset much of the evil in the world.  I would have loved to have been in Christ’s presence the way I was in Baba’s presence.

Then again, I am – every day of my life.  People who are only Love live on forever whenever we choose Love in the moment.

“Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba, Om”

Deliciously yours in the Love that is All, Linda

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