A gentleman here at the Shanti Cafe has just ordered “One baguette, toasted, sliced French style, not end to end! Six slices please. No, cancel that! Eight slices.”
Obviously it is time for me to be going. Because I do not want to be here if the waitress comes back with seven. But this is how it is with spiritual people -- we suffer from precision. Do you understand how this happens? In the meditation hall you struggle to be aware and note every sensation, every thought. Pretty soon, god help you, you care how your baguette is sliced.
Yesterday, in this same cafe, it was a holy German lady, in white, with multiple scarves. Her toast was not toasted enough. She kept sending it back, but it didn’t seem to get any more toasted. Finally she sighed tragically and announced, “No! No, it is NOT all right! But it will HAVE TO DO!” I could hear that her world was under siege and, there she was, with nothing but fluttery scarves and bread that was practically raw.
Personally, when I feel this upset about toast I go to my room and lie down for a long time, but I do understand where she’s coming from. In a way it is completely astonishing that people are coming here from all over the world to be quiet and open and sensitive. It’s as if you went out for a walk and, when you got to the part of the path wh ere the stones are most sharp, you announced, “OK, this is where I take off my shoes.”
Ramananagar, the part of town in vicinity to the ashram, was tranquil once. It’s not anymore. Along the main road there are seldom breaks in the noise and filth; all the time you’ve got to keep dodging blaring traffic and pushy beggars, cows and cowshit, dogs and dogshit. There are often people sprawled in the dirt at the side of the road and sometimes they are actually dead. (If you’re not sure, you can check by the presence of flies. The flies always know.)
This is where we, the aspiring devout, have come to be open and aware, vulnerable and present. That seems to me exactly right. Because what skill could possibly be more needed now than the capacity to keep one’s heart open in a madhouse?
Just the same, I ought to have more patience with the terribly spiritual people and not always roll my eyes at them, at us. There are many times when I arrive at day’s end and feel totally astonished that today, again, no one is handing me a Valium and a stiff gin and tonic with which to wash it down. Surely today was sufficiently traumatic to merit liquor?! But no. I am left with only the feeling itself, unmitigated, the habit of paying attention, and the knowledge that there is very little under my control.