My first meditation was in a grey room with hemp carpet. It smelled of patchouli and chai, and the band was a hippy-clad group playing harmonium, drums and sitar. I closed my eyes to the sounds and smells and saw red, orange, fireworks of blue, and then a round snake, with its tail in its mouth, moving from far in the distance to directly in front of me. The hallucinations from the psychosis, but delicate, smooth, heavenly peace.
Meditations at the ashram were at six in the morning and eight at night. We smiled shyly over chai and padded into the grey room, eyes averted. I had my own Sanskrit chanting book, The Nectar of Chanting, and memorized dozens of verses. In the morning, the business people sat in their suits on the floor, sock-footed. When the harmonium started up like a sick bagpipe, my soul moved from my diaphragm to my neck, and out of the top of my head to color and light.
One day I came in and said that my house had burned down. “You must have had some karma to burn off,” one said as he went off to work. Well, I thought. I expected more; I wanted some warmth, some offer of help. But they were virtual strangers. I didn’t actually return there again.
Then three or four years later, I attended an exorcism church in a lower middle class part of Detroit. At every service, we sang for an hour; the music slowly swelled, from quiet and gentle to a frenzy of dancing. My soul again swelled, from the diaphragm to the neck and out my head, as I danced and spoke in tongues far removed from Sanskrit. We came back down, and rested into a somewhat nonsensical sermon, after which we were slain in the spirit and fell to the ground. Every morning I sang and listened to music alone for an hour before work; I rose above. I got the demons out, and felt a quietness in my head that was awe inspiring: The voices were, for a moment, gone.
So with reggae, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd. I danced in flowy skirts and bare feet, with the music a frenzy. The voiced died away, and pure hallucination reigned. It was The World, the ultimate representation of the loss of self-consciousness in the bliss of the universe.*
*Thoth Tarot Deck