The inner voice
Many students of spiritual Masters, when they look back along the path of their spiritual journey, often feel that there were a series of significant "dots" that had to be connected in order for them to find that path; life events through which Divine Grace and the spiritual Master’s concern drew them ever closer to God.
My own story goes back to a few months prior to my birth. My parents emigrated from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Although by the time they married they lived almost a middle-class life, by American standards. They built their own home, my mother owned a very successful business as a seamstress and my father worked as an accountant. They had no real reason to leave Haiti, yet they felt a very strong pull to establish a new life in the United States. But it was 1963, and the chance of an expectant mother (I was due in two months) from a poor country getting a visa to the United States was very small. Lo and behold, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince granted my parents visas. They sold everything, including their house, packed up and made their way to the 'Big Apple'. I was born in Manhattan. We later moved to Brooklyn, where we stayed until my father decided that the family should move to Miami ... fast-forward eight years to 1971.
The winter before my eighth birthday, as my parents were growing tired of the cold, snow, trains and concrete, they decided that Miami would become their new home and we would move before the next winter. I had completed about a month in third grade when we moved. As in New York, my parents enrolled me in Catholic school. Both my mother and I really disliked moving to Florida. We were saddened by having to leave the family behind. Being an only child, I missed my cousins and friends and I found my new neighbourhood friends so unadventuresome, as they only wanted to stay indoors, playing house and dolls. In New York, when the weather was pleasant, life for an 8-year-old was always outside. In Miami, the heat and humidity which pervaded most of the year meant parents kept their children more indoors.
Although life in Florida always seemed somewhat of a second choice for me, there was one significant experience which, to date, always remains with me. About a year or so after we moved to Miami, my fourth-grade class was chosen to sing during one of the daytime masses. At that time, St. Mary‘s in Miami was the only cathedral, and so on special days we would attend mass in this very beautiful church. Our performance consisted of Latin songs. l can still hear one of the songs so clearly in my mind – Kyrie Eleison. I was transported by the experience of hearing our little angelic voices echo in this beautiful cathedral – my first conscious spiritual experience.
My melancholic longing for life back in New York caused me to vow to return once I was 18. My mom and I would go back every so often, but once I reached 12 and could travel alone, I would go to New York every summer and stay for as long as I was permitted to. My favourite destination was with my favourite cousins, who lived in Queens Village.
During these years I would have existentialist-type of experiences of 'not feeling real'. This brings me to my second conscious spiritual experience. One midday, I was in the lunch line of our school cafeteria. I never shared these experiences with anyone else, but this time the feeling was so strong that I began to head towards Sister Mary, my teacher that year. I desperately needed to ask her, 'Do I exist?' But my fear of her reaction caused me to detour towards my friends‘ table.
At 15, I was a regular member of the church youth group, attending the youth mass on Friday nights, and despite Saturday night partying, I would also make the Sunday morning mass with my parents.
One Christmas Eve, a couple months after my 16th birthday, my parents and I attended the special midnight mass. Suddenly, in the middle of the mass, a fellow church member had a heart attack. I had mixed feelings of compassion for him, along with a selfish disappointment that the beautiful mass had been interrupted. Shortly after, I decided that church was not for me and discontinued attending. On the one hand, the experience during mass was very uplifting – the singing, the contemplation, the peace – but once I left church it somehow vanished. That is why I was so disappointed on Christmas Eve. You see, Christmas mass was the highest experience of the entire year, and I would have to wait a whole twelve months to feel that peace and joy again!
My best friend in high school, who was a year ahead of me, began her studies at the University of Miami (UM). When I did not have to work early Sunday morning, I would spend the weekend with her at the campus dorm, enjoying the college life, while still a high school student. On one of these weekends I became friends with someone who would become a sort of 'mentor' to me. Most people found Johnny a bit odd, as he was a free thinker. He spoke and acted quite different from the rest of us, but I found him refreshing and fascinating. I learned about the purpose of yoga, the importance of eating healthy, and a vegetarian diet. I was not a big meat eater – I disliked meat as a child and wanted to become vegetarian. My parents would not allow it before, but in the summer before my 18th birthday I was allowed to make my own decisions. There was much to learn about 'eating healthy', as Pepsi Cola and chocolate cake were my breakfast of choice; the caffeine and sugar helped me to maintain an active life of lots of late night dancing, a part-time job evenings and weekends, little sleep and a challenging academic schedule, as I prepared for pre-medical studies.
Whether or not Johnny really was from Venus, I believed him and it was through him that I attended several different types of meditations, once I became a student at UM. We attended satsang at people‘s homes, free meditations and meals at a Hindu Temple Sundays, and I read a few spiritual books. On my own I began reading the Bible and nearly converted to a group who very strictly followed the Old Testament. A childhood friend, who was like a sister to me, was a member. They led a very clean lifestyle and all sounded good, except for their strong dislike for people who were NOT of colour.
Around this same time I attended several consecutive meditation classes on campus. Although I enjoyed them, I remember sitting in the class feeling as if a storm were raging inside of me. I was having such difficulty. Then I heard a voice say, 'You are not ready!' It was quite surprising, as I was not used to hearing inner voices. But I felt such a relief and inwardly answered, 'OK, that explains it'. I followed the voice and stopped trying to meditate.
As my friendship with Johnny waned, so did my spiritual seeking. I remained a vegetarian and occasionally over the years would try to meditate using a flute tape I had purchased in the meditation classes at UM. After a few minutes of trying to meditate I would think, 'Oh, this music is so weird. How is someone supposed to meditate to this?'
At 26, some eight or nine years later, I had what seemed to be an ideal life – a good job at the University of Miami, earning a graduate degree part-time in the evenings at no cost, and good relationships – but something inside me began to question this life. Am I happy? Who am I? Why am I here? Will I reach my parents' age and find that I am still looking for happiness?
At one point I began having what I would now call anxiety attacks, trying to figure it all out. I began seeking again, mixing with spiritual people, visiting health food stores, reading new age magazines. Once more I sat down to meditate and pulled out the 'weird' flute tape. This time the tape broke!
Around that same time, at the check-out line of the health food store I had begun to frequent, the cashier and I recognised each other. The questions went back and forth – Had he been one of my professors? Had I ever been to a meditation class? Did I do a meditation at UM? Finally, we made the connection he had been one of the instructors at my meditation class, where I got the "inner message".
He then asked "Are you still meditating?". Immediately I felt as if my heart had dropped to the floor. As I answered, "No", a great sorrow came over me. I heard a voice saying, "All these years... you have not meditated!" Clearly it was the voice of the Divine – that same inner voice that told me, "You are not ready", and now years later asking me why I had waited so long!
It has been nearly three decades now since becoming a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, and I will be eternally grateful to the Supreme for guiding me along this path. Things that I never would have dreamed of for myself have developed – long-distance and multi-day running, singing in concerts, helping others learn how to meditate and visiting dozens and dozens of countries with our group. Above all I have been given the opportunity to manifest God‘s Light here on earth!