Sometimes, you have life-changing experiences. Sometimes, you don’t recognize the impact of those experiences until years later. Sometimes, you are immediately conscious of the magnitude of the experience as it happens.
Long ago, I didn’t realize the gift of going through personal traumatic experiences until years later. The experiences of head injuries, post-traumatic stress, and navigating family health-related setbacks opened pathways that at the time seemed so distant and unthinkable. I also didn’t also realize the long-term gift of training myself to endure hardship through long-distance bike rides and endurance races.
Whereas, I realized immediately that the heartfelt connection I felt with nature when I spent a month in the backcountry with a dozen other adventurers during a National Outdoor Leadership School expedition in the Washington Cascades in 1996 would be life-changing.
And last week, I also immediately realized that the heartfelt, joyful community experience of last week’s Bhakti Immersion in New Orleans with Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band would be life-changing.
Immediately, I felt my heart open. Was it the music? Was it the group of like-minded, open-hearted, non-judgmental people who had gathered? Was it New Orleans? Was it Sean’s warm-hearted demeanor or his joyful spirit or maybe his storytelling? Was it the opportunity to use my voice and sing again?
Immediately, I felt connected. The lines of separation between people, things, experiences – past and present, seemed to vanish. I went to my nature-place, my place where I feel a natural oneness. Within a couple of days, I wrote this:
The whisper of the winds calls my name;
The arms of the trees embrace my soul;
The heart of the earth calls me home;
The light of the sky guides my way.
Who am I to question my path?
Who are they that guide my way?
I am always here.
My home is the wind, the tree, the earth, the sky.
I am the wind, the tree, the earth, the sky;
I am the breath, the body, the heart, the light.
You don’t have to look to find me!
I am here. I am here.
I am home. I am Om.
Sean asked me to include my name in the poem. I couldn’t! How could I separate myself from nature with a simple name? I am who I am because of everyone in my life, past and present. My name (Bob) is my father’s name (Bob) and my uncle’s name (Bob) and my father-in-law’s name (Bob). Or, near Boston my name is Baaab. My name is often said as one name with my wife’s name (BobN’Jo). I thought of all of the people who put their hand on my back and let me know that they had my back. And, all of the people who rested their hand on my shoulder and let me know that everything would be okay – it was okay to just be me! I am who I am because of all of these people.
I thought of Hanuman, who I’ve written about before. According to myth (as I understand it), when asked by Ram who he was, he said (deha bhavena dasosmi) that when he takes on the identity of his body (as an individual separate from God), he is devoted to God (or a higher power, if you will) with a full and open heart. This is the Bhakti yoga path. When he takes on the identity of a wanderer or a seeker (jiva bhavena twadamshakaha), he’s part of God. When he identifies with oneness or pure consciousness (atma bhavena twamevaham), he is God, the universe, infinity – when the interdependence of all things is realized. Was I identifying this quickly at this Immersion in New Orleans with this sense of the oneness and interdependence? I was feeling totally connected by love with everyone around me, silently but openly. In a palpable way, these moments where life-changing for me.
So, knowing that memories of the mind fade and that the mind usually creates new stories to explain reality as it happens in real time, I thought I’d get a tattoo to remind me of the feelings that I was feeling.
This shoulder tattoo will remind me daily of those who have supported me in my life on Earth by putting a hand on my shoulder and letting me know it was okay to be me. And to remind me that:
Our super-human powers come from our heartfelt devotion to a higher power and a sacred purpose;
Through our natural and holistic expressions of both our male and female aspects, we learn to evolve, transform and blossom through the light and the dark periods of our lives;
We honor our teachers, gurus, mentors, elders, spirit guides and ancestors;
We remain grounded to the earth while ready to serve humbly and selflessly, moving mountains for the benefit of our family, friends, community, Earth and all of life;
With our open hearts, and with compassion and kindness, we have power over our monkey-brains – we expose our true nature to be playful, joyful and loving!
Maybe now, I’ll call myself Babaman! What do you think?