“He who knows others is wise.
He who knows himself is enlightened.”
It’s not that I hate everything about this world, I say to myself as I pick up a pillow from the carpet. It’s just that my life in heaven spoiled my life on earth.
I carefully place the pillow flat with the long edge up against the headboard on my side of the bed, the right side. The other—thicker, firmer—pillow that I like is on the floor at the end of the bed. I swept all the pillows off this morning. This morning was…was…Wow. Retrieving it, I position it upright against the headboard. My arms feel heavy. It’s been a long day, a long month, but the indecision I’ve wrestled with is gone. I’ve made my decision. I will do whatever it takes to get off this earth and back to heaven.
I sit on the thin pillow with my back up against the thick one and cross my left leg up and over my bent right knee, moving into half lotus. Doing so straightens my back and pushes my chest out, making me feel more alert.
My wife Sarah gathers three or four pillows of various sizes and consistencies up against her side of the headboard and sits directly on the mattress. She smiles gently at me, closes her eyes, and faces forward. I straighten my head, automatically taking in a deep breath, but my eyes are held open by the dripping of our bathroom faucet. I get up and tighten the hot knob. The dripping doesn’t bother her.
Back in half lotus, I close my eyes. With a soft exhale, I settle in for meditation. Two moments later, my mantra wells up from deep inside. It’s an old, wise friend. For the last few weeks, it has been taking me back down to where it comes from, closer than I have ever been to my real Self in over fifty years of twice daily meditations and my night technique. It has been a tantalizing journey, coming to the edge of my goal but stopping short, leaving me aching. The mantra comes from my Self, my consciousness—the kingdom of God within. It’s my escape hatch from this deeply flawed, pain-filled earth. If I could just get to my Self, I’d escape and be back in heaven.
I begin my meditation, repeating my mantra silently, gently—easily returning to it after thoughts subside.
Mantra, mantra, mantraaa, maaaa…things soften, edges round; concrete into abstract…feeling at home. Mantraa, maaantraaa, mmmm…vague shimmering light ahead… stomach churns, tightens, I’m hungry. We can watch the PBS documentary I recorded after dinner. Mantra, manntraa, maaa…sinking within, light grows, closer... Mmmmaaa, mantra, mantraaaa…light forward, back, in the middle, melting…ankle twinges; stretch, gone…glowing, melding onto the flat, endless mirror of light…so close. Be brave, let go...Mantra, maaan…
“Ahhhhh,” Sarah sighs.
My heart warms, swells. She is so dear, so alluring. This morning, knocking pillows to the floor. Wanting her, needing her, having her…Mantraa, mantra, mantra, mantra…diffusing out into white, soft, illuminated fluffiness, feeling forever…thoughts of us fade into the background…stillness grows as I dissolve…Dull ache down below pulls me back, holds me back…Sarah, Sarah…Mantra, mantra, mantra…
Sarah lies down and stretches temptingly; she’s finished meditating. I want to continue, but I lie down next to her, taking in her warm scent. She is what keeps me in this world. After a while, she tickles my left thigh.
“What would you like for dinner?” she asks.
“OK, I know just how to cook it.”
* * *
It’s early morning. I’ve slept deeply and well. The sunrise peeks through the open window and wakes me. I turn onto my side. Sarah rolls over to face me and gently rubs the inside arch of her foot up and down my right leg. I love her next to me. Very humid and warm this morning, though.
“How’d you sleep, honey?” I ask eagerly. Sarah finally learned the advanced night meditation technique yesterday afternoon. I’ve been trying to get her to learn it for years, hoping it would help. We did it for the first time together before going to sleep.
She stretches, flips onto her other side, and then scoots back to spoon me. She purrs purposefully but doesn’t answer. Sarah likes to keep me waiting, likes my body heat even on warm days. “The night meditation technique felt like it stretched me. Us claustrophobics do better with more room,” she says with her face to the wall. “Thanks for being so persistent.”
Pleased by her answer, I follow the patterns of early morning sunlight playing on the wall, wondering if she’s watching too.
“You know, I do feel real good right now,” she says as she pushes back against me. “I think this new technique is going to help.”
Music to my ears. Worrying about how to keep her anxiety and panic attacks at bay has been distracting me from my real goal. But it seems things are suddenly moving forward. My night meditation technique, like my daily meditations, has improved dramatically over the last few weeks. Something is changing. Doing the technique with Sarah for the first time last night was so blissful that I thought I might have fallen into It. Not so. I would have woken up enlightened.
* * *
We are drinking morning coffee on our cozy back deck overlooking Sarah’s garden. The garden takes up most of our small back yard. Our kitchen’s hand-painted tiles are visible through the open sliding aluminum door. Sarah’s in her calico night robe. I’m in gym shorts and an old undershirt. Wind rustles the trees, tousling her thick dyed-blonde hair. I wouldn’t mind if she went gray. Her pale green eyes are watching a bird peck at something in the small patch of green grass not taken up by her garden. She pulls her bare feet up onto the chair, tucking them under her, sitting taller to see better. The bird flitters away.
Turning toward me, head tilted in a way that draws me in, and with a tiny squint, she says, “I should have learned the night technique years ago. I don’t know why I was afraid.”
“Maybe you weren’t ready?” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. “I was always afraid you were trying to go somewhere without me.” For years I’d sat up in bed doing the technique while she was trying to fall asleep.
“Never do that,” she continues. “You’re not allowed to leave me behind, buster. That would send me into one of my tizzies.”
I smile softly at her. “Honey,” I say, playfully swatting at her, “don’t you worry. I don’t think either of us can get very far without the other.”
But my attraction to her, and my tiptoeing around her issues, are holding me back. She senses what’s going on. The closer I get to escaping this world, the more afraid she becomes that I’ll leave her behind, and the more she tries to lure me back. But I have made my decision. I have wrestled and won. If I can, I will let go. My chest rises and falls with an inaudible sigh.
“So,” she says perkily, feet returning to the deck, “are you happy fall semester starts today so you can teach your favorite class again?”
Everything brightens. “I am. When I’m not teaching it, I’m thinking about how I’m going to teach it.”
“You’re so funny when you’re doing that class." She thinks for a moment and then looks at me with conviction. "It’s like your students are a mirror. You’re such a narcissist. And so much more fun in the fall.”
“Oh, I’m not fun enough for ya, huh?” I get up, walk behind her, and begin kissing the nape of her neck.
She speaks through the squirms. “Do you need to prepare for class today, or can we go out for breakfast? There's a—a great new French café in town I—I want to take you to.”
I look up. It’s a beautiful morning. The flowers and vegetables growing in her garden are vibrant, a reflection of her care. “Finished all my preparations yesterday. Let’s meditate, then go for breakfast.” Walking to our bedroom, I set my intention:, ‘Given the chance, take it.’
* * *
As I trudge across the deep-green lawn, the white stones of old, stately Pearsons Hall grow larger and more distinct. I’m flooded with memories. I’ve taken this same path since I was a freshman here. I’ve always been on the same path. In a day or two the central mall will be filled with students lounging and playing, but today, as classes begin, everyone is preoccupied. I’m wearing my worn tweed blazer despite the heat because I think it makes me seem comfortable, approachable, and professorial. "Well begun is half done," as my guru has said.
I arrive at my third-floor office at 8:47; more than enough time before my 9:35 class. I could have stayed home a little longer. Sarah always wants me to. I rummage through my lecture notes, finding the short file for today’s class. Ruffling the lecture notes stirs up some dust. I’m going to sneeze. I rush to find the nearest box of tissues, arriving just a little too late. Head down, I sneeze twice onto the floor, then wipe my nose and hands and the floor with tissues. My allergies, and my annoying sinus congestion, aren’t getting any better despite having re-started Flonase a few weeks ago. I don’t know why. It helped last time.
In my little office, it’s already hot and stuffy. It’s gonna be a hot one; gotta love global warming. I turn on the fan, careful not to let my stacks of papers go fluttering. I have an AC vent, but its weak airflow rarely gets the job done. I sit at my desk, feet up, fan on my face, feeling nostalgic. I close my eyes.
When I turned six, I was finally allowed to walk alone from home to first grade—an eleven-minute walk—like all the big kids in our neighborhood. The first time was a blustery day. I remember walking, hunched over, looking down to keep the blowing sand out of my eyes. Halfway there, the distinct, persistent, gnawing thought arose that there was something critically important I needed to begin working on right away. As I walked, the thought became clear. It was as if I had finally remembered an answer to a question stuck in my head. The answer was that somewhere hidden in this world was something I needed desperately. I would begin searching immediately, today, for what it was. The wind faded away. I walked to class with my head held high. I was on my quest.
I began my inquiry by working my way through the school library, religiously checking out books on UFOs, ancient mysteries, the Loch Ness monster, and—my favorite—Greek mythology, hunting for any clue as to what or where that hidden something was. I knew that finding it would be an arduous task and require great sacrifices. I continued to search for it over the years, knowing that if I was diligent, I would find it or it would find me. I was drawn to become a philosophy professor because doing so would allow me to work on my quest full-time.
The night I turned fifteen, my search was given focus. That night I was taken somewhere, perhaps in a dream. I’m not sure what it was. All I know is I’ll do almost anything to get back.
I know that I went to bed after a typical school day and was woken by two unusual men. I wrote it all down the next morning. The men came to me as I slept and told me they were taking me to another world. I instinctively trusted them and happily went with them.
We arrived on a different planet that had different laws of physics. There was no sun or source of illumination in the sky, but everything was clearly visible based on its own intrinsic, enthralling luminescence. The people were male and female but had no sexual organs or sexual desire. Procreation wasn’t needed. Like me, people just suddenly appeared.
In that heaven, desires were much more intense and refined. And desires were deeply satisfied in their proper time. Once satisfied, new, powerful desires would arise. Nature supported our desires. No one was ever bored, or rushed, or disappointed.
The men in that world were slightly more masculine-appearing and the women were a little more feminine, but the difference was small. Though we had beautifully shaped and proportioned mouths, they were for expressions only. We communicated mainly by some sort of empathic telepathy. It was explained to me that, there, we did not need to eat because we obtained our sustenance from the inner light with which everything shone. We did not have to urinate or defecate, as that was undignified, not to mention unnecessary, as our bodies produced no waste.
A couple took me under their wing. I had known both quite well during previous lives, which we all remembered in a vague way. It was so good to be with them again.
The man taught me about their world and its relationship to other higher and lower worlds. He told me that this world was our reward for the good we’d done during our last life on Earth. No spiritual progress could be attained on this planet because life there lacked adversity and temptation.
The woman taught me about relationships, which were profound and satisfyingly intimate in a platonic way. On Earth we all felt alone inside our heads. On this planet, we also felt alone, but much less so because the boundaries between each of us were softened and blurred.
We were in a mid-level world, not evolved enough to stay, but high enough that we lived joyful, spiritual lives. God was much nearer to us there than on Earth.
I lived a full, long life in that place. As the years rolled by, I was never sick, never unhappy, and did not miss my parents, siblings, or my previous fifteen years of life. There were enough ups and downs to keep things interesting, but it was always good. I had many sweet friends. When I was ready, I was reintroduced to my soulmate, whom I had loved and lost
countless times during innumerable lives. She too was brought to that heaven while she slept. My soulmate was not Sarah, but they are quite similar.
My soulmate and I grew old together, which mainly meant that we became wiser and closer to each other and to our circle of friends. Getting older in that world did not entail a loss or diminishment in any of our physical or mental abilities. It meant becoming more complete.
Then, one day, the two unusual men showed up again. They told me it was time. They were taking me back to Earth. I should have been sad or mad to leave, but those emotions couldn’t be felt there.
I woke up sobbing from my core. On Earth, sadness came easily. I was back in my room, in my fifteen-year-old body. The room was dark, something foreign to me, and I had to pee really bad. After breakfast, I found a notebook and wrote, “THE FOLLOWING REALLY DID HAPPEN. EVEN WHEN YOU GET OLD, DO NOT LET YOURSELF THINK IT WAS JUST A DREAM!” I wrote down seven pages of notes, convinced that I, and posterity, would be interested in my account someday. The pages are still hidden in a box in the attic.
Years ago, by mistake, I told Sarah about this heaven, but not about my soul mate. She’s been suspicious of my meditations ever since.
The couple who had instructed me in heaven told me that if I was to be able to get back—or even to a higher heaven, and never have to fall back to Earth—I would have to reach enlightenment in this lifetime. Reaching enlightenment, they said, was the goal of the quest I found myself on at age six. After my experience at fifteen, I still wasn’t sure what enlightenment was or where to go to get it, but I was determined to find out. Having tasted a heaven, I developed a distaste for life on Earth. Since then, I’ve never felt I belonged here.
I look at my iPhone. It’s time to go down and put the lecture title on the blackboard. Feet come off my desk.
Walking to the first-floor classroom, I think about the ten students registered for my Tuesday-Thursday seminar: three juniors and seven seniors. I recall six names on the list from other classes I’ve taught. As meditation and enlightenment have gotten more publicity over the last few years, the students who enroll seem more serious and informed about the subject. This, in turn, has made teaching the class increasingly enjoyable. Thank God for my teaching. It’s a welcome respite when Sarah is held captive by one of her episodes, which usually happens every few months.
The door to my classroom is open. A heavy wooden desk crafted from blonde oak commands the front of the room. Its battered surface is clear evidence of a long vigil, probably since before my student days here. To my left, arranged in three horizontal rows, are eighteen empty chairs—the kind with the awkward laminate desks attached—more than ample for this small class. An air-conditioning ventilator wafts cool, moist air from under a row of old latched windows that run the length of the room.
I stand behind the desk, gripping the standard gray, plastic chair and survey my dominion. Summer was fine, but now the real fun begins.
I turn to the large chalkboard behind me and write in exaggerated letters:
The Insider’s Guide to Our Self
I underline “Self” once and then the capital “S” two more times. The feeling of the gritty chalk in my hand is familiar and reassuring. Rita, the department secretary, has asked a few times if I would prefer to teach in one of the renovated classrooms with a large whiteboard and erasable markers, but I like it this way. I teach old ideas and like getting my hands dirty doing so.
I walk back up the two flights of stairs to my small and cluttered office. It does seem a little silly that I walked all the way down just to write on the board, but having even a small presence in the classroom when the students arrive makes for a properly set table. I answer some emails and glance at administrative memos, waiting for my classroom below to fill up.
* * *
In my classroom at 9:38—three minutes late, according to plan—I set my papers and books on the desk. Leaning back against the front of the desk, I look out at my students, allowing my eyes to linger on each face one by one. Damn, Tom’s here. I noticed his name but was hoping he wouldn’t show up. I’ve heard he does that. Three times over the last few years philosophy professors have come to me as department chair wanting to kick him out of their classes due to his disruptive behavior and bad attitude. Each time I’ve counseled patience. I’ve also been told that he doesn’t do the assigned work and is often close to failing. He will be a challenge, but the rest of the students seem attentive and receptive.
“I am Professor Abe Levy. This semester you will be learning about our Self with a capital ‘S’ as described in ancient Vedic literature. We will learn that your Self is our Self, according to this literature.” I point at the capital “S” on the chalkboard behind me.
"We will be reading Vedic classics such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and two different translations of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one called How to Know God by Swami Prabhavananda, and the other is Dr. Egenes’s Maharishi Patanjali Yoga Sutras. We will also read some more modern works in the Vedic tradition, including Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s The Science of Being and Art of Living, and parts of Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness, which was written by two physics professors from the University of California, Santa Cruz.”
I take a breath. A shaft of sunlight slices across the back of the room as it always does at this hour on September mornings. The harsh light will be gone in about thirty minutes, but for now my students have moved their desks forward, away from the heat. We all eventually gravitate toward what is most pleasant.
“Maharishi, whose work will occupy most of our attention in this course, was the guru to the Beatles in the 1960s. He was a favored disciple of Guru Dev, who was Shankaracharya of the North in India until 1953.” Feeling at home, I begin to pace in front of the desk, watching my students as they watch me. Most of them are dressed in Southern California summer casual: shorts, flip-flops, and some overly scooped, tight tops. “In Hinduism, the role of the Shankaracharya of the North is similar to that of the Pope in Catholicism. The knowledge of the Himalayan gurus and swamis is passed from one Shankaracharya of the North to the next in a tradition that is at least 2,500 years old. Maharishi died in 2008 at about 94 years of age. He founded the global Transcendental Meditation movement, or TM for short.
"Maharishi writes that his interpretation of the Vedic literature—which he says is a faithful conveyance of Guru Dev’s teachings—has returned this knowledge to its foundations, from which Guru Dev believed it had strayed.”
A petite blonde in the center of the front row, a first-time student dressed more formally than the rest, begins writing rapidly on a large legal pad. She's using some form of shorthand. Seeing her write so intently, other students begin taking notes.
"I call this class The Insider’s Guide for a number of reasons, one of which is that this Vedic knowledge was, and is, meant to provide an explanation of one’s inner, personal experiences during meditation as well as one’s outer, spiritual journey.”
Tom, sitting in the second row, his long arms dangling, yawns. He looks younger than I know he is.
“Meditation can be thought of as direct research into, or direct experience of, one’s own consciousness. This is not, however, a class where you will learn how to meditate.” I glance down at the girl’s legal pad, curious about the symbols’ correspondence to my lecture. “And, though we will be reading religious texts and teachings, this is not a class on any specific religion. Rather, it is an academic exploration of Vedic philosophy. God, and a belief in God, will come up in our readings and discussions, but you should know that atheists are quite welcome here and agnostic questioning is encouraged.
“You will notice as this class proceeds that it is my contention that Vedic philosophy offers a coherent, elegant solution to most, if not all, of the major problems and issues in Western philosophy. Some of the major problems we will discuss are: the problem of consciousness, the mind-body problem, the problem of evil, the problem of true knowledge, and the existential problem of meaning. And then there’s what is probably the most important philosophical problem: making sure that one’s philosophy fits in with, and is harmonious with, current science. Please note that just because I contend that Vedic philosophy offers a solution to these philosophical problems does not imply that I believe Vedic philosophy is true. I don’t know if it is true or not. To rationally believe a theory or philosophy is true, it not only needs to make sense, it requires that predictions that spring from that theory or philosophy are scientifically verifiable.”
I stop to let things soak in, scanning the room. Everyone except Tom makes eye contact.
I’ve been so close to my Self lately that I can taste it. But when I think I’m about to cross the goal line I’m suddenly yanked back by my collar. Last night was a prime example. It seemed I was about to let go of this world and dissolve into the glory of my Self, but my love of Sarah and my fear of stirring up her panic attacks held me back. If I had the courage of my convictions, I would cut those cords. I would devote myself to meditation—paring away everything else binding me to this broken world. But I love Sarah deeply. I don’t want to hurt her. She needs me. She deserves better.
“During this class I will do my best not to influence you with my biases. Clearly, I have my own biases and my own beliefs. I will try to label my personal opinions as such.”
“So, let’s be clear,” Tom says. “You’re biased toward TM.”
I look at Tom. Our eyes meet. He’s not backing down. All right, I can deal with that.
“Yes, TM is one of many biases.”
I pick up a stack of class syllabuses and hand them to the students in the front row. When everyone has a syllabus, I clear my throat.
“The first book we will read is the Upanishads. There are a number of different translations, so please make sure you get the one I have designated for this class. Its cover should look like this.” I show the class my book.
“The Upanishads will set the stage for everything else in this course. After the Upanishads, we will read and discuss the Bhagavad Gita, which is often described as the essence of Vedic philosophy.”
Chris, who has taken three other classes with me, raises his hand. He’s an intense, edgy, but amiable guy.
“I have another translation of the Gita. Can I use it or should I buy the one on the syllabus?”
“Please buy the one on the syllabus, by Maharishi. The translation and commentary that you have is probably very different in perspective from Maharishi’s.” I hold up my copy. “And just so everyone knows, the version I had the bookstore order looks like this.
“Before I entertain questions about the course syllabus or any other course-related topics, I want to discuss the class participation component of the grading, which is a significant part of your overall grade, as you will see when you read the syllabus. In addition to wanting you to contribute to class discussions, I encourage and expect you to do the required readings prior to each class. You should formulate and ask questions or make comments in class that address those readings. Ideally, your questions and comments should also be important to your classmates. Ask a good question or make a good comment, get a better grade. And if you can catch me not thinking clearly, you’ll get an even better grade. Better yet, prove me wrong, change my mind, or teach me something, and I'll be beholden to you. Any questions?”
I look around the room. The students avert their eyes. Then a sharp-jawed, handsome young man of apparent Asian descent looks up from his syllabus and tentatively raises his hand.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I don’t know your name.”
“Professor, I am Han. I was hoping to leave early for Thanksgiving. The class called ‘paper work’ on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is a required class? Will I be marked absent?”
“Han, we will have class on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 22, but no lecture. Because there’s no lecture that day, I won’t be marking students absent. I’ll be there to answer questions and help you with your papers. The school’s policy is that Thanksgiving recess officially begins on Wednesday the 23rd at 5:00 p.m.
“Are there any other questions?” I look around the room.
“All right, let’s start by introducing ourselves to each other. Han, please start by giving us your first and last name, when you hope to graduate, what your major is, and why you decided to take this class.” I motion with my upturned hand so that he stands.
“I am Han Song. I am from Korea. I will graduate this June. My major is physics. I decided to take this class because a friend said you are very good professor and the class will help me understand what physics does not yet know.”
I motion to the next student.
Margaret, a rounded beauty with a strong, commanding presence, does not stand, gathers her thoughts, and then speaks clearly: “I’m Margaret Carona. I’m a philosophy major and will graduate in June. I was born here in Pomona. I took Professor Levy’s Intro to Philosophy as a freshman, and his Socrates/Plato and Descartes/Spinoza classes last year. I love his teaching style, so here I am.” She gives me a wide smile.
I nod at Chris, sits next to Margaret.
Chris—tall, skinny, redheaded, with more pimples than most—stands and looks around. “Hi, y’all. I’m Chris Anderson from Atlanta. This is the fourth class I’ve taken from Dr. Levy. You all made a good choice. I’m a senior majoring in philosophy. I’ve been interested in meditation and enlightenment since high school.”
An elegant black woman sits near Chris. She stands and says calmly, “I’m Tanisha Cooper from Los Angeles. I’m a junior majoring in psychology. I have always felt that there’s much more to our world than meets the eye. Also, in one of my psychology classes, I was fascinated when we learned about what happens to people’s bodies and minds when they meditate, so I’m hoping to learn more about it.”
The next student, the energetic, blonde shorthand-er, glances around to make sure everyone is looking at her. She rises, steps forward, and faces the class. She’s wearing a well-tailored sundress and is unusually short. “I’m Brittany Foster from Sacramento. English is my major, and I will graduate next June. I’m taking this class because it got good reviews on the online student evaluation site. Thank you.” She nods in both directions, as if taking a bow, and then sits as abruptly as she had stood.
I nod at the bearded, Jewish-looking, heavyset man next to Brittany. He makes no attempt to stand, looks up at me, and states, “I’m a senior majoring in biology, and I’m applying to medical school. During my studies, I’ve read about the health benefits of meditation and wanted to understand what meditation is from a deeper perspective. I took your Intro to Philosophy as a sophomore and wanted to take another class from you before graduating. Oh—my name is Asher Cohen, and I come from Los Angeles.”
Sitting next to Asher is Tom, his thinning blond hair in a military cut. He’s shaved his boyish face of whatever facial hair he possesses. He stands, towering over all of us. I think I can smell his aftershave. “I’m a philosophy senior. I’m here because Dr. Levy answered questions honestly when I took his Intro class.” He sits down.
“Please tell us your name," I try to say soothingly.
“Thank you, Tom. Your turn, Ravi.” I remember Ravi from my intro class two years ago. His paper on Plato’s Form of the Good was almost brilliant, considering he was a freshman when he wrote it.
He stands: short, strong, dark, sincere. “My name is Ravi Bhutta, and I was born in Los Angeles, but my parents are from India. I’m a rising junior and a chemistry major, hoping to eventually get a degree in chemical engineering. My father saw this course online and thought I would like it,” he says with a slight smile.
The pale, thin, man with a scraggly beard and long limbs next to Ravi stands. “My name is Joseph Finestein,” he says, his voice quavering. “I’m a senior majoring in chemistry. I’ve been involved in Kabbalah for a few years,” he continues, building up a head of steam, “which is a Jewish mystical philosophy and practice, and I heard that this class discusses the foundations of mysticism. This is my second philosophy class but my first with Professor Levy.”
The student to Joseph’s right stands as Joseph sits. "My name is Obinna Ekezie. I am transferred from University of Lagos, in Nigeria, where I was born. I have two years more until I will finish a degree here. My degree will be in mathematics. I took philosophy classes in Nigeria and earned high marks, so I hope I will be able to stay in this class."
It seems like a good group. We will learn a lot from one another.
“Any other questions?” I wait, scanning everyone’s faces. “OK, this concludes our introductions. Please start reading the Upanishads for our next class.” I find the book on my desk and hold it up for emphasis. “I will stay awhile to answer individual questions. Otherwise, you’re free to go.”
All but three students file out. Two have not yet registered for the class and need my permission. I sign their forms and off they go, leaving Brittany in her seat, twirling her hair, writing in her notebook.
She looks up. “Professor, you said you had biases. What happens if you are biased against one of your pupils? Wouldn’t that affect their class participation grade?”
“I don’t believe I harbor, or will harbor, any biases for or against any of my students. I will do my best to make sure that the class participation grade, though subjective, is as objective as possible.”
“Well, if it’s subjective then it can’t be objective. Right?”
“Ahh, as you will see in this class, that’s a big question to ask a philosophy professor who teaches a class on Vedic philosophy. Suffice it to say, I’ll try to be fair. OK?”
“Agreed. Thank you for your time.” She stands and walks out.
I return to my office, busying myself with the tedious work of a professor and departmental chair. Tomorrow, Wednesday, is the first day of my Plato and Socrates class and the Intro to Philosophy class I’m co-teaching this semester. I have a lot to do between now and then. I’ll just lower my head and bull my way through—that’s my way.
* * *
I’m in my office late in the afternoon, having finished much of my work but with plenty more to be done. I get a text from Sarah: “Dinner with Sam and Shoshana tonight at 6:30. Come home zoom.” She probably meant “soon,” but maybe not. She rarely looks at her texts before sending them. I carefully read mine two or three times before hitting send. I’ll finish my work later. She doesn’t like me staying any longer than I need to, so I’m going home now before she gets anxious. I grab a few tissues from one of my many boxes, blow my nose unsatisfyingly, and tuck a few more into my pocket for my walk home.
It will be nice to see Sam and Shoshana and hear their watered-down Israeli accents after so many months. I met them during the late ’70s at a week-long meditation retreat that was a preparatory course for the TM-Sidhi program, an ancient, advanced meditation technique. Back then we were young and on fire. We thought enlightenment was just a mantra or two away.
Sarah and I meditate, but this time instead of feeling as if she’s holding me back, it feels like we expand out together. She’s not the problem—my attachment to her and my need to watch over her are the problems. Both began to grow early in our relationship. By our fourth date, I was already deeply in love with her and worried she was not so into me. Young ladies often found me too intense, too short, and apparently not too attractive. As I was driving her back to her mother’s house, a little helmeted girl on a big bicycle appeared out of nowhere. I slammed on the brakes, swerved, and came to rest a foot from where she had fallen. After I checked to make sure she was OK, which she was, I returned to find Sarah hyperventilating, clutching her chest, and sweating profusely. She had told me how she had inherited panic attacks from her mother. I took her home and had her breathe into a paper bag. That helped some, but she couldn’t calm down. Her mother was away visiting a friend. She kept saying, “Don’t leave me. I can’t be alone.” I held her on the couch for hours. About 1 a.m. she fell asleep in my arms, so I covered her and slept on the floor. I believe I won her heart when she woke to find me sleeping against the couch. Since then, my job has been to guide her through a minefield of triggers. But she has given me just as much or more in return.
We make it to the vegetarian Indian restaurant a few minutes late, and there they are, sitting at a table, looking younger than I remember.
"So, how are the kinderlach? Where are the pictures? Important things first, you know," Sam says. “After the pictures, we can talk about you."
iPhones come out. We show pictures from this summer when our two girls, Rose and Rachel, were home. I’m surprised by the number of pictures that are of our eldest child, Amos, playing with his niece Becky, Rose’s daughter, and our only grandchild. She's almost four and delighted with Uncle Amos’s silly antics to get her to smile for the camera. Becky stayed with us for the first time this summer while her parents vacationed. If I could afford it, I would send her parents on vacations frequently so we could babysit more.
Amos has learning disabilities, which we think are related to a series of seizures he had right after birth. We bought him a condo with the college fund he never used—a gift from my well-to-do parents. He works at a movie theater in a neighborhood bordering UCLA. He has friends. He watches a lot of TV. He doesn’t drive. A few times a week, he’ll call to let me know he’s just meditated, knowing that it makes me happy. Reading, writing, and math are very hard for him, but his verbal skills are just fine. As a child, he listened to the whole Harry Potter series on tape. Rose, the oldest of our two daughters and an English professor, says he understood and, during their heated discussions, remembered nuances about the books that even her obsessive, sharp mind had not grasped. He has a sweet soul—a warm, gregarious personality with big dimples. How my wife and I, short as we are, begat a six-foot, 210-pound son is beyond me.
We look at pictures of Sam and Shoshana's grandkids, who are getting big, and their two kids, Avi and Yael.
“All the kids are so beautiful. They are a deep blessing,” Sarah says, reaching out across the table to touch Shoshana and Sam’s hands, and then looking at the waiter hovering in front of our booth.
“Can I take drink orders?” he says.
“My husband and I will have mango lassis,” says Shoshana.
Sarah says, “I’ll have plain hot water, no tea. Abe?”
“A mango lassi sounds delicious.”
“OK, three mango lassis and plain water, hot, no tea bag?” the waiter asks.
“Correct, no tea bag,” Sarah says.
Shoshana’s eyes follow the departing waiter. After he’s gone, she lowers her head, glances at Sarah and me, and whispers loudly, "Have you heard what’s been happening in Fairfield?" Without waiting for an answer, she goes on. "More and more people are starting to make enlightenment. They’re saying that the world’s atmosphere has purified enough so we are about to go into a phase transition. It’s starting in Fairfield because it is so pure there from all the meditations over the years. The long-term meditators there, like us, are going like popcorn—you know, first a few, then many.”
She turns to Sam and then back to us. "We’re making plans to meditate full-time in Fairfield when it starts to warm up in April. It’s too cold in Iowa in the winter. We don’t want to miss the boat. One of our store managers will watch the restaurants for us. We’ll be back next Thanksgiving.”
Sarah and I should join them in Fairfield. It would be much easier to reach enlightenment there surrounded by thousands of other meditators. I could use the sabbatical I have coming and take next semester off. We could go in January and stay until mid-August. I’d have to skip teaching summer school, which would be a relief but also a financial pinch. Sarah won’t go for it, though.
"Funny, Abe was telling me that something has changed recently,” says Sarah. “He said it wasn't him that had changed, but that it was easier to settle down because the world's consciousness had settled down."
"Wow,” I say to Sarah, “you really are listening when I pontificate. When I was explaining how at a deep level of an individual’s consciousness we all are connected, I didn’t think you heard." I realize as I’m saying it that I’m sounding a touch condescending, but I am happy she understood—which I then realize is very condescending.
"After all these years in the trenches,” I go on, “doing our meditations twice a day, maybe we have cleaned things up, like Maharishi said we would. He said we were like washing machines—we meditate and practice the sidhis and we clean our consciousness and the world's." Shoshana nods.
I look over at Sam, who is staring at an attractive young Indian woman in tight jeans. He catches himself and nods.
"It’s not just us,” says Sam, uncharacteristically serious. “It’s all those Vedic boys and young men, the pandits, in Fairfield and in India. Most of the money from teaching TM over the years was saved up to train and house them. They’re Maharishi’s army. They meditate and practice the sidhis for hours each day, and they do ancient Vedic rituals to purify the atmosphere. Maharishi really thought they would bring on an age of enlightenment, not us pishers, the regular old meditators."
Sarah’s mouth is open in a little “o” as she digests Sam’s statement. She asks, “Maharishi’s army? Are they really…? Ah, I get it. Their battleground is the part of us that connects us all.”
Sam smiles sweetly. “Yes. Your professor has done a good job.”
“I agree,” Sarah says. She turns toward me, gives me a hint of a wink, and says, “He loves to teach.”
“Touché,” I say.
The waiter brings our drinks. Sam stops him before he can leave and orders for Shoshana and himself. Sarah is happy with rice and dal and vegetable samosas as an appetizer. I order vegetable biryani, baingan bharta, okra, saag paneer, and a cauliflower dish. That should be enough so we don’t run out of food. I like to prepare for tomorrow’s battles today.
“The key to growth is the introduction
of higher dimensions of consciousness
into our awareness.”
Thursday morning, I arrive at my office at 8:03. I had to get in early because I didn’t finish