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How I Met My Guru

(I don't normally wear flowers in my hair... long story)

(I don’t normally wear flowers in my hair… long story) Washington DC 2008 (photo credit Kasia Fraser)

I am Kate.

I have a Guru.

You can find my guru’s picture in almost every room of my house. It’s unusual for a white girl living in a modern western society, I know.

Gu – means darkness

Ru – means removal

A guru can be said to be one who removes the darkness or one who dispels the darkness of ignorance. More simply, a guru is often referred to as a teacher or a master. Even a mother is often referred to as a child’s first guru.

I was 19-years-old, in my second year at Salisbury University in Maryland. I was sailing 5 days a week on the sailing team, working part time on the campus greenhouse and studying heavily on my dual degree in biology and environmental/marine science. I read classic satire books by Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell and philosophical ones by Friedrich Nietzsche (or tried to, that stuff is pretty hard to swallow). I was into partying, going to hard core punk shows. I was all ‘damn-the-man‘ and power to the people. I dumpster-dived semi-frequently and liked to wear thrift shop clothes. I was a hardcore vegan who followed PETA with a vengeance and liked to ‘moo‘ at my friends who were sitting there quietly eating their non-vegan food. I was annoyingly opinionated (ok, that might still be semi-true), and was, for the most part, only concerned about myself (pretty ordinary 19 year old behavior). I was always looking for something, I never sat still and had a finger in almost every pot.

But, I did not have my finger in the yoga pot! All of my girlfriends, who were living in the dorm with me, had been raving about this yoga club on campus that they had been going to (they especially raved about the hot yoga teacher). They kept telling me that I had to come and try! I kindly declined the invites because I was just too busy trying to be a tough girl, although yoga teacher training is something that has interested me.

At the end of the semester, a friend of mine threw a Christmas party… and… lo and behold… the hot yoga teacher that everyone had been talking about was there! Don’t ask me how it happened, but suddenly, the hot yoga teacher and I became an instant item. My girlfriends, who had been secretly frothing over the yoga teacher, were pretty ticked off that I had just casually come along to crash the scene, only to snatch the yoga teacher up, without ever having stepped foot in a single one of his yoga classes! I was only recently single too.. short shelf life, I guess you could say.

Over the holiday break, my new yoga teacher boyfriend told me that I HAD to come with him to New York City and see this man, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, give a public talk. I was all like, “Yeah, whatever, I’ll go do anything with you because you’re cute, you’re way older than me, you’re my new boyfriend, and I like going into the city anyway.” Young, open minded, and always up for an adventure, that was me (good thing).

It was January, 2002, and the talk was somewhere in mid-town Manhattan. I can’t remember where, but I vaguely remember it was in a synagogue.

We were running really late and rushing like crazy to get there (as you do when you’re chasing gurus). We arrived, huffing and puffing, at least half an hour into the talk and snuck into a seat way up high in the nose bleed section of the balcony. All I could see was this guy with a beard and long hair, on a distant stage, all dressed in white, sitting way down below us. People were going up to him and bowing and touching his feet! I was all like… “what the hell is going on here?” (It’s actually not something that he tells people to do, it’s customary in India to do this, and these were people from India, bowing down out of respect, similar to how we would shake someone’s hand).

The bearded long haired dude (Sri Sri) was talking about something or other. But, I was hardly paying attention to a single word of what he said. I was too busy looking around and wondering what I had gotten myself into. I was busy plotting my escape, when I remember one line that Sri Sri spoke. He said, “Ok, let’s all close our eyes for a meditation.” The yogi boyfriend said, “Oh, good, we didn’t miss the meditation!

Inside I started to panic. “MEDITATION?!” I had heard of yoga plenty, but meditation?! Nowadays, people talk about meditation all the time and many people know about the benefits of doing it. But, going back twelve years ago, meditation was not exactly a buzz word like it is today, or at least I had certainly not heard much about it.

VERY RELUCTANTLY, I closed my eyes. It was probably the first time in my busy-body life that I had ever just sat there with my eyes closed to do nothing. Within seconds, I could feel my whole body and mind relaxing and the world started to drift away. Was that my breath I was feeling? Oh, hello! A few more minutes passed and my mind was getting more and more settled. And then, it hit me. Within minutes of closing my eyes, I was bawling. Like, sobbing, uncontrollably (so glad everyone had their eyes closed). Something had opened up in me. For the first time in my life, I could feel a deep empathic connection with all the people on the planet. I could literally feel the world… does that make sense? Something had cracked, deep in my heart, and from that moment, my life has never been the same. My life COULDN’T be the same. The busy bodied, restless, ants-in-her-pants girl in me had been given a glimpse of something completely outside of anything I had ever experienced. I had found something that I didn’t even know I was looking for. How lucky is that! A big bomb went off in my heart and I suddenly found out where love was hiding… right inside of me!

A few months later, I did the Art of Living course (the cornerstone course of all of the programs run by the Art of Living Foundation of which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a founder of). From that day on, I have not missed a single day of doing some sort of meditation, breathing or yoga. I went on to do many other courses, traveled to India, became a yoga teacher through the Art of Living and eventually became a teacher of the Art of Living programs. The yoga teacher boyfriend and I went our separate ways on fairly good terms. Although, yoga man was also the one who got me into surfing, so I have almost every day to be grateful to him for showing me some pretty cool paths of life.

In western society, having a guru seems strange. But, in many other cultures, having a guru is a sign of luck and prosperity. For me, it’s hard to imagine what direction my life would have taken if I hadn’t found someone to guide me through all the good and the bad. Not only is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a spiritual teacher, but his work is so broad and so expansive in terms of bringing peace to society. It’s hard to even mention in one or two sentences, the amount of work he has done around the globe. He truly is an inspiration (even if he’s not your guru).

Do you have someone in life who guides you? I would imagine if you were religious, that God, the bible, or the incarnation of God would be the closest to what I’m talking about. Or, maybe a living person who guides you or has opened up your heart? Or, maybe you have a “How I met my guru” story that you would like to share in the comments.

Art of Living programs are offered all around the globe. Check to see what’s going on in your neck of the woods here.

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