Su's Testimonial #2
This is the story of what life was like during the 10 years I spent as a practicing Sahaja Yogi.
By the time my husband & I married in 1983, we had been learning about Sahaja Yoga, practicing the techniques and adjusting our lifestyle to fit the belief system. In Sahaja Yoga, leading a "dharmic" life is everything. Or so we thought.
Little by little, what we learned was that, in order to lead a dharmic life we would have to make some major lifestyle changes: no longer would we be able to enjoy a glass of wine or beer (bad for our "vibrations"). TV-watching was mostly a no-no, unless the shows viewed were approved by the "collective." Women were discouraged from wearing jeans and most other styles of casual pants. Skirts and dresses were considered more dignified. Wearing the color black was forbidden, as it was considered a shade that attracted negativity. We were not allowed to wear bangs (or as the English call it a "fringe") on our forehead (a style I sadly had to eschew). We were told to avoid getting haircuts from non-realized souls. This made finding a hairdresser or barber a real challenge! (I'll admit, I cheated and used a hairdresser because I needed to look good for my job at the newspaper.)
We were encouraged to eat plenty of white sugar, cakes and sweets. I watched my figure expand from a petite size 5 to (what I considered HUGE at the time) a size 8 petite—the first time in my life I'd ever had to shop for that size!
Attending weekly meetings to recruit new Sahaja Yogis was strongly recommended. We were told to soak our feet in warm salt water every night before going to bed. We were told to meditate every morning, early, before going about our day. Music we formerly enjoyed was considered against the spirit: no more Led Zeppelin (except for Stairway to Heaven, which was considered to be about Nirmala—LOL!), no more Doors, Blue Oyster Cult, Frank Zappa, etc. We found ourselves listening mostly to Indian music, which was something exotic and interesting for us (still, many of us sorely missed the contemporary music scene). We put drops of ghee, or clarified butter up our noses in the hopes of "clearing" our "vishuddi" chakras. We ate no beef, chocolate, mushrooms, bleu cheese, ice cream, peanut butter and an assortment of other forbidden foods. We were discouraged from drinking coffee and having a cat as a pet--all negative things.
A year or so into Sahaja Yoga, my husband & I were invited to live in the ashram. It was a big, beautiful rental house outside of Boston. We accepted the invitation, and lived in the ashram for 2 years. During this time, my career was blossoming. I was getting more sophisticated writing assignments, including a few television commercials. I got to meet Jay Leno, who, at the time, was an up & coming comedian and starred in one of the TV commercials our newspaper produced. I was eager to see what other writers were coming up with to promote products on TV, however, in the ashram, the volume on TV commercials was always "muted," so as not to upset our chakras. Sometimes the TV was turned off during a commercial, then turned back on. This bothered me, not only because the ashram TV belonged to my husband and me (indeed, in an ashram of 12 people, I appeared to be the only one with a steady job and relatively high income, and so provided much of the house furnishings), but also because something deep within me was becoming more and more aware that my freedoms were, little by little, being taken away from me.
Although much of the ashram furniture belonged to my husband and me, it was not well taken care of by the other Sahaja Yogis. An oak dining table was often used as a cutting board, and, to this day, still bears the knife scars of many an aggressive yogini chef. Complaining was out of the question. I tried it once, and was told I had become too attached to material things. Well, OK. I was to understand that ashram living required sacrifice, and, as a woman in Sahaja Yoga, my place was to tend to the needs of the collective and my own spiritual ascent. To complain would be considered against the spirit.
Ashram life was very structured: we rose for meditation early (around 5 am). Each day one yogi was expected to "lead" the meditation. I have always been shy about leading anything, and have never been comfortable speaking to groups of people. No matter, I was leading meditations at least once every 10 days or so. I did my best to pretend I enjoyed it, but I never did. In fact I dreaded it!
At work it was an entirely different scene. I was a promotional copywriter working in a creative atmosphere at the state's largest newspaper. My co-workers would go out to comedy clubs, bars and parties. They'd visit each others' homes for dinners and out-of- office social gatherings. I was always invited, but I never accepted. This would have been considered very bad for my ascent. Eventually, I believe my co-workers thought of me as some sort of nun, and pretty much left me alone.
Back at the ashram, life got increasingly structured. Once a week we were expected to write letters to other Sahaja Yogis worldwide. This supposedly spread vibrations through the mail. I hated this task, because, as a writer during the week, I looked forward to spending my weekends doing something other than writing.
Then there were the pujas to attend, the weekly meetings, bajan (Indian music) sessions, trips to other ashrams (New York, Toronto, San Diego, Ohio, New Jersey), planning sessions for various sahaj activities.
I missed my parents. I was discouraged from visiting them, and they had become increasingly alarmed about my involvement with this cult. Still, they remained supportive, but disappointed. I believe my cult involvement broke their hearts. And thinking back on that now,it breaks my heart.
As time went by, my husband decided to pursue a Master's degree in business and information technology. We talked about starting a family and the possibility of buying our own home. These were exciting times for me because it looked like a way out of the ashram (which I had secretly grown to loathe, but, in my submissive role as a proper Sahaja Yogini, would never, never disclose—not even to my own husband!).
Just before my husband started college, we bought our first home. It was a small place, a "starter home," with 3 bedrooms and one bathroom.
It wasn't long before we, as two of the only homeowners in the Boston collective, were asked to take in yogis who needed a sahaj place to live. We first took in a yogi, a young American man whom I thought of as a brother. Since he did not own a car, I would drive him to the campus of his college, which was located across the street from my newspaper. I enjoyed his company, but when it came time for him to submit his name for marriage and he was eventually paired up with an Indian lady, he quickly extricated himself from Cult Sahaj, leaving us sometime in the night with only a letter of farewell to find the next morning. It was upsetting to us, but, at the same time, an eye-opener. If this brilliant young man was questioning the cult, perhaps we should be too. And didn't I have reservations about many of the practices—especially the endless donations of money— sometimes in the form of solid gold bullion—too? Certainly, I did.
Our next houseguest was a yogini, several years my senior. She moved into and occupied the bedroom next to ours. She then agreed to one of the arranged marriages and her new husband, a yogi from Belgium, also moved in with us. They stayed for some years, then moved to another area.
Eventually my husband earned 2 Master's degrees, graduating with high honors from Boston University. It was time to start a family. We had our first child, a girl, in 1989. I left my job in order to be home with our daughter and was not in the least bit sorry I did. I continued to practice SY, bringing our daughter along to pujas, meetings and such.
3 years later I became pregnant again. To our complete surprise, 11 weeks into the pregnancy, we learned I was expecting triplets! We had not been using any fertility drugs and had only planned on having 2 children, 3 tops. The Sahaja Yogis saw this as some sort of blessing from Nirmala. We were at once delighted and terrified. I am a small woman, only 5'1," and my 1st baby was well over 8 lbs. What would carrying 3 (potentially large—as my husband is 6'4" and they could take after him) babies do to me? How would we manage?
To their credit, my yogini friends were great! They gave me a "triplet baby shower," offering much-needed gift items, including a triplet stroller! I couldn't thank them enough. I knew I was going to be ok because so many people obviously cared about me.
And all went well, indeed. The babies were born full term at 36 weeks. They were large (for triplets), weighing 6.9 lbs., 5.7 lbs., and 5.3 lbs. 2 beautiful girls and one adorable boy! We felt truly blessed. We were exhausted, nervous, but mostly happy.
End of Part 2