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Tuesday, October 6, 2015



When one is born into a traditional, established, well traveled religious tradition, it is a given that the children will follow their parents' practice. Usually without question. My father, a Zen-like Italian Catholic, reeked with devotional/mystical leanings and my mother, a converted to Catholicism former Episcopalian,  was the "questioner', the ironic one, the combater, the one who internally "winked" at me  when Catholic rules and regulations upset her wise common sense. I have them both inside me.
At 7, as a Catholic school student, I really drank the Kool Aid and stuffed all of my questions and the school/out of school abuses, into my subconscious, believing their teachings eventhough they were medievial in their ignorance, medieval in their sin-theories, medieval in their impulse to spread fear and guilt on/in our little minds, bodies and hearts. Suffering was the banner we held high and in fact, I made a pact with the crucifixed Jesus hanging in our church one day and said, "Jesus, you are suffering so much. I want to be like you and the only way I know how to do that is to suffer. But I will suffer even more than you and be great, just like you. Jesus, help me to suffer." Real bright, no? The Resurrection and light and love did not go with the package and was never refered to, back in the 1940's.
My contract with stupidity began at this early age and later on became the foundational cornerstone of both my art and life, instructing me incorrectly to embrace penitential endurance , self-inflicted isolation rituals and actions that taxed my body and mind. I learned alot from that Crucifix and it has taken me 5 decades to unwind and unknot my farcical fascination with pain eventhough at night I was, at 9, experiencing "big, huge, gigantic" body sensations and time travel, neither of which could persuade me to trade guilt and fear for mystical pleasure. Suffering won out.

At 19, unfixable PTSD and untreated trauma catapulted me into a Catholic convent of missionaries, a dream-land where we chanted, prayed talked only one hour a day, ate all meals in silence and lived like movie-star nuns. That is, we dressed like nuns and acted like holy nuns you would see in movies back then. Memories of my being a rodent in one of our Christmas plays stays with me and when I left with unexplored and unexpressed emotional illness, 80 pounds at best, my novice mistress said to me, "Sister Rose, leave and go be an actress!" But how did she get to stay since she walked, talked and looked exactly like Katherine Hepburn and had that throaty, sexy gravel voice, more like an international Marlena-beauty.
 It was hard leaving, life was easy, simple, meals were on time and three times a day, duties determined by others, no isurance to pay or light bulbs to change, no furnaces to upgrade or dishwashers to empty, no men to flirt with or weekend dates to plan, no cars to drive or insurance to keep track of, no children to feed or toilets to clean. We did have  a schedule:
sleep in the same dorm room
no walls, just curtains surrounding the beds
silence 23 hours a day
meals with 8 at a table
all dishes washed with soapy water and rinsed AT TABLE
lives of the saints read at  all meals
once a week penance service for breaking "rules" (talking, looking at another nun's face, walking too fast etc)
Mass at  5am, then prayer, breakfast, school, work(could be toilets or kitchen )
lunch, rest, work, class, supper, one hour "recreation" (sitting and sewing/medning our habits, another name for clothes we wore)
wearing 4 layers of "clothes" including girdle, mens boxer shorts, heavy-heavy stockings, a dress that was a slip, another "dress'", a tunic and veil
all letters were read by our superiors: the ones we wrote and the ones we received
mail once a moth if I remember correctly
But funny thing is, I LOVED IT!  The rhythm and prayer and ease and am looking for a way to approximate that life now as I enter my 7th decade.
And what I took away from that experience was a love of simple order and an understanding of simple human justice and a concern for compassion vs greed and a frugality that helped me understand the poor and the incarcerated and the misunderstood. The convent gave me eyes to see not just my pain but that of others.
Take me God, take me back to the nunnery?

I left the covent bonkers. Instituionable. But in small town Saugerties, there was nobody to point me in the direction of help except for the family doctor who said to my mother, "Mill if she want's to go back to college, let her go." How wise he was! Dr McCaigh, thank you. And I will never know if Dad bribed them to take me back. I sensed that he did.
So back to the College of New Rochelle I went, having had one year there before the convent. But this time I found a new life via a nun-ally  who opened the door to the sculpture room and gave me a key to wellness----ART!  Art became my medicine, my religion, my best friend, my veicle to finding ecstasy outside the House of Suffering inside my heart.
 I will always thank Mother Mary Jane Robertshaw for  generously sharing her love of creating beauty and truth. In fact, we both attended the plaque celbration together a few years ago at CNR; the plaque in front of the new wellness center said. THANK YOU MOTHER MARY JANE ROBERSHAW: ARTIST TEACHER FRIEND. It was from me.

After 28 years of dumbing down my psyche with Catholic guilt, the introduction to spiritual pleasure happened via my studies of Yoga and Hindu theology. Their chakra and inner light miracles have fueled and informed my spiritual life to this day. That is, eventhough I had embraced the religion of art after the convent, I was still confused and hurting. Doctor Ramamurti Mishra's Ashram was a haven and retreat center and place where I learned about/practiced the Chakras and like the convent, a place to pray but in Yogic and hindu ecstasy and celebration, with arms wide open and clothing perfumed with Rose oil! Meditating with him and his students and watching him dissolve his body into light, right in front of my eyes, and being under his guidance and open-armed acceptance of my personality and gifts and weaknesses, was a gift that I will thank him for, forever. Like all students of great teachers, I thought that he saw only me but he "saw" everyone equally and with such DIVINE love, that our obscurations were burned in the furnace of his magnaminous heart. I publically and eternally applaud your mission on this earth and in the earthless blue sky, my teacher. Never forget me, Guruji. And as one of your Sunyasin ( Hindu priest), I remain Padmavati & Chinmayananda. May I finally grow INTO the names you gave me. May I make you proud.
Although Guruji was my main teacher, I lived two years in a Zen community in upstate NY, following strict and sitting up straight and no nonsence Buddhist traditions. Living on the top of a hill-mountain in an A frame without water or heat or toilet, in the coldest winter yet, 1980 or 1981, was a perfect scenario for my pain-pleasure psyche. It was Catholic enough (the cold) and ecstatic enough ( 8 hours of meditation a day.) Daido Loori and Maezumi Roshi of LA were my teachers during this chapter of my spiritual explorations and I was ready to stay, become a Roshi-ette but got way-laid when i saw a photo fo a Taiwan artist, Tehching Hsieh on  a poster in NYC. He was looking for someone to be tied to for a year. I was looking to make art be as intense and strong and "enlightening" as sitting 8 hours a day, in silence.  I wince to look back and discern this decision...did I do the right thing? If I didn't then I cant even let myself imagine walking around the Zen Mountain Monastery meditation room, right now, today,  in robes and giving dharma talks. It wont happen, but instead, now I do go into galleries and bless people as Mother Theresa, so I guess everything's ok?  I did right, right? Thankfully, Karate lessons with Lester Ingber and Hisashi Omichi have given me the gifts of solid ground and strength to be HERE and I know that my high Green Belt, keeps me strong in this walk.
Meeting Kalu Rimpoche intensified the journey.  I was a shopper, a spiritual materialist, a spiritual mall-goer. So when a great Lama or teacher came to town, I was there! But I was pulled to this particular teacher because I had literally drawn Kalu Rimpoche as a teen-ager on paper with a pencil. That is, my mother, an artist, had a book titled HOW TO DRAW HEADS and I chose, at 13, to draw, "CHINESE MAN." When I first saw Kalu Rimpoche at the Tibetan Monastery, I knew that I knew him, had "drawn" him into my life. Or he drew me? This pre-cognition is nothing new in Tibetan culture and I had read enough literature about pre-knowledge and past lives to understand that I was probably correct , that we did know each other. As a result, I was cemented to him, saw his "double" many times on the streets of NY, a double who looked at me and smiled. Itook refuge from him and in that culture, that is their form of being baptized into Tibetan Buddhism. I went to his teachings and one magical and wonderful day met him for a personal/private interview in a small room at KTD. Of course he was not alone but surrounded by body guards and holy handlers who paced back and forth behind him, acting as indicators of his high spiritual status. Their seriousness didn't keep me from blubbery-crying, that ugly, snotty crying which included falling over from a sitting position and feeling a fierce and burning fire consuming  my body .....a fire he won for himself and shared with others, a fire that happened because of his penances performed for 13 years during his retreat in a light-tight cave in Tibet! He allowed maybe 3 minutes of  what seemed to be a healing of my obscurations and neuroses via fire and tears and then to stop it, he held up in his skinny, bony, hands, a crystal-like object that I fixated on and got distracted by because it was bigger than my tears. That was his blessing to me.  After his death, his re-incarnated teenaged self, magically decapitated or re-arranged his head while swinging in a park-swing in Wappingers Falls and accidentally falling backwards so that his head seemed injured. This story is too complicated to sort out here but I can demo it for you, the reader, over tea.
While we are in the Tibetan phase of my spiritual life, I will tell you the 16th Karmapa story which is also very interesting. Lama Barry Bryant brought the Karmapa to meet with my father to look at property my father owned on the Hudson. As he left the Karmapa, who was 4 inches from my face, said to my father, "Your daughter is a Tibetan Buddhist!"  Is that true? Am I really a Buddhist, a Catholic a Zen practitioner, a Sunyasin? Or did he want a deal on the waterfront property, thinking my father would love this proclamation of my inner spiritual prowess? And if it IS true that I am a Tibetan Buddhist and not just a collector of spiritual highs, then why am I sitting in an upstate NY library writing this and not attending teachings on CHUD at our local Tibetan Monastery?  Hmmmmm.
At Dr. Mishra's ashram in Monroe NY, Ananda Ashram, I met these two teachers of Karma & Bhakti Yoga, the Mehtas. They had both practiced medicine in India and were paragons of seva, selfless service, and endless/tolerant love. Again, a recognition happened and we co-adopted each other so for 19 years they demonstrated with and for me  the art of their practices by making it visible, tangible and real. My triP to India with Mrs. Mehta which made it possible for me to document the burning ghats in Benares, happened during this time and was made possible because of Mataji's GRACE.
 Both of them emanated Hindu/Guru/authentic warmth and shared that with me and all they met via food, teachings, mantra reciting and inclusion in their Jain ceremonies. It was everyday love. I acted as if I belonged to them  and never left their side. I couldn't. This gift of being with them was about day-to-day love and experiencing this right brain joy not just as a concept or while sitting in meditation but practicing love in the here and now, when it was easy and not easy. It was about LOYAL LOVE. It is not over, our love, even though they have left their physical bodies. They like it when I "DO SEVA."
Two major life events resulted in my returning full circle to the religion of my youth, Roman Catholicism.  The first was: I was teaching full-time in a university and my students were wild and wooly, just like me! Needing the grounding of  morals, ethics and propriety, plus needing to learn how to obey rules and regulations so that I could inform my teaching and direct them, I began attending the Catholic Newman Center at the university and noticed that ,"This brand of Catholic isn't so bad!"  And then, around the same time there was a second life event: I became the caregiver for my dying father. His Catholicness/holiness permeated the house where we took care of him. So it is not surprising that his version of how to be sacred colored my deep feelings around his impending death.  Plus I kept his favorite Catholic EWTN Catholic TV channel on 24-7 and that was seeping into my questioning and arid brain. All of the above catapulted me backwards in time to his religion, so back to the church I went, kicking and screaming, dragging my uninformed and guilty inner child along with me. Admittedly the church was changing a bit but oh, what work it is to undo the old time religion in my heart and become a thinking, asking, intelligent, transparent, informed, questioning, curious, mystical Roman Catholic! Making films about exorcism and one about me being the first or second woman Pope and one about Theresa of Avila and performing as Mother Theresa has helped but still, I literally have to force my inner child to morning mass with me everyday.
Signs are always magical and wonderful and welcomed and I received two inner voices, called locutions in church language, during this process;  one from Mary who said, "I will be your Mother  when Mrs. Mehta dies," and one from Jesus who said to me at the Montreal Cathedral when I touched his wood-statue feet, " I am now your GURU!" WHAT MORE DO I WANT!!!!! I'm waiting to hear if I should/could/must become a WOMANPRIEST!
PHASE 9: ............................


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