I must have heard Rama speak hundreds of thousands of words in the years I spent in his company. There were formal dharma talks, dialogues in the desert, aphorisms tossed aside while standing in line for the movies, personal teachings imparted in passing during the breaks in the middle of formal talks. And I know that on some level they're all still in there somewhere, but the vagaries of time have moved many of them to the swap space of my mind. When I wish to recollect them, there is a perceptible time lag as the operating system searches for them on disk and finally loads them into working memory. Sometimes it doesn't find them at all. This hit-or-miss retrieval process has forced me to coin an aphorism of my own: "Age-related memory loss is just nature's way of saying 'Be here now.'"
But there is another set of sayings that never seem to get moved to swap space. They are accessed frequently enough to insure that they never leave my working memory. I tend to think of these consistently memory-resident aphorisms as Rama's core teachings. For me. Those last two words are important. Every person who met and interacted with Rama has a similar set of core teachings rattling around in their working memory. But they're all different core teachings, and that is as it should be.
Each of us is unique, and thus has a unique set of core teachings that we associate with Rama, words that created a special resonance within us when we first heard them and which continue to inspire us in some personal way. For some, these core teachings consist of high-level dharma talks. For others, they center on teachings about the Tao of business. In other students, they revolve around martial arts, or the enlightenment of women, or other such lofty subjects.
If you have made it this far into the book, you probably suspect that my personal set of Rama's core teachings do not fall into any of the above categories. Correctimundo. Mine tend to be pretty simple and down to earth. Most of them are short aphorisms that opened a doorway to the infinite for me the first time I heard them, a doorway that opens again every time I recollect them. It's like the aphorisms are programs of some sort, and whenever I think of them it's like typing RUN at the command prompt of my mind and then sitting back and watching as the program does its thing. I have 'run' some of these aphorisms hundreds of times now, and each time they take me somewhere different, show me something I had never seen before. It's a kind of contemplative meditation; I just think the aphorism and then see where it takes me. I don't know how to explain it other than to run one of them for you right now, and let you tag along.
The first such aphorism that springs to mind was a throwaway. Rama was so good at coining phrases that encapsulated infinity that he could afford to just throw them away. As I remember it, he just dropped this one into the silence between questions at a center meeting, saying:
is how you live your life
There is deep, deep, deep wisdom in these 13 simple words. But don't expect any here today, because after all this is Uncle Tantra, and as I speak the words in my mind, they take me in a completely different direction than the one I intended when I began this story. I don't feel like talking about wisdom. I feel like talking about something fun. I want to talk about decorating my house.
I have always tried to put some energy into the places I live, to decorate them as well as I could afford and make them an outer reflection of my inner being. Women I have lived with would probably say that I have succeeded in this quest far too well. But then these are the same folks who refer to me as 'bizarre,' 'anal-compulsive' and 'nit-picky' and my houses as 'museums of psychosis,' so who can believe anyone with such a limited imagination?
I decorate my houses for me, not for anyone else. Sure, I like it when guests in my home appreciate the vibe of the place enough to comment on it, but that's not why I do what I do. I decorate my houses because it matters. I learned long ago, in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Japanese section of West L.A., that if you treat your home as a work of art, it helps turn your life into a work of art.
It also has a practical value. Back in college, I discovered that if I don't spend enough money fixing up my home so that I feel comfortable there, I wind up spending much more money every month staying away from it. You know - going to movies a lot, eating out more than you cook at home, going somewhere else to read, that sorta thing. So in my experience, spending a little money to find the right place to live and then spending some more to fix it up actually winds up saving me money in the long run.
Being comfortable in your own home is important. And even if you live in a one-room studio, to create an overall vibe of comfort you need a few discrete areas. You need a cool sleeping space, where you feel comfortable enough to dream. You need an eating space, where you feel comfortable enough to enjoy the exact meal you feel like having at the time, even if it consists of a peanut butter and mango chutney sandwich.
You need a business space, where you can log on and move into the money dimensions, and feel comfortable enough to succeed. You need a kick-back space, where you can read or listen to music or watch a video and feel comfortable just being yourself. And of course you need a meditation space, where you feel comfortable just being.
When I moved into my current house, I spent some time fixing it up, but at that time I was seriously in starving artist mode, so I never quite finished the job. I got it to a certain tolerable level and stopped there. Big mistake. Because I never felt really good about my home, I never really felt comfortable there, and that created an enormous leak in my psychic body, through which I continually lost energy.
I was able to plug that leak a few weeks ago, and it has made such an enormous difference in my life that I just have to share it with others. I managed recently to re-negotiate my work schedule, so now I work three weeks on, four days a week, followed by two weeks off. I'm never going to make a fortune like this, but at this point in my life, time off is much more important to me than money. Fortunately, this schedule even works out for my client, so everyone benefits.
So when I arrived home in the second week of June, having arranged my first two-week-off period to span the Summer Solstice, I was one happy camper. But I was also fresh from a series of Road Trips on which I had seen homes done as Art. These homes could have been, and should be, in the pages of Architectural Digest, but as it turns out, they weren't. They were the homes of several of my friends - one in a North Shore suburb of Chicago, one in the hills of Boulder, Colorado, one in a quiet section of Brentwood. All were masterpieces of feng shui. The aura of comfort - of at-home-ness - that I felt in these homes made a huge impression on me.
So much of an impression that when I got home walked into my own house, the difference was shocking. It didn't feel comfortable at all. So I set out to fix things. I decided to do the house up right. And it turned out to be one of the highest and most ecstatic two weeks of my life, because I really got into it. I was a decoratin' fool. I gazed at familiar spaces and made them unfamiliar, trying to visualize just what was needed to make them feel comfortable. Then I went out and shopped for those items. In retrospect, I must admit that I went slightly mad with the shopping part, and spent a great deal of money as a result, but I can't regret a penny of it, because there were tangible benefits.
One of those benefits is that Uncle Tantra's understanding of and rapport with women has increased about a thousand fold. I finally get shopping. There is a power in it that I never understood before. I know, I know I'm a guy and thus was born without the shopping gene, so I shouldn't be saying this. But I think that somehow the intent that I brought to finding just the perfect objects with which to decorate my home must have affected some kind of weird psychic microsurgery and added the missing gene to my DNA, because I can now appreciate shopping.
I can appreciate shopping as stalking. You stand in your living room and visualize just the perfect lamps, and then you go out looking for them. You refuse to settle for anything less, even after you have been to fifty lighting stores without success. You try the 51st, and there they are.
I can appreciate shopping as Tao. You walk along, unattached, and allow your eye to be caught by that tiny shop at the end of that alley you never explored before. You walk in and find a carved wooden Buddha. You weren't looking for a carved wooden Buddha, but the moment you see it in the shop, you also see the perfect setting for it in your bedroom, so you plunk down the money and take it to its new home.
And I can appreciate shopping as an exercise in patience and humility and letting go. You search and search and search for the perfect item you see shining so clearly in your mind and you cannot find it anywhere. So you finally let go of the desire for it and then turn around at the Flea Market and there it is, marked down.
Gals, remember this event. A guy actually gets 'marked down.' The Millennium is surely upon us - any day now one of us may actually put the toilet seat down or stop to ask for directions when lost.
Anyway, I had a ball! There was one day when I was totally immersed in the Tao of Shopping from sunup to sunset. I started at the Santa Fe Flea Market, which, if you have never been there, is a whole other universe from the one in your mind when you think, 'flea market.' Next I found a lighting store I had not seen before and voilą, there were the lamps I had envisioned. Pausing for a late breakfast, I picked up a New Mexican and found an ad for someone selling Japanese antiques. I called and rushed over and left with a tonsu chest and a butsudan from the Meiji period. On and on it went. Finally, I made the rounds of the gallery circuit and dropped big bucks on art, picking up some new Tibetan tsakli and a drum that has been used to signal the call to meditation in Japanese Buddhist temples for two hundred years. I spent more money than I have ever spent before in one day, except for the time I bought Protector, and paid the man in cash.
It was a great day. But you know, the best part of it was arriving home as the sun was going down and having the experience of putting my purchases into the place in my home I had already seen them occupying in my mind. There was not one misfire. Everything was perfect. Each of the items settled into its new living space as if it had been created to live there.
As a result, my home finally feels comfortable to me. I love being there. I wake up in the morning and look around at the room and the odd collection of objects that should never coexist in the same space, and I smile. The Tibetan bells and prayer wheels rest inside a Japanese butsudan, under photographs of medieval castles in the South of France. It shouldn't work, but it does. For me.
The same eclecticism runs rampant in the rest of the house. The combinations of styles and eras probably makes no sense to anyone but me, but I didn't combine them for anyone but me. I am comfortable here, in a beautiful space made more beautiful by the judicious placement of art and power objects that somehow resonate with my being.
The place has style. I think that Rama would like it, and would feel at home here. My sense of style would certainly not be the same as his, but I think he would feel that I had done an acceptable job of expressing my own. And that, after all, is what his teaching was all about.
Style is how you live your life when no one else is watching. Not someone's life you saw on TV or in the movies or in Architectural Digest. Not his life. Your life.
And the simple secret of that simple teaching - living your life with style - is the same secret that lies beneath the surface of all of his other teachings. It makes you smile.
I do not remember the exact details of the night I first heard Rama use this aphorism. But I do remember the day it became real to me, and moved to a place of honor in my set of core teachings. I was living in a small guest house on a lake in Pound Ridge, New York. It was a weekday, but I had slept in. This was a rare event for me; usually I am fastidious about getting to work on time. But I had been putting in a lot of overtime lately, and was beginning to feel so brainburned that I had decided the night before to sleep late and have a leisurely morning.
So I got up and ran and showered and meditated, and then took my cup of coffee and croissant down to the shore and paddled out in the canoe to the center of the lake to enjoy them. It was a cool moment, and I didn't want it to end, but finally I paddled back in and put on my straight-person suit and got in my car to drive to work.
As I was passing through the triangle of backcountry roads that is the 'downtown' area of Bedford, I looked over to my right and saw Rama. He was standing on the sidewalk outside a real estate agency. He was dressed comfortably but impeccably - jeans, expensive cowboy boots, a nice shirt - and was talking with two women, who obviously worked at the agency. Rama was pointing somewhere off to the East, possibly in the direction of the home he later built and decorated there in Bedford. He was talking with the women in an animated manner, as if whatever they were talking about excited him a great deal. And everyone was laughing.
It was a cool moment.
It was the laughter that did it. Rama was out shopping, possibly for a new home. He had his own agenda, his own list of things to accomplish that day. But he took the time to interact impeccably and respectfully with these two women, and to lighten their day with laughter.
I toyed for a moment with the thought of stopping and talking with him. I mean, it's not every day you get an opportunity to interact with your spiritual teacher outside of the meditation hall. But then I remembered his aphorism about style, and I drove on. Hopefully he never noticed I was there, or that anyone was watching.