I was dragged by my partner to sit with Gangaji over 20 years ago. I was dipping my beak into the smorgasbord of spiritual playgrounds like a hummingbird on a mountain of lupine. I was thirsty for a quick fix that would give me the key to the gates of heaven. I do not remember that first sit except that I was overwhelmed by the 250 plus folks who had crowded into a hall in Marin, California, all searching for something and hoping to find it in this teacher.
Ruthlessly gentle is what comes to mind as I reflect on the five or so years that I sat with Gangaji. On one retreat I finally got the courage to go up and subject myself to this gentleness. I had come up with an image of my search. I was Coyote and the answer was the Road Runner. Every time the answer seemed within my grasp or I glimpsed a glint of understanding, I would reach out to hold it and … gone. It was like Coyote in the cartoon, I either fell of an endless cliff , or was blown up by my own mechanism for capturing the knowledge, or run over by my own sense of accomplishment.
Gangaji laughed and said ”beep-beep!” And the entire room of 250-plus people laughed. I was bewildered, a little embarrassed, and finally dumb struck. She saw me, she saw my suffering, my sense of being lost and not getting it. My memory of it was her reaching out with a gentle hand on mine and locking me in her gaze. After a minute of silence as my tears welled and I experienced her compassion, she said simply; “Stop the search. Just stop the search.”
I said thank you and got up from the chair in a daze, and walked back to my seat. Gangaji spoke more about the Coyote and the Road Runner and how perfect a metaphor it was for suffering. For the rest of the retreat people kept coming up to me and thanking me but I felt fraudulent. I heard it, I felt it, I could even speak it “Stop the search.” But I continued the search. I saw the radiance of others as they sat with my teacher. I heard them talk about their profound understandings and deep surrenders and I just thought, “I don’t have it yet; what they have.”
But Gangaji had struck a match that smoldered in the rags of my life-long doubts and fears and judgment and diminishment. I tracked the wisps of smoke from the smoldering pile, realizing that I could not stop the search until I knew what I was searching for and what was causing me to search in the first place. With Gangji’s continued guidance of pointing me back to now, I began to clear away the debris of habitual patterns of searching. “And what is happening now?” she would say when I or another student would be lost in our thinking about, or in our searching for, something out there, something other than this which is unsearchable. Or she might say, “Where is the I that is searching?” Throughout the next 20 years, her husky whisper comes to me in the most lost times or in the times when I think that I have have finally arrived. “Who is lost?” “How can you arrive when you are already here?”
I have always carried a pervasive gratitude for Gangaji, my first guru. (She’d not like me calling her that.) It is her teaching that is the guide rail for all my practice and my work with others. It is really only in the last few years and especially since I began this recent journey, that the fire that she lit 20 years ago has grown into a fire that burns away all doubts, fears, judgments, so that I know now, there is no need to search, because there is nothing to search for that is not already here.
Here is a link to Gangaji’s site: https://gangaji.org/about-gangaji
She is leading a virtual retreat on the weekend of October 3. https://gangaji.org/gf-events/online-weekend-oct-3-4/?is_purchased_autocheck=true