In 2004, Rohini told me to accept an invitation to Amsterdam for an artist residency. I didn’t go, and it was the worst decision of my life. I would have had a studio and time and solitude to develop my own identity as an artist and person. But I didn’t want that. Instead I chose to move the personal items of the director of my MFA program, hoping that if I did her a favor, she would help me become famous.
I chose a false guru, even after living with a true guru for ten years at that point. Why? I didn’t want real independence, which was what Rohini offered. That independence I thought meant I would be alone and die. I wanted to be adored.
And it’s not as if I didn’t have countless opportunities to know that Rohini wanted the best for me. Nine years before, I had received shaktipat from Rohini. I had no idea what had happened to me or who Rohini really was, but my life had changed instantly. Because of her, I quit my job as an investment banker and began taking classes at an art school in New York City and I was truly happy for the first time in my life.
After my first year at art school, I earned a scholarship and thought I had learned everything I needed to learn, until, in a critique, a visiting artist told me he couldn’t see me in any of the works. I was shocked and devastated and called Rohini, who asked if I would like to come live with her and her family full time to work on developing my authentic voice. I hesitated, as I thought I had to be in New York to become a significant artist, but eventually I said yes.
Before coming to live full time with Rohini, I had already been visiting her every two weeks. During those visits, she worked with me on my art, critiquing my drawings and teaching me composition. I remember, under her guidance, carefully positioning plants in her teaching room until a subtle harmony was reached. She was teaching me all the time, but I was too immature to understand and too ignorant to accept that she could know so much about art. I missed these lessons. I also missed that I had become part of her family. They included me in everything—meals, decisions, conflicts and resolutions. I was loved. Real love was entirely foreign to me and although part of me valued it, another part did not and I resisted and rejected it.
Once I moved in, I maintained this resistance as both a student and a family member despite Rohini’s constant efforts. Though it made no sense, I was determined to beat her. She continued to teach me painting skills—color, form, space, rhythm, composition—and worked to get me to let go of all ideas when I painted. She tried to get me to produce authentic art. When I listened and let go, I liked it, but then I rebelled almost instantaneously. Over and over again, I repeated the same pattern: resist, gradually surrender and work to follow Rohini’s instruction, let go, succeed and trash both what I had learned and Rohini. The same pattern held in relation to Rohini, to the family and to my girlfriend Stacey. Though I was treated as an equal, I kept myself separate and apart, thinking I was keeping my independence.
Choosing not to go to Amsterdam was an assertion of this independence. I thought I had made the right decision and was convinced that Rohini, by telling me to accept the residency, was depriving me of success as an artist, and sending me to my death. In a way, I was right. Had I gone, it would have been the death of the Jim Condron that has always been afraid to be alone. Going would have freed me. Instead I spent weeks of that summer with one of the loneliest and stingiest people I have ever known in hopes that I would gain her love and the art community’s adoration. What sense does this make? Which of the two teachers was really looking out for me? Why did I not ask these questions?
I’m now living alone and only beginning to feel the excruciating pain of the outcome of this decision and others like it in the thirteen years since. Though I am no longer living with her, Rohini has stuck with me throughout. Even living with a guru could not make me choose what was best for me. Even the threat of losing Stacey, the person I have loved more than anyone, was not enough to prevent me from choosing my idea of love and how life works. I am now alone as I feared despite all of Rohini’s efforts. And still Rohini works with me. I am not stupid enough to think that I would never make the same choice again given the right circumstances.
There is a difference between being alone and being independent. I have spent the majority of my life alone, whether by myself, with others, with Stacey or in the company of a true guru. I only know now that there is a choice, and that Rohini makes this choice clear to me all the time.
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