When I was growing up, gift-wrapping paper was not emphasized in my house. The present was what mattered; how it was packaged was of little import. Though presents were wrapped, the paper was quickly torn and thrown away.
As I grew older, I learned to appreciate beautifully presented gifts. The packaging provided a certain excitement about what was to be uncovered. But what was under the paper was still more important. No matter how perfect the wrapping, if the inside did not fulfill something, there was disappointment.
As a cheerleader for the St Louis Cardinals I would wear bell-bottom jeans, and demonstrating against the Vietnam War I would wear a dress. Someone once said to me, “You cannot wear a dress to the demonstration”. My response was that I did not know there was a dress code. I was testing the packaging, what was important and what really did not matter.
This was true for me as a dancer. I knew that, no matter how perfect my leotard and leg warmers were, if I could not live up to them as I danced, I looked ridiculous. When I had my school for Tai Chi Chuan in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was interested in the form, Taoist texts, acupuncture, the I Ching and the Chinese language. Only when I was publicly demonstrating the form did I wear the “uniform” of a martial artist; street clothes were my norm. My aesthetic was austere, with an appreciation of Zen, Shaker and Bauhaus combined: nothing too much.
Meeting Baba was a shock to my sensibility. Bright colors, patterns, shapes and designs; none of the packaging I appreciated. And yet Baba gave me everything I was looking for inside. The packaging seemed all wrong. I have a terrible voice, so chanting was an important part of the daily activity. Movement mattered to me, so we sat a lot. The clothes were not at all conducive to being a martial artist. The outside was really hard to adjust to, but I knew Baba was my Guru.
My packaging was all wrong for the ashram, or so I thought. As a guard I was outside much of the time. One day, a longtime ashramite told me Baba did not like girls with suntans. Nor did Baba like girls with short hair. I had both. There was clearly a conflict between what was going on outside and what was internal as I saw it.
Once I did the form in a field where I thought no one could see me. The President of SYDA saw me and said it was beautiful. I said that I thought Baba would not like it because it was not part of the program there; he replied that Baba would never be against something so beautiful. I felt great relief and saw how much I was attached to my idea of the outer packaging. Maybe the ashramites wouldn’t have approved, but the one who mattered, Baba, would have.
Baba tested me over and over again on this. The packaging does not matter if there is nothing underneath. When everyone was wearing saris, Baba had me wear suits. When everyone was wearing their fanciest saris Baba gave me a white cotton one to wear. He kept stripping away all my ideas of the way things should look, even when I was sure I did not have these ideas. Baba was never about his packaging; he was not the package. This gave Baba immense spontaneity, a freedom to be appropriate to every situation because there were no rigid ideas about how things had to be. The package always served Baba, not the other way around.
There is nothing wrong with packaging. We all have some form of it. Mine tends to be minimal, which is packaging of a sort. Still, I love Evensong at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. It may not be my style, but I can appreciate it and it is beautiful. There is something underneath.
So if you take away the packaging there had better be something of real value underneath. If it is only really nice packaging with no real gift, we will be really disappointed when we tear away the paper.
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