The six-year-old girl looked intently at her image in the mirror. She saw an old Chinese man with high cheek bones, grey hair knotted on the top of his head, sharply slanted eyes, and a long thin beard. His expression was serious, his eyes intense. “I’m in the wrong body,” she thought. “How did I get here?”
This old Chinese man has been with me all my life. My relationship with him has changed, from yearning to be him once more to learning from his presence and realizing the need to let go of him.
As a young girl, I longed to be back “there”. My preferred gifts were always of an Asian character. These requests were minimally indulged, with no grasp of where all this was coming from. My parents did not understand, and I had trouble understanding them. Out of place internally, I never fit in. There was always a nostalgia for Asia, for what I thought was my real life. The Chinese man was always just under my skin.
The truth is, I did not understand what I was doing here in a little girl’s body living in a house outside Boston. Neither did I really understand the Chinese man always so close by. But I felt that affinity with him, and it seemed normal despite the confusion.
As I grew, my attraction to Asia continued with art, movies and finally Tai Chi Chuan. Diving deep into the world of the five excellences, I found Mandarin came easily to me, as did calligraphy. I surrounded myself with green tea, Chinese art, and Asian music. I even got a degree in acupuncture and worked in a clinic under the great Dr. James Tin Yao So. My dress became that of a martial artist, with shoes and jackets right out of a Bruce Lee movie. Outside my Tai Chi Chuan school hung a sign with Chinese letters signifying the authenticity of what occurred within.
The problem was, the Chinese man was stern and unyielding. Everything was serious. Discipline. Toughness. Work. Asceticism. Nothing was ever easy with him around. Though I had a weird sense of pride about the Chinese man, he seemed to encourage a coldness in me.
Then I met Baba, and the Chinese man was allowed to manifest fully. By allowing him the freedom to act, I was able to see that I did not like him or what he represented. He was rigid and unhappy. Something had happened to him, and there was no love.
So I watched as my relationship with the Chinese man evolved. The nostalgia evaporated. No longer did I long for the good old days; those days had never been. I had romanticized him and therefore myself, so my life had not been so good. Baba helped me see this. The ascetic in the mountains had been disciplined, but stuck and attached to the goodness of an austere life without love and joy. I came to understand that the life of intense discipline has its place, but at a certain point attachment to it has to be let go. Baba brought me into the light of love and laughter.
The link to the Chinese man manifested physically as well. When I was eleven, someone came from behind while I was standing by the kitchen counter and startled me. In reaction, I brought my head down and knocked my teeth on the formica. My front tooth broke, beginning decades of caps and trepidation. This culminated last winter with two root canals. The year since those procedures has slowly brought the death of the Chinese man. In his lifetime, he had been attacked and struck in the mouth with a blunt weapon. The pain I suffered prior to the root canals triggered the experience of his anger and hate. There was no compassion or acceptance. No need. He was a warrior ascetic, a tough hermit who could put up with the worst of anything.
For the Chinese man, there was no Grace, only self-effort; the kind of self-effort that brings power and pride. Receiving the Grace and Love that come from God was not for him. My openness to Grace and Love meant that the Chinese man could finally die. Baba’s Grace had been working toward this from the very beginning.
The truth about the Chinese man took a long time to see, but Baba is patient. Once in Ganeshpuri, my teeth were bothering me. I asked if I could go into Bombay to see a dentist. The day-long trip proved that my teeth were fine. Baba said the next time he would just use a hammer. He knew.
With the demise of the Chinese man, the husk of that identity fell away. I am now like a hermit crab between shells—raw, vulnerable, caught up in a transformation. While I feel a sense of loss, I am thrilled to see how my understanding has evolved to reach the final surrender of this samskara. Whether what we lose is positive or negative, we always feel the loss. The transition will take time, and I must not try to enliven what is gone.
The new shell, the new life, will manifest in due course. I am not sure how it will be, but I do know that removing that old shell has already created more room for Baba and God, which means much more Love and laughter.
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