TWENTY FOUR

Outcast

There were some beautiful moments with Rose in the kitchen following my return from the hospital, but they proved to be a brief respite. Within a few weeks Rose was as irritated and dissatisfied with me as ever. Maybe even more so because the "knock on your head," as he called my cancer scare, had not gotten through to me, had not awakened or transformed me.

Every day I reminded myself that Roseís conception of me was not the issue. His favorable opinion did not change my "eternal fact status," nor did his good graces guarantee the Grace of God. But like the trained seal that Rose had compared me to during simpler times, I could not help but perform for his approval.

I picked more fights with the cops and judges. I worked longer and harder at the farm. I made fewer trips to visit my family in Pittsburgh, and avoided those group members whose sincerity Rose questioned. I redoubled my inner efforts, seeking insight into whatever it was that stood between Rose and me. Nothing helped. I remained all but invisible to him. More disturbing, Rose did not seem particularly angry with me. He seemed to have adopted an attitude of resigned sociability, as if stuck on a bus with a unpleasant boor whom he could not escape, leaving him no choice but to make the best of it for as long as the ride lasted.

The only remaining solace for me was the weekends, when I would immerse myself in physical labor at the farm. I had finally earned the respect of the guys who lived on Roseís farm, and no longer felt like a soft city Jew around them. Here, at least, was one place I felt productive and needed. And as long as my body was engaged my mind seemed to disengage and free me from my worries. Each weekend I worked myself to near-exhaustion chasing a temporary sense of well-being that the rest of my life denied me.

But in time even this was taken from me. The camaraderie I had come to feel working side-by-side with Chuck, Don, Eric and the others, suddenly disappeared, and they no longer treated me like a comrade-in-arms. I studied their moods and faces for clues and reasons.

First I sensed the anger and negativity that manifested when Rose was complaining about you behind your back. Occasionally Iíd catch them glancing over at me as we worked, no doubt replaying Roseís words and gauging the truth about whatever indictment he had leveled against me. Gradually, however, their mood shifted from distrust to one of distance, and even pity. No matter how hard I tried to either dismiss or ignore these perceptions, it was painfully obvious that something was going on.

By now it was mid-July. Rose came out to the farm one weekend and began giving specific orders about what he wanted done. We were told to abandoned our summer-long project of clearing more pasture for the goats, and to begin cleanup and repair of the farmhouse and outbuildings--which he personally supervised over the next few weekends. It was clear to me that Rose had shifted into the driven micro-manager he became when gearing up for a specific task or event, and yet there was no event planned that I knew of. The nearest scheduled group function was the Labor Day TAT meeting, almost two months away. To make matters worse, Rose and Chuck were perpetually huddling in the farmhouse kitchen, and whenever I walked into the room they immediately quit talking. I began to get an uneasy feeling.

As Rose had pointed out to me on many occasions, the one thing Dave Gold the egomaniac could not stand was to be left out of something. Mindful of this criticism, I tried to go about my business as if nothing was happening, but occasionally my ego and curiosity would override my intentions, and Iíd drop a seemingly innocuous hint to one of the guys.

"What do you figure has gotten into Rose?" I said to Chuck one day. "He had such a burr up his ass about getting that pasture cleared before fall. Now heís got us doing yard work instead."

Chuck didnít look up from his task. "Oh, wellÖyou know RoseÖ" he said with a shrug.

By the third week of this I felt like a ghost walking among the living. Worse, I hadnít the courage to bring matters to a head and find out once and for all what, if anything, was going on. By now our farm workdays had been lengthened and the pace quickened. Several guys from Pittsburgh even showed up to help. I knew that whatever Rose was planning must be rapidly approaching, but I still had no clue as to what it was. Finally, as Rose would say, someone "put me wise."

It was dusk on Sunday evening. I was helping Bill, one of the guys from Pittsburgh, pack up his tools after heíd spent a frustrating weekend trying to repair the old farm tractor. Bill and I joined the group in Pittsburgh about the same time, and I had enjoyed spending some time that day with someone who wasnít part of the farm clique from which I felt so estranged.

"So," he said, putting the last of his tools away and snapping shut the toolbox lid, "you live with Mister Rose. Do you think the meeting next weekend will really change anything?"

My stomach twisted. "What meeting?" I heard myself ask.

Bill stared at me for a few seconds, his face flushing with embarrassment. "Dave, Iím sorry IÖI guess RoseÖI mean he probablyÖ"

I mumbled something like "Donít sweat it," and we awkwardly said our good-byes. A few minutes later I got in my car and drove directly to Benwood, a thousand thoughts running through my head, none of which lasted long enough to become words.

Rose was not home when I arrived. I waited for him in the kitchen, with no clue as to what I would say. He showed up a half-hour later. We exchanged brief greetings, then he made himself a cup of tea and sat down across from me at the table. He looked at me a moment, then picked up the newspaper and began reading the obituaries.

"I heard thereís going to be a meeting next weekend," I said suddenly.

Rose looked up from the paper. "Thatís right. Iíve called together all the people who are still in the group. Weíve been going nowhere for ten years and I hate to see anything die slowly. Either we do something now or we call it quits."

He put down the paper and looked directly into my eyes as he continued.

"I donít have any more time to waste with people who arenít serious. Everyone wants to believe theyíre spiritual, but most people are just playing at it. If Iím going to devote the rest of my life to this group, it might as well be with real people. People with a spiritual vector. So some people arenít invited. Paul and Steve and Jay and Dave Gold andÖ"

Iím sure there were other names, other words, but I didnít hear them. My consciousness was caught in a tidal wave of anger and humiliation. The room receded and Roseís voice faded into a background hum.

I must have asked him a question, because when I returned to the room he was answering me.

"Youíre not a spiritual person, thatís why. Youíre a friend to the group so youíll always be welcome in my house and on my farm. But I intend to spend the rest of my life working with people who have a shot at a spiritual future."

I sat motionless, unable to speak or even think. Rose had apparently said all he was going to, so we spent the next few minutes in silence. Finally, I got up and made my way to the door. With my hand on the knob I turned back to him, perhaps hoping he might smile, or toss me some palliative remark. But his face was obscured by the newspaper. He had resumed reading the obituaries.

The following week was a nightmare. My mind was a morass of fragmented thoughts and emotions. Anger, shame, confusion, fear. I couldnít concentrate at work, or even on the most mundane daily tasks. All I could do was watch helplessly as my mind endlessly replayed events and ruminated on my sorry state. It had been such a short time before that the doctor told me I may have only months to live. Now, with a second chance at life, with a renewed commitment to the search, Rose tells me I have no spiritual future. No spiritual future! I would not have thought it possible, but the drained, hopeless, fearful feelings that now wracked my mind and body were worse than when facing my physical death. My interior life was an agonizing landscape of pain and humiliation, and yet I knew that what I needed most was to be alone with it. I hastily arranged with my partners to take a week off and go into isolation in my cabin.

That Friday night was the beginning of the weekend meeting of those people still in the group, people who Rose had deemed to have a hope of a spiritual future. I stayed at the office until very late, agonizing, obsessing, not wanting to face the dark empty house in Benwood, or go out to my cabin while people were still arriving for the meeting. Finally, around midnight, I left the office, stopped by Benwood to pack a few things, then drove out to the farm. The parking lot was crammed with cars, and lights were still on in the farmhouse.

I parked out of sight on the far side of an overgrown outbuilding by the road, my front bumper pushing down the tall weeds, the branches of a scrub tree noisily scraping my side door. I hurriedly grabbed my bags and made my way, furtively, like an intruder, through the goat-gate and down the old logging road to my cabin. There was no moon and I had forgotten to bring a flashlight. As I got deeper into the woods I began walking more slowly, giving my eyes time to adjust. I had never become completely comfortable in the dark, even though I had spent hours forcing myself to walk through the woods at night, trying to conquer my fears. I still retained a deep terror of the dark, of the unseen, of the unknown, that no amount of practice or counter-conditioning seemed to touch. Now, as I almost blindly made my way through the woods I felt even more vulnerable to whatever may lurk there. I was, after all, a man with no spiritual future, a man no longer under the protection of Rose and the group. I thought of Thomas Drescher, the Krishna hit man, and how he said he had stalked me in those woods, waiting for the right time and place to shoot me. I thought of entities and wild dogs and hungry ghosts. I began jogging, trusting my memory of the way to keep me from slamming into a tree. When I got to my cabin I locked the door behind me.

I put away the few food items Iíd brought, then opened all the windows. I could faintly hear the babbling of the creek a hundred yards away, and in my mind I imagined I heard the conversation and laughter of the "chosen ones" at the farmhouse meeting, those who were still in the group, those with a spiritual future.

Roseís devastating words would not leave me alone. My entire spiritual search was tied to Rose and the group. By excluding me from that meeting, from the group, Rose had passed the equivalent of a spiritual death sentence on me. Every fiber of my being cried out against it. I desperately did not want to believe what he said was true. And yet the only other explanation was that Rose was wrong. But how in Godís name could he be? He was the most penetratingly perceptive man Iíd ever met and, quite literally, a mind reader. I had opened up my life to him, and even that which I tried to hide, he unerringly knew. With the possible exception of his wife Cecy, there was no one in the group who had spent more hours in his presence than I had. He knew me, all right. Better than I knew myself.

I slumped back in my chair, overcome by the hopelessness of my situation. It didnít even matter whether Rose was right or wrong about me. Either way, the result was the same. If he was right, I was not a spiritual person and never would be. If he was wrong, wrong about something this important, then he could be wrong about anything, or everything. And if Rose could be this fatally flawed, if he could mistakenly snuff out my spiritual hopes with a single decision, then the effect was the same as if he had been right. My spiritual destiny, the whole of my spiritual search, had been bet on the wrong horse. Either way, I had lost everything.

In a sudden fit of anger I jumped from my chair, knocking it to the floor.

"Why me?" I yelled out the window in the direction of the farmhouse. "Why not me? What have they done that I havenít? What have they got that I havenít got?"

Those last words, which rang in my ears as if spoken by someone else, stopped me. For in the question I also heard the answer. It wasnít what the others had that I lacked. Rather, it was something I had in such great abundance that Rose no longer believed I could be disabused of it by him, or even by Grace. Vanity. Ego. Self-absorption. I remembered the first words Rose ever spoke to me as if I had written them down:

"Now this guy hereÖ Thereís no doubt in his mind that he thinks heís very clever and someone of great importance. He likes to think that heís blessed with a superior intellect and is destined to do great thingsÖ"

Rose had been pummeling me about my enormous ego for years, both with sledgehammer directness, and with humorÖ

"Iím a firm believer in fattening up your head before you chop it off. But with Dave Gold itís getting so weíre not going to have an ax at the farm big enough to handle the job."

But I never got it. I endured the confrontations and admitted my culpability, but I never got it. Rose pegged it exactly:

"Iíve watched you for years. Your heartís not in this work. Youíve suffered, but youíve never changed."

He was right. God, was he right. All I ever did was endure and suffer. It was my way of avoiding actual change. "See how much pain Iím in?" my suffering was saying to Rose and the world. "Surely thatís proof enough that the spiritual fires are purging my soul." And then, hoping I had fooled everyone, I would go about the business of being the same old Dave Gold. Yes, it was my giant ego that couldnít fit in that farmhouse with the serious seekers. I righted my chair and sat down, convinced I had gotten to the painful root of it.

And then a secondary realization caught me completely unawares and rocked my foundations. I suddenly knew what Rose had been up against with me all these years. Not only did I have a huge, unwieldy ego, but I was proud of it. I took secret pleasure in admitting I had a big ego, because subtly I was saying to everyone, "Yes, I have a terribly unwieldy ego, but of course the ego naturally grows in proportion to the greatness of the man, and so I am cursed with a great ego because of my greatness. A terrible spiritual burden, true, but that is the price one must pay for being great. How lucky you lesser mortals are to have such limited gifts, and therefore such manageable egos."

My entire being recoiled in shock and shame. It was pathetic. I was thirty-six years old and had lived in the same house with a living embodiment of the Truth for more than ten years, yet never in my entire life had I experienced a single moment of genuine humility! I was filled with an immense self-loathing. How could Rose have stomached me for as long as he did?

"Sure Iíd like to work with more serious people, people who are already on the edge, people I could push into something enormous. But I have to figure that everyone who crosses my path is sent for a reason, even if I donít know what that reason might be."

I had, I suppose, merely been one of those people who happened to cross his path, even though he couldnít see any reason for it. He probably never thought I had any spiritual potential. It just took him fifteen years to completely give up on me. I was disconsolate. I laid down on my bed and prayed for sleep.

The next morning I awoke disoriented. When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to find myself in my cabin. Even when my memory returned, my conventional sense of time and place didnít completely come with it. It was 9:30, shamelessly late to be sleeping in my cabin. Normally on Saturday mornings weíd meet in the farmhouse at 7:30 and were working by 8:00. Then I remembered that this weekend was different. With that thought I expected to begin sinking back into the abyss I had been wallowing in. But, surprisingly, it didnít come.

I got up and began dressing. Something had changed. Something felt different. I figured it was simply disorientation caused by sleeping in, but as I went through my yoga routine, I realized that it wasnít going away. A different state of mind had settled in.

When I was finished the yoga I sat at my desk, where I had ruminated on so many other traumas over the years, all somehow connected to Rose. I glanced about my cabin. Everywhere were reminders of my supposed "search for truth," some written, some etched in memory. Facing me on the window ledge was the wooden Buddha I had used so often as a concentration aid during numerous isolations and weekend retreats. Above the window frame was a faded yellowed sign on which, during a particularly rough isolation, I had thickly printed a single word: ABIDE. Could it really be that it was over, that it had all been for nothing? I sat for a moment with that thought but for some reason it did not produce the same sense of bleak devastation I had lived with for the past week. What was going on here?

Normally I meditate with my eyes open, but I had an urge to shut them. When I did, I recognized a faint sensation that made my heart beat faster. Hope. But why? Where did it come from. I stayed silent for a long time and listened. Then I remembered something Rose had said long ago:

"In spiritual matters, sometimes you have to attack people to help them."

My heart leapt. Was this what was happening? Was he still trying to help me? Was that what this was all about? I hardly dared think it was true. And yet there was no doubt that this thought was the source of the newfound hope that had crept up on me during the night, perhaps in a dream. Maybe, just maybe, this was an orchestrated move on Roseís part to finally chop off my fattened head and propel me into something.

"I donít want to bring you peace of mind. I want to bring you trouble."

I suddenly remembered a time several years back when Rose had kicked Larry out of the group and off the farm, where he had been living for eight years. Rose also instructed all remaining group members to stay away from Larry. Larry was devastated. He had no money, no place to go, and thanks to Roseís proclamation, no friends to turn to. A few days later he came to see me at the office. He had hit bottom, he said, and desperately needed help. Without hesitation I gave him some money, and even got him a job and a place to stay. Larry and I had been friends. It seemed only natural.

When Rose heard about it he was furious with me.

"You ruined it!" he said. "You killed Larryís one chance at an Experience. It took me eight years to set him up for it and you destroyed it in a day." For weeks afterwards Rose told everyone what an idiot Iíd been.

Oh how I wanted to believe that Rose now had the same plans for me, that this whole affair was an elaborate scheme to push me over the edge into something enormous.

"Everyone has to take off some day. That is, if they're ever going to have any sort of spiritual realization of their own. If they didnít leave, Iíd have to kick Ďem out."

For a few seconds I was almost jubilant. Then a new thought stopped me in my tracks. If what I had just realized was true, then by realizing it I had just killed my chance for an Experience as surely as I had killed Larryís by bailing him out. My heart sank to a new low. I buried my face in my hands and stifled a scream. There seemed to be no end to the mistakes, the wrong turns. I was truly a hopeless case. All the energy drained from my body and I became suddenly weak and exhausted. I lay back down on my bed and stared at the ceiling, too tired to even think.

Sometime later I awoke. I had fallen asleep in the middle of the dayósomething unheard of for me. As I lay there I became gradually aware of a feeling of pressure, of heaviness surrounding my body. It steadily increased in strength, giving me the overwhelming, but not uncomfortable, sensation of being surrounded--perfectly evenly across the body surface--by a suit of heavy air or water. There was no feeling of claustrophobia or suffocation or any of the other negative sensations one normally associates with being surrounded or pressed in upon. Instead, there was a secure and comforting sense of irresistible yielding to the pressure, of being absorbed back into my self, smaller, ever smaller, as the pressure grew greater.

Soon I was nothing more than a pinpoint surrounded by pressure, a dense, all-encompassing, overpowering pressure. The shell surrounding what was left of me grew thicker and thicker against the pressure, while I grew smaller and smaller, until the pinpoint of "I" receded into nothingness, and there was only an all powerful, unyielding Everywhere.

I waited breathlessly. There was an interval of time when the pressure wavered, seeming almost to recede. Then he came. I saw nothing, but I knew without a doubt who it was. My True Teacher. In the Hindu tradition he is called the Satguru-- literally, the "Truth teacher." Each of us has many gurus, or teachers, but only one Satguru. The Satguru can be an incarnate being, or exist in spirit only. Until that moment I had always assumed my Satguru was Rose. No longer. There was no doubt that He who was with me at that moment was He who had guided me throughout my life. I trembled in awe.

"Are you coming for me?" I asked in my thoughts.

Then suddenly, as if in answer, he receded back into the darkness.

"Wait! Take me with you. Take me home!"

But even as I thought it, I knew I couldnít go. I wasnít ready. I heard Roseís voice again, speaking through the fog of my bodyís memory:

"The experience of Truth, is a tremendous shock. In order to make use of it, or even survive it, you need to be vaccinated for that dimension."

I began crying and couldnít stop. The brief touch of my True Teacher had left me with an aching and a longing that was almost too painful to bear. And within that loss I felt more deeply than ever the pain of losing my earthly teacher, Mister Rose. As if on cue the memory of his words again surfaced.

"You donít need me. Nobody needs me. All you need is your own inner determination."

The tears and sobs came even harder as a strange joy mixed with my despair. For fifteen years I had studied under Rose, desperately seeking his approval, assurance, acceptance--some sign I was going to make it, some sign that I was doing it right. But there was no right. There was no doing. There was no I.

There is no recipe for a lightning bolt!

The rest of my weekís isolation was spent taking long walks, or just sitting on a stump in the woods. I had no sense of time, and it seemed I never got hungry, although I would occasionally eat. At one point I lost track of which day it was and spent a long time trying to figure it out. On Sunday morning I packed my bag and headed through the woods to my car. A light rain began to fall. When I got to the farmhouse I was surprised to see Roseís van in the parking lot. Equally surprising, there were no other cars around. The farm residents were apparently all elsewhere. I had not planned on talking to Rose so soon, and the thought of it set off butterflies in my stomach. But I decided that catching him alone in the peaceful environment of the farm was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I took a deep breath and walked up the steps to the back porch. He must have heard the noise because the curtains on the kitchen door parted before I knocked and Roseís head appeared in the window. He opened the door without a greeting and I stepped inside. Immediately I was overcome by a strong odor. In a cast iron pan on the stove were four eggs swimming in crackling bacon grease.

"Still raining?" he asked, carefully flipping his eggs.

"Iím not sure. I mean I think so," I stammered.

I had eaten almost nothing in the past four days, and the sight and smell of the greasy eggs made me queasy. I took a few steps away from the stove, and finally settled into a seat at the far corner of the dining room.

Rose finished cooking his eggs then came to join me at the table. I watched him go about the business of eating his breakfast as I had on hundreds of occasions in Benwood. Like everything he did, Rose ate slowly, purposefully, and without any noticeable pleasure. I waited until he was finished before speaking.

"How was the meeting last weekend," I asked.

He wiped his mouth on a paper napkin. "Everybodyís forgotten why they came here in the first place," he said. "Most of Ďem have quit working on themselves, so naturally nothing is happening. Then they go ahead and figure as long as nothing is happening anyway, they might as well cut their losses and go for the million bucks." He got up from the table and opened the refrigerator door. "Well, now theyíve got their million bucks and theyíre mad at me because they donít have the spiritual goodies, too." He took a pitcher of orange juice from the refrigerator and held it out to me. "You want any of this?"

"No. Thanks."

I watched as he poured himself a large glass.

"I understand why you donít want me in the group," I heard myself say. "But I want you to know Iím not quitting the search. Iím not giving up."

He looked at me without expression. "Thatís up to you," he said.

"In my cabin this week I felt like I was right at the door of something."

"You break down the goddamn doors if you have to, thatís all!" Rose said quickly, almost reflexively. Then he softened slightly. "But of course thereís all kinds of ways to break down the doors. Even the Absolute is attracted to pure love."

"I intend to become Enlightened, Mister Rose--with or without your help."

"I wish you the best."

"I think Iím finally ready to change."

"Donít get your hopes up," he grinned. "Thereís some things even Enlightenment wonít change. If youíre a son-of-a-bitch before you visit the Absolute, youíll still be a son-of-a-bitch after. Iím living proof of that." We both laughed, and for a few seconds I basked again in the incredible warmth and power of his company.

We talked for awhile about other things, then in the middle of a short silence I said, "I better go. Thanks for everything, Mister Rose."

He looked at me briefly with the barest trace of a smile, then glanced out the window. What he said was, "Itís stopped raining." What I heard in my heart was: Just pass it on.

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