If you had met me 30 years ago you would have met a self-assured young man. Though I had lived in New York City for most of my life and had the hubris that went along with those particular roots, I had also absorbed a spiritual and psychological foundation. This combination of influences that formed me, created what you might call an arrogant spiritual attitude.
A man whom I had met some years before had taken an interest in my spiritual well-being. He suggested that I spend some time in seclusion in a place set up for that purpose in central Asia. I ended up spending an extended period of time in this isolated situation, and it had a profound effect on me. When that was over, I was supposed to go to northeastern Afghanistan to meet that same man who had arranged my retreat. I eventually met him, and after spending several weeks together, I headed for Delhi, India, to catch my flight back to the U.S.
I had an open ticket and had to arrange a date to fly. As it turned out, the flights were booked up for the next five days. I decided to spend those days in India as young foreigners commonly did at that time, in an ashram, so I chose one nearby.
The food and the accommodations were great. Oh yeah—and the girls were lovely. I had no particular spiritual interest in them because they were 20 and 21 years old, and after the profundity of my retreat, I couldn’t conceive of possibly learning anything from them. They were of the Gopi variety—very sweet and devotional—looking like they could do no wrong.
During the day I could do whatever I wanted. At night, every night, they had programs that lasted from about 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. After that we would sing devotional songs till maybe 11:00, 12:00 p.m. or 1:00 am. I found myself going along with the routine. It was mildly entertaining, even though I wasn’t really curious about what was going on there spiritually. When the time came to leave, I called up to confirm my plane reservation, and there was no seat for me. They said my ticket had expired. I was going to be there for two weeks, and I could either spend the two weeks at the airline counter waiting for a flight to come up sooner, or I could go back to the ashram where I knew I would be welcome. Of course, now I was in an entirely different position. When I came back, it was like, “Oh, he’s coming back for more! Now he’s serious. Now he’s really interested. Now he’s one of us.” You get the picture? I tried to make it very clear that was not the case, but they were not receptive to my interpretation of my circumstances. In their interpretation, it was the Grace of the Guru that brought me back, not the lack of seats on the airline.
I knew that if I were going to be there for two weeks, I had to get into the spiritual scene, even though the sweetness of the environment wore on me. I was a little bit coarse when it came to matters of the heart, but I still was attuned to the spiritual sense of things. I knew there was something going on there, although it was not something that was necessarily attractive to me. Even though I made feeble attempts at assimilation, the circumstances remained that I was here . . . and they . . . you know who they are (everybody else), they were there. I considered myself pretty convincing and dynamic—an intelligent young guy.
My thought was to bring some of them over to my side, to draw them out of their circle, so I would bring up little contradictions, or mention interesting observations.
As it turned out, when I made my move, all that happened was they would look at me with those beatific innocent faces and say, “Just forget about that and open up your heart. Just forget about your thoughts and ideas and surrender your mind.”
A week went by, and one day I was sitting with a few people trying again to sell my mind-stuff. One of the girls said, “You know, there’s a guy here that you really have to talk to. He’s from the U.S. In fact, he’s even from the East Coast and he’s really smart. I think he was a lawyer or something like that. You’ve got to meet Harry. You’ll be able to ask him all your questions.” I said to myself, “All right, now I’m set. I’ll have a person to talk to, and we can talk about them together.” It wasn’t hard to find this guy, and when I eventually did, I introduced myself, and told him that I was from New York.
After I put forth a few of my better observations, Harry looked at me with a non-New York smile, waited a few moments, and said,
“When I first came here I was like that too. Forget about all that, just give up your mind and open up your heart.”
At that moment there was no refuge left for my resistance. I both freaked out and opened up at the same time. I knew there was no hope of escape. I knew that there was something going on there—not only because of this guy Harry, but from being exposed to all of it, and seeing those 20-year-old girls with beatific smiles wearing white and singing and being in love. Even with as much cynicism as I carried around with me, I didn’t have that much self-deception that I could say that there was nothing going on there. I knew there was something going on there—something that I knew nothing about. Little by little my thoughts began to mellow. I began to see that scene as special, but I retained the arrogant conviction, that if only they had my expanded view of spirituality, it would round out the whole picture for them. Eventually I began to understand what I was there to receive, and what they had to offer me.
But it was not until my last day there that I realized that they really didn’t need what I had to offer them. After spending a few weeks at the ashram, I did eventually take my plane home, but to this day I know that missing my flight in India was instrumental in learning a valuation for an open heart. This event really changed my estimation of what can be experienced through thoughts, which is considerable, what can be experienced through sensations, which is considerable, what can be experienced through feelings, which is considerable, and what can be experienced through an open heart and the love that it allows—which is unlimited.
If you wish to be a master,
I can’t help you.
I was taught by servants.
They taught me how to serve.
If you wish to be a magician,
There I can’t help you either.
I was taught by heroes.
They taught me how to save.
And this also I was taught:
Chance to open up your senses
To the universe that touches you
For it will fill you up with its myriad sensations.
Chance to open up your mind
To the universe of intelligence
For it will fill you up with its myriad ideas.
Chance to open up your heart
To the universe of emotions
For it will fill you up with its myriad feelings.
These things I was taught.
And yes, one more thing.
As a servant is filled,
Only a small bit of what is collected can be kept,
And a hero even less.
But to this law there is one exception.
If you open up your heart to the universe of love,
It will fill you up completely.
I want you to know that I wrote this poem. Not that it’s important that I wrote it, but it’s important for you to know that’s the way I look at things. I want to remind you of something I told you earlier about myself, and sometimes a poem can reflect a facet of a person that a narrative can’t. It is my belief, and my experience, that whatever else a person does, however they apply themselves, there is really nothing that has that taste of an open heart—nothing. In these times that we’re living, it may be more difficult for us to consider opening our hearts. It may almost seem alien, maybe even dangerous, but until we taste that open heart, how can we really know what it is that we seek?
So if we seek mastery, or mystery, or magic, or transcendence, or self-discipline, or we seek eternal life—until we know how much we might receive from having an open heart, how can we know that we really want to pursue those things? It may be that a lot of our dissatisfaction will be calmed with the discovery of that open heart. It may be, that our seeking is motivated by our ideas, and our thoughts, and our concepts, and our fears, and our desire to control the events of our lives. With the calm that comes from an open heart, and the filled-up-ness that comes from an open heart, we might not find ourselves to be such fervent seekers of those other things.
Editor’s note: Excerpted from Justin Time, Autobiographical Stories from an American Spiritual Master, By J. Jaye Gold. Published 2016 by Peradam Press.
J. Jaye Gold, in his younger years, studied at a 500-year-old experimental Naqshbandi Sufi school in northeastern Afghanistan. He believed that the methods he learned in this school needed to be modified for people in affluent Western cultures. He took on this challenge, developing tools, dynamics and explorations of consciousness to help lead Westerners toward “intimacy with the ultimate reality, in order to become true servants.” For the last 30 years, Gold has guided spiritual seekers in Northern California, using the “school of life” as his classroom. For more information, visit justingold.net.