My experiment in the New York City subway

The subject of external aids (videos, satsangs, music, chanting, books, etc.) came up in a comment yesterday. These things can be very helpful by reminding us, inspiring us, and transmission.

Incidentally, if you’ve never been in a large hall, especially a large wooden hall, where hundreds of people are chanting, try to arrange it at least once before you die. The wooden walls enhance the vibrations like the body of a giant guitar.

But listening to chants on YouTube through earbuds is good too. Anything can be good, because it’s our reaction to the external stimulus, not the external stimulus, which is what we really know and feel. The Godliness is always inside us and all around us. Chants may make us notice it and feel it, but it is always already here.

Religious services can be good too. I’ve felt enormous energy radiate outward from my girlfriend Julia’s body after she receives the eucharist in a Christian church.

Oh, pets. How could I have omitted pets from the list. The love they give and elicit can be a very powerful aid. I’ve written here about a cat named Susie who used to lie on my chest and purr while I meditated. I think in some way she knew what I was doing and was helping or participating.

Many stories are told and written about Ramana Maharshi’s friendships with animals. He slept with animals next to him on his couch; he was best buds with a cow named Lakshmi; the king of the local monkey tribe consulted him for advice; etc., etc., etc. People read these stories and think, “How marvelous! Ramana was a saint! Animals loved him just like they loved St. Francis!” These readers are missing the point completely. We are supposed to be like Ramana, not put him on a pedestal.

I am not Ramana, far from it, but I live with a cat named Frank who spends a good part of the day lying on my desk with his head on my arm (his idea of a pillow) while I try to type. The love that radiates from that cat, and the love that pours back toward him from my heart, is tremendous. I do nothing. The love just pours and swirls around us like incense in the air. Is this not an aid? Is this not the reality itself? You too can have a Frank. Anyone can have a Frank.

People read about bhakti (love, devotion) and think it has to be directed toward a certain object — God, Guru, Self. No. Take nonduality seriously. There aren’t any objects. All is one. There is only one Reality. Love for God, love for a cat — there’s no difference. Love itself is God. It’s the Love itself that’s real, and Love is always Love. We think, “I love the cat” or “the cat loves me.” But inspect love carefully, the actual feeling, just like we inspect “I” when we do Self-enquiry. (The analogy is more than an analogy, because subjectivity and love are qualities of the Self.) When love is felt, is there really any subject or object? When we say “I love” are we really the subject? There’s no subject or object in love. Look and see whether I’m right. This isn’t anything mystical or hidden. When you feel love, do you really have a sense that it’s something you are doing? Look and see.

As usual I’m digressing. That was the 2021 model of Freddie speaking. This post is supposed to be about the 1998 model. Back to yesterday’s comment. It made me recall an experiment I did a couple of decades ago shortly after I got serious about sadhana.

A little background: a visit to a south Indian temple in 1985 put me in an altered state of consciousness and changed the course of my life. As a result, since then I’ve been convinced that physical locations can affect us spiritually. Years later (probably around 1998, I don’t remember exactly) I was living in New York City and wondered, “Where can I go in New York City that will quiet my mind or have some other beneficial spiritual effect?”

I had noticed already that my mind became quiet on the third floor of the flagship Barnes & Noble bookstore on Union Square. I tried many other buildings and places of various sorts. It was fun wandering around New York City, walking in and out of various public buildings looking for spiritually powerful places — a kind of tourism, I suppose, although I was a resident. Also, I suppose, a kind of sadhana, since whenever I looked to see whether my mind was quiet, I was meditating.

And then I remembered the familiar stories of Indian ascetics who retire to caves. I wondered whether caves have a beneficial spiritual effect because the resident is separated from the earth’s surface by dirt and rock. I decided to test that hypothesis.

As far as I know, New York City has no caves except shallow ones in Inwood Hill Park that barely deserve the name, but it does have subway stations, some of which are deep below the surface of the earth. A little research showed that the 191st Station in Washington Heights is the deepest — 173 feet (53 meters).

Later that day I spent a couple of hours sitting on a wooden bench on the platform of the 191st Station. I felt nothing spiritual, just damp and cold. Oh well. They say negative results are essential to science, and afterward I probably visited the Cloisters while I was there or Inwood Hill park (the only place in Manhattan with old-growth trees, where you can get an idea what it looked like before white people came — it was gorgeous) so the trip was probably worth it.

11 thoughts to “My experiment in the New York City subway”

  1. NYC and surrounding cities, including Hoboken where I live, is a spiritual dead zone. As soon as you are out of them, preferably in an area with nature, you will notice a massive increase in the ability to meditate. I found this out on three occasions, when I escaped for a short period of time: in Costa Rica close to a volcano; at a house boat in a canal close to Amstelveen in The Netherlands, and in the Highland Lake area in NJ. Meditation becomes effortless. And you do realize something like the Force exists, because you can feel it running through your body without the necessity to concentrate or meditate. Probably the reason why many Masters went away from cities into nature.

    1. I agree, spiritual experience comes much more easily in some places than others. NYC is hard, Mt. Shasta and Bandelier National Monument are extremely easy, almost magical.

      These places are opposite extremes on the the spiritual tourist’s list of destinations. 🙂

      A friend of mine who is a Protestant minister, who views everything through a dualistic lens, says places like Bandelier are “thin places” because the distance between people and God is unusually small there.

      However, I think there’s another aspect to this. The most powerful spiritual experience I ever had, occurred in New York City. It may sound like I’m contradicting you but I’m not. The experience was powerful in large part because what you say is true. The experience involved understanding that everything is God, and part of the reason it hit me so forcefully was something like, “Holy shit, if this ugly unpleasant street in New York City is God, if even this cold dead dreadful place is God, then it’s really true that everything is God.”

      Everything spiritual is available everywhere. The force you speak of, God, reality, consciousness, are what we are, what everything is. We can’t ever get away from them. But yes, I agree with you, it’s easier to see and feel them in some places than others. Once we know them, we may get to a point where they are always evident no matter where we are. But if this is not yet the case, it makes sense to go to thin places, as my Protestant friend would say, where we can see them more easily.

      1. Thanks for the tips of Mt. Shasta and Bandelier, I will try to go there!
        I also had my small share of spiritual experiences in Hoboken, but the big question remains and is becoming stronger by the day: what could have been if I would live in a different, ‘easier’ place…? Anyway, soon the kids are out of the house and anything is possible.
        Keep writing please, I loved your recent book recommendation (perfect brilliant stillness), almost booked a plane to the Amazon.
        Take care!

        1. I just realized — I knew this but never thought it might be significant — that I noticed this energy channel growing for the first time while I was at Mt. Shasta.

          Please keep us posted on what happens when the kids leave. 🙂 Glad you liked Perfect Brilliant Stillness.

  2. Hi Freddie, Thank you very much for the digression indeed.
    I knew you had written a new blog post (this one) on the day you wrote it, but I was keeping it for a suitable time.

    Yesterday, I deeply pondered whether all love is the same. The love of God, the love for a child, pet, for a woman or man… I used to think that was the case, but my friend once sort of convinced me that as a man feeling love for a woman, however intense it is and however innocent it is, holds an element of sexual desire in it, therefore all love is not equal.

    As I said, yesterday, I really needed an answer to this, even prayed to God for the answer, and today found this post of yours saying all love is the same. But your point of view is a little different than mine if I’m not misunderstanding. i.e. duality vs non-duality. Would you still say that all love is one, from the perspective that some love has an element of sexual desire in it? I think and hope it to be so, but since we have got an expert here in the room (i.e. living with an awakened kundalini since 1998), I’d rather ask him and trust him 🙂

    On another note, you made me consider bringing forward our family plans of adopting a pet!

    1. Actually, I wanted to ask you one more thing, but I forgot:
      What about the intense ache a man feels in his heart when he falls in love with a woman deeply, but just at that stage. i.e. No talks or refusals have happened yet, so very little story or ego involvement. I’m trying to describe the purest and yet untainted form of love with a pain in the heart here.
      Is that fiery longing also the same love as the love of/for God? Or is that egotistic? Or both?

      1. Is that fiery longing also the same love as the love of/for God? Or is that egotistic? Or both?

        Many people think “love” is desire or (like you said) longing or wanting other people to do certain things or worrying about other people.

        That’s not what I mean by love. I wish I could define it but I don’t know how, just like I don’t know how to define “consciousness.”

        The love of which I speak comes in only one flavor. It’s infinite goodness and power and perfection.

        But like I said, we can feel love and other things simultaneously. So yes, I suppose a man can feel fiery longing and love simultaneously.

        Love is God. God is love. If we feel love for God, in that moment, we “have” God, because that love is God.

        I don’t think love itself ever feels like desire or longing. Love is the Self. To feel love, is to abide in the Self. When we abide in the Self, we know there is nowhere else we can be.

    2. Hi Focus,

      I think love is an aspect of the Self, of Reality. Like consciousness, it’s a property of the universe.

      Our ego tries to appropriate this feeling. Our ego imagines that love is something that it does, something it projects towards some particular objects. But in my opinion, this isn’t true.

      My opinion is based on examining love when I feel it. Next time you are feeling love strongly, if you just simply inspect the feeling, maybe you’ll agree with me.

      What the ego does with love (try to appropriate it) is very similar to what it does with consciousness. It imagines that it is conscious or that consciousness is something that it does.

      When we “look at” consciousness by itself, it has no subject or object. Similarly, when we “look at” love by itself, it has no subject or object. Like consciousness, it just simply is. I say “when we look at” because this seems so obvious to me, I assume that anyone who takes the trouble to “look” will agree with me. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe you won’t agree.

      Would you still say that all love is one, from the perspective that some love has an element of sexual desire in it?

      Yes, I think all love is one. I don’t agree that some love has an element of sexual desire in it. The reason it appears that way is because people can feel more than one thing at the same time. What actually happens is that we feel love and at the same time, we feel sexual desire.

      It may seem like I’m playing with words but I’m not, because there is a huge difference between love and sexual desire. Love is “outside” our minds and bodies. It’s an attribute of the Self, of Reality. But sexual desire is a collection of urges and desires and emotions and physical desires. Sexual desire is part of the body/mind.

      The main sadhana in traditional Advaita is called viveka, which means (in this context) to distinguish consciousness from everything else, to “observe” consciousness by itself, in its purity.

      We could just as well teach and practice a form of viveka which distinguishes love from everything else.

      I don’t think people need active kundalini for this. Just a situation where they feel love. Babies are terrific for this sadhana. 🙂 That feeling in the chest when the baby is so unbearably cute that the feeling is almost painful — sure, the feeling is happening because the baby is there, but inspect it closely — does it take the baby for an object? Is it something you’re doing? Does it have a subject? Isn’t it something like a field that fills space? Isn’t that field always there, if you happen to look for it?

      1. Thank you Freddie for your elaborate answer. Actually what I meant by “an element of sexual desire in it” was simply the fact that the man falls in a love with a “woman” (in accordance with his sexual orientation) whose beauty he appreciates. Nothing more.

        I too looked and found only love. On second thought, yes, no subject definitely, but I’m not so sure about the object 🙂

        1. Actually what I meant by “an element of sexual desire in it” was simply the fact that the man falls in a love with a “woman” (in accordance with his sexual orientation) whose beauty he appreciates. Nothing more.

          Maybe what happens is that the mind/body chooses somebody as an object of love; this causes the heart to open; and love (which is always present but is not always noticed) is felt. This idea occurs to me because I’ve seen that love is like an enormous energy that sometimes, at least, enters my body through the chest, through the heart, and that sometimes, at least, the heart functions like a valve.

          I too looked and found only love. On second thought, yes, no subject definitely, but I’m not so sure about the object

          I suspect the looking is more important than the answer. 🙂 I wonder, if you look at love for 20 minutes, how does that compare to staying conscious for 20 minutes? 🙂

          1. Yes, I get it now! It’s the feeling of love and longing simultaneously that confuses me. I agree and can now see that love by itself is nothing like that longing. They seem to blend so well together that I haven’t noticed there were two things going on.

            When we “look at” consciousness by itself, it has no subject or object. Similarly, when we “look at” love by itself, it has no subject or object. Like consciousness, it just simply is. I say “when we look at” because this seems so obvious to me, I assume that anyone who takes the trouble to “look” will agree with me. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe you won’t agree.

            Yes, I agree. If you take the longing out of the equation, it’s apparent.

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