Driving into New York city I lose all equanimity as we grapple our way through criss-crossing highways and streets. In comparison, driving in India seems easy. Taking directions from the GPS mapping system on our phone we squawk about the suggested route – certainly there must be a much easier way to our destination – the Ramana Ashram in Queens, one of the five boroughs in New York. Now we are stuck on a high-speed freeway trying to keep up with the constant inter-changes that give a driver little notice and a few seconds to make the right decision. My shoulders tighten with each swoosh as cars pass me on either side – likely annoyed that the van with California license plates is messing with their speedy flight.
Chris keeps tapping on his Android phone attempting to follow the small-lines that squiggle on the screen pointing the way through this chaos.
Up ahead we see a toll-booth sign for the Lincoln Tunnel. We scramble for coins to pay the fare but when we get to the toll-booth we discover our coins are useless – we need bills to pay the $12.00 to drive under the Hudson River – thankfully we have enough. Now we are stuck – unable to cross over to the exit lane – and are dumped into downtown Manhattan – a hyper-scene of pedestrians, cars, trucks, ambulances, police cars, aggressive taxi drivers and narrow streets lined with sky-scrapers.
Correcting itself to our detour, the GPS tells us to turn down 34th Street. Well, we get to 34th Street and Mr. Traffic Cop refuses to let us through (even though drivers coming from the other way are allowed……grr….guess the GPS does not predict human obstacles). His sign language motions us forward and away from 34th Street….to where we wonder? Okay, drive around a few city blocks attempting to get on to the next street we need, and once again, another Traffic Controller prevents our forward movement. With our van stuck in the cross walk, people are forced to maneuver around us – oh well – okay breathe, remember to breathe.
Three times taxi drivers come within inches of hitting our van. I am hoping this stop-and-go traffic does not turn into a bumper car carnival ride.
Finally street after intense street we find our way to Queens. Phew! An hour later we park in front of an oasis – the peaceful Ramana Ashram in New York.
The prior email we had received from the Ashram told us to come through the side door when we arrived. After some minutes of poking around silent, empty rooms we meet Margo, who has lived at the Ashram for many years – her relaxed presence welcomes us to Ramana Ashram “West”. Margo shows us to the meditation/shrine room, a large space with a replica black plaster image of the Ramana Maharshi statue in India. Flower garlands drape Ramana’s form and vases full of floral bouquets sit on the floor along with offerings of apples. Settling down on the plush carpet and closing my eyes, I feel the stress of the New York streets evaporate – like the line of incense wafting upward into the vaulted ceiling.
Later that evening we share dinner with Margo and Ran, an energetic sweet Japanese woman visiting the Ashram. Ran’s cooking is a welcome respite from our usual camping fare.
For the next few days we participate in the daily morning and evening programs that include chanting and meditation. At morning tea time, we sit in the library/central room listening as Margo and later Dennis read extracts from different books. As we sip our hot tea, Ramana’s life comes alive in this quiet room with subdued light. Later we learn the library was the prior meditation room until the construction of the new and much appreciated meditation hall.
Different people come and go during our stay – some slip in quietly for meditation then leave. We meet Kamal, an Indian man in his 90’s who still carries his own bags and rides the buses; Geeta an engaging long-time Ramana devotee whose stories about Ramana, India and her own life spices up conversations and Dennis, the back-bone of the Ashram whose silence and humble dedication to Ramana pervades the physical space and nurtures the inner space of everyone there.
We stay one day longer than intended due to a tornado watch throughout New York City and the larger area. By then, we feel pulled to remain in this Temple dedicated to Ramana Maharshi but are aware of the long stretch of road still to come.
Grateful to everyOne – Dennis, Margo, Geeta and all the others who welcomed us and keep the Ramana Ashram running we take our leave.
Finding a shrine dedicated to the sage of Arunachala in New York City is like resting in still waters in the midst of raging seas – a blessing on the road to nowhere.