Ten years ago, I went on a spiritual journey to India, Nepal and Tibet with my wife-to-be, Matananda, and two male friends. On the way to the Taj Mahal, we agreed to search out someone Ira had wanted to meet after reading about him in Leonard Orr's Breaking the Death Habit, the reclusive 2,000-year-old yogi, Bhartriji Baba.
After discovering the location of his ashram, we hired a driver and made our way to the tiny village next to Bhartriji's home. As we approached the ashram, a priest and some local children ran out to welcome us. When we made it clear we wanted to meet Bhartriji, they directed us to a small statue on an altar. After another try with a statue, the priest realized we were not leaving until we met him in the flesh.
He guided us to another part of the ashram deeper in the woods. As we approached a temple nestled in the forest, we saw a thin old man sitting comfortably crossed-legged in front of it. He had long grey hair hanging past his shoulders and was wearing thick, black-framed glasses from the '60s. We were in the presence of Bhartriji Baba.
In all my years of working with the body in athletics and spiritual practice, I had rarely seen anyone move with the grace, vitality and ease of this 2,000-year-old master. While the afternoon light faded, Bhartriji welcomed us into a circle of his followers. Even though he seemingly didn't speak English, we know he understood everything we were saying and thinking. The scene was right out of a movie, but this was no movie! It was hard for me to relax and fully open up and enjoy this amazing experience. Part of me believed we really were in the presence of a hard-to-find spiritual master. Another part felt very uncomfortable and needed to be on guard as protector of our little group.
We gladly accepted his invitation to stay for dinner. After nightfall, we moved to a room next to the temple and sat on mats laid out on the hard floor. People filled stainless steel cups with water and placed them in front of us. Ira, Gary and I hesitated to drink it. We had read the guidebooks' warnings not to drink local water at any cost. Bhartriji motioned that it was okay to drink. Matananda noticed our discomfort and said, "If Bhartriji says it is okay to drink the water, then I am going to drink it." We watched in shock and amazement as she took a long drink.
After the meal was over, Bhartriji guided us to the back of the temple. With a big smile on his face, he pointed to a large mountain-fed well of fresh, pure water. We had been tested on our level of trust that night, and my male friends and I had failed.
Why was Matananda able to trust Bhartriji and three men couldn't? Are women naturally more trusting than men? I don't think so. I believe she was able to do it because her heart was more open than ours.
Even though I felt uncomfortable, I could have chosen to put those feelings aside and trust Bhartriji. My deeper sense that he really was a master, and therefore had our best interests at heart, were overridden by the fear something "bad" would happen if I did.
According to Kabbalah's Tree of Life, expanded trust flows from an open heart. One characteristic of an open heart is the willingness to take risks in the face of the unknown. Another is the willingness to bear the pain of heartbreak and broken trust. It is the capacity to feel uncomfortable emotions deeply and not shut down.
Kabbalah links trust and moving forward. Trust doesn't guarantee that an outcome will be to your liking. But in forward movement opportunities can arise that will lead you to a better place. During that unusual night in India I allowed fear to block opening my heart, trusting in Bhartiji, and forward movement into the unfamiliar.
That night had a big impact on me. I committed to being more open when faced with the unknown. Since then, I am much more open to taking risks when it is not clear what trusting someone will lead to. Learning to ultimately trust the Divine has helped me open my heart and keep it open. Regardless of outcomes, I know there is gold waiting to be discovered if I am willing to look for it.
Usually, trust is built over time by empirical evidence that someone has fulfilled his or her commitments. But what if you don't have the luxury of time? What will you draw on when life calls you to make a decision in a moment's notice? What will you trust?
The mind and logic may counsel, "Don't be foolish! It is obvious if you do this you will get hurt!" The heart might have a very different message. Even if the water looks dangerous and it seems foolish to drink it, the heart might sense there is something deeper going on. Sometimes, drinking the water is exactly what life is calling on you to do to grow.
The next time a quick, difficult decision comes your way, try checking in with your heart and head before deciding what to do. I'd love to hear how it went!
Note: The names of the two male friends have been changed to protect their privacy.