Original Short Story: "Significant"
The professor handed back the first batch of essays to her honors section of world literature and told the students to read the comments carefully, and if they had any questions they could ask them next class meeting. Then she said, "Have a nice weekend. See you Monday."
Stuffing her books into her book bag, then erasing the blackboard, she didn't notice that one student remained behind. He had a question that couldn't wait until Monday.
"Professor Holland, I spent a lot of time on this paper, and all you say is, 'informative, certainly a significant issue'." He stood with his paper in his hand, looking at her with a pleading expression that made her feel stupid.
"Oh, well, gee, you got an A+ on the paper. You had no major errors. Your thesis was clear and support superb. I think the A+ said all that. What more do you want?"
"Well, I'd like to know your thoughts on this subject? Do you agree with my conclusions? I think the class discussion just barely scratched the surface, and my essay delved a littler deeper, and I'd really like to get your reaction to what I have said. I know the paper is well written. I want to discuss the issues further, and you are the only professor I've studied under at this university who has shown any knowledge of Eastern philosophy. I know you know a lot more about this than I do, and I'd really like to hear what you think about it."
The Emptiness of a One-Sided Course
"Mr. Whitman, this course does center on and emphasize Western culture and literature, and my little tirade the other day about Eastern literature was probably way out of line. Afterwards, I just felt lucky that no one really cared. At least, most students in this course don't really care that the course is rather one-sided. But that's not really my problem, and I think I made that clear."
Professor Holland knew that she was off the topic, but felt uncomfortable discussing this issue. She didn't even like teaching this course. She was hired to teach freshman composition, not world literature, and certainly not an honors section of world literature. She felt that she could be only minimally effective teaching that course for the simple complex reason that at this university, even in the open-minded 1990s, world literature still meant Western civilization's literature.
And the Ignorance of Those Who Teach Them
Judith Holland knew one teacher who assigned the Bhagavad Gita for his section of this course, and she knew that the professor knew absolutely nothing about that work. She had heard him claim that it was the Indian version of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and on another occasion, she had heard him say that it was a Buddhist treatise. She knew that Eastern sources would be a useful addition to this course, but that wasn't her decision to make.
She had the master syllabus, and she was required to teach works that spanned the time period from the Old Testament to feminist and Marxist criticism. The course was a schizophrenic hodgepodge, but that wasn't her problem. She just planned to do her best and not worry about it.
But now here she was faced with this student who wanted her true thoughts on philosophical matters regarding her deepest love of life, that of Eastern philosophical and religious tenets. As a poet and essayist, she was guided by her belief system that was informed by original Christianity and original yoga, which is related to Hinduism.
In her teaching capacity as a contract assistant professor in the writing program, she had to navigate the churning waters of academia as she tried to teach undergraduates how to place commas correctly and write essays that were coherent and well supported with evidence.
"Mr. Whitman, would you please give me back your paper, and I will reread it and write some extensive commentary on it and get it back to you on Monday. Would that be all right?"
"That would be great." He beamed. "Professor Holland, I really appreciate it. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so pushy, but this means a lot to me. Thanks again."
She just wasn't used to this. Of course, she had never taught honors sections before, but so far, these students seemed no different from her regular freshmen composition students, perhaps a little more intense about grades, but certainly not more intellectual and definitely not more interested in broadening their cultural and literary horizons. Not until this. She hardly knew what to make of it. She stuffed the essay back into her book bag, bolted from campus, and forgot about it.
Sunday morning while Martin, her husband, bicycled over to campus to prepare for a lab class on Monday, she took out her world lit folder and began to prepare for Monday's discussion. There it was, Dean Whitman's essay. The one she promised to reread and write an extensive commentary on.
"Oh, God. I'd forgotten all about this. Oh, well, I promised." As she reread, she realized she had to shift gears. The fact that this student really wanted her to read that essay made such a difference in her attitude toward it. And after she finished it, she realized that something very important had happened.
This student really did have a grasp on these concepts. He was genuinely interested in these philosophical tenets. He elaborated honest opinions, not just reconstructions of what she had said; these were some serious ideas genuinely expressed by a mind that grappled with the same problems she had grappled with all of her life.
The final paragraph lit in her mind a flame that burned much brighter this time:
For example, what good is it to suffer and learn if death is the final victor. If the unchallenged mind dies the same death as the valiantly challenged, why strive? If sense pleasure is the ultimate goal, why control sense pleasure? All of our conventions claim otherwise. Yet all authority would keep us bound by the fear of death, lest we grow beyond and proclaim our own self capable of our own perfection, and deserving of its own control. If heroes such as Moses and King David have left a trail of blood instead of light, it is not because of what they did as much as what modern day tyrants would claim they did.
She took out a blank sheet of paper and started to write comments and then realized that her comments could not be complete if she wrote a book. She thought, "I'll just have make an appointment and talk to him about this. It would take me all day just to begin to write something coherent. Where would I begin?"
At the end of class on Monday, Mr. Whitman remained seated until all the other students had gone. Then he approached Professor Holland, who reached into her book bag and brought out the paper. Handing it to him, she said, "I know I promised to write a commentary on this, but I found that I have too much to say. Can you come to my office tomorrow at noon? That way we can go over it point by point."
"Sure, I'll be there. But can you give me hint, you know, at least something to think about?"
"OK. Mr. Whitman, what if the soul lives many times, for many lifetimes, and never dies? What practical application does that have for, say, our mundane affairs? These classes we have. The ones you take. The ones I teach. The fact that you are a student, I am a professor. The fact that we have met in the first place. Your paper opens up all of that. Go see if you can figure out how. And tell me about it tomorrow. OK?"
"Sounds great, Professor!" He smiled, grabbed his paper, and glided out of the room.
Autobiography of a Yogi - Book Cover
Meeting at Noon
As she expected, Dean Whitman appeared right on time, eager to discuss issues in which Judith Holland had never thought a student at this university would ever take an interest. But Mr. Whitman wasted no time: he blurted out his question immediately: "So, what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Is it worth doing what we do?"
"Mr. Whitman, those questions are at the very heart of why we are here!" Judith responded. "We are here for only one purpose: to find our way back to God!'
"God?" a shocked Dean Whitman blurted out. "Are you even allowed to say that on a state university campus?"
"Maybe not! I suppose it depends on who hears it," said Judith. "You gonna turn me in?" She was only half kidding. To lose her job over mouthing the name of God, however, would neither surprise her nor especially upset her.
Judith had been growing somewhat sick and tired of this teaching gig and could easily identify with the teacher in D. H. Lawrence's poem, "Last Lesson of the Afternoon":
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart
My pack of unruly hounds: I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more.
No more can I endure to bear the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks: a full three score
Of several insults of blotted pages and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and tired more than any thrall
Upon the woodstacks working weariedly.
"Well, I don't want you to get fired! I want answers to my questions!" said Dean.
"And why do you think I have answers to such profound question?" asked Judith.
"Because when you were talking about Eastern philosophy, you said that the questions of why human beings exist and the meaning of life are the main issues that that philosophy was designed to answer. I know you didn't give the answers but it seemed to me that you were saying that they have been answered. All I get from my philosophy professors here is that life is mystery that no one has ever figured out. They insist that evolution is a science fact but they never really explain how evolution answers the question of how life began."
"Yes, that's true! The study of evolution is just a study of a theory based on the observation of changes in the physical encasements of living things. That is such a huge subject that it takes up all the time and oxygen in the room leaving no time to focus on the real question of origins. So the so-called science may hint at how life forms change but it never states how it began. It seems to me that the so-called scientists who pontificate about evolution seem satisfied by all their data on how life changes, but they gleefully slide over the fact that they have not even begun to approach the issue of the origins of life," explained Judith.
"Okay, so I asked Professor Dobbins, my bio-chem prof, about this after he had lectured on Darwin's theory of evolution. I asked him, does Darwin ever explain the actual origins of life? And the prof goes, 'Darwin's contribution to Western thought places him on the very top rung of thinking in this area. His explanation of the evolutionary spectrum is so often denigrated by the religious mob that to keep teaching this theory is to keep it separate from any religion. Only religion attempts to deal with origins'," said Dean.
"So I asked him, why is his book called, On the Origin of Species? Isn't that misleading? And he said, 'To the immature and simple-minded it may be misleading because the entire title is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life'," said Dean.
"Right! Call your student who wants to understand more completely 'immature and simple-minded'!" said Judith.
"Well, yeah, but I'm used to that. He calls us all stupid and thinks we are still at the lowest level of Darwin's hierarchy," said Dean and then he continued. "But I thought and didn't say this because I knew what he was going to say next. So here's the thing. Evolution is supposed to be the real science that answers the questions about the origins of life and how it evolves. And then there is Creationism, or Intelligent Design, and that's supposed to be the religious version of evolution, which of course makes it the fairy-tale, false version that universities claim should not be taught. I don't get it. Are they comparable or not?"
"Professor Dobbins actually answered your question when he said 'Only religion attempts to deal with origins'. That's true because scientists have no idea how or especially why life began. So they will simply re-direct your thinking into the details of evolutionary change while distracting your attention from those pesky thought about origins and the purpose of life. You see, the thing is, it's one thing to tell you that only religion attempts to deal with origins but it is another completely different and unconscionable thing to insist that looking at religion for answers is for the immature, the stupid, and the superstitious. Why can they not look at both? Compare them? Instead of eliminating God completely from the university setting. Think back to what you said at the beginning of this conversation when I dared to utter the word God! You asked me if I was allowed to say that word on a state university campus," explained Judith.
"Okay, okay, my mind is getting a little fogged and I don't want to lose my train of thought. I am a senior, I will graduate in May with a BS double major in Organic Chemistry and Ancient Philosophical Sciences. And I guess I have learned what the profs in my courses wanted me to learn because I have a GPA of 3.9. But dammit, I don't know why I am here. After I have had my ego stroked with all the accolades of good grades, excellent projects, significant papers I have turned in, I am leaving this campus not knowing why the hell I am here. Why have I been doing all of this? If you have a clue, please at least point me in some direction where I can find answers to those questions!" Dean had grown so intense that Judith was feeling a frightened for his mental health. But then she knew what she had to do, and she plunged right in.
"Mr. Whitman, first, let me say how much I admire the depth of your concern. So many young people continue to be satisfied with all that ego stroking. I was satisfied by that until I hit the glorious old age of 32, then through a series of events that I don't need to bother you with, I started to wonder about those same questions and they would not let me be. But it was my misery that kept me questioning. And misery often acts like a cattle prod to make you do something to eliminate that misery," said Judith.
"Wow, 32! I'm only 21, and I can't say that I'm miserable, but my mind just won't let me be from wondering about why I am bothering to do what I do when I will die and then what?"
"Mr. Whitman, see that poster there on my wall?" Judith pointed to large framed portrait of the great spiritual leader and yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda. It was actually an enlarged picture of the great guru's book Autobiography of a Yogi.
"Oh, no, I had not noticed that! What is it? Who is that woman . . . or . . . is it a man?"
"Well, interestingly, he would say 'neither'—but in fact he is a man, and he came to this country in 1920, founded an organization called Self-Realization Fellowship. He gave lectures across the country and gained a steadfast following," explained Judith.
"Did he write books?" asked Dean.
"Yes, he wrote many books, and they are available from Self-Realization Fellowship as well as on Amazon and in most any good bookstore," said Judtih, who continued, "I found peace of mind, deliverance from my misery by studying the teachings of this enlightened spiritual leader. I first read his Autobiography, then I enrolled in the Lessons offered by his organization. Those Lessons answer all of your questions, Mr. Whitman."
"They do!" exclaimed Dean.
"It may sound too simple but there it is; the answers to all of those questions are, indeed, given by Paramahansa Yogananda. His lessons offer exercises and other techniques to prepare the physical body to sit for meditation; it is through a certain type of meditation that the soul contacts its Creator. I guess the main part that convinced me this was no mere money-making scheme was that for one, SRF does not charge for the Lessons, only a small fee for postage, and also and this is the most important thing: I am the one responsible for my own advancement and success. Merely believing on a divine personage will not lead you to your goal, only your own effort can do that," said Judith.
"So this guru can tell me how life began and why I am here?" asked Dean.
"Well, on the first issue the great gurus tell us to leave some questions for God to answer, but on the second they tell us that the only reason we are here is to get in touch with our own souls because the soul is the spark of Divinity that is immortal and eternal. The term 'self-realization' means soul-realization. The true self is the soul. The false self is the ego which hides the soul."
"Well, I have to read that book as soon as possible," said Dean, who then watched as Judith reached into her book bag and brought out a fresh, clean copy of Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi.
She then hands him the copy and says, "Here you go! Get reading! And if you have any questions I'm available for further consultation, but this book and the other teachings of this soul-realized guru are all you need."
"Let me pay you for this copy," said Dean, reaching for his wallet.
"Oh, no! I can't take pay for that book," said Judith, continuing, "You know, George Harrison used to keep stacks of copies of this book to hand out to people he met who he thought might be open to these teachings."
"Wow, a Beatle was into this?" replied Dean.
"Yes, and many other folks you'll learn about on your journey to self-realization. Now go, read, and be sure to let me know what you think after you've delved into it a bit, " said Judith.
"I will, Professor Holland. Thank you! Thank you so much! I already feel like a kid in a candy store. Can't wait to get started munching on this," Dean said.
Dean looked deeply into the eyes on the book cover, and as he stepped through the door, Judith heard him say, "Wow, those eyes! They kind of zap you! Wow!"
Paramahansa Yogananda - The Last Smile
SRF Lake Shrine, Windmill Chapel
Life Sketch of Linda Sue Grimes
The following original poem captures the tranquility of my favorite meditation place in Los Angeles, California, the Windmill Chapel at Self-Realization Fellowship's Lake Shrine.
The Windmill Chapel
In the temple of silence
By the lake, we sit
In stillness, meditating
In divine Bliss.
Returning to our daily minds,
We walk out into the sunshine,
And the flowers greet us.
The Literary Life
Born Linda Sue Richardson on January 7, 1946, to Bert and Helen Richardson in Richmond, Indiana, Linda Sue grew up about eight miles south of Richmond in a rustic setting near the Ohio border.
After graduating from Centerville Senior High School in Centerville, Indiana, in 1964, Linda Sue Grimes completed her baccalaureate degree with a major in German at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, in 1967. She married Ronald Grimes on March 10, 1973.
As a writer, Grimes focuses on poetry, short fiction, politics, spirituality, and vegan/vegetarian cooking, which results in her original veggie recipes.
Although music was her first love, Grimes considers herself primarily a literary specialist as she creates her own poetry, studies the poetry and literary arts of classic writers, and writes commentaries about classic poems.
However, Grimes does continue to express her love of music by writing her own original songs, which she records, accompanying herself on guitar or keyboard. She shares her musical compositions at SOUNDCLOUD.
After completing the PhD degree in British, American, and World Literature with a cognate in Rhetoric/Composition at Ball State University in 1987, Grimes taught English composition in the English Department at BSU as a contractual assistant professor from 1987 until 1999.
Grimes has published poems in many literary journals, including Sonoma Mandala, Rattle, and The Bellingham Review. She has published three books of poems: Singing in the Silence, Command Performance, and Turtle Woman & Other Poems, and a book of fables titled Jiggery-Jee's Eden Valley Stories.
Grimes published her first cookbook in the spring of 2013, titled The Rustic Veggie-Table: 100 Vegan Recipes. She is working on a second cookbook and her fourth book of poems.
Currently, at Owlcation, Grimes (Maya Shedd Temple) posts her poetry commentaries. On LetterPile, she shares her creative writing of poems and short fiction, along with prose commentaries on each piece. She posts recipes resulting from her experimental cooking of vegan/vegetarian dishes. on Delishably. She posts her politically focused pieces at Soapboxie, and her commentaries focusing on music at Spinditty. Pieces on the writing process appear at Hobbylark.
Linda Sue Grimes has been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda and a member of his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, since 1978. A Kriyaban since 1979, she has completed the four Kriya Initiations, and she continues to study the teachings and practice the yoga techniques as taught by the great spiritual leader, who is considered to be the "Father of Yoga in the West."
Grimes practices the chants taught by the guru accompanying herself on the harmonium. She serves at her local SRF Meditation Group as one of the chant leaders.
Online Literary Presence
In addition to the contributions of her literary works to Owlcation, LetterPile, and SOUNDCLOUD, Grimes also curates her original creative literary pieces at her literary home, Maya Shedd Temple, on Medium, where she features her creative writing without commentaries. Grimes also maintains an additional online presence on Facebook and Twitter.
My Spiritual Journey: Why I Am a Self-Realization Yogi
"By ignoble whips of pain, man is driven at last into the Infinite Presence, whose beauty alone should lure him." –a wandering sadhu, quoted in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Introduction: Salvation Is a Personal Responsibility
I am a Self-Realization Yogi because the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, who in 1920 founded Self-Realization Fellowship, make sense to me. Paramahansa Yogananda teaches that we are immortal souls, already connected to the Divine Reality, but we have to "realize" that divine connection. Knowing the Great Spirit (God) is not dependent upon merely claiming to believe in a divine personage, or even merely following the precepts of a religion such as the Ten Commandments.
Knowing the Creator is dependent upon "realizing" that the soul is united with that Creator. To achieve that realization we have to develop our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies through exercise, scientific techniques, and meditation. There are many good theorists who can help us understand why proper behavior is important for our lives and society, but Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings offer definite, scientific techniques that we practice in order to realize our oneness with the Divine Power or God. It makes sense to me that my salvation should be primarily my own responsibility.
No Religious Tradition
I did not grow up with a religious tradition. My mother was a Baptist, who claimed that at one time she felt she was saved, but then she backslid. I learned some hymns from my mother. But she never connected behavior with religion. My father was forced to attend church when he was young, and he complained that his church clothes were uncomfortable as was sitting on the hard pews.
My father disbelieved in the miracles of Jesus, and he poked fun at people who claimed to have seen Jesus "in the bean rows." My mother would not have doubted that a person might see Jesus, because she saw her father after he had died. My mother characterized my father as agnostic, and she lived like an agnostic, but deep down I think she was a believer after the Baptist faith.
Here’s a little story that demonstrates how ignorant about religion I was as a child: When I was in first or second grade, I had a friend named Caroline. At recess one day at the swings, Caroline wanted to confide something to me, and she wanted me to keep it secret. She said I probably wouldn't believe it, but she still wanted to tell me. I encouraged her to tell me; it seemed exciting to be getting some kind of secret information. So she whispered in my ear, "I am a Quaker."
I had no idea what that was. I thought she was saying she was magic like a fairy or an elf or something. So I said, "Well, do something to prove it." It was Caroline's turn to be confused then. She just looked very solemn. So I asked her to do something else to prove it. I can't remember the rest of this, but the point is that I was so ignorant about religion.
The Void in My Life and My First Trauma
Looking back on my life as a child, teenager, young adult, and adult up to the age of 32, I realize that the lack of a religious tradition left a great void in my life. Although my father was on the fence regarding religion, he would listen to Billy Graham preach on TV. I hated it whenever Billy Graham was preaching on TV. His message scared me. Something like the way I felt when my father's mother would come and visit us, and when my father would let out a "Goddam" or other such swear word, she would say he was going to hell for talking that way. I was afraid for my father. And Billy Graham made me afraid for myself and all of us because we did not attend church.
I never believed that things like swearing and masturbation could send a soul to hell. But then back then I had no concept of "soul" or "hell." I believed it was wrong to kill, steal, and to lie. But I'm not sure how these proscripts were taught to me. I guess by example. It seems that I had no real need for God and spirituality until I was around thirty years old.
My life went fairly smoothly except for two major traumas before age thirty. The first trauma was experiencing a broken heart at age eighteen and then undergoing a failed marriage, after which I thought I would never find a mate to love me. But I did meet a wonderful soulmate when I was 27.
Heretofore I had thought finding the proper marriage partner would solve all my problems, but I learned that my difficulties were very personal and at the level where we are all totally alone, despite any outward relationships.
The Second Trauma
A second trauma that added to my confusion was being fired twice from the same job at ages 22 and 27. At age 27 things started to make no sense. And it started to bother me intensely that things made no sense. I had always been a good student in grade school and high school, and I was fairly good in college, graduating from Miami University with a 3.0 average. That grade point average bothered me, because I thought I was better than that.
But then not being able to keep my teaching job and not being able to find another one after I had lost it very much confused me. It seemed that I had lost touch with the world. School had been my world, and my teachers and professors had expected great things from me. But there I was at age 27 and couldn't get connected to school again.
Feminism and Zen
I began reading feminist literature starting with Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, continuing with Ms. Magazine, and many others. The result of taking in the feminist creed led me to believe that I had someone to blame for my failure—men; men had caused the world to be arranged so that women cannot succeed outside the home. I began writing again, an endeavor I have sporadically engaged in most of my life from about age sixteen. I decided to apply for a graduate assistantship in English at Ball State University, feeling that I was ready to get out in the man’s world and show it what a woman could do. I felt confident that I could succeed now that I knew what the problem was. But that didn’t work out either. I finished the year without a master’s degree in English, and then there I was, confused again, and still searching for something that made sense.
I had heard about the Eastern philosophy known as "Zen" at Ball State, and I started reading a lot about that philosophy. Zen helped me realize that men were not the problem, attitude was. I kept on writing, accumulating many poems, some of which I still admire. And I kept reading Zen, especially Alan Watts, but after a while the same ideas just kept reappearing with no real resolution, that is, even though the Zen philosophy did help me understand the world better, it was not really enough. I got the sense that only I could control my life, but just how to control it was still pretty much a mystery.
Autobiography of a Yogi
Then in late 1977 on one of our book shopping trips, I spied a book, Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, and I recommended it to my husband, because he liked biographies. I purchased poetry books, and we purchased the autobiography for him. He did not get around to reading it right away, but I did, and I was totally amazed at what I read. It all made sense to me; it was such a scholarly book, clear and compelling. There was not one claim made in the entire 500 plus pages that made me scratch me hand and say "what?" or even feel an uncertainty that this writer knew exactly whereof he spoke.
Paramahansa Yogananda was speaking directly to me, at my level, where I was in my life, and he was connecting with my mind in a way that no writer had ever done. For example, the book offers copious notes, references, and scientific evidence that academics will recognize as thorough research. This period of time was before I had written a PhD dissertation, but all of my years of schooling had taught me that making claims and backing them up with explanation, analysis, evidence, and authoritative sources were necessary for competent, persuasive, and legitimate exposition.
Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography contained all that could appeal to an academic and much more because of the topic he was addressing. As the great spiritual leader recounted his own journey to self-realization, he was able to elucidate the meanings of ancient texts whose ideas have remained misunderstood for many decades and even centuries.
The book contained a postcard that invited the reader to send for lessons that teach the techniques for becoming self-realized. I sent for them, studied them, and I have been practicing them since 1978. They do, indeed, hold the answer to every human problem.
I know it is difficult for most educated people to believe that all human problems can be solved, but that’s because they get stuck in the thought that they cannot. If you believe that you can never really know something, then you can’t, because if you believe that you can never really know something, you won’t try to know it.
Yogananda gives a map with directions to reaching God, and realizing that one’s soul is united with God brings about the end of all sorrow and the beginning of all joy. Just knowing the precepts intellectually does not cause this realization, but it goes a long way toward eliminating much suffering. The faith that we can overcome all suffering is a great comfort, even if we are not there yet. I realize that God is knowable, but most important is that I know I am the only one who can connect my soul to God—and that is the spiritual journey I am on.
Awake in the Cosmic Dream
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes