From Science to Magic...
When I first met my wife I was working in the molecular genetics lab at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. We performed oncology and genetic disease testing on sick kids as well as obscure tests that came from international sources. One of our most urgent tests was for kids diagnosed with neuroblastoma. The doctors would tailor the therapy based on our findings of N-myc gene amplification in the solid tumor specimen. An amplified N-myc gene meant a poor prognosis and they would launch their most aggressive therapy. We did everything as quickly as possible, including coming in during the wee hours of the morning to push things along. One would extract the DNA from the tumor using a digestive enzyme, phenol/chloroform extract and then precipitate with high salt and ice cold ethanol. The DNA would appear as a fluffy, white, stringy substance floating in the tube. The DNA was then dissolved, digested with a restriction enzyme, run out in an agarose gel electrophoresis, transferred to a nylon membrane and then hybridized to a radioactively labeled probe. The process took advantage of the behavior of DNA to base pair with a complement base. A binds to T and G binds to C. A single stranded run of ACGTGTCC on the membrane would bind to a single stranded run of TGCACAGG in the probe. This allowed us to visualize the DNA sequence in the tumor. An amplified N-myc gene would show up as a very dark spot on the x-ray film indicating multiple copies of the gene instead of just one.
At the time I worked with a guy named Darren and we both liked loud music. He brought in two big old-time stereo speakers and we would crank it as we worked. We would keep our heads down as we set personal best records for number of tubes in an assay while keeping 100% accuracy. The labs down the hall would complain now and again about the noise so we kept the door shut and protected our way of life. I liked a harder edge to the music but there was plenty of overlap so we worked well together. One day the boss walked in with two guys in suits and a young woman cowering behind them. I was in my own world at the lab bench and the music was loud, me happily singing along. I looked at them and saw their mouths moving but I couldn't hear a word. Laughing, I got up and turned down the tunes. Turns out the two suits were from the Dental School and they were looking for someone to teach the young woman the techniques necessary to screen a family for a genetic disease with dental implications, Gorlin syndrome. I said, "sure", as it was commonplace for medical students and visiting physicians to hang around the lab. Even Keith Whittaker used to hang around. He was a prominent neurosurgeon whose family had given my dad our first dog from a litter of beagle/collie mutts. I didn't really get a good look at the young lady but after finishing up I went into the office and she was the topic of discussion. Where was she from, etc.? I didn't really think too much of it. Little did I know...
When she started learning the ropes she would follow Darren or I as we explained what we were doing and why. There was a bit of peril in the PCR work we did and one needed to remain constantly mindful or you wouldn't last long there. It was the early days of PCR or polymerase chain reaction which is now a ubiquitous workhorse genetic technique. It was discovered by a California surfer freak who realized you could combine a heat tolerant enzyme with cycles of temperature changes to make millions of copies from a single strand of DNA. Once you had these millions of copies it was far easier to study. The problem, however, was that if you got some of these millions of copies into your starting human sample, it would contaminate and make a mess of the whole thing. We had a pre-PCR lab and a post-PCR lab and if you walked into the wrong one, let alone took a tube or pipet in the wrong direction, there was hell to pay. I was a prime enforcer. My livelihood and the accuracy of testing for our young patients was at stake.
One day early on in the introductory process Purnima was lamenting about having bought an "open box" computer at Best Buy and the previous customer had not removed their password so she could not use it. I had fresh experience with this problem so I offered to fix it. I went to her apartment, walked in with shoes on, and promptly removed the offending password. She gave me a shot of Trinidadian rum as a reward. It was somehow uncanny that I knew how to fix a problem like that, sort of like I was pre-adapted for the situation. She had a boyfriend and I am respectful when someone tells me that so it was purely an act of selfless service, except for the rum. We continued a crash course in molecular diagnostic techniques over the next several weeks. We used to work hard in that lab but we also played hard. Occasionally, we would cross the street to Liberty Memorial Park to toss a frisbee or football for an afternoon break. We were out there with a football and the first time Purnima threw it, I found it absolutely hilarious. She threw so much like a girl. At that moment I knew we would be together. I've heard others state that they "just knew" and I finally had the experience of it, just a flash of knowing. I didn't talk to anyone about it but it sure made it easier during the courtship and marriage process.
A few months later Purnima asked for a ride to Espanola, NM from Kansas City to attend a yoga festival. I asked why her boyfriend wasn't taking her and she said he didn't want to. I said, "ask him again and if says no then I will." She described a bit about the yoga so I searched the internet. This was in pre-Google days so I used Metacrawler or AltaVista and I searched for Tantric Yoga. My boss was looking over my shoulder when the search results came up. There are three types of tantric: red, black and white. The results for red tantric came up first and it relates to sex. It is the practice that Sting uses where one never ejaculates and is in a constant state of arousal, I think he called it "ingasm." My boss said "go for it." We had a good laugh. Black tantric relates to black magic and White tantric is the type of yoga we would be practicing. I couldn't find much info on the internet about it back then. Turns out that Purnima purposely kept me in the dark about the true nature of white tantric yoga thinking that I would never go if I knew exactly what was in store for me.
On the day we were to leave for New Mexico I really didn't think she would show up. As she was dropped off I looked out the window while brushing my teeth with no shirt on. Oh boy, this was really going to happen. We were supposed to camp in the mountains for the week. Having prepared nothing I quickly decided that I would buy a tent and sleeping bags at Walmart in Espanola. After throwing some things in a suitcase we headed off down I-70 at about 8:00 pm. At the time I loved all nighter road trips. We chatted and burned up the miles stopping to eat in rural Kansas some time after midnight. I asked her about the ground rules. For example, was spooning allowed. She had no clue what I was talking about. Being very aware of her boyfriend and anticipating some as yet to be determined sleeping arrangements, I was trying to feel my way through the next few days. As we approached Denver it was a most beautiful sight, the full moon was setting over the Rockies as the sun rose behind us in the eastern sky. The awakening dawn colors were magical and we were both awed by the scene. As we got to Denver and turned south we started looking for a hotel room but they were all booked for a girls soccer tournament so we continued south until finally finding vacancy in Trinidad, Colorado. A completely random event, bringing a Trini to stay in Trinidad, CO. I couldn't have planned it better if I tried. We slept and ate and then headed on to Espanola.
After stopping at Walmart for a tent, 2 cots and 2 sleeping bags, we began driving up the gravel road to Ram Das Puri. For some strange reason, every time we saw some trash by the side of the road we stopped to pick it up. We never spoke about it, just stopped and picked up litter on the road up. Ram Das Puri is in the high desert wilderness of the Jemez Mountains. The camp consisted of a shelter for the white tantric yoga, admin buildings and cabins, huge white tents for the bazaar, bathrooms and showers. Most of the good level camping spots were taken so we pitched the tent in a gently sagging spot and had dinner. For some reason Purnima was convinced we needed cots. I slept barely a wink that first night because my sleeping bag kept sliding down the cot with a concurrent noise that kept me awake and laughing. Suffice to say that was the only night we camped. The next day we headed into town and booked a hotel room with a decent bed, hot showers and a private toilet.
The white tantric yoga was an eye opening experience. We sat across from each other in long lines of maybe 2000 people. Each yoga exercise was either 31 or 62 minutes with breaks in between. I was given a mantra sheet with gurmukhi and sanskrit words. This was my introduction to yoga. No downward facing dog, no sun salutations, just sitting across from my partner chanting mul mantra for 62 minutes. We sat back to back, face to face, eyes open, eyes closed, holding hands, holding one hand in a specific mudra while holding the other over our hearts. It really broke me down. Just to sit for 31 minutes without fidgeting or my legs going to sleep was a brutal challenge. We did one exercise where you plugged your partner's right nostril as you breathed in and then plugged the left nostril as you breathed out. It is a pranayam, a breathing technique to manage different states of consciousness and well-being. To this noob it was the funniest damn thing I ever saw. I started laughing and Purnima did, too. The guy next to us became irritated with our laughing as he was taking things very seriously. It just made it funnier that he was upset. I cried tears of laughter streaming down both cheeks. The next exercise was very simple. We just had to sit and sing a song while looking into our partner's eyes. The song was called Walking Up The Mountain With You. I couldn't do it. Everytime I started to sing I would break down crying tears from I don't know where. I didn't know the song so was reading from my mantra sheet and just sobbed unless I sat quietly. Where did this come from? Why can't I control myself enough to sing a song?
Walking up the mountain
And I got you by my side
I got thunder in the valley
And this bone-dry mountain high
Walking up the mountain
Climbing side by side
Walking up the mountain, with you
It took years before I could sing this song without crying, and I still don't understand from where the emotion springs. At the end of the day I was completely gutted. I just lay on our blanket as people asked if I was okay. I had a weird familiarity about this whole scene. The yogis dressed in white, the big tents, it just seemed strangely familiar. At this point in my life I was a devout Agnostic. The only thing I was sure of was that I wasn't sure.
We met this respected numerologist and he worked up my numbers and said, "you never thought you'd live to be 30." And really, I never did. He said, "Welcome to the rest of your life!" He asked me where I was from and I said, "the earth." He said, "why stop there, why not the universe?" Then he asked me what I liked most about Purnima and I said, "her mind." He said, "What about her soul?" Then we went to a free healing session. A woman in a turban was performing Sat Nam Rasayan on people. Purnima went first and I watched as this woman put her hands on P and closed her eyes as the universe moved through her. P started crying and they discussed things that released a lot of pain and emotion. When it was my turn I laid there with a mind so active it was impossible for her to do her thing. My mind was racing with what is she doing, can she read me, what is going on here... I know now that if I could have quieted my mind and meditated with her, she may have helped me. The beautifully clean mountain air and crisp starry sky combined with these new experiences was a real mind blower.
I had been living with the mind of a scientist. I thought there was no magic. Everything could be explained by a lack of oxygen to the brain cells or a cunning deception by a master manipulator. I thought there was always an explanation to refute magic. Up to that point in my life I had been making the mistake of thinking that my perception of reality was reality. If I had no experience of magic then magic didn't exist. I began to realize that one could purify and polish oneself to improve perception. Not all of perception comes through the eyes and ears and other 3 senses. There is something there when you are quiet and listen within. There is more to feel if you work at it. Even the five senses become sharper if you work at it. The scientific mind calls it coincidence or serendipity. The scientific mind is very sure of itself. It seems the first step is to be comfortable being unsure.
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