The Golden Age


A break from the office: Golden Age Editor Penny Watson and Terry McKinnell

A couple of days ago I received this letter from a premie, Liz Gilbert, in Adelaide. I think it is well worth sharing - it's a very honest statement, and they aren't all that common. I suspect that Liz is speaking for quite a few people. We decided to print my answer to her too, again because it may be of use to some other people. I don't expect a letter will completely solve the situation. The whole point I wanted to make is that neither words nor manipulating the external environment can do the trick. But at least words can help us to understand a situation, and to see which way to move.

Dear Penny,

This will probably be the hardest letter I've ever written … all the more so since, after sharing satsang with Barbie on the subject, I don't even feel any more that it's necessary for me, personally, to say these things. But for the sake of other premies who I know are feeling these things as much as I've been doing, I want to express them to you.

Reading the latest Golden Age left me in a state of confusion, frustration and - above all - weariness. I've been feeling it a lot lately. It's as if I'm constantly being pushed, pulled, cajoled, ordered and (sometimes) even threatened to try harder, to experience more, to examine and strengthen my commitment to Knowledge, to put in more effort, and so on and so on. It almost seems like I've been given two opposing directions … one to practise satsang, service and meditation, and to experience a natural, organic growth; and another contradictory one to let myself be pulled up to a level of consciousness and dedication that's not only foreign and frightening, but which I just can't handle.

Words are difficult, aren't they! I don't mean that I just want to sit back and enjoy the ride while someone else does the driving … rather, that I don't want to be expected to drive at 80 mph when I haven't even quite worked out which is the accelerator and which is the brake.

Lately I've found that premies have been "giving me satsang" that hasn't been satsang at all, because it hasn't been coming from a point of conviction within them … rather, it's been as if they've been trying to talk themselves into something, and trying to talk me into it at the same time. So much stuff about realisation and dedication and understanding has been laid on us all just lately that our heads have absorbed tons of it, and we're (not all of us, but certainly many of us) regurgitating it in a mechanical way.

A week or so before Julie arrived, a premie got up in satsang and admitted quite honestly that the pressure from the community to be experiencing Knowledge deeply was so intense that he often lied about his own experience, just to give other premies what they wanted from him. He felt lonely and confused. And yet he went on to say that practising Knowledge kept him from committing suicide, which he was on the verge of doing about three years ago just before he received Knowledge. So it's obvious that Knowledge is a powerful force in his life … but because he didn't feel it was the kind of power that was expected of Knowledge, he felt he wasn't experiencing Knowledge.

And even though I knew all the "right" answers like Knowledge not fitting into concepts, and the mind playing tricks, and all that sort of thing … nevertheless, I could really relate to him. Myself, I don't get up in the satsang chair because I can't say blissful, positive, inspiring things. I can only say what I've experienced; anything else would just be a rave. I can say that having received Knowledge and seen my true self I can never again despair completely. I can say that when I'm living Knowledge (as opposed to doing satsang, service and meditation) that my life is beautiful, and when I'm not it's just as bad as before receiving Knowledge … worse, because I now know it can be better. The Jesuits say (so I was taught at school) that Hell is knowing what God is, but being deprived of Him. Life without Knowledge is Hell.

But I don't seem to have much control over whether I'm living in Knowledge or just practising it. It seems to come and go in waves. And when I get all this stuff about doing more, trying harder and examining my commitment … I feel guilty! I went through a whole guilt trip just before Ira arrived, and he told me it was rubbish. He said, "Don't try to lose yourself in the


The Golden Age

light; just watch it like you'd watch television. Don't look for fantastic music; just listen to what you hear. The rest will come by itself."

I've just had another major confrontation with guilt: yesterday was my first birthday in Knowledge, and I was thinking, "My God, what have I done with this whole year! Here's all these premies Realising God and Surrendering to Holy Name and Committing Themselves 100 per cent - and here's me, still hassling around with the basics!" And as if that wasn't bad enough, I sat down and read the Golden Age, and I felt I must be the least committed, dedicated, concentrated, understanding premie on God's earth. I felt like the whole battle, the whole neverending confrontation, just wasn't worth it. Like a premie said to me not long ago, "I'd like to get away from the whole community and just practise Knowledge. They make everything so complicated." He said, "When I meditate I know everything's okay, but satsang just freaks me out and I forget to meditate. All I want is to know that everything's okay, and I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

Am I saying what I'm trying to? I'm not sure. I know there's a very fine line between relaxation and laziness, but really I don't see how anyone can get lazy in Knowledge.

And I know that I'm not speaking just for myself when I say that all this stirring-up of motives, dedication and whatnot just clouds the issue for me, and confuses me. I think, "I'm not doing enough," but I don't know how to do more. It's so beautiful, so reassuring, so inspiring to hear satsang from people who have gone further than me, and to realise, "Yeah, if I keep on going 171 be at that point one day." It's so beautiful to hear Maharaj Ji. But it's like he tells us things so simply, and we immediately go off on a bender. He says, "Understand my words," so we drum up as many words of our own as we can possibly muster.

I'm not being at all tactful! I'm sorry. Please recognise that this is written not in criticism but in love. I'm much younger and stupider in Knowledge than any of you guys, and yet I know that you're here to serve me, just as I'm here to serve you. And I know that my lifetime task is to do satsang, service and meditation to the best of my ability. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm so weak and lacking in self-confidence that I can't trust my own experience in Knowledge when everyone's telling me it's not enough. You see, I can be shown that there's bigger and better things to come, further along the path … and that's inspiring. Or I can be told to hurry up when I'm stumbling already … and that just makes me feel tired, dejected, hopeless - a failure. And the whole point is: I'm not the only one; I'm not alone in that reaction.

So … once again, as I said at the beginning of this letter, satsang just homed in on my blockage and blew it to pieces. I can go on practising Knowledge regardless … but it's a bit like being in a slit trench trying to ignore the battle going on around me. That's doubly hard to do when the whole battle seems to be just a misplacement of energy, just another distraction, when God knows I've got enough of them already!

Maybe for premies who've experienced a whole lot more than I have, the current trend in directing consciousness is relevant and helpful - I don't know. I can only speak about what it is for me, and for those who share satsang with me. Probably people on much the same level of understanding (or non-understanding!) tend to gravitate together, so that a premie who comes to me to share satsang is probably doing that because he/she intuitively knows that I'm having the same problems, the same confusions, the same hassles. But whether that's true or not isn't really important, I guess, because the Golden Age is for the whole community, not just for those guys who've gone further than me.

So this whole letter isn't so much a criticism as a plea for help! I really want that inspiration, of "Look how it can be if you just keep going!" I really want to be helped along this path. When I look at Maharaj Ji in his physical form it's so blatently obvious that he's right, he's perfect, and he's the way we should all be - and will be, he says, if we just do what he says. But I don't get to see him very often. And until I can make the connection internally as completely as I can externally I need the clarity and encouragement of more seasoned climbers than myself.

Oh, I don't want to stop writing! But really I've said it all. I hope it's clear, that you can understand what I've been trying to express. The more I meditate, the less useful words seem to be as a means of communication. The only true communication, the only true love, is in satsang, in that total sharing which is so hard to convey on a clacking typewriter!

With my love, Liz Gilbert.

Dear Liz,

I just got your letter. Thank you.

It's strange in a way sitting here in an office editing the paper. You have some idea of how it's going to effect people, but you never really know until someone tells you, honestly.

What you said makes a lot of sense to me. One thing it might be worth getting straight right now, at the beginning … I'm not any sort of high guy. More and more I'm seeing I'm just a very human human being. A very normal premie. And I can relate to what you said because I know that feeling of being pressured very well; I spent the first few months of this year living with it and the paranoia it produced, almost continuously. I still feel it a bit now, but my whole reaction to it has changed. It's not something that hinders me any more, it's something that helps me, something I appreciate. And that's been one of the biggest changes in my life. It was what I was trying to explain in that editorial last month, and it's what I hope I can share with you in this letter. Because I think we all need to understand why we experience the things we do.

Sometimes things and people around the Mission are weird. There's no denying it, Sometimes it does become very obvious that people sitting on the satsang chair aren't really giving satsang. But seeing objectively that a situation is wrong is one thing, and having it effect your experience of Knowledge really is something else. In the first case, all you need to do is act dispassionately to correct the fault. In the second, it's a matter of looking at what's happening to you personally. It's easy to get the two things confounded. Sometimes satsang may be a drag because it isn't true satsang. But at other times, satsang may cause a reaction precisely because it is the genuine


No. 32, August 1976

article, doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Because the aim of satsang is to help our souls grow at the expense of our egos, sometimes it can really stir up some heavy reaction in the form of thoughts and feelings inside us. There's no blame involved. Neither the person who gives the satsang, nor the person who reacts are guilty of anything. It's just part of the process of growth in Knowledge. We are being shown another bit of ourselves that isn't pleasant, and the way to get rid of it isn't any different to the way to eliminate any other reaction. Just persevering in meditation. Hoping people will stop pressuring doesn't work - as long as there's satsang people are going to be advising us to meditate. Telling ourselves it doesn't matter, and that we shouldn't feel guilty isn't Permanently effective either - the mind never listens to itself for long. So it's back to the same old solution - and given time and perseverence, it works.

From what I've experienced myself, and from what I've gathered from talking to other premies, the pressure has to come, if not in one form, then in another. I've had Knowledge three years now. For two of those years, up until last Christmas, I'd felt everything to be pretty cool. I was in an ashram, but nobody bothered me much. I meditated and went to satsang and went to work at a job I liked with people who were fun to be with. Then I got asked to take over as editor of the paper. And things really changed. As a member of the NHQ staff, Ifound myself being exposed to a lot of situations I would not have chosen for myself And to a lot of "get it on" satsang. It was really confronting.

I nearly shot through several times. I got so in my head about the paper, about the responsibility I had to be clear, about how obvious it must be to everyone I was blowing it. And at the same time, I projected outward - why are these guys so heavy? Why can't Ijust be a normal community premie? What's all all this stuff about realising Knowledge, I'm meditating aren't I? I guess what held me where I was was what Guru Maharaj Ji said at the Orlando conference about doing the service you're given.

I'm really glad I stuck it through. Because a couple of months ago, something happened. I can't even really explain what. I put it one way in that last editorial: there I said I realised I wasn't meditating properly and that I could do more. That was part of it. But another thing that occurred at the same time was that my whole attitude to people and situations which pressure me to get into Knowledge changed. So that now, I really appreciate it when someone points out where I'm off course. My mind still reacts to satsang - it tells me to move up the country, and it tangles me up in trying too hard - but it doesn't last long.

It's hard to be completely objective about your own situation. But what seems to be happening to me now that that major barrier of paranoia has been crossed is that my mind and Knowledge are neck and neck. It feels like a really delicate time. I can feel that Knowledge is definitely what I want and need, and that if I keep going steadily, my experience of it - both in formal meditation and just in my life, can definitely grow. At the same time, my mind seems more slippery than ever. It keeps sticking its nose alternately into "the world" and into the process - trying to meditate for me, trying to work out how I'm going. I don't trust it, and yet I know I'm still very prone to listen to it. So satsang as a refocusing mechanism has become very valuable.

Julie tells me I've got to get to a stage where I don't even need to be kicked, where I can just correct myself And Terry says he understands what both you and I experience, because he's been through it himself, but that lately he's been finding that spoken satsang rarely causes him to react in any way. So I guess there is more ahead. But to get there, and beyond, I can't jump. I've got to just work from where I am, practising service, satsang and meditation, and learn from whatever situation comes in front of me.

Have you ever read Lord of the Rings? People love that book so much. There is adventure and hard work and characters getting into desperate situations and still escaping and going on. I think people like it because it clicks with something in them that understands that this is the way life is. We say that growth in Knowledge is natural and organic. But that doesn't mean we'll never get rained on, or that a bit of pruning won't happen now and again. On the contrary, it means that if those things are going on, if there are hard times around, it's okay. That if we are trying to do satsang, service and meditation, then whatever happens to us is all right. It's teaching us something. Because there's a lot we've got to get past. Look at the society which produced us. Even from our limited view-point of how things should be, it's pretty clear that it's crazy, and that much of that craziness has gotten into us. And as premies we're not just trying to become what a psychiatrist might call well-adjusted. Neither are we simply attempting to get to Mordor to drop off a ring. We're trying to reach perfection, and it's guaranteed to be quite a journey.

I guess it is a question of trust. Of knowing that Maharaj Ji never gives us more than we can handle.

In my experience, that's true. But it always seems he gives us two stages more than we think we can handle. Which is good, because it forces us to move. As Bob Mishler says, Maharaj Ji keeps his part of the bargain. He's taking us to perfection, even if he has to drag us backwards kicking and screaming all the way. However I don't think we're always going to be travelling backwards. Ifeel like I'm slowly being shown how to turn around and open my eyes. And maybe the wind is blowing my hair into my face and I can't really see what's ahead. But it's more fun this way. And I'm also getting glimpses that someone really does have it all under control. That it is safe to let go of all my ideas of how things should be and what I should be experiencing, to just hold on to Maharaj Ji and go.

So we've just got to keep on trucking. Stick with satsang, service and meditation, and don't back off. When it's getting hard, that's when things are really beginning to move.

And again, thank you for writing. Do it some more, if you feel like it. And encourage anyone else who has comments on the paper to write too. Maybe the stage is really coming when we can be open with each other. It means you've got to stick your neck out, and be prepared to get it chopped off But I'm just starting to learn that that's part of the game. And that the only bits of me that can get chopped off are the bits I don't want anyway.

love, Penny.