03 July 2007

A Few Highlights from a Talk by Diane Cobb (8/6/2000)

Diane Cobb was thirteen in 1956 when she first met Meher Baba, who nicknamed her “Baba’s Beloved Baby,” otherwise known as “3-B.” Diane’s father was Lud Dimpfl, one of Murshida Ivy Duce’s students in Sufism Reoriented, the Western Sufi order “reoriented” by Meher Baba. Diane is the young girl with shoulder-length blond hair seen with Baba in some films taken in 1956. She is here at Meher Center along with a number of other Sufis who are presenting weekend programs including an art exhibit and a concert. Diane is one of the featured artists. Her paintings of Baba as Kalki, the White Horse Avatar, her drawing of him as Shiva, and a bust, one of the best sculptural portraits I’ve seen of Baba, are among the works on display in the Meeting Place.

Young Diane Dimpfl was among the crowd that gathered to greet Meher Baba when he arrived in San Francisco. Baba’s visit was long awaited—he was supposed to come to California in 1952, but when he was on his way, that’s when the first car accident occurred, in Oklahoma. Now at last he was coming. A big fluffy yellow flower garland was there, and the plan was for the oldest member of the group to garland Baba, but because she was late, Diane as the youngest got to do it. As soon as she spotted Baba, she rushed forward and garlanded him He squeezed her in an embrace and then moved swiftly on. In the following days Baba frequently wanted Diane near him and showered her with attention and praise.

Diane also met Baba at Myrtle Beach in 1958 and at the East-West Gathering in 1962. Since I did not record the exact sequence of events recounted by Diane, I’ll just list the highlights:

—Baba looked very beautiful in 1956. Diane described his many “changing faces of love”—now smiling and vivacious, now majestic, now looking wistful as if to say, “Do you think you could try to love me?” She spoke of Baba’s looking like a king completely at his ease, not caring whether he appeared like a king but naturally radiating “effortless might.”

—She heard Baba tell people on more than one occasion, “I am never displeased with you,” or “I am always pleased with you.” Once another little girl (Tara Frey) was overheard saying, “Oh, I hate myself,” and Baba immediately admonished her, “Never say that—or even think it.”

—Diane’s mother, Bea Dimpfl (who did not then love Baba yet), wanted to give Diane a haircut and permanent at home because she thought Diane’s hair a mess—she insisted on it, saying in response to Diane’s protests, “And don’t go running to Baba about it.” When Charmian Duce came by with Tara that day to invite Diane to come do something with them, she told them she couldn’t go out because her mother was going to give her a perm. They left, but soon they returned with the message, “Baba wants to see you right away.” Not caring about her mother’s reaction, she ran to Baba, who told her she was to tell her mother that he said she was not to cut her hair, that he liked her hair long. He made Diane repeat it three times. So she went and told her mother. Subsequently she grew her hair quite long, till she could sit on it. But eventually she realized that Baba wouldn’t want her to make a fetish out of her hair, or for her long hair to be a cause of keeping herself separate from others. So she did finally cut it and felt fine about it. Diane also commented in connection with her mother that Baba seemed at times to cause someone who didn’t love him to be angry, as Bea was in this case, because somehow the energy of that anger could be turned to love. And so it did happen in time, with Bea coming to love Baba. But before that occurred, both Diane and her young aunt Ellie were very judgmental of Bea for not loving Baba. But when Baba left San Francisco, at the airport he called them all around him and had Diane put her hand on Baba’s, then Bea’s hand on Diane’s, then Ellie’s hand on Bea’s, and Baba clapped his other hand on top and said, “Now we’re all friends!” And it was so, though Diane said it took time to work on it.

—In 1958, some of the Sufi men had put on an entertainment for Baba having to do with an “Alligator Club.” Diane and her aunt Ellie decided the women should have a club too, so they created the Stinkers’ Club, whose sole aim was to get near Baba by whatever means necessary. (It was difficult to get close to Baba with all the people.) They had a hard time getting members, though she said Filis Frederick and Beryl Williams were game. Diane and Ellie tried various mischievous ruses to get to see Baba, until they actually thought of asking Adi Sr. if they could tell him about their club, and Adi said, “Of course, Baba said you were to see him whenever you asked.” They came and presented Baba with his membership card—they had made up cards with drawings of skunks, each with a flower name. (The mandali got cards too—Eruch was “Magnolia.”) Baba, of course, was to be the president, and Diane informed him that he was the biggest Stinker of all. She said he laughed so hard she could hear the sound of it in his nose!

—In 1958 they were eating with Baba and Diane had a 7-Up. Baba was expressing a lot of concern about it, asking her father if she was “allowed” to have 7-Up. Diane, who was 15 at the time, thought this was preposterous and asserted that she drank it “all the time.” But Baba kept making a fuss, saying it was too chilly and she would catch a cold from it. He would touch the glass to test its temperature, and so on. She was very annoyed by this and waited till Baba wasn’t looking and then gulped it all down. The next day she woke up with sore throat and couldn’t even speak. Anyone contagious was not to go near Baba, so she had to stay in bed. By the time she was better, she found that another child had replaced her as Baba’s favorite—Charles Haynes. She spoke of how naturally reverential Charles was (proudly showing her a prize possession, the white Bible his minister had given him), and how he adored Baba even though he didn’t seem to quite realize who Baba was. She tried hanging around Charles in order to get closer to Baba, but that didn’t really work (though she did get to know Charles better!).

—Baba said that Murshida Duce should initiate Diane as a Sufi, even though the rules were that you had to be at least 16 years old, and she wasn’t. When other children heard about it, they wanted to be Sufis too, and Baba allowed it.

—In 1962 Baba no longer looked as beautiful as he had in 1956, was no longer as energetic, smiling, and charismatic. He looked old and ill. Diane began to see that what she had thought was her love for Baba was really her enjoyment of his lively personality and the good way he made her feel. She realized that to really love Baba would be to care more about how he was feeling—and to love him even if he ignored you or didn’t look as outwardly attractive. She had the opportunity to observe Mehera brushing Baba’s hair, and she noted the elation that Mehera felt in Baba’s presence—the feeling that Mehera was overcome with joy and gratitude each time she was able to be with Baba, even though she saw Baba frequently. And it didn’t matter if Baba seemed old, tired, or unsmiling.

28 June 2007

My New Life’s Resolutions

Here's an attempt at humor that was written in 1999....

I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions. I always regarded that custom as something commercially contrived, like holidays invented by the greeting card industry. But now that 1999 has arrived and we are nearing that magical, mystical date of 2000, I can’t help thinking what whoppers of resolutions people are going to concoct next year. They’ll be on a monumental scale, like promising to be good for an entire thousand-year period. Now, that appeals to my sense of the absurd—and it also stimulates me to think seriously about some meaningful resolutions to make.

But instead of “new year’s resolutions,” I’m going to call mine “New Life’s resolutions” (a reference to a phase of Meher Baba's work called the New Life). Here are a few that I’ve come up with so far:

Lose weight. Remember that old joke: “Want to lose ten pounds of ugly fat? Cut off your head!” For my New Life, I’d like to shrug off some of that excess mental poundage, like worry, circling thoughts, overreliance on analytical thinking, and “the fume of an irritated mind” (Baba’s memorable phrase describing anger). However, since it’s impossible to control one’s thoughts, I must surrender all my mental activities, good and bad, to Baba. That way, He will take care of the sanskaric results of my thoughts. Now watch those pounds of worry melt away!

Exercise more. . . tolerance and compassion, that is. When I was trying to think of what to write about in this column, someone suggested that a useful topic might be “developing compassion in everyday life,” and at first I thought, “Huh? What do I know about compassion?” In my work as an editor, I have read a lot about how to develop compassion through various Buddhist meditations and exercises. But what helps me most is the realization that compassion is a divine quality belonging to the Compassionate Father, and any compassion I may feel is Baba’s, not mine. He allows us to experience His all-merciful nature from time to time. It is an extraordinary gift. I pray that I can be ever more open to receiving it.

Simplify my life. Bal Natu once told me he’d gotten letters from people who described their problems to him at length. He remarked, “I don’t need that much detail.” I cherish that phrase. (I am now speaking for myself and not alluding to what Bal may have meant when he said this; but please understand that Bal’s comment was not a dismissal of his correspondents’ distress.)

“Less detail” can mean many things. One possibility is: I don’t have to burden others with painstaking details of my own suffering or my likes and dislikes. If I need to unburden myself, I can do so directly to Baba, the only One who can do anything about it anyway—who is already, always doing something about it. Why else did the Avatar take human birth, except to release us from the many false details in which we are enmeshed, and restore us to the big picture, which is the simple divine reality of Oneness?

A nice place to tell Baba my troubles is at the Baba Tree at Meher Mount, where I live. It’s the tree under which Baba sat when He visited here in 1956. I’m trying to practice the method that Don Stevens recommends, which is to actually speak one’s concerns aloud to Baba. This is hard to do but, I am convinced, highly rewarding.

Use time more wisely. People are always complaining that they have no time. A few years ago I discovered the secret of time management, and I want to learn to make use of this secret more consistently: If I put Baba first, everything else falls into its proper place. For example, when I was treasurer of the Boston Baba center, I occasionally had to go to the bank to make a deposit. I always felt there wasn’t time to do this, because it was out of the way and I had to get to my job or do something else pressing. Finally I just decided, “This is Baba work, and it’s the most important thing I can do now or anytime.” I went to the bank in the morning and got to my office a little late, but no one noticed! After that, whenever there was a chance to do some work for Baba, or perform any action for His sake, I would put Him at the top of my list and let the “pressing matters” take care of themselves. When I really place Baba first—in time, and in my mind and heart—a little miracle takes place, and the oppressive sense of time vanishes into the nothingness that it really is.

Stop smoking. I don’t smoke cigarettes, actually. But you know, Baba says that the heart should be on fire (with love for God), while no smoke escapes the lips!

Spend more quality time with the Beloved. On second thought, make that “every moment”!

Happy New Life!

All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.