The way Phyllis Ott gives a talk is unique—a brilliant, creative one-woman show. You never know what to expect. Standing in the doorway to the porch of the Original Kitchen while her audience sat in the living room area, with a flourish Phyllis donned the blue scarf Mehera had bestowed on her in 1965—“my credentials,” she called them.
But that is not Phyllis’s only credential. In 1966, she and her family became the only Baba-lovers to be permitted by Baba to build their house on
Back to her talk: Phyllis tells us she once wondered, “Does Baba know me?” But now “That is accomplished. He might not pick me out of a crowd, but he created a name for me: Phyl”—which, when combined with the name of her husband, Lyn Ott, made “Phylyn.” Phyllis saw this as echoing the new vocabulary of the time, the 1960s, when the media theorist Marshall McLuhan spoke of "cool" media that require the viewer to “fill in” (Phylyn) the blanks. The wife-and-husband team Phylyn created paintings together when Lyn’s visual impairment had progressed to the point where he could no longer complete a painting without help. Or, as Phyllis puts it: “Chances are if you have a Lyn Ott painting, my fingers are in it.”
And then there are the seventeen magnificent Phylyn murals created in 1975 for the
Phyllis Ott went alone to see Meher Baba in
On the plane to
To express what she was feeling in those days, Phyllis passed around a black and white photo from an old Life magazine, showing the tunnel under
Although Phyllis had asked Lyn not to tell people she had gone to
On arrival at Ahmednagar, Phyllis was told Baba wanted to see her at nine the next morning, the 21st. She was also told that she was going to meet Mehera. This didn’t excite her, she admits. Previously, Jeanne Shaw and her daughter Leatrice had shown Phyllis a little photo of a beautiful woman—Mehera, Baba’s most beloved disciple. But in those days, Phyllis says, “I thought of women as the ‘second sex’”—that phrase is the title of a famous classic of early feminism by the French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir—“and I didn’t think anything of it.”
In her meeting with Baba, He asked her, “Now that you’re here, what do you want to do?”
When you met Baba, Phyllis said, you wanted to stay with Him; you didn’t want to go back to what you were before. Phyllis told Baba: “I came to see you. My return flight leaves Wednesday, and I want to stay near you for a few days.”
Baba replied: “No one can stay here anymore,” meaning Meherazad, where Baba lived. “You can stay at Villoo’s.” (Visiting Baba-lovers were often graciously accommodated in the Ahmednagar home of Villoo and Sarosh Irani.)
There were three darshans for Phyllis that day. The first was in the company of about thirty others. Adi Jr., Baba’s brother, was there with his wife, Freny, and their daughter, Shireen (now Shireen Bonner), who was then seven or eight years old. Also there was Adi’s son, Dara, who was there to make sure Baba kept His promise to arrange his marriage. At the age of nineteen, Dara, like Lyn Ott, was going blind from retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Phyllis then was eager to know how one learned to cope with this progressive condition, characterized by tunnel vision and culminating in total loss of sight. (Phyllis added that her twenty-year-old grandson is currently learning to live with this genetic disease.)
Dr. Goher told Phyllis not to feel bad about Baba’s not letting her stay: “It’s not easy to stay in Meherazad,” she said. But Phyllis did feel hurt. When Robert Dreyfuss visited Baba in 1965, he was permitted to stay in Meherazad, but by then, Phyllis says, “I wasn’t jealous; I was happy for him. No hocus pocus, but I had noticed some changes in myself.”
Phyllis’s life had been concerned with the love of family and friends, and she suffered when she felt rejected by people. She wanted to meet Baba so she could learn to love others without fear of rejection. It may not have been a spiritual aspiration, she tells us, but that’s what she felt.
The second darshan was private — others were sent out of the room. She did not speak of it at this talk.
Then there was the third darshan. Baba said: Why didn’t you bring Lyn? Phyllis had urged Lyn to come with her, but he hadn’t wanted to break Baba’s order. Phyllis spoke to Baba of Lyn’s blindness and how it wasn’t practical for him to travel. (Although Phyllis wanted Lyn to be independent, he often bumped into walls, she said, not even putting his hand out to protectively feel his way.)
Baba asked: Could Lyn see my face? Phyllis told us how hard it was to live with someone (her husband) who could not see her face, with all that a face conveys and communicates—instead, “all he could do was hear my awful Boston/Harvard accent” (this brought laughter).
On the wall at Mandali Hall, there was a white sign that reminded Phyllis of signs one used to see in butcher shops telling you the price of lamb or liver; it said something like: Greater than love is obedience, and greater than obedience is surrender. Reading this sign was the first time Phyllis had heard about obedience and surrender; she had only heard about love. So to Baba’s question of why Lyn didn’t come, her answer was: “Lyn obeys.” Baba said, “And you, Phyllis? Do you obey?”
Phyllis didn’t know how to answer that. Baba was giving her eye-to-eye attention. “A really important person is interested in you, it was amazing. I felt like a drum that was struck, and out of me came a response that surprised me as much as anyone.”
“And you, Phyllis? Do you obey?”
“I do, but Baba doesn’t.” That’s what came out of her mouth. And it was the right answer! Baba gave her surrender, she says.
“Tell Lyn I want him to come to
“I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have come without him. He could not come by himself. I was hoping Baba would get him escorted by someone, but Baba asked, ‘Is there any reason you can’t come with him?’” Phyllis admits she instantly thought of the expense, but she did not voice the thought because she felt she ought not to speak to Baba of money. Instead she said, “I can do it.” Baba said, “I want you to accompany him. Tell him I will show him my face as it really is. This I give to very few.”
Baba was done talking to Phyllis, and she was now just listening as he spoke to two girls from
After Baba saw Phyllis privately, she was brought to greet Mehera. Adi conveyed to Phyllis an order for her concerning Mehera. Phyllis describes seeing two women descend the stairs (at Meherazad). Phyllis was then thirty-seven or thirty-eight; Mehera was seventeen years older and Mani ten years older. They didn’t look at all strange—Mehera was dressed Western style [I assume this means skirt and blouse], Mani in her Punjabi suit; they had Western hairstyles. Phyllis was struck by Mehera’s beauty.
The mandali were people who made you feel like you were somebody. Mani said, “And here’s Phyllis, who writes such loving letters.” Phyllis laughs with wonder and tells us her last letter to them had recounted everything she ate for dinner when out with friends. (“And that’s not a bad thing to write in a letter,” Phyllis added.)
Mehera took Phyllis in her arms—this contrasted with Baba, who had seemed cool except for His affection with His little niece Shireen, and that had disappointed Phyllis, who dreamed of being kissed by the Prince who made you no longer a frog. But Mehera kissed her on the mouth! (Later, at home, Darwin and Jeanne Shaw refused to believe this, pronouncing it ridiculous—but it was true, Phyllis says.) Mehera’s skin was lovely, and Phyllis asked her what she used. Glycerine and rosewater, Mehera replied. “I have stolen the secret of beauty of the Queen of the Universe!” Phyllis thought, and she later went searching for this magical cosmetic in stores.
Phyllis saw how the women mandali lived in poverty, without indoor plumbing or electricity. Francis Brabazon also told her the mandali had no money. He gave her a signed copy of his book Stay with God [a book about which Baba said: "My love will touch the heart of all who read it, as no book has ever done. It will appeal to the highest intellects and to those with simple hearts."]. Francis told Phyllis the meaning of the title: it means it’s only a stay. “I’m here with a ticket back to
“You are here as long as Baba permits,” Phyllis says. Now Phyllis has been living in her house on
Phyllis answered a few questions. Adele wanted to know about Phyllis’s memoir, entitled Love Bade Me Welcome. Phyllis explained that the title came from a poem called “Love” by George Herbert (1593-1633). In an extraordinary impromptu performance, Phyllis succinctly interpreted the poem for us through dramatic gesture and storytelling. She did not recite the poem verbatim; part of it she paraphrased. Let me give you the poem here (I confess that I probably would not have understood it without Phyllis’s interpretation). Then I’ll try to describe, to the best of my memory, how Phyllis brought it to life for us so vividly—framed in the doorway where she stood as if on stage—and made us see how it pertained to her own encounter with Love.
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
Phyllis evoked the scene: Upstairs, Lord Jesus is at the Last Supper with His disciples. A person—“perhaps a woman”—climbs the steps and timidly opens the door. Then she shrinks back, “Oh, forgive me…I shouldn’t have…” But the Lord steps forward and welcomes her, asking, “What do you need? How may I help you?” “Oh no,” the woman cries, “I am not worthy!” That was Phyllis acting the part of the woman. Then she steps into the role of the Lord, who confidently declares, “Well, we’ll change that!” Still the woman expresses her shame, her unworthiness. And now Phyllis stretches her arms out, as if on a cross, and powerfully quotes directly from the poem the Lord’s words: And know you not who bore the blame?
The next line, from the woman, ends with a period in the excerpt I copied from the Internet; but Phyllis spoke it as a question, uttered by one who can hardly believe her great fortune: “My dear … then I will serve?” And with a flourish the Lord beckons her to His table, to “taste his meat.”
If you haven’t read Phyllis’s memoir, coauthored with the talented Barbara Scott, please do so. You will find there many details of the experiences just touched on here, plus her subsequent trip to