Where were you on 9/11?
September 12, 2011 § 7 Comments
As I am looking outside my window on this beautiful morning of 9/11/2011, it reminded me of people asking me, lately more and more, about where was I on the morning of 9/11/2001. And just thinking about it flooded my conscious mind with a ton of information without any barrier—though nothing but positive, despite what had happened that day. I started to think about where I was and what I was doing.
As you may have noticed, I live in New York. I was commuting my way from Queens to work in Manhattan. I had taken a bus to catch the F train to Manhattan. In those days, the F train ran a different route than at present. It ran on a Fifth Avenue line. While approaching Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street station in Manhattan, the dire warning from a conductor of that train blurred from the speakers. He announced as calmly as he was able, but you could hear that his voice not so calm. He announced, “Due to an emergency situation, this train is no longer in service. All of the passengers from the back of the train must go to the first car to exit this train. You need to evacuate this train immediately.”
So we did. I was not aware of the reality of that moment, the apparent reality that was taking place; a beautiful day was turning upside down while we were underground. Hurriedly, I ran upstairs and stepped out onto 53rd Street, and I could not believe what I saw. I was stunned to see people running away from downtown and there was a huge, thick, whitish cloud emerging from the horizon. If you remember Fifth Avenue, you will know that it forms a sort of tunnel, and on a bright day, you can see all the way to the horizon, as far as your eye can see. I could not tell what had happened. People were running frantically away from that cloud. I asked a few folks what had happened. A few ran by me and did not even look up to answer. I was trying very hard to figure out why there was so much chaos, why people seemed to be so scared, stunned and confused, but I recall someone yelling at me, “Twin towers have been attacked, they have fallen!” I did not gather what had happened, the magnitude of what had just taken place.
I saw a few people listening to the radio, blasting at the highest volume, in their parked cars and vans, trying to figure out what was actually going on. I leaned over to hear what was broadcasting. “We have been attacked….twin towers have fallen…do not go towards downtown below 14th Street.” And I remember thinking, “I have to reach my office. My staff and students might be looking for me, waiting for my arrival. I have to go to my office and help all who are in dire need. I must walk fast to get there as soon as I can make it.” I thought this, not knowing the reality was demanding something else from me at that moment. Somehow I was able to ignore all the signs and symptoms of this horrible attack and kept on running towards my office at 13th Street and Fifth Avenue. In retrospect, now I recollect and surprise myself, that I was the only one running down town while the rest of the crowd was running uptown. At that moment, it did not feel strange somehow. I was not worried about anything at that time. On the contrary, one and only one thing was in my mind at that time—that I had to reach my office and help those who were in need. Believe me, I had no idea what was going on!
Finally, I made it to my office and to my surprise, the entire area was deserted. There was a lot of dust and smoke, forming a cloud that had become thick, dreary, and ominous, clogging everyone’s senses to the point that thinking had frozen in time. I quickly caught the escaping elevator, one ready to almost run away from this chaos and confusion, to get upstairs on the second floor.
Surely, no one was waiting for me. Simply no one could make it, as the trains and other forms of transportation were completely grounded. My phones were ringing off the hook. My family was frantically trying to figure out whether I had reached my office or not. My wife was at work in Queens and absolutely concerned for my safety and life. I kept on answering each call, one by one. There were students and people that I knew and I did not, calling to find out what to do next. What steps should they take, where could they go to find some help? Who can they talk to? Can they meditate to help ease their pain or help others going through this seemingly unreal but caustic experience? Unfortunately, I cannot remember who had stopped by that day to assist me. A lot was going on and I had no time to sit and catch up. Of course, there will not be enough space to write all of the details, but I am glad that I was able to make it to my office and serve those who were in need, despite a constant broadcast from the authorities to not go below 14th Street.
Making sure that I had reached everyone via phones, including my staff in the office, the staff of a bookstore, and volunteers, I decided to leave the building and go home. I was not sure how I might get there. It was late in the afternoon and I believe they had resumed some trains to get everyone home. But truth to be told, I do not remember, even today, how exactly I came home that day, as if that dusty cloud has smeared out my memory. My heart was laden with sadness for those who had died; yet, I was still not sure of the magnitude of what had just happened! I needed to know more.
I came home to find my wife was still at work. I called her and found everything was okay on her end. She was relieved to know that I had reached home safely. Unconsciously, I turned the TV on to find out that most of the major broadcasting stations were down except for CBS. The antennas from the rest of the major broadcasting stations were obliterated with other melting steel of the twin towers. Before I knew, I was glued to television. It offered a lot of new information that I had no way of knowing. These broadcasters have a way to hook you in, glue you to their shows, tease you for the next big thing, and you get sucked in before you know it. I had just done that. I was oblivious of my needs, my wants, my duties and my family, especially my loving wife. Hours after hours, day after day, I kept on watching every possible show, all possible information that I could gather—I had to know it all, and know it now. My wife kept on witnessing quietly as she always does. I had consumed three full days of information, without knowing what to do with it. Unless food was put in front of my eyes, I did not ask for it, I did not eat. My wife knew better. She had to stop me.
Finally, she mustered her courage to disturb me. She knew that I was overtaken by this barrage of information and to break me away from it was a daunting task. She was very caring and mild, but very strong in her resolve to get me out of this misery that I unknowingly had created for myself. She said, “Honey, how long you are planning to watch this? There is no end to it. You have been watching television for last three days and you are not eating, resting and meditating. What is going on? Go out and buy some milk. I no longer have groceries to cook for us. Do something else. Come on, get up from here.”
And that hammered a nail in the coffin of information. I got up and immediately started writing an e-mail to send out to my family and friends. I sent the same e-mail to my students and clients alike, using the database of Himalayan Institute where I was working at that time. Soon I realized what I had done in the last three days to my meditation practice, which I take absolutely seriously. The meditation practice to which I am so dedicated had suffered enormously. While writing the e-mail, I simply asked everyone to stay away from their televisions and do something else other than watching television and becoming consumed by this information overload. I wrote something like this:
“Get up and look outside your window, talk to your dog or a bird, go out and walk, smile at someone or go out and help someone in need. Do not drown yourself in this muddy pool. It will systematically destroy you and paralyze you from taking an action that is rightly due now. Go help others. I have been watching television for the last three days and nothing good has come out of it but pain and misery. Uncertainty and chaos, fear and loss, death and decay are resonating throughout this information pool. The more you watch, the more you will succumb to, and soon you will forget to mediate, which I have done it despite my strong will to mediate every day, let alone be functional in your daily life. Get up and go out, now! Do something else for the change. I know what I have done for the past three days and it is dangerous to your mind. Please go out and help someone.”
I do not remember how many people replied back but those who did said that simple e-mail had saved them from drowning, made them get up, stay away from their televisions and take appropriate action. When I reached my office, once businesses were open, a ton of questions, worries, concerns, pain and suffering were waiting for me in the form of many students, teachers, staff and volunteers. Confusion was the least of my problems. I had to take action. I sat down to think, but think hard. I had one question for myself and I would like you to memorize this question forever and use it every time you have a difficult situation or circumstance in front of you, “What might be the best of the best that I can offer in this dreadful circumstance which is seemingly overpowering and overwhelming?” Think about it for a moment. Follow it with question next, “What might be the best which I can offer to heal this community, to heal these deep wounds?” It dawned on me at the very holy moment: “Facilitate and dedicate this place for meditation, help them, talk to them, teach them if they do not know how to meditate and make sure this place is available to everyone for meditating peacefully for 24 hours.” I took a vow that day:
“As long as I am in this office, as long as I am the Director of the Himalayan Institute of New York, every year I will create the environment where people from all walks of life can come and meditate. This center will remain open for 24 hours straight without any interruption, any distraction during each and every anniversary of 9/11 here on. I will have enough staff and volunteers to facilitate this practice—called, Akhanda japa, meaning uninterrupted group meditation—not only to have them work around to make it happen, but also have them participate in meditation and create a chain of people meditating at different hourly slots, allowing the 24 hours of meditation to continue without any breaks in between.”
Proudly I can say that, with the help of my staff and volunteers alike, we managed a 24-hour meditation practice for each and every anniversary of 9/11 since then, until they decided to close that center in 2005. The loss that community has suffered is irreplaceable. That is the one thing I miss the most about not having 24-hour meditation practice on 9/11, but I digress.
Keep these thoughts below in mind:
• Many times we say things without thinking like, “I will do that tomorrow, I don’t have time,” just to procrastinate, but my question to you is do you have tomorrow? What if you did not wake up from your sleep? Well, then your time is up. You get the point, don’t you?
• Help yourself first in need but never forget to help others on the way.
• Things happen in the world. What is the best you can make out of it is all that matters. All else is the chatter that remains. Your actions are far more superior and significant than the events you may give credit to. You do not have control over your circumstances, but you do have a choice to act and act now, not tomorrow.
• Your kind words and kind deeds will go a long way. If you are bent on causing harm to others, that is what will follow you like a boomerang.
• If you cannot keep calm in the middle of chaos, what is the point of meditation? Why waste time meditating?
• The mind that is bent upon helping others will have no worries of its own, provided you yourself do not need any help—or else it will create a deep conflict and guilt. Be Strong and be Brave and Freedom shall follow you.
• This is a beautiful world we are living in. Make it more beautiful than what we have now, for the future generations to come.
• Meditation is one of the most powerful tools to heal and be healed from the injuries caused by others or by natural events. It is a tool that introduces you to abundance, a tool that enlightens you, and a tool that has the ability to create timelessness for you.
• You can keep up with the rest of the world and entertain yourself—but you cannot allow this world to dictate your life or your course of action. You must decide, you must act using your free will. Nothing is more precious than your free will.
• I write this on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. A lot has changed since then. Most changes have been positive, but we have a lot more to do. Meditate regularly; create a circle of peace within and without. Envelope everyone and everything around you, around the globe with this peace, and be happy that you are the integral part of this and many other universes, present and about to emerge.