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.

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§ 7 Responses to Where were you on 9/11?

  • Allison says:

    This blog is very helpful to people. I think it applies for every situation. I am sure people will be contemplating the events of 9/11 very deeply in the days and years to come. And of course, this blog is not just about 9/11, but about any time we make ourselves feel helpless in the face of huge, transforming events.

    The last bullet point especially speaks to me. It is our joy and our responsibility to create peace within and without, so that we can play a role in creating the universe we want to be a part of (and of which we are already a part). Be the change! It is your own free will which chooses today instead of tomorrow. Thank you for this inspiration

  • RL says:

    I have been thinking for the last week on the event that happened on September 11, 10 years ago and how it has affected me.

    For most part, I really have not examined it closely. Feeling popped up once in a while, but for the most part, it is tucked away.

    I was home on September 11, 2001, watching the event unfold on television. The pictures were terrifying. On the one hand, I felt gratitude that no one I know was working at the towers, but I was afraid for the people that was trapped. And when the television started showing people jumping out of the window, that was just devastating. That was 10 years ago.

    As I looked back upon this during the last week, I can’t help but wonder how can we overcome the urge of self-preservation, the fear of death. As far as food, sex and sleep, these are easy to control compared to self-preservation. How do you choose death over living, even for just a bit longer?

    Intellectually, I know we are all going to die one day, so we will have to face death eventually. But to choose death so suddenly like those people, that is something I hope none of us have to face.

    So, now I wrote this, all will be tucked away again. I know what you will say Nishit, meditate and surrender everything to The Divine. And I will say, I am working on it.

  • Jennifer says:

    Reading your blog post a few days ago brought this prayer to mind, a beautiful sentiment:

    May All Be Filled With Joy and Peace

    May all be filled with joy and peace.
    May all beings everywhere,
    The strong and the weak,
    The great and the small,
    The meek and the powerful,
    The short and the long,
    The subtle and the gross:

    May all beings everywhere,
    Both seen and unseen,
    Dwelling far off or nearby,
    Being, or waiting to become:
    May all be filled with lasting joy.

    Let no one deceive another,
    Let no one anywhere despise another,
    Let no one out of anger or resentment
    Wish suffering to anyone at all.

    Just as a mother with her own life
    Protects her child, her only child, from hurt,
    So within yourself let grow
    A boundless love for all creatures.

    Let your love flow outward through the whole universe
    To its full height, depth, and broad extent,
    Then, as you stand or walk,
    Sit or lie down,
    As long as you are awake,
    Strive for this with a onepointed mind:
    Your life will bring heaven to earth.

    I find great encouragement in the idea of universes that are being born. I hope for them that the beings are free from fear, and that there is a foundation of service within them.

    I also thought that loss to the community when the HINCY closed might yet one day find a finer form in this universe or another one. Regardless, it is stored in our hearts, and there it is never lost, but is eternal.

  • eric maltz says:

    this is wonderful. i’ve been consciously ignoring all the 9/11 fanfare thats been going on. A 24 hour hour meditation would be the best memorial, imagine if the whole city did that!

    I remember you organizing one at the Himalayan Institute for the huge Tsunami that hit India and Southeast Asia a few years ago. I was just beginning meditation, and could hardly sit straight, but I could feel the power in that room. In hindsight I realize that we were creating our own tidal wave.

    The more I think about and practice meditation i realize that it is the foundation that all actions should be based on. If my practice falters everything i do feels flimsy and shallow. But if my practice is good, i become a razor blade, cutting through everything.

    Allison sums it up perfectly, be the change!

  • Andrea says:

    I was so very happy to come across this blogpost after not seeing anything here for awhile. It is hard for me to believe that 10 years have passed—the shock, the images, the thick acrid smell of the air in the city for those many weeks afterward still are fresh in my mind. The sorrow and pain of those souls who lost their lives, who had to choose to jump or had to call their loved ones to say “I am going to die”, was thick in the air in a real and palpable way. I was home on 9/11 and am fortunate that none of the people closest to me were injured or killed.

    I deeply miss the community that was there at HI; The breadth and depth of the selection available at the bookstore does not exist anywhere that I have found in the city. The Center was truly a place of healing, beauty, and simplicity that has yet to be duplicated in New York, and I often think of what good it could do in our current troubled times. I am grateful that it was there for me and others after the events of 9/11. I remember that our satsang group organized to call everyone affiliated with our yoga center to be sure they were safe, to be sure that they knew they were not alone, and that the quiet and restorative and creative and positive energy of meditation and spiritual community and genuine love were freely available to all at a time when we were all so traumatized.

    One couple in our satsang group, who were from Eastern Europe, appeared to be missing. We could not reach them, they had no family here, and their phone number was unlisted. I remember talking to the operator, who would not give out their number, and finally convincing her to make a three-way call to dial the number without revealing it so that I could leave a message on their machine to let them know that their Himalayan Institute family was concerned for them. It turned out that they were fine, happened to be out of town for a few weeks, but the point is that all of us extended ourselves in a way that is normally only reserved for our closest loved ones.

    As Nishit says here, it is important to do that all the time, to see our deep and universal connection, and to create peace and healing on even the micro level, with all of our small and seemingly insignificant daily actions, because they really to add up to a greater whole and radiate out into the world, touching and helping others even when we do not know it. Likewise our selfish, thoughtless, or indifferent actions or inactions also cause harm in greater ways than we can imagine. As Nishit always taught us, a missed opportunity to meditate, lend a hand, make peace is lost forever but our smallest positive thoughts and actions, a tiny 5-minute meditation or repetition of the mantra 3 times with full devotion honors the Divine within us and around us and adds up over a lifetime.

    I have learned from my own carelessness toward others and toward my duties that the loss is always mine when I fail to live consciously and to meditate toward growth. But because we are all connected, the loss is also to all of those around me, those I know and those I don’t know. Do I have the right to steal that healing from my life (which I do not own) and from the lives of others? When viewed that way, I know that I must work toward forgiveness and healing every day in thought, word, and deed.

    Reading Nishit’s words and the comments here I also see that the HI community is still here. We can choose to come together again, as a center-without-walls for meditation, satsang, volunteerism, and so on. It is a choice we still can make.

    Namaste

  • Elisa says:

    Teacher thank you for this blog! This anniversary was particularly difficult for me, being away from home, being away from all of you. I was surprised to still experience such sadness and to recognize there was a place within still in need of healing.

    I clearly remember where I was on the morning of 9/11 and the days thereafter. I can also remember the strong pull of the media/television that held me captive in a haze of depression for several days. I did not yet have the gift of meditation or you as my teacher, which I’m sure made it that much harder to get through. Now I can’t imagine my life without meditation or these teachings and thankfully why would I have to?

    It is about creating peace within and without. Choosing peace every minute of the day until that’s all there is. Our thoughts, speech and action fully aligned with this powerful choice. Teacher, thank for always reminding us to come back to center/peace and giving us the tools to do so! Much love & gratitude.

  • You’re an extremely helpful site; could not make it without ya! http://bit.ly/2f0xJ92

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