On hiatus from doing a mind-maddening TV series and desperate to detach from an affair with a writer who'd gone from comic genius to psychopath, I sought what had always been my most healing place: acting class. Sometime during my first week back, I had a bad crying jag while reading a scene from a Neil Simon play, and right after class, I was approached by a compassionate young student I'll call Laurel.
I blubbered to Laurel that my terrors were out of control. I felt split, false and empty, as though my inner voice had laryngitis.
"You must meet Baba Muktananda!" she said.
I'd read about her guru's powers to awaken spiritual energy, so it seemed sheer kismet that his meetup center in NYC was a block from my apartment. The retreat coincided mystically with the weeks I'd be on hiatus from the show, in deep need of a reality shift and a coherent inner voice. It was meant to be!
Laurel arranged for me to be bussed to the ashram, formerly the Brickman Hotel and Night Club in the Catskills. A ride into the mountains would be perfect! The next morning, I stepped aboard with 20 normal-seeming fellow passengers who soon began a monotonous Hare Krishna chant.
Hours later, we pulled into the ashram's circular driveway and the zealots began to disembark. I was relieved to see Laurel in the crowd. As I approached, she bowed.
"Hey, Laurel," I cried out, "how are you?"
"Call me Kalika now," she murmured. "Baba renamed me for the Hindu goddess."
"Uh huh!" was the most neutral thing untrusting me could think of to say.
"I got you an audience with Baba first thing in the morning," she said excitedly. "We must get you an offering."
Kaliki/Laurel brought me and my pricey fruit basket upstairs to a suite with a view of the mountains, and a bathroom so enormous that I was suspicious that I was being bribed to exploit my current TV renown.
"STOP IT," I yelled at my ungrateful brain. "Receive the gift!"
Kaliki/Laurel led me down to the Big Room off the main lobby where Vegas headliners had once spewed one-liners. Someone rang a bell, and folks fell to their knees and began the Hare Krishna chant. Some sat still in full lotus position, some swayed. I laid on my side for a stretch, pretending to chant. Soon, with a perfectly nice piece of rug in front of me, I did enough mindless mumbling to justify falling face first onto the carpet as if for a long snooze, lulled by the closeness of others. How nice to be able to sleep with other people without having sex first.
Then I heard a hush of excitement rippling through the room. "Baba's coming," people whispered.
"Don't look at him—just feel him," Kaliki/Laurel suggested.
But I snuck a peek as the little old man in orange robes wafted from the rear of the Big Room to the front, mumbling incantations over the crowd. He tapped a few people on the head with a peacock feather wand, which cast them into paroxysms of joy. He sat on the dais as the chant droned on, and I fell back into a sweet stupor.
Later, as the sun set behind the ashram's lush mountain views, the Krishna chant rose again in the Big Room below my king-size bed in my VIP suite and continued into the night. As I fell into a fitful sleep, I had a too vivid nightmare that Baba was taking liberties with me on a gynecological table as I slept. I awoke with a silent scream and shame. How horrible—not just the dream, but my twisted brain that created it. Boy, did I need a psychic colonic. I hoped Muktananda could break through my neuroses and fix me.
In the morning, Kaliki/Laurel ushered me through a gold door off the lobby labeled "Media Room." I was surprised to see a gathering of about 30 people, among them a well-known TV news anchor and crew, and John Denver. So much for escaping into an alternate universe.
We sat down on the plush rug. Baba, seated on a satin tuffet with a gorgeous, sari-clad Indian woman translating to his right, was blessing an older man, who bowed to the ground and blissfully crawled backward into the circle of observers. Kaliki/Laurel nudged me, shoved my fruit basket forward and I humbly crawled alongside it to face the guru and his glamourous translator.
"Why have you come?" she asked. Baba eyed me mischievously as he fanned himself with the peacock wand.
"Please tell him my mind is broken," I answered. "I am very unhappy."
The woman translated and he babbled back to her in Indian.
"Baba says you must stay and meditate with us here at the ashram until you find peace," she said.
"Oh, tell him thanks, but I have to be back at work in July." I was so hoping for the speed-reading version of enlightenment. I'd pay extra, I explained.
There was a quick back and forth before she said, "Baba says your work is here."
"But, I'm on contract and there wouldn't be any peace if I broke it," I responded nervously. Were they going to take me captive? My agent would be furious.
"Your work should be with Baba," she said.
"But, see, if I left the TV show, a lot of others would be out of work and suffering. Hey, maybe he could come out to the studio and heal us all," I flippantly suggested, mainly to save face in front of the press.
Baba seemed to be contemplating this. Grandly, he gestured to Kaliki/Laurel behind me.
"Can you give her a job on your show?" the interpreter asked on his behalf, on her behalf.
"Well," I said, "I'm not really in a position to hire Kaliki. I could recommend her, but, see, she'd have to be in LA and ..."
Suddenly, he struck me on the head with the peacock wand. The group gasped. I froze but had the presence of mind to remain open to the possibility of his externally applied enlightenment. Oh, I wanted it bad. I was ravenous for a mind change, to perceive things and myself differently.
The whole room held its collective breath—those few seconds felt like years. I surveyed my body and psyche. Would I be blessed by an instant fix? Moved to change my life, my outlook, give up acting and addictions, meat, sex and trendy clothes?
Er … nope, I concluded, as some ventriloquist impersonating my inner voice screamed, "LEAVE. NOW."
I nodded humbly and crawled backward, as somebody else's fruit basket from the gift shop was shoved forward and Baba's playful gaze was on to the next.
I'd had my chance. I would have to heal my mind and spirit some other way. I did feel somewhat sad that I'd been so resistant to the gift of a guru's blessing and Laurel's efforts.
Months later, Muktananda died, and I was stunned to learn that scandal had erupted at the ashram. Apparently, Baba had repeatedly forced sex as a "blessing" upon young female disciples—including Kaliki/Laurel—on just such a table as I had dreamt about. His community was in turmoil, his legacy vulgarized, but my instinct to escape was validated.
As my self-recriminations quieted, my inner voice grew stronger and more trustworthy. My spiritual healing had begun.