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Excerpted from A Woman's Journey to God by Joan Borysenko. Copyright © 1999 by Joan Borysenko. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"As the 'spiritual leader' of this pilgrimage, I was feeling responsible for the well-being of the group."

Joan BorysenkoA Woman's Journey to God, Part 6

We loaded the luggage into taxis and vans. I was fortunate. All I had was a small handbag. My luggage had still not arrived. Our motley caravan pulled into the ashram, Prashanti Nilayam—the Abode of Pristine Peace—through an arched gate painted in the traditional Indian shades of gaudy pink and blue. It looked like a child's giant birthday cake with the middle nibbled out.

Immediately, our thoughts of transcendent peace and quiet evaporated. Thousands of other pilgrims plied the quiet pathways between the main gathering hall or mandap, the cafeterias, shops, and dormitories. It was a festival day. Sports Day for the children. Sai Baba has founded many free schools and universities, based on spiritual principles of love, tolerance, and service. There was an athletics meet in the stadium at one of these schools, adjacent to the ashram. Devotees from all over India, and from many other countries, were in attendance. We sat on the concrete steps of a dormitory for foreigners, waiting for our room assignments. The ashram map indicated that we were just steps away from the coconut stand, but it would take another day to be initiated into the joys of drinking coconut juice.

The day was warm and cloudless. We were hot and thirsty but managed to find a stand that sold water and apple juice. We went there in shifts, so that if our room assignments came through, someone could alert us. As the hours dragged by, we were beckoned into the mysteries of Indian time. Things happen when they happen. There is no rush. Nothing to do, no place to go better than where you are. This is a great clinical exercise for type A personalities. You either learn to go with the flow here or resign yourself to dropping dead from a heart attack.

As the "spiritual leader" of this pilgrimage, I was feeling responsible for the well-being of the group, the fabric of which was beginning to fray around the edges somewhere into the third hour of the waiting-for-a-room vigil. Kurt and I decided to check out some of the local hotels. There were rooms available, and several pilgrims opted to stay in these sparse establishments. They were not much better appointed than the austere concrete rooms at the ashram, but at least we could check in. The rest of the group braved the wait for their rooms, complete with Western-style toilets, cold showers, giant cockroaches, and more roommates than they might have signed on for. Each person had a new foam mattress to sleep on, a part of a service project that our wonderful trip coordinator thought up. The foam pads would be left with a poor family who could become middle class by running a mattress-rental business.

The check-in was finally complete at dinnertime, and we were about to lose our identity as a group, absorbed into an ever-changing river of thousands of devotees. We agreed to post notes on the door of one member's room and to meet once a day for those who wanted to. Some didn't. They elected to be in silence, to experience Prashanti Nilayam as it unfolded.

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