RIP Babaji/ The Lost Art of Presence

Visiting India was rough. Aside from the horrors of seeing a third world country for the first time, I got sick for nearly half the trip, felt alone and left out of a group of folks more worldly and wealthy than me, and had to fend for myself during two harassment scares.

However, India showed me what I needed to see.

The pinnacle was a peaceful 99 year old baba who lived in a cave in the hills of the Himalayas. We hiked to see him, and I watched this man, at 99 years old, sit on the ground, squat, and move around with agility. He smoked & shared pot, and sang along while some of us chanted the Hanuman Chalisa. He served each one of us chai and cashews. When I declined the chai due to sugar & caffeine, he started a new pot of plain milk for me, boiled it on his little open fire and asked me if I wanted black pepper in it.

He even let me pee outside of the entrance to his cave.

I asked him what his temples to Durga and Kali meant to him. The translator replied, “Yes, yes these are temples to Kali and Durga.” I reiterated, “Yes but what do they mean to him? What’s his connection to them personally?”

Babaji shifted his sitting posture, took a toke and got a little more relaxed. He replied that Durga is what gives birth to all of life. He said when we have trouble in life we go to our mother, ‘ma,’ back to the source.

Then he shared a story about how once there was a huge snake that visited his cave and his devotees freaked out and tried to chase it out, while he just laughed and said “What are you doing? This is my only companion!”

He explained that nature could be intense, that there were panthers in the forest and that most people wouldn’t be able to survive one night in the cave whereas he had been living there for over a decade.

A picture of Babaji sent to me via FB by our translator in 2018. Yes he used a cellphone sometimes, still the guy lived in a cave!

I received news a few days ago along with a text message of a horrifying, shocking picture of this peaceful baba laying on the ground after he had been attacked and killed, not by animals. By humans.

Sadly, and for reasons I am unaware of, some young violent men confronted him and beat him to death.

After taking it in, I am now contemplating why Babaji’s life held so much value in my heart and why it struck me so deeply.

It occurred to me his that his simple, humble life was an antidote to the sickness of our modern society. He was devoted to nature on a deep level that we’ll probably never understand.

In my brief encounter with him he conveyed a lost art- the art of presence. Simply being in that presence made me high, and I didn’t even partake in the ganja.

Interestingly on the same day I received news of Babaji’s death, a strange man with a backpack showed up to the nature preserve/ forest where I work. He wandered into the visitor’s center with blood all over his arm. I ran to get help in a frenzy and my coworker Iris gauzed it up.

Later he was spotted siting without moving for 3 hours in the same spot on a picnic table. When the ranger asked him if he was ok, he replied “Yes, Krishna told me to sit here.” When asked why he replied, “The music.”

The man was seen wandering around for three days.

I don’t know what it means…never once has anyone ever metioned Krishna at Bernheim Forest in Kentucky, at least not that I’m aware of.

But it gives me a sense that everything is intrinsically connected- death and birth, violence and peace, chaos and order…the distant/ far off and the immediate/ personal.

Lately I’ve been feeling called to live a more humble life, be offline more, seek out true connection instead of vapid meaningless social media and the anxiety/ overstimulation it creates. I’ve been saying goodbye to my chattering intellect and opting for a deep dive into my heart cave.

I enrolled in a naturalist training led by coworkers that will teach me how to identify trees and understand forest ecosystems. I started an online classical tantra course that guides me safely into my heart & body more. I quit caffeine in the mornings. I even smoked a little ganja the other night in memory of Babaji.

Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll start to cultivate the lost art of presence like he did. One can only hope.