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  • Jessica Richmond

Babaji Bashes my Addiction Affliction

As I sat in my speaker’s chair, bundled up in my winter jacket and shivering, I looked over at Babaji as he was calmly talking to the group of students. We had been invited to teach a course on Vedic Psychology in Poland. I had learned that when we taught in cold places, like the castle in France where it snowed in May, and this frigid beach town in Poland, that a warm beverage was just what the doctor ordered. I took pleasure each morning in my routine of making my chai, and then sipping it as I listened to Babaji deliver his beautiful words of wisdom. By the time it was my turn to speak, the chai was coursing through my veins and I was feeling warm and energetic to teach.

Sometimes when we were teaching, one cup of chai was just not enough. I needed a double dose to pep up. So, on the teaching break, I would make a second cup. On one such occasion, as I returned from the break to my seat next to Babaji, he said to me, “Prabhupada told his wife that she had to choose between the chai or him. He said do you want tea or me? The wife chose the chai so he left her.” I laughed, thinking he was making a joke. But my response was not met with a smile. He abruptly turned his head away from me and started talking to the students in the class. My mind started reeling, “What? Was he serious? I have been drinking chai and coffee for years around him, and although I said I will stop someday, I didn’t think it had to be right now! Plus, I am not his wife, obviously. He is my guru, so he can’t leave me if I don’t stop drinking chai. How does me drinking chai affect him?! This is crazy. Why does he have to tell me right now, at such an inconvenient time, when we are sitting in front of the class and I am about to teach my part? He has got the worst timing to drop this bomb right now on me and throw me off guard! Doesn’t he know that…”

“So, Jessica will explain this part,” Babaji’s friendly voice cut through my ruminating mind.

The room was silent and all of the students were staring at me. Feeling like I just wanted to go back up to my room and crawl into bed, under the heavy, warm covers and sleep, I looked past the students at the handsome wooden double doors at the back of the room that were beckoning to me. For just through those doors and up two short flights of stairs was my cozy room with the fluffy white down comforter waiting to embrace me. I could be there in two minutes flat. I imagined relaxing under the warm covers as I sipped my hot chai...ahhh, now this is heaven…


“Jessica?” Babaji repeated my name again, which jarred me.

I quickly put down my lovely cup of warm, creamy, sweet chai, and began teaching. And, for the remaining 3 days that we were teaching in Poland, I continued to make my chai and drink it. Babaji didn’t say anything. So, I assumed that he was actually just joking with his comment about not drinking chai. I laughed at myself at how I overreacted to his joke, taking it so seriously and personally.

As the days and weeks passed at each new place we taught, I found my chai fix somehow. And, with each passing day, Babaji did not say anything as I sipped my chai. So, I knew for sure that he was fine with it. Well, that was until I found out that he was not. What a rude awakening! When we were teaching in the USA, I stopped at a gas station in New York. I was very sleepy that day as all of that travel and teaching was catching up with me. I found myself dozing off at the wheel, so of course, I did what any normal person would do. I got a Starbucks Caramel latte for a little pick-me-up. As I was driving down the road, feeling the buzz of the latte, Babaji asked me why I was drinking it. I simply told him the truth, which was that I was tired and the caffeine helped to wake me up. Babaji matter-of-factly quipped, that if I am tired, I should sleep. I nodded my head in agreement with him, as I took another sip of my latte. He didn’t say anything else, as we drove in silence. That was normal for him as the car and plane rides were time for him to meditate. And it was time for me to drink a chai or latte. So that is what I did as the miles passed on the long drive from New Jersey to upstate New York. As usual, Babaji sat quietly, hour after hour, not uttering a word. This day was like no other on our teaching tour in which I drove through countless Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts drive throughs to get my caffeine fix. Needless to say, we eventually arrived peacefully at our next destination, a gorgeous mansion on a beautiful, secluded property in New York, hundreds of miles from the city.

We had been invited to teach on the timeless classic, The Bhagavad Gita, and its practical application to our modern-day life. Babaji and I had carefully created a PowerPoint presentation to highlight the key points we wanted to teach, mainly focusing on not being attached to material pleasures, as they always end in suffering. As a psychotherapist, my role was to relate Babaji's teachings to modern life. In this case, I had planned to take the group through a practical exercise to help them understand Babaji's point about attachment. I had prepared a case study of a fictitious client whom depicted being attached to her body image of being beautiful, as well as to her possessions, such as her fancy car, and gorgeous husband. After setting up the PowerPoint and projector, I took my seat next to Babaji, sipped my mug of chai, and smiled at him. “Ready?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, in his calm, cool manner. I clicked on the PowerPoint slide 1. He began speaking about attachment, as planned. But within 5 minutes Babaji veered off-course and began talking about addiction. He started giving examples of how people make excuses for their addiction so they can keep taking the addictive substance. Then he literally started telling stories about me, and the exact things I had been doing and saying to justify my caffeine addiction. He didn’t use my name, but I knew he was talking about me for sure. I felt a rush of feelings come over me. I was humiliated, angry, and ashamed. “How could he?” I thought in disbelief. If he had a real problem with me drinking caffeine, why didn’t he just tell me directly? And why does he have to tell me now, in this indirect, cryptic way, which only makes me feel embarrassed and ruins our whole plan on what we were teaching? I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks as my face turned crimson. An entire hour passed, in which Babaji hammered his point, not once talking about the material we had so thoughtfully prepared.

When the class was over, I went to my room and cried. As my hot tears hit the pillow, I felt confused and overwhelmed by Babaji’s approach. I took a shower to try and relax, and then took a nap. At lunch with the students, I put on a smile and tried my best to engage in conversation with Babaji and the group, even though I felt betrayed by Babaji. After lunch when we were on a walk with the group, I found a moment to speak with Babaji when the other students were not in earshot range. I said, “Babaji, I know that you were talking about me in your lecture. I heard your message loud and clear and I will stop drinking the chai.”

Babaji looked straight ahead as he continued walking and said, “Good.” He did not elaborate. I didn’t know what else to say, so we walked in silence.

That night, I stayed up late and created an entirely new case study to teach to the students. Forget about my fictitious client who was attached to her own beauty and possessions. This new case study was about yours truly. I described in the case study about a woman who used to be a business executive, gulping down Starbucks lattes by the gallon, and all of her good reasons why she needed that caffeine. And, of course, the suffering that occurred when she did not get her caffeine fix. The next morning, I met with Babaji, as usual, to discuss our teaching plan for the day. I told him that I had prepared a new case study and I presented it to him. His eyes glimmered as he said, “This is very good.”

That afternoon, I taught the case study about the girl who was addicted to caffeine and a lively debate ensued among the students and me and Babaji and about it. Babaji taught about attachment, and how the mind works to rationalize our addictions. Some of the students debated directly with Babaji about the need for caffeine in the western lifestyle, such as if they were working long hours or pursuing a Master’s degree. I secretly agreed with their arguments, and hoped that maybe, possibly, they could convince Babaji of the need for caffeine. And then I could get back to my love affair with chai. But no dice. Babaji held strong on his point, which only made my raging caffeine withdrawal headache worse.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chai in and of itself. It is just that I was addicted to it and for me, personally, it made my mind race. Even one cup of it sent my mind into super speedy mode. It wasn’t good for me to be moving that fast, as my mind is fast enough without the caffeine. Plus, I always felt hungover the next morning after drinking caffeine, when the buzz wore off. So, for me, I knew it was not good to be drinking it. Not to mention, that on the spiritual path I am on, we are working to free our minds from our material attachments.

A few weeks later, after our teaching programs were over, when we were about to go our separate ways, I said to Babaji, “I didn’t drink caffeine since the day I promised you that I would stop. However, since I am about to start my PhD program, I think it is necessary to drink caffeine for the next few years to get through the grueling school demands. And, after I complete my PhD, then I will stop caffeine for good.”

Babaji said, “No, you do not need caffeine to get your PhD. That is just another rationalization so you can keep drinking it. If you are tired, then sleep. Listen to your body.”

“What?” I stammered, shocked with Babaji’s no-nonsense answer.

“You do not need caffeine in your life. It only makes your mind unstable and keeps you hankering for something that you have no need of,” Babaji retorted.

Like a desperate beggar, I tried to bargain with Babaji. “But, can I at least have caffeine sometimes, like when I have big term papers due and I have to stay up all night writing them?”

“No,” he responded.


“What about the all-night residencies that are required? How am I supposed to stay awake all night for 4 nights in a row after working all day?” I pleaded.

Babaji simply stated, “Sleep during the day.”

“Oh my God,” I thought, “this is too much. I can’t do it.” But what I said to Babaji was, “Okay.”

And what actually happened was nothing short of a miracle. It has been 10 months since that day when Babaji told me no more caffeine. I have endured the sleepless nights of the online PhD Residency course without caffeine. Not a drop. I have spent countless nights awake until 2:00am or later, doing homework, only to wake up early so I could make it to the morning kirtan at the ashram. I have been living on very few hours of sleep for nearly one year now, and caffeine-free. All I can say is that I have been addicted to caffeine for over 20 years. Despite the countless attempts to break my addiction, somehow, some way I always seemed to come back to my warm, creamy, sweet chai.

And, to be honest, one time over these past 10 months, I did actually have a chai. It was a strange situation because I was not craving chai, as I usually did when I would not have it. After 8 months of no chai, I had lost the craving all together. So, what drove me to drink the chai was for a different reason. I actually had a splitting migraine headache. You know that kind when your head hurts so bad you feel nauseous, like you are going to vomit? It was of that kind. Of course, Babaji and I had planned to work together that day of all days. And when I cancelled our call because of my migraine, he told me to take rest. So, I slept for a few hours, hoping to sleep off the migraine. But when I woke at 5:00pm, I still had a raging migraine. I knew that chai helps to reduce the migraine because it has helped me in the past. But I still doubted myself somewhat as to if maybe I just was rationalizing and really wanted to just please my tongue with that taste. I was not sure. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was in pain. A lot of pain. And, I had 4 hours of client consultations that night that I did not want to cancel.

So, I did the only thing I could think of doing. I went to the kitchen and ordered a large chai from Dada, the gracious ashram chef. Always aiming to please, he agreed to make my chai right away, with a big smile on his face. Because I had promised Babaji that I would not drink chai anymore, even in the extreme cases of pulling all-nighters for my PhD, I thought that I better check with him to keep me honest. So, when I was back in my room with the thermos full of hot, steamy, creamy, chai, teasing me with the aroma wafting up into the air, reminding me of all of our lovely times together, I did not put the chai to my mouth. I did not take even one sip. Instead, I called Babaji. I told him that after sleeping practically the whole day, my migraine did not subside. I explained how I had 4 client sessions scheduled back to back, which started in one hour and how I was sitting in the dark because even having the light on made me feel like I was going to vomit. I told him that I had a chai in front of me, but I did not drink it yet because I had made a vow to him to not to drink caffeine.

Babaji empathetically responded, “Yes, take the chai. In this case, you are drinking the chai as medicine for your migraine. No problem. That is different than drinking chai or coffee every single day, which was your attachment. Being addicted to something means you are dependent on that, and you lose your freedom. It is as if you are being used by the object to which you are addicted, such as chai. But when you are not addicted, you can use it to your advantage so you are not controlled by it. Spirituality means to become free from your attachments, from bondage, from ignorance, and suffering. All suffering comes because of attachments and addictions. We can use anything in the service if we are not attached. We are not dry renunciates, but we are also not the slaves of objects.”

I thanked Babaji and excitedly got off the phone so I could reunite with my lover, chai. As I slowly, in a meditative mood, put the mug to my lips, I felt the warm, creamy, sweetness engulf my mouth. I swallowed it down, but immediately felt disappointed. The chai did not have the same appeal to me. It actually wasn’t that tasty to me. Had my taste changed? Or, maybe this was just a bad chai. I took another sip, but it was not as enjoyable as it used to be. After a few more sips, I put the mug down, half finished. What was going on here? Had I really gone off chai? I let the chai get cold and then dumped it down the drain. My migraine subsided within the hour, and I met with my four clients over the next 4 hours, with ease.

The next day when I saw Babaji after the morning kirtan, he asked me how my migraine was. I shared with him that my migraine had subsided by drinking the chai, but that I only drank half of the chai and I didn’t enjoy it like I used to.

Babaji smiled peacefully. His kind eyes radiated love, as he shared in his usual way, with as few words as possible, “Good.”

As I watched Babaji walk away, I felt grateful, happy, peaceful and grounded. I realized then that I had found a new sweetness. My need for chai had vanished because it had been replaced by the love for this gracious saint, Babaji.

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